Wednesday, July 13, 2011

women, money and God

I just finished reading Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You're Worth by Mika Brzezinski (co-host of Morning Joe).  Ever since the publication of her book, All Things at Once, Mika has positioned herself as a strong leadership role model for younger women, sharing not only her triumphs and strengths, but also her mistakes and moments of real regret.  Her books are eminently readable and full of good advice for us younger gals.

In her book, Mika writes that women need to (for now) reconcile themselves to the fact that the masculine style of leadership--the man's world, if you will--is still the dominant culture today.  She adds that if women hope to acquire a raise, recognition for their hard work, or true rewards for their value, they need to acquire these things using more masculine means.

Mika rightly points out that women tend not to be as self-promoting as men and tend to be apologetic when asking for a raise, promotion or other recognition of their value.  This is all too true.  I find, not only with myself, but with other women that we do tend to work hard, keeping our heads down and expecting that if we just work hard enough, it will be a fair world and someone will notice our efforts and reward us.  Our desired result rarely happens, sadly.  Mika wisely points out that we settle all too often for the reward of being liked, instead of a real monetary recognition of our talents and contributions.  She provides good coaching on what kinds of wording and negotiation tactics to use when seeking a raise or a promotion.  She also counsels women to "be prepared to walk" if they are being "undervalued." 

What I appreciate about Mika's approach is that rather than taking on a rabid feminist viewpoint and rather than acting as if masculine styles of leadership are inherently evil, she challenges us to learn from the dominant culture and to use its language to our advantage as women.  She teaches us to respect and appreciate the strengths that men bring to the table.  This kind of attitude probably has something to do with her popularity among the male guests and hosts on Morning Joe.  When you watch the program, it's easy to see that most people think even more highly of Mika than they do of Joe Scarborough.  This is because Mika approaches people with a deep respect for them, and a desire to learn from them.  But she also has strong opinions of her own and is not afraid to voice them.  A strong, respectful woman is an excellent role model for us younger women.

At the same time, I found myself often wishing as I read this book that the world (the dominant culture) was not the way Mika described.  Along with a world in which men do know how to value themselves, are willing to walk away from the table when needed, are not overly emotional when reason is called for, she also paints the picture of a world in which men don't often care as passionately about the company or job with which they serve.  They are able to walk away from the table precisely because they are able to better separate themselves from the job.  Do we really want to encourage women to just care less about their jobs?  Isn't the maternal, nurturing aspect of being a woman a huge asset to us in our work?  Would Ann Curry or Diane Sawyer, for example, be as good as reporters without their deep, abiding compassion?  Is it really so wrong to sublimate our own desires for the sake of our company or group?

When I try to picture myself imitating such an attitude, I feel as if I would be cold, uncaring and unfeeling.  Especially when one considers work such as the call of ministry.  I have felt guilty for receiving a raise in the past (especially after becoming a mother, as I feared my new role lessened what I was able to contribute to my work), even as I considered that I was setting a good precedent for future pastors by accepting it, even as I considered that the additional money would be helpful for my family.  But see my reasoning there?  The raise was good because it helped other people.  Not because it was a way of reflecting my value.  In fact, I struggled with insecurity often, hoping, desperately hoping that in a difficult-to-quantify job, I was giving the congregation their "money's worth."  Did I see myself and my skills as inherently valuable?  Or was I, as Mika describes, just grateful to have the job, to have the opportunity?

I know I struggle with these things.  This is why it took me so long to walk away from the table.  After having my daughter, I struggled for a long time with the all-consuming nature of my work as pastor, coupled with the all-consuming nature of being a parent to a little person who depends on you for everything.  Particularly in the newborn stage, while a child is still nursing, the physical demands on a woman's body alone, are profoundly difficult.  And pairing that with a lack of a support system, makes it an impossible situation.

I knew what would be best for me for a long time but struggled with following through it because I thought so much about what was best for others (a noble motivation but an empty vessel doesn't have much to give to others).  I wanted to quit for quite a while before I actually quit.  I couldn't bear to bring myself to do it because in the first year of our time in North Dakota, I had said (without a promise, mind you, but with some conviction) that I hoped to stay there as pastor for 10 years.  I saw that the smaller congregation in particular had suffered the quick turnover of many pastors and I wanted to spare them that, to give them a real chance with a leader who was committed to them.  And so when things began to turn so difficult, I struggled greatly with guilt over thinking of leaving.  I thought, "I can't leave.  I have made a commitment.  I have a responsibility to these people."  It was only when I could not ignore the problems (both personal and congregational) any longer, that I became willing to walk away from the table.  In the final year of pastoring, my job was repeatedly threatened.  I was repeatedly de-valued by a powerful member of the congregation and talked down to, and the worst came when many of the people I felt I had committed myself to decided not to show commitment to me, decided not to stand up for me.  Why was I hesitant?  Why had I not valued myself more?

I think part of the problem is that as Christians, we are taught to sublimate our own interests.  And of course, we should.  But that does not mean being a doormat.  We are free to choose to sacrifice, but we should not be forced to do so.  I feel much respect for the pastor who chooses, freely, to go years without a raise, knowing he or she deserves it, but at the same time finding joy in the freely chosen sacrifice.  I have less respect for the pastor who takes no raise for years because he or she is hoping to people-please, to subsist on people liking him or her, rather than on God.

Asking for raises, promotions, respect, all of these things are hard, scary things.  They are ultimately things that lay us bare, that ask us to lean hard on God.  As I look back on my time as a pastor, I find myself often wishing not that I were more humble and quiet, but rather that I were more confident, strong, and outspoken.  Granted, it can be a difficult balance to navigate being respectful and yet outspoken, particularly when you are facing strong social pressure and criticism.  It can be easy to bow to the spoken and unspoken messages that you've stepped out of line and are not behaving as a Christian.  It can be tough, truly, to speak the truth in love (instead of in anger).  But if we are willing to die to image and people-pleasing, and to live to God, He can work in our lives to help us to dare to risk.

I am far from having all the answers about the right balance between knowing my value and having a servant's heart.  Mika, for all of her wisdom, is writing from the perspective of the business world, as opposed to an explicitly Christian viewpoint.  I struggle to reconcile the obvious truth of her writing with the Biblical teaching on servanthood.  I'm curious, dear readers: How have you brought balance to this issue in your own lives?  I know this issue is not limited only to women, but I do believe we women--particularly after we become mothers--struggle with it more acutely than do men.  I would love to hear insights and testimonies from others who have walked this path.


  1. I have found that it is profoundly useful to know my worth, and to know my priorities. If I am being undervalued in a position that minimally impacts (or negatively impacts) my top priorities, I don't even have to think about it - I just walk away (I believe that this is a biblical stance in the right situations - it's complicated, but it does follow Jesus' example).

    I recently took a new position, and they offered me the minimum that I would accept. Before I accepted, I asked for performance and pay reviews 3 times in the first year, and if I hadn't performed well enough to deserve higher pay, then we should both walk away from the relationship. In my mind, if I'm not learning and improving in a way that can be rewarded monetarily, then I'm not growing in my job, and it better serves me and the company to have someone else in that position.

  2. Rebecca,
    The Christian life is not a visible life--it is hidden with Christ in God (Col.3:3-4).

    Bonhoeffer struggled with this during his days in prison. Dr. Pearson has a remarkable essay on this. You can find it here:

    The Christian life is hidden away with Christ so that we have the freedom to engage our vocations and the "offices" into which we've been placed. There we fulfill our duty to family, neighbor and community. "Sinning boldly" when necessary, but "believing in the grace of God all the more boldly." Forgiveness frees us to act rationally and reasonably within a given set of circumstances--even to be masculine or feminine in our choices--rather than peeking behind the masks of God trying to discover some hidden will.

    This was a good post for me to read and I might have to investigate "Morning Joe." You're a good writer and I enjoy your blog. Thanks!

  3. Embers, can you say more about how walking away mirrors Jesus' actions?

    It sounds like you are an awfully healthy individual! Awesome to see there are women out there who do a great job of valuing themselves.

  4. Tim, I always appreciate your balanced approach.

    How does the hidden life in Christ integrate with Jesus' instructions to "take the lower place"?

    I like what you say about how it can be better for the community for us to have strong boundaries.

  5. In Jesus life, he had a clear notion of his priorities, he stuck to his priorities (even against the council of his disciples on several occasions). Jesus displayed willingness to value those who valued him above those who didn't recognize him, as evidenced when his family showed up and he recognized his disciples as his new family. Even then, he had a clear sense of his number 1 priority, which was the will of the Father, and was willing to walk away from people who urgently needed him in order to spend time in prayer and make sure he was on track with his 1 priority. When he sent his disciples out in pairs, he directed them to walk away from any place that didn't value their message, "shaking the dirt from their shoes" as they went. Walking away isn't always the best solution, and should only be done if reconciliation can't be achieved in a timely or orderly fashion. But I think it is consistent with Jesus' character to let go when reconciliation isn't being achieved (I am guided mostly by his interactions with Pharisees, etc, in this notion - he didn't seek them out, and beyond answering their questions, didn't pay much attention to them). People in the workplace who seek to devalue us are no better for us to spend time with than Pharisees, who sought to devalue Jesus (assuming that we are performing our duties with competence and grace, and without egotism). Again, it's much more complicated than what I'm laying out here, but I think this gets to the "seed" of my thoughts.

  6. I like your viewpoint and appreciate your discussion about women trying to learn to live and find their place in a male dominated world. I find that a lot of women hold bitterness in their hearts because they feel that they are not taken seriously as women when in reality men simply approach things much differently. Yes, set your priorities, stick to them in a Godly manner, but realize that you have to negotiate the world as it is to get where you want to go.

  7. Embers, what a balanced and well thought out explanation. I agree with you. Certainly, we have a responsibility to our employers, to do the best job we can do. But we also need to make sure we are following what God is calling us to do. I think what I struggle with most is when is something a situation where I need to bear the difficulties of working through a tough working relationship and when is it time to give up? I think you provide some helpful guiding principles in determining this.

  8. Erin, thanks for stopping by and sharing. I think you make a really valid point that men and women simply approach things differently. We sometimes think men are not being appreciative but perhaps we would do well not to make that assumption and to view our work as a cross-cultural experience. I think that is essentially Mika's point. That men and women don't do things better or worse than the other, just different, and if we are operating in a male-dominant world, we need to understand how that world operates.


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