Critique on Kathryn Butler’s “From Medical Doctor to Stay-at-Home Mom” at Desiring God as Coming from the Son of a Neurosurgeon

Kathryn Butler a Clinical Surgeon in the Boston area writes an article for Desiring God in which she explains why she walks away from active medicine to be a stay at home Mom. This article is filled with issues that I believe warrants a response. From Kathryn throwing the complementarian grenade, to making others feel guilty, to also exploring whether or not she is wasting her skills as Jesus taught in the parable of the talents. This post is from the son of a California neurosurgeon who grew up in a medical family.

“He who cures a disease may be the skillfullest, but he who prevents it is the safest physician. “

Thomas Fuller

“He who doth with the greatest exactness imaginable, weigh every individual thing that shall or hath hapned to his Patient, and may be known from the Observations of his own, or of others, and who afterwards compareth all these with one another, and puts them in an opposite view to such Things as happen in a healthy State; and lastly, from all this with the nicest and severest bridle upon his reasoning faculty riseth to the knowledge of the very first Cause of the Disease, and of the Remedies fit to remove them; He, and only He deserveth the Name of a true Physician.”

Hermann Boerhaave


Luke, the beloved doctor, sends his greetings, and so does Demas

Luke 4:14 NLT


Fletch sees the Doctor, forgive me I could not resist!

I grew up in a medical family and I am a doctor’s kid. My father was a neurosurgeon in California and quite talented, known for his niceness, kindness and being loving. My father went to medical school at The University of Chicago, and did an Internship at Duke University. He then did his Residency in Neurological Surgery at the University of Washington. It was a difficult life and medicine is a changing game. My father was also involved in medical organizations like the Western Neurological Society or the California Association of Neurological Surgeons. I am not trying to brag I am just trying to set up the response to today’s article.

Being in a medical family was also challenging. My Dad had a difficult schedule at times and he was at the whim of other people’ situations, calls schedules, and hospitals. He didn’t complain about the late nights, being away from family or more. I can’t ever recall him complaining about the stress of the job. It didn’t mean it went perfect but it was the job and the career he signed up for in his life and he deeply loved it. I can’t tell you how many times my family would be having dinner and there was a phone call and my Dad learned that there was an accident and a person was being transported to the hospital and the estimated arrival time. He rushed to finish dinner, and sometimes try and get some sleep before the person arrived especially if it was going to be a late night. My father was talented in what he did and medicine was his life. It was so much a part of his life that when I came home from football practice at times I would see him sitting on the couch, doing dictation or watching medical tapes, or surgeries from pharmaceutical companies. In high school I knew what a fractured disc, herniated disc, and glioblastoma was, it comes with the territory of being a doctor’s kid. People who go into medicine are also quite talented, and have a unique skill set. Medical school is not easy, and to be a doctor is a lot of stress, and work. You also have to keep current with your certification. For my Dad that meant pursuing continuing education and keeping up with the profession and developments. However, in all that let me also state the following…in all the years that my Dad was a physician he never once missed a football game I played when I was in high school. That I value quite a bit today.


Who is Kathryn Butler?

Kathryn got her BS from Barnard College in 2002 and went onto Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons where she graduated with her M.D. in 2006. At Massachusetts General Hospital she was the resident in General Surgery for six years and a fellow of Surgical Critical Care for one year. She was also the Acute Care Surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center for two years. She was the instructor in Surgery at Harvard Medical School for four years. Also at Harvard she was the Associate Director of the MGH Surgery Clerkship for two years. Kathryn also was the Trauma and Critical Care Surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital. In 2016 Kathryn pushed back from active medical practice to be a stay at home Mom. It appears as if she is still going to teach at Harvard. Her decision to pushback from active medicine is written about in a Desiring God article called, “From Medical Doctor to Stay-at-Home Mom.” She has published at least four articles for Desiring God. They vary on everything from medical care in Kenya to prayer in regards to the Zika virus.


A Critique on Her Article and Concerns

Before I start let me clearly state that this is not meant to be a criticism of stay at home Moms. I think stay at home Moms are awesome and its a job unto itself. This writer and Christian has the deepest respect for stay at home Moms. That said, when I read this article I was greatly disturbed. In a phone call with Dee Parsons I asked her “Did you read that article?” I was troubled by what I read and felt it needed a strong response. Dee and I discussed the problems of the article and I decided to put it on my pile of things to write about. For the record this article is being emailed to Kathryn Butler to give her the opportunity to respond.

One of the things that bothered me about this article is the massive guilt trip that Kathryn Butler lays on people. What she decides for herself is obviously the norm for Christians. Not only that but in the process she says that to follow God one must “opt out” even though she once claims that the Lord “made her this way” and that she states the following early on in the article:

Ten years after I first slipped into a white coat and welcomed an identity I wore everywhere I went, I questioned my compass. For years I had convinced myself that, as a doctor, I sacrificed moments with friends, family, and my husband for the greater good. The call to heal the sick and tend the injured superceded all else. The Lord heaped blessings upon me, and I hurled them back in the name of “service” to him.

I am not trying to boast but as I was growing up I never heard my father complain like that at all. I am aware of saying that earlier on but I feel the strong need to emphasize that fact. My father knew that medicine is a challenge and he had countless nights and times away form the family. But he also accepted it as part of the job. My Dad also saw patients who struggled to pay at times and worked with them or did things out of his own understanding of the Christian faith. But my Dad also knew what serving the poor meant, especially since Catholics have a greater understanding and history of serving the poor than evangelicals do. My Dad looked upon some of that as being his Christian duty. But what troubles me in this article is the guilt trip that Kathryn lays on people. She acts and claims as if she knows the way to serve God and in the process its “opting out” from an active medical practice. For others who are Christians in medicine who struggle with the schedule, the stress and more my hope is that they won’t feel obligated to follow suit. Medicine is a challenging job, and the message that is being communicated is that to serve the Lord you have to “opt out.” As I know there are Christian medical associations and student groups, with some who act as if John Piper is the fourth member of the trinity, I can almost guarantee that this article has probably been shared in some Christian fellowships on various medical schools. My concern is that others who read Kathryn’s article feel as though they are guilty. They should not feel guilty and the pious, snobbish ways of many in the Neo-Calvinist camp needs strong push back. But there is another thing that bothered me as well…that Kathryn Butler turned this situation into another complementarian hill to die on.


Another Complementarism Grenade?

When I read this article I was taken back that the subject seemed to turn the issue of parenting, and medicine into another reaction for complementarism.  After all in the article she speaks about her career and how when they were going to have children her husband was going to stay home. But as she said God had other plans. I have this to say…really? I’ve actually known a number of men over the years who have chosen to stay at home and work. But as this article deals with medicine I actually know someone in Wisconsin who stayed at home to raise his children while his wife is having a very flourishing medical career. Is Doug engaged in sin because he is not playing the role as defined by complementarism fundamentalism? The risk in these situations is that people are being defined by the gender and not their talent, skill set, or what they are capable of doing. And how did Kathryn Butler know that her staying home was God’s plan? Did she get an email from God? Text message? Phone call from Heaven? I don’t mean to belittle her I am just asking, as so many people say, “God had other plans.” And then they never define, explain or state the reasons why. I have heard plenty over the years of how some Christians use the phrase “God had other plans” to get out of something they do not like. They excuse themselves and move on into a new area. With the way that Kathryn pens this article I can see how it leaves many people with a guilt trip. I have known a number of people over the years where they had to change, or adjust roles due to unemployment, talent, or a whole host of other issues. But it also leads me to ask a question of Kathryn as well…does this Christian know her Bible well? I’ll explain that in the next section.


Is Kathryn Familiar with the Parable of the Talents? If so, is she Sinning in Walking Away from Clinical Practice of Medicine?

I am honestly amazed that so many Christians claim to know the Bible when many do not. The toxicity that comes from people like John Piper and Mark Dever only becomes much more poisonous as people assume that their teachings are correct. Its time for people to put down their celebrity pastor de jour and spend time reading and studying the Bible for themselves. Along the way I also hope that some people will learn to think and question for themselves. After all if the Lord gave us a brain I would suggest its a sin not to use it.

In Matthew 25 there is the parable of the three servants, which is also known as the parable of the talents. In the story a man going on  a trip calls his servants and gives them bags of silver to each man depending on their abilities. After the man leaves the three servants do differing things with the money. One man takes the five bags of silver and invests it, while the second man takes the two bags of silver and invests it. Meanwhile the final man took the one bag of silver and buried it. He did nothing and chose to not use his silver. After a significant amount of time passed the man returned and he gathered all the men together. Each one explained what they did. The one man who was given five bags invested it and made five more. He was congratulated and given more responsibilities. The other man who invested two bags earned two and he was congratulated. When the man got to the final man he explained that he was afraid to do anything and he took the money and buried it. When the master heard of this he said, “You wicked and lazy servant!” and he proceeds to chastise him and takes his money from him and gives it to the others who invested the money responsibly.

I view that parable as a teaching on what we are to do with our skills sets and abilities. Each one of us have differing skills sets that are unique and individual to us. Some can be great teachers, others can be great engineers, others can be exceptional fireman or lawyers. Whatever the skill set is I believe we are to use it. And for the record let me state that I don’t believe you need to be a Christian to have skill sets. We all have them in our unique way. So what does this mean to Kathryn Butler? Let me explain how I view this parable in her situation. Doctors are gifted and talented and very few people every become doctors. The standards are rigorous and getting through medical school is quite demanding. They are high for a reason in that you want only the best and those qualified to do the jobs that are needed. After all…would you want anyone practicing ear, nose and throat? Cardiology? Neurosurgery? General Surgery? Of course not, you want someone who is capable and skilled to do the job on you. People who become doctors go through demanding education and have long hours. So if someone goes through all that training an experience and they persevere  and thrive what does that speak about in regards to their talents? It speaks a lot in my opinion. So let me ask this question. For Kathryn Butler to become a trauma surgeon speaks a lot about how gifted and talented she is. After all I could not be one, nor could many people who read me. But here is the question I have…when she is walking away from the profession and giving it up is she being like that final servant in the parable of the talents? Is Kathryn thinking she did the right thing and squandered her talent only to possibly hear one day, “You wicked and lazy servant!” The sad part about all this is that she acts and believes as if this is all glorifying to God. But is God being glorified when someone who is talented and gifted not using their abilities as they have been created? And please understand in most situations I would never ask these questions or write such a post. But Kathryn Butler chose to write a post at Desiring God and parade her beliefs for the world to see. So if she is going to do that let’s ask some questions.  That, by the way, I believe is another permanent flaw in evangelicalism when the pastorate is deified and you have people who think the only way they can serve God is by becoming a pastor and going into ministry and in the process they walk away from careers and jobs that most of the church would never even interact with. But getting back to the original point is Kathryn Butler wasting her skills and talent in walking away from clinical medicine?  


Another Proposal That Allows Both

Instead of the black and white thinking which Kathryn is exhibiting in her article I would like to propose another way that I hope she could consider. I am also wondering if there are additional reasons as to why she wants to get out of clinical medicine. After all its my understanding that trauma surgery is tough on families, and leads to a high divorce rates. Did Kathryn Butler know about this going into it? But I think she is incredibly gifted and that I hope its not too late for her to re-think her options. What Kathryn can do is find a medical practice that allows her to work part time. She can cross-train into another field and her background would suit her well. For example why not  transition over into Emergency Room Doctor or Anesthesiology?  In those fields she could work a couple of days a week and share the responsibilities with her husband. It will take some talent and coordination and she may have to prioritize life but in that format she cold still practice medicine part time. Think of it this way as well….Kathryn could do that for years and as the kids grow older she could work more in clinical medicine as she will have had to maintain her certifications, licenses and more. That would be a win/win for her plus she would be using her skill set. Plus it would also play into the parable of the talents. One of the major problems with fundamentalism is that it gives people a tunnel perspective or black and white thinking. Its an “either/or” frame of mind. In the end she is hurting herself, her community the medical community in Boston is losing someone quite talented, and its disrespectful to God. None of that has to be as I honestly hope she will reconsider. I don’t with her malice I don’t want her to make a mistake. In closing since we’re talking about the frozen chosen of Desiring God  again I am going to leave you with some classic Foreigner. Please know that I love you guys!

19 thoughts on “Critique on Kathryn Butler’s “From Medical Doctor to Stay-at-Home Mom” at Desiring God as Coming from the Son of a Neurosurgeon

  1. Hmmm….I actually thought she wrote a great article. I felt she was clear about this decision being personal.

    “In my case, my worldly success arose not from dedication to Christ, but from my own pride. The scalpel, the lecture, and the accolades they earned me served as objects of worship. My motivation — to help people — was honorable. But as I relied upon it to justify my existence, my relationship with my career mutated into idolatry.”


  2. I’m just glad that the secular society would consider it gender discrimination to insist that only men ought to work in certain professions. Just as women are needed as police officers, so too, are women needed as doctors just because they aren’t men and have a whole other perspective with ways to deal with obstacles or seek solutions for problems. I think back to Fabiola (from around 350-400 a.d.), she successfully divorced her abusive first husband, remarried and after the death of her second husband renounced her wealth and power – she erected one of (if not the very) first hospitals in Rome and she took in anyone and everyone who needed help – even attending them herself. Since the history of women in Christianity has been lost – then the respect for women who serve sacrificially and the memory of who they were / what they did has been lost with it. Christian women have had an important role in caring for the ill, it carried on down through the centuries right to Clara Burton and the founding of the American Red Cross and even to this day. It’s not gender that’s the crucial factor, but it’s what Jesus told men and women to do: care for poor, visit the ill, the imprisoned, watch over orphans and widows, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good observation Jamie. In many ways she was doing ministry when she worked in Clinical Medicine. My Dad viewed his job through his Catholic faith at times, and I have known Baptists and others who were doctors who viewed their job through their faith. Part of me wondered if there is more to this story that is being withheld. I don’t want to speculate, but people who love their jobs maintain and seldom walk away from them. Maybe that’s me.


      • Unfortunately, too many Christians have the idea that only Full Time Christian Ministry (i.e. Pastor, Missionary, Evangelist, Worship Musician) are the only Real Christian vocations.

        In their way, they echo the Heresy of Clericalism rampant in the late Middle Ages, where ONLY Priests, Monks, and Nuns mattered in the sight of God and the only way to be a REAL Christian was to take the vows and become one. (Resulting in a LOT of Clergy and Religious who weren’t cut out for it.) The laity were at best Second-Class Lukewarms as they couldn’t spend 24/7/365 in Prayer and Devotions like their Spiritual Betters.


  3. In her article she sets up a false binary choice between idolatry of a career or stay at home. There was a huge investment by her and by society in obtaining and giving her the medical skills, I would think there were other choices than the two she gives. Also if this is a personal decision, not to be critiqued, then why publish the “personal decision”.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly Bill….that leaves me to wonder if she does not enjoy that version of clinical medicine and she wanted to walk away and do so under differing circumstances. The other thing that I would be curious to know is her finances. Medical school is not cheap and many doctors carry huge med school debts. Does that play a factor into that? She is quite talented and the other possibility is that she received financial aid and help which could be helpful to her in the end.


  4. Hi, thank you for your response to my article. My point was not at all to claim that “opting out” is the Biblical choice. My point was that when we struggle with career choices, questions of idolatry and service to God should guide us. Paths through this lens will differ depending on individual situations. In my case, due to myriad reasons related to my own temperament, the needs of my family, and what work had become for me, leaving practice entirely was the answer. For others, the situation will differ. The focus on God in our lives is key.

    Thank you, and God bless.

    Katie Butler

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi, thanks for your response to my article. My point was not at all that “opting out” is always the Biblical route. It was that when we consider career trajectories, questions of idolatry and service to God should guide us. What such questions reveal will differ between individuals. In my case, a myriad of personal factors including my temperament, family situation, and what work had become for me, meant leaving practice entirely was the answer. For another person, of another constitution, with a different family, the answer would be different. The questions, focused on God in our lives, are the key.

    Thank you, and God bless,
    Katie Butler

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Katie

      I respect you decision to stay at home with your children. I,too, was a stay at home mom for years. There are a couple of points, though, that I think need to be brought up about your post at Desiring God.

      1. John Piper has been an outspoken critic of women who venture into professions that used to be predominantly male- such as law enforcement, etc. I am concerned that many who read your post will think that you are leaving to stay at home with your kids because you left a position in which you had *authority* over men. My husband is an academic cardiologist and I am a nurse, having done discharge planning in a hospital in Boston. I am aware of the stressors inherent in your job at MGH.

      Unfortunately, your choice will be perceived by many in the Desiring God camp as having finally done the right thing according to your gender. I wish you could have emphasized that this had nothing to do with your belief that women should not be *in authority* over men and that some mothers choose to have a career outside the home and juggle their responsibilities well.

      2.As one who stayed at home with her children and having raised them to adulthood with all three following the Lord, I have one observation. Idolatry is as much present in the *stay at home* faction as would be with ardent feminists in academic medicine. Some worship[ degrees, others worship doing family at home. Been there, done that, repented.

      May God be with you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Dee, thank you so much for your comments, which I understand and respect. I appreciate how my own personal journey might be misconstrued as pushing an agenda which I don’t intend. And absolutely, idolatry is as much a danger at home as in the hospital. It’s the constant examination of our motives that matters; an ongoing process.

        Thank you for your feedback. God bless.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dee: “Some worship degrees” as in all those Honorary Doctorates the Preacher Big Dogs award each other?

        Kathryn: It’s not so much “might be misconstrued” as “Will be deliberately misconstrued” to push an agenda. Dee co-runs a whistleblower watchblog focusing on exposing corrupt churches, and one of the agendas she blows the whistle on is Complementarianism redefined as Male Supremacy.


  6. (Part 1)
    I’m a never-married woman over the age of 40 who has never had sex. I had wanted to marry, but I never did meet the right guy, so here I am single.

    “Desiring God” is a complementarian organization, and as such, they are big into promoting the SAHM (“stay at home wife and mother”) lifestyle.

    Complementarian groups such as ‘Desiring God’ shame and scold women for not marrying and/or for not having kids (or for not wanting to have kids).

    Many Christians, complementarians especially, have turned Marriage and Natalism into idols. I seldom see them address this tendency and problem.

    If or when a never-married, childless woman such as myself leaves a comment on one of their blogs, next thing you know, within the next week or two, one of their writers will do a puff piece about women, where singleness is mentioned approvingly in passing – but the lion’s share of attention and blog posts consistently pertains to motherhood and marriage for women in complementarian writings.

    Complementarians shame women who do not marry or do not have kids, and they always assume that women are deliberately passing up one or both, and at that, due to having secular feminist leanings, or due to worshipping career. Wrong, very wrong.

    I had wanted to marry, as I stated previously, but I never met the right guy, so I could not marry. I am single by circumstance, not by choice. And there are many women out there like me.

    For women who do want to put career over motherhood or getting married, that is their business, and their choice, and Christians (complementarians especially) need to stop guilt tripping or shaming women for any of this.

    (continued in Part 2….)


  7. (Part 2)
    I don’t know about the motives of the woman who wrote the blog post (which I did read), but I am pretty dang sure that the motive of the complementarian “Desiring God” site, by sharing it, was to shame or subtly guilt trip Christian women from veering away from the 1950s “home and hearth, be a wife and mother” stereotype.

    Regarding this comment by the author on the blog post:

    Mentors urged me not to “waste” my education.
    Their accusations reminded me of the remarks Mary suffered when she anointed Christ. According to the world, she, too, had “wasted” a precious gift (Matthew 26:6–13). We know that when we serve Christ, we waste nothing.

    In my view, even though it may not have been the intent of the author, it never- the- less is commentary that is subtly shaming women who don’t leave a career to become SAHMs (stay at home mothers).

    But recall the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42): one sister was doing the stereotypical “June Cleaver, SAHM” role of baking in the kitchen (who would be Martha), while the other sister, Mary, sat at the feet of Jesus, learning from him (which was not culturally supported in the day; women were not supposed to learn from rabbis, if I recall correctly).

    When Martha objected to Mary choosing to learn theology at the feet of Jesus while she did her “Carol Brady” thing of making a meal for the family, and Jesus gently rebuked Martha for it, and told her that Mary had chosen the better thing.

    If Jesus were as pro-1950s gender stereotypes as complementarians assume he must be (which would include putting SAHMish on a pedestal above and beyond criticism), Jesus would’ve told Mary to got off her duff and assist Martha right away in the kitchen – but he did not.

    I have seen many blog posts over the years by complementarians who assume a woman choosing career over marriage or motherhood, (or in addition to either), is due to a motive of selfishness, or being influenced by secular feminism, or caring what the world values more than God, due to personal pride, and so forth.

    Complementarians just keep attributing all these negative motives to women who choose career over, (or in addition to), having a Nuclear Family, and it is wrong that they do this.

    Any way you slice it, complementarians are unhappy with women who have careers, who do not it the role of Wife or Mother Only, or who do not want to fit in the role of Wife and Mother only.

    I think complementarians today find it upsetting that secular culture gives women more choices – to avoid motherhood, to become police officers, to join the military, etc.
    I think that is one reason complementarians keep publishing these articles pressuring women (and being careful to use Biblical-sounding jargon and rationales while doing so) to shame them back into 1950s housewife type roles.

    It used to just be a cultural given that girls would grow up and marry and have a kid – those days are gone, and I think it has complementarians in a tizzy.

    I don’t think I ever see such articles by complementarians asking working men to judge their motives for employment, as in the following:

    Married Fathers, you need to examine your heart.
    Why are you working outside the home?

    Every time your little daughter Sally sees you taking your briefcase out the door to go to your 9 to 5 job, and she cries, you really need to re-examine WHY you’re holding down that job.

    Is it to -really- honor God, men?

    Fathers, don’t you think you’re hurting your children by working outside the home?

    I honestly have as of yet to see a complementarian site such as “Desiring God” or some other one frame a man’s career in the same way. Only women are told to question their reasons for why they have a job outside the home.

    I don’t see the same amount or type of pressure on men by Christians to be stay at home fathers, to question why they are holding jobs outside the home. This material is generally only aimed at women about 99% of the time.
    For the record, for those who don’t know me, I am not against women choosing freely to be S.A.H.M.s, or to marry and/or have kids, or to have a career AND work outside the home.

    My problem is always with a secular culture and Christian (complementarian or patriarchal) teaching that presents Marriage and Motherhood as being a woman’s only or “best” good, decent, Godly, God- designed, God- Favored, worthwhile activities or roles.

    Nobody should be making women who are single, childless, or child-free feel guilty, ashamed, or like freaks, failures, or second class Christians just for not being married or for not having kids… but it happens all the time.


  8. “Nobody should be making women who are single, childless, or child-free feel guilty, ashamed”
    Coming of age in the 70’s there was a good deal of judgement by the secular world in my community against women who chose to stay at home and raise their their children. Twenty years ago it was groundbreaking for men to choose to be the primary care giver and many men received negative judgement from their peers, that is now changing. The difficulty is not allowing people freedom and that is the root of the problem with a story such as Kathryn’s posted on a site that pushes complementarian belief, they are not about giving women freedom.

    I respect Kathryn for commenting here and her humility in responding. It does interest me that she mentions work had become an idol for her. I am on a non-profit board with a woman who expressed similar sentiments about her medical career. In her case she chooses to use her skills and talents to help those in need and not for the big bucks that originally motivated her. I respect both her and Kathryn and would hope that Katheryn could also find a joyful outlet for her medical training.

    Likely my take away was not her decision but that she would allow her decision to be appropriated into the complementarian agenda, HUG made an excellent point up thread, it “Will be deliberately misconstrued”. It appears to be a caution that your choice of forum can be every bit as important as your story which I believe was Eagle’s original point.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You said,

      Likely my take away was not her decision but that she would allow her decision to be appropriated into the complementarian agenda, HUG made an excellent point up thread, it “Will be deliberately misconstrued”. It appears to be a caution that your choice of forum can be every bit as important as your story which I believe was Eagle’s original point.

      Oh, I don’t dispute that. I do agree.

      That was one reason I said in my post “I don’t know what her motives are, but…”

      I am assuming that the Desiring God site (complementarian group) published her piece for a very specific, agenda-driven reason: to try to shame, guilt, or convince Christian women to be Stay at Home Mothers.

      As though being single, childless, childfree and/or having a career are shameful, sinful, or selfish (which they are not or do not have to be).


  9. Pingback: A Curse is Broken in Chicago! | Wondering Eagle

  10. Pingback: The Wondering Eagle for 2016, the Year in Review | Wondering Eagle

Comments are closed.