Wednesday, April 7, 2015
A longform piece on complementarian leader Jennifer Marshall.
Jennifer Marshall is happy with the life she never planned. She never planned to be single in her later years, and she never planned a career.
During her senior year of college, Marshall taught abroad at Black Forest Academy in Germany, a K-12 Christian school designed for international Christian workers or business families who want a North American, Christian education abroad. While in Germany, Marshall sensed a more postmodern cultural climate in Europe and questioned who paid attention to the changing cultural climate in the United States. When she returned to America, she pursued an internship in Washington, D.C. with the Family Research Council in Education Policy, and she now works at the Heritage Foundation as the Vice President for the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity. The Heritage Foundation, a privately funded organization, seeks to encourage human flourishing from constitutional first principles. Marshall said part of her job is to help articulate principles and make policy suggestions to Congress to help meet the needs of people in society, specifically the poor, and strengthen the current culture through promoting policies that support natural law.
In her mid-thirties, Marshall realized her life “had gone off my mental, expected map.” Things were not as she expected. After college she hoped to get married and begin a family. Instead, she found herself single and working full-time. She began to see other single, working women in similar life situations. Marshall wanted to help these women navigate singleness and career in a godly way. So she began to research the phenomenon of extended singleness and the higher median age range for marriage in both men and women. As she researched, Marshall realized there was a lack of conversation about women and singleness, especially in the church.
“Christians need to wrestle with and apply faith to singleness in the church,” she said.
This led to her book, Now and Not Yet: Making Sense of Single Life in the Twenty-First Century, written to help single women navigate singleness as a calling to be embraced for however long of a season the Lord determines. During this time, what was instilled in her as a child – work with excellence in whatever calling in life for this season – began to emerge in her writing. In Now and Not Yet, Marshall writes about life as a calling, not an orientation of marriage, singleness, student, parent, or other occupation. “Each season is a calling,” she said, “and Christians are exhorted to faithfulness in each season of life.” Marshall sees life as two callings: first, Christians are to glorify God in all they do. This thinking drives Marshall’s career, church involvement, friendships, and other aspects of her life as a Christian woman. And secondary callings include vocations like teachers, accountants, writers, mothers, and other jobs.
“The goal of living faithfully in each calling is not to escape the tension of wanting marriage instead of singleness, but rather to live faithfully today,” she said.
And in order to effectively do this, Christians need to mine the rich resource that scripture provides for faithfulness in each season. This is what Marshall’s goal is for Now and Not Yet, to give Christians tools to live authentic and content lives in a culture that promotes sexual promiscuity, selfish career goals, and other useless pursuits. “Christians need to encourage each other to glorify God whatever ‘hat’ they wear,” she said, “learning to balance all callings in light of scripture.”
So as Marshall has continued to work and serve her church, she continues to grow in her understanding of faithfulness in each calling. Her church family at Immanuel Presbyterian Church helps keep her eyes on God, checking her desires and motives as she walks through life and work. Singleness for Marshall is not her identity, nor is her identity her career or church affiliation. She desires to live in each season with a conviction to serve other people and the United States well, no matter the task. Marshall also tries to hold her future plans more loosely, instead focusing on faithfulness in her season right now. This takes on a variety of shapes. Through her role with the Heritage Foundation, she serves poverty-stricken neighbors in need through policy reform. She also seeks to help the church relationally and physically serve the poor and work towards alleviating poverty together.
So even though Marshall’s life is not as she planned, she is content where the Lord placed her. In all of her callings, she strives for faithfulness. She desires to hold life and her plans loosely, to glorify the Lord in her work through excellence and service. She wants to live faithfully in the now until the Lord moves her in a new direction, into a new calling, even if it is not what she planned.
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