My last full-time job before embarking on full-time motherhood was at a college working with young people from very conservative backgrounds. It was listening to these women, very bright, very earnest and full of a desire for purpose that I started to see big holes with the way Christian girls, at least many of them, are raised to view themselves and their vocations.

We live in a modern world that defines value by how much money we can make, how many degrees we can earn, and how many professional awards hang in our offices. This has impacted the Christian world too, and most of us feel the pressure to achieve these things at some point in our lives. The conservative Christian world largely rejects these things as definitive to the value of the life of a woman. This is a step in the right direction. All of these things can be good things, but not when we think they give us value.

But instead of promoting these things as necessary for a life of purpose, the Christian community has instead delivered a different message to their young women. Your relationships give you value. Are you single? Pray for a spouse so that you can serve God better, have purpose, fulfill your calling as a woman to be a helpmeet. Are you childless? Pray for children. In fact, pray for MANY children. The more you have, the more you’ll be able to serve God by raising up children for His glory. Subtly, Christian girls receive the message that their value is in becoming wives and mothers. This can dangerously lead them to look for these things too young and/or to miss other opportunities that come their way. More seriously, a lack of desire to marry or to bear children may lead them to question the faith that they see as making them feel different or wrong or unimportant.

I believe that we have made a grave mistake with good intentions. There is a need for us to affirm the place of those that are serving as wives and mothers and sacrificing professional accolades to better prepare their children for life. But in doing so, we can often send a false message to young women.

Our value is in our creation. We are daughters of God and He loves us and desires that we find our unique gifts and use them for His glory. Not all of us will marry, not all of us will bear children (and some might only have one or two), but we all have the capacity to serve Him, to worship Him.

As a mother to a little girl, I want her to know that she is wonderful. Period. She is a gift from God. I dream big things for her. I would love for her to go to college. Earn a graduate degree. Serve in foreign missions. See the Sistine Chapel. I would love for her to marry and have children. But I don’t know that all of these things are best for her. I have to trust that God will reveal to her where He is at work and she will answer the call to join Him with her unique talents.

So how do we self-correct this dangerous tendency to promote marriage and family to all? How do we celebrate and prepare the future wives and mothers among us without demeaning those that will not take these paths? How do we raise our daughters to be all God called them to be?