Recently, our daycare provider took a much-deserved, two-week long family vacation. I knew it was useless to hope for any kind of productivity with a toddler by my side 24/7, so I decided to take these two weeks off, too, including two Sundays!
Other than maternity leave, I have never taken two Sundays off in a row. Pastor friends, I highly recommend it! It takes a couple days to get work out of your system, and you have to start preparing for work at least a couple days before you start, so it really helps to take two consecutive Sundays off. Do it! It’s so good for you! But I digress.
While I looked forward to some time away from work, I also wondered if I would survive two weeks with the little one. I’m the kind of mom who is convinced that I am a better mom and person because I work; because I have extended time away from my kid; because I am able to drop off my child with people I trust and get some time away to do non-baby, non-child-rearing things. So two full weeks with the little one? We were probably all a little concerned.
I am happy to report that not only did I survive, but Mike & Austin survived. AND I actually really, really enjoyed it! (What we did and some pictures are included below. A big shout out to Mike (who is always a great and involved daddy), my BFF, and my brother in law who were such a huge help these two weeks!) There were of course moments of tantrum and crying that would terrify and/or frustrate even the saintliest of people (which I am not), but I genuinely loved spending morning to night with my growing baby.
So much so that on Thursday of week two, I started to feel a crisis of call. As our two weeks of mommy/baby together time came to a close, and I began to prepare for Sunday worship, I started to feel anxious, upset, and even a little resentful.
Friends, I love being a pastor. I believe God has called me to congregational ministry, at least this season of my life, and it is a privilege to serve in this capacity. Most of the time, I am in deep gratitude for what I get to do day in and day out (and get paid for it no less!)
But here I was, getting ready for something I ordinarily love, but feeling completely disconnected and even angry that I had to do it. Jokingly, I said to Mike a couple of times, “Should I become a stay-at-home mom?” And as I laughed and played it off, I suddenly wanted those words to come true. I wanted to devote all my time, love, and energy to this baby. I wanted to wake up to his sweet smile and spend the day exploring the world together.
I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom.
But something seemed suspicious, just a little not-quite-right. You know that feeling when you can tell you’re making a decision not out of joy or love or a sense of call but out of fear? That’s what this felt like. Some people choose to be a stay-at-home parent, and it’s exactly what they should do. My desire to do so, however, felt ill-motivated and somehow wrong, even though it’s what I thought I wanted at the time.
Somehow, I knew it wasn’t so much the desire to be a stay-at-home parent but a fear of going back to work.
So, as I occasionally do when prompted by the Holy Spirit, I prayed.
I didn’t pray for guidance or use eloquent words. I just prayed, “I need you,” over and over again.
Now, I know some of this was my way of processing the shooting at Emanuel AME in Charleston, SC. The feelings of grief and anger, hopelessness and wanting to just give up and quit are all tied up with that horrible act of terrorism. I’m continuing to process this and discern how to be an agent of change, so that hatred, white supremacy, and violence may be addressed head on so real change may occur. I no longer want to give up and quit. But I’m getting to that.
As with most “God things”, I can’t quite explain it, but as I prayed, the root of my fears were revealed to me:
I was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough love to give.
You see, to be a pastor of a congregation, you have to love that congregation. You have to see its shortcomings and faults and be willing to challenge the church, too. But those are all facets of love.
After a two week love-fest with the baby (with some tantrums and frustrations sprinkled in, but still love even in the midst of it all), I didn’t know if I wanted to share that love with anything or anyone else. I didn’t know if I could or if I should.
I imagine every parent with multiple commitments feels pulled and stretched at some point. I certainly struggle with work/life balance and dealing with the guilt of being gone so much.
But every person’s situation is unique in some way. And I think what made my situation unique was that my work required my love: my love of the people sitting in those pews, my love of the community in which it stands, my love for God’s people known and unknown to me. Without love, you cannot be a pastor. (Well, arguably without love, you cannot be anything. But without love for your congregation, you cannot be a congregational minister. I simply believe this to be true.)
And I was afraid that I didn’t have enough love. Nor did I want to share the limited love I did have. I wanted to be a love-hoarder and save it just for my kid and my family.
Here’s the amazing thing, though. Once my fears were revealed, God was able to break my heart wide open and fill it with love.
A heart, clenched like a fist, attempting to hoard love cannot be open enough to receive love. But when it is open, it can both give and receive.
And I realized that there is no such thing as “not enough love” because love is not a scarce resource. It is abundant and overflowing. And it comes not from me, but from God.
There is enough love to love both a child and a congregation. It will be imperfect and flawed, but it will be enough.
In fact, there is enough love even for me, so that I am not completely depleted of love as a parent and a pastor, but filled and carried and renewed by God’s abounding and steadfast love.
So, how do I split my love between my child and my congregation? I don’t.
There’s no need to split my love between anything because there’s enough love to go around and then some. Love doesn’t need to be divided and parsed out; it multiplies.
I do have to split my time, but my time is not my love.
Love abounds. Time…well, I’ll just have to learn to manage that better.
Sunday, I got up and returned to work for the first time in weeks. Worship is exactly what I needed. I allowed myself to openly weep as our children’s choir sang, “Down in the River to Pray.” We named the names of the victims and saints of Emanuel AME. We considered our complicity in systems of hate and supremacy and how we might be agents of change. We grieved; we confessed; we celebrated four baptisms. We were church together. And God enabled me to give and receive love.
There is enough love, friends. There is enough love for it all.
And because months from now, I won’t remember: here’s what we did during those two weeks (with some pictures included):
Sat. 6/6 – Wed. 6/10: Road Trip to LA: family, friends, beaches, and food
Thurs. 6/11 – 6/20: Staycation in SF begins: fun times at the San Francisco Zoo; sleepovers in the South Bay with the Lee’s; playing at Calvary’s Playgroup and Rochambeau Playground; getting a library card; quick and last minute meals caught with the Yoo’s, Kim’s, and Irene; getting kid furniture at Ikea; visiting Mike at work, and special snuggles and bonding time between Austin and mommy.