“You can have it all” the maxim goes. Our culture challenges us to obtain it, too. Yet I know from harsh reality that sometimes we cannot, sometimes something must win out. It’s a painful lesson, and not one that is welcome when the two diametrically opposed elements competing for supremacy are being a pastor and being a parent. There are times when we have to choose one over the other. Maybe this is easier in two parent homes, but when I was left a single mother of a toddler, I smacked face first into the brick wall of priorities. My vocation as pastor gives me and my son a roof over our heads, food in our bellies, and clothes on our backs. If I don’t work, then we cannot afford to live. Ministry isn’t a luxury for this single mother; it is a necessity and how God provides for us. This means that sometimes I have to be pastor before I can revel in motherhood, and they are not the same.
I do not get to do many of the things other women who are mothers get to do. I didn’t get to stay home with my baby. He came with me to church, slept in a Moses basket in my office, and went with me on visitations. He’s been in full-time childcare since the age of six weeks. I don’t have the time and energy to be a good participant in mommy groups either. I have evening meetings, weekly Bible Studies to prepare and teach, and I work the two major holidays of the year: Christmas and Easter. Motherhood in this house doesn’t look like the cultural norm, and sometimes in the quiet of the night I wonder if I am depriving my child of something he would be better off with than a mother who bears the title Reverend. Honestly, this isn’t a “woe is me” blog. This is a blog about confronting truth in light of Jesus Christ, and thriving in the face of sin. So here is what I have learned about being a Christian and devoted disciple of Jesus Christ: Jesus must always and in every way come first, even before being a spouse or a parent.
That’s not something most people want to hear. I’m not even sure that is something my congregation wants to hear. See the mom in me wants to say, “Sure, we will skip church that Sunday to go see Monster Trucks, because I love you and live for that joyful smile you get.” But the disciple I am knows that Monster Trucks won’t sustain us when we are fighting a major crisis, cancer erupts in our family, or death takes its toll. Only Christ and the relationship we cultivate and sustain can do that. Putting Christ before all else shows my son in clear and concise terms that faith comes first. When all the world comes crashing down, God will be there, and those that cling to God will survive any and everything that life can throw at them. It is hard to live out that kind of devotion. My son has become very adept at entertaining himself in my office while I have meetings. He understands that we do not let anything keep us from worship on the Lord’s Day. Maybe one day when I am long gone from this world he will continue this living example, and, if he should have a family of his own, he will model it for them.
Trying to hold fast to two identities simultaneously is like holding on to sand. It’s going to slip through your fingers eventually because we are living, breathing, moving beings. Something has to give, a priority will eventually emerge. My son has gotten used to hearing, “Next to Jesus, I love you more than any other person in the world.” I have known God my whole life. I received my call to ordained ministry long before I ever got married and had a child. If something tragic happened to my beloved son tomorrow, God would still be with me and become the connection between us, forged in life, unbroken by death. My faith is more than a coping mechanism that helps me be a good parent. It is the identity that drives all the ancillary roles I assume: mother, daughter, sister, friend, colleague, etc. I am not a mom who works as a pastor. I am a disciple called to the path of clergy who along the way bore a child. I spend every day calling that child to walk with me the path of righteousness, and yearn for the Lord. It is the same act of witness I extend to all people. My son holds a special place in my heart, but Jesus is the center. I would hope that one day he would say the same with regards to me and his Savior. I doubt I will win any Mother of the Year awards for that statement, but I’m not looking for that. All I want, in the depths of my being, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ as he asked of me and called me to do. Just maybe one of those disciples will be my first-born, my flesh and blood.