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2004-05-03 10:50 AM
ministry and motherhood -- to a friend
A friend of mine with an 18 month old boy is negotiating a call as a campus minister, but is nervous about balancing the demands on her time and energy, and wanted the *real* story on being a working mom in ministry. Here is part of my response:
--Whenever I drop my daughter off at day care (which she LOVES, and that makes all the difference in the world), I often think about the sacrifice she's making and that she didn't choose to be the daughter of a minister. That is always in my mind when people ask if I can just attend one more meeting this week, if I can participate in this Saturday workshop, etc. etc. etc. Whereas I am not always good at saying no for my own sake, I find it much easier to do so for the sake of my kid. She stiffens my resolve NEVER to be taken advantage of in any ministry job. It is true that all jobs suck sometimes, but every so often I make this pact with myself. If any church EVER starts screwing me over, sucking my life away, or making relentless superhuman demands on me, and it can't be resolved, then for her sake, and for mine, I will walk away, goodbye, that's it, see ya, adios, and not look back.
Thank God that hasn't happened. Aside from being a very busy, dynamic place with more to do than I possibly could ever do, the church I serve is extremely family-friendly. I am trying to find patterns that work for me. For example, I try to limit the number of evenings per week to two (sometimes this has to go out the window, e.g. Lent and Advent). I typically only attend our Saturday night service half of the time, and so on.
--Ministry is flexible. So, so flexible. Sunday morning is the only aspect of my job that absolutely can't be rescheduled. (And if it's a dire enough situation, even that can be left in other hands.) That's a wonderful gift that ministry gives to families. I can bring my child to work with me some times, I do a lot of my "paper" work (e-mails, sermon/class prep, writing notes to parishioners) after she's gone to bed, and so on.
--I have people offering to babysit all the time. I bet college students would do that too--although college students are always broke so they probably wouldn't do it for free, but I am a big believer in bartering (my husband fixed my co-worker's computer in exchange for some babysitting). I bet those college kids would love your child like a little brother.
--The state of the house, the bills, personal time... it is hard. Oh, it is hard. I can't sugar coat that a bit. Every couple of months hubby and I have a joint mental breakdown at how incredibly unmanageable life seems (is?). This is made worse because nobody we know seems to be even half as overwhelmed as we feel--it's very isolating. (WAY more truth-telling is needed in terms of how unrealistic the demands of life are on the average American family, but that's another topic.)
In the meantime we live on Trader Joe's frozen meals (surprisingly tasty, and no preservatives), and we actually manage to have a family meal together a couple times a week. House mess and dirt are barely kept at bay with spectacularly half-assed cleaning (those Lysol disposable cleaning cloths, while environmentally terroristic, were clearly invented by a working mother).
Yard work: we do the bare minimum not to be booted out of the suburbs.
Personal time: what's that?
Forget having a regular time each day for spiritual or creative personal time. (I suspect stay-at-homes struggle with this too.) Who dreamed up these ridiculous rules about how to be spiritually mature? Men, and middle-aged women whose kids are grown and out of the house, that's who.
The best I can do is schedule a half- or whole-day away every six weeks or so *during the work week*. The rest of the time, I make it my spiritual practice to try to be as present in the moment as possible. Otherwise I will go on autopilot rather than listen to my body which is saying "Stop! You need a nap more than you need to wipe down the kitchen counter."
Prayer time: in the car.
Devotional/scripture study: when I'm preparing a sermon.
Personal fitness: twice a week, if I'm lucky
My attitude, on good days: self-acceptance and joy at the happy chaos.
My attitude, on bad days: crippling inadequacy, extreme scarcity.
My mantra, when I start to get self-critical: Twice a week on the treadmill is better than nothing! I'M DOING THE BEST I CAN! And my best is pretty damn good.
My check-in with myself, when I remember to do it: If this were the last year of my life, would I live the way I'm living now? (This was one of the hidden gifts in my dad's death last year.)
--What it all comes down to: you'll never know until you try. The good outweighs the bad, for me, otherwise I wouldn't do it. I love ministry. I love motherhood. I love what each gives to the other.
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