Lean In Chapter 9: The Myth of Doing it All

I was recently (self) assigned the task of three-hole punching 30 separate stacks of 43 page documents.  If you know anything about the fabulous world of hole punchers, you know that there is no way on God’s green earth that you can successfully punch a stack of 43 pages at a time.    I had to divide each stack into smaller stacks that wouldn’t make the Kinko’s equipment explode or leave me cursing bits of mangled paper.  When all the hole punching was done (Glory be to God!), it was now time for the yanking and pulling involved in fitting my papers into those STUPID LITTLE METAL BRADS of a pocket folder.  All of this really isn’t’ that big of a deal except for one little detail I haven’t included:  my four year old insisted on helping me.

Trust me, I tried my best to distract him with mind-numbing iPad games, but he insisted.

Halfway through this process, right about the time I was ready to chuck the hole puncher through a window, my son looked up at me and exclaimed excitedly “Thank you mommy!!!”.

“For what?”  I asked.

“For letting me help! ” he replied with a sweet little grin on his face.   A grin that is usually reserved for chocolate milk or an extra TV show.

Getting to assist mommy in one of her real, live grown-up tasks with actual grown-up tools (a three hole punch is TOTALLY a tool) was meaningful for him, on par with sugary treats.

Participation is one of the greatest gifts God gives to us.   And not just made-up tasks like I sometimes give to my four year old to make him feel special (or um, get him out of my hair…), but real, meaningful, actual purposeful participation.   I had to take several deep breaths and say a few prayers for patience as my little guy was helping me because I didn’t really want his help.  I wanted to do it myself so I could do it right and do it fast.  (that’s sort of my life motto, actually).

But God is so unique.  He gives us a desire, so that he can fill it.   God builds into our identity a desire to participate and then gives us the invitation, the green light, the tools and the power.  Even when I make big mistakes.  Even when I take forever.  Even when He could do a better job without me muddling it all up.

Sheryl Sandberg’s ninth chapter The Myth of Doing it All is an honest look at what happens to our neat, ordered lives when we dare to participate.   Hint:  it’s messy.  And she doesn’t sugar coat what her life looks like and I really appreciated that.  She shared some honest-to-goodness humiliating, difficult stories from her own life as a wife, mum and career woman.

Perhaps the part that stood out to me the most, because it rang the most true for my life, was when she shared from the wonderful and talented Tina Fey from personal interviews as well as Fey’s AWESOME book Bossypants.

Tina Fey noted that when she was promoting the movie Date Night with Steve Carell, a father of two and star of his own sitcom, reporters would grill Fey on how she balances her life, but never posed that question to her male costar

Sandberg elaborates..

Employed mothers and fathers both struggle with multiple responsibilities, but mothers also have to endure the rude questions and accusatory looks that remind us that we’re shortchanging both our jobs and our children.

I wish I could say she was exaggerating.  I recently started a new job and I have noticed a sudden and overwhelming concern that others have for the balance in my life .  While I know it is because people care about me and this is how they are expressing that care and it’s possible my insecurities are simply at play, it triggers a deeper and more defensive emotional response, especially because not once has anyone expressed concern to my husband over how he balances having a wife, two kids, a full time ministry job and serving a church.

It’s easy to feel a bit backed into a corner when balancing is your life’s goal.

Melinda Marshall writes in Good Enough Mothers about the experience of working mothers,

This is called juggling, an apt term since it implies that all the balls must be kept in the air and the juggler can never rest – she is doomed in fact to keep everything in perpetual motion without ever having the satisfaction of getting somewhere or finishing something.  Should the juggler tire, or relax her concentration the act culminates in failure:  the audience pays attention to the juggler only as long as she defies the inevitable.

This sets me, and other women from Tina Fey to my best friends, up for nothing but failure and cultivates a spirit of fear over that perceived failure.  Typically men who are in a stressful season at work, who also have to come home and spend time with the kids and do the yard work aren’t questioned at all – that’s just life!  However a woman will typically get a different response.    Fey writes in Bossy Pants

“The worst question (for a woman) is ‘How do you juggle it all?… People constantly ask me, with an accusatory look in their eyes.  ‘Your screwing it all up, aren’t you?’ their eyes say.

More than I fear dropping any proverbial ball in my life, I fear that others are waiting in the wings for it to happen, with “I told you so” lingering on their lips and in their eyes.  

Sandberg goes on to share struggles of maternity leave (I flunked Maternity Leave 101 so this one I totally related to!), the American culture of working around the clock and the agonizing decisions over prioritizing; noting that some things HAVE TO give.  If I attend this work meeting, I can’t attend this ballet class.   If I am a working mom, I can’t volunteer in the classroom.  If I am a stay at home mom, I miss out on opportunities, income and perhaps deeper fulfillment.   If yes to this, than no to that.

In her book “Gifted to Lead” Nancy Beach (who is executive vice president for the arts for the Willow Creek Association) addresses the Myth of Having it All and speaks a good truth that is also echoed a bit in Sandberg’s chapter to a lesser degree and that is:

Yes you can have it all, but not all at once!

This has been a mantra for me and some of the most freeing advice I have received.

I have told this to myself at least once a year since having kids.  I can have it all, but not all at once!  My life as a mother is so very seasonal and while it is not the only Participation that I am invited into , it is a substantial piece of the pie.

God invites us to full participation but as we follow him I can’t say the word ‘balance’ or ‘having it all’ really reflect a life of following Jesus.  Sometimes God leads us girls to abandon our careers to stay home full time with our children.  This is real, important participation – not a move of failure for having to let one of the balls drop.  The life of a Christ follower is a life of WORSHIP and a life of FREEDOM which are so powerful that they squeeze out any silly notions of balance or juggling.   Balance and juggling are for circus clowns, not for women, thank you very much.

A result of getting older, having children, and listening to God is gaining a better sense of when to say yes, and when to say no – without any guilt attached.  So yes, having it all is indeed a myth as the great cloud of witnesses of Tina Fey and Sheryl Sandberg and Nancy Beach will attest to, in the sense that we cannot be in two places at once, we cannot add hours to our days and are limited to our two hands, two feet and one brain.

But life in the Kingdom of God, that glorious upside down Kingdom, has even better news.   We actually can have it all, God just redefines what “it all” means.

We can have

 1.   Full Participation.  Not balanced participation.  Not unattainable participation.  Instead, Holy Participation.  Whether this participation is as a full time stay at home mom, or full time mom with a 40 hour work week – we are participating with God, for God.  The Creator isn’t so tied down by definitions, schedules or what the world would deem as valuable and that’s good news to us.  Full participation means we have meaningful, actual work to do.  If juggling is for the clowns, than participation is for the saints.

2.  Freedom from comparison.    Lots of crappy stuff happens to women simply because we are  women.  But ladies, a lot of our problems come from how we relate to each other.    Jen Hatmaker says in For the Love:  Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards

“The trouble is, we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. With social media and its carefully selected messaging, we see career women killing it, craft moms slaying it, chef moms nailing it, Christian leaders working it. We register their beautiful yards, homemade green chile enchiladas, themed birthday parties, eight-week Bible study series, chore charts, ab routines, “10 Tips for a Happy Marriage,” career best practices, volunteer work, and Family Fun Night ideas. We make note of their achievements, cataloging their successes and observing their talents. Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that. It is certifiably insane.”

If our definition of “having it all” is being awesome at everything simply because we think it is expected of us, or because we assume other women are awesome at everything, we are drowning from the get go.  I have since given up on being Crafty Pinterest Mom (or the mom with the best abs).  Life is better over here.  

3.  Everything our hearts could possibly want… as God refines our hearts.  We have purpose, we have intimacy with our brothers and sisters and with God above.  We have a Holy Spirit of power and conviction and comfort.  We have unspeakable joy, unexplainable peace and unbelievable hope.  We have forgiveness of sins and new songs to sing every day.  Let’s allow those truths to reign in our weeks a little more than an unattainable standard of balance.

Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.  Ephesians 2 (The Message)




2 thoughts on “Lean In Chapter 9: The Myth of Doing it All

  1. It’s so true (as I sit here pumping on my day of packing up my office). And real or perceived, it feels like someone will negatively judge any choice of path. Thankfully, it’s not up to a popular vote to decide my success or failure or identity. …. now I just need to remember that.


    1. Kirsten

      I know this hasn’t been an easy decision for you and I have been praying for you. There will be times where it totally pays off and other times where you have major doubts over the choice, but there will always be praise for never having to pump at work again 😉


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