A Google search for the book Lean In returns about 47,500,000 results. Clearly a popular book, written by Sheryl Sandberg (the current Facebook COO) Lean In is a manifesto for career-driven women. Asserting that women ought to “lean in” to their careers and against discrimination and self-imposed barriers, “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in.” Strong assertions about who women should be. In contrast, I read about another famous woman offering another perspective.
In her memoir, Amy Poehler gave explicitly opposite advice to that in Lean In by telling readers to “lean back” from career, she also says, “Ambivalence is key. You have to care about your work but not the result.” Or as one article I read about Poehler’s book put it, “obsessing over your career may not be the path to happiness.”
Two successful women in the world today, giving completely opposite advice on the same topic. Even the Google search mentioned earlier had several articles praising or critiquing Lean In on the first page. If only this were an isolated example of the messages we are continually faced with. Messages about how to achieve our best life, messages that are often contradictory and unhelpful coming from the world, ourselves and even fellow believers.
In contrast to leaning in or leaning back from the challenges we face, God’s word tells us to stand, to stand firm in him.
From the first verses to the final chapter in Ephesians, Paul describes our sure and perfect hope in Christ. As Paul says of our hope, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).
This hope is the key of life for the Christian, and as Paul continues in verse 20, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.” Christ has solved our only real problem, which was the curse of sin and our separation from God. This is why we do not need to concern ourselves with attempting to control our lives through leaning in or leaning back from whatever circumstance we face.
When it comes to our lives and our careers we can take our cues and our priorities from culture. Or we can take them from the word of God. The primary concern from career women, and men, is not cultural perception but gospel perception. The gospel defines us as people, and that person then can view the rest of life (it's priorities, trials and challenges) in the right perspective.
Paul tells us to stand in our hope in the closing verses of Ephesians. “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might…that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” Paul describes this as putting on the armor of God: of truth, righteousness, faith, salvation, God’s word and with the readiness given by the gospel.
So women of God don’t lean in or lean back, but stand.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.