Choosing Between Two Holy Places

Post Author: Elaine Murray Dreeben

Plastic necklaces and a dove pendant mixed together: a metaphor for mothers in ministry.

Plastic necklaces and a dove pendant mixed together: a metaphor for mothers in ministry.

It’s Saturday morning. I dig through a clump of pink and green plastic princess necklaces as I search for my dove pendant, an image of the Holy Spirit I ritualistically grab to go with the dress I wear to officiate a funeral. I smile because the plastic necklaces are sure signs that someone else has been here today: my feisty two-and-a-half year old. I hear her defiant protest as I finally clasp the dove. “Mama! Come play with me!”

“I can’t sweetheart. Mama’s gotta go to work.”

Today the work I am called away to is a funeral, not altogether surprising work for a pastor. My daughter’s small, protesting voice keeps ringing in my ears and in my heart as her dad tries to distract her with an alluring tea party while I sneak out the door and quickly head to the car.

It is holy work, having the privilege of “marrying and burying,” carrying God’s blessing through the various stages of human existence. Weddings and funerals are a joy of my calling as pastor. But they also tend to fall on Saturdays – days that are typically reserved for my family.

Many of the people with whom I do ministry don’t quite understand how my spouse and I balance two jobs and raising two small children. We are quick to point out that it “takes a village” and that we couldn’t live our professional and parental callings without dependable, high-quality childcare. I wonder, though, if their wondering is more a question of the heart. How does my heart bear knowing that I’m missing out on the tea party of the decade (OK, let’s be honest, it’s her third this week) to head out the door to a job that requires odd hours and makes strange demands on my time?

I remember when I first made the decision that I would return to work full-time after giving birth. I knew then that the courageous act of suiting up, dropping my daughter off with a caregiver, and going in to face the spiritual needs of my flock would sting a little. But I also believed that such courage would inspire her for a lifetime. My decision to follow multiple passions with my whole being would communicate to her that for the rest of her life she could do anything she possibly wanted. She didn’t have to choose between raising children and having a career, following her own desires, and being faithful to God.

What I didn’t know then was that the choice to be both pastor and parent wasn’t a one-time decision. It was and is a choice I continually make. Sometimes that choice looks like rearranging the date for a requested worship service because that’s when the family can make it in town for my daughter’s third birthday party. Sometimes that choice looks like protecting the day before my son’s baptism as time for us to spend together as a family. But sometimes the job wins out. Because it is so much more than a job.

When I must trade the tea party for the funeral, the tug on my heartstrings reminds me of Harry Chapin’s song “Cat’s in the Cradle,” in which a working father mostly misses his son’s childhood.

Thanks for the ball, dad; come on, let’s play
Can you teach me to throw?”
I said, “Not today, I got a lot to do.”

But then I realize that song isn’t a fair analogy for my life as a parent and a pastor. I’m not heading out the door to crunch some numbers and beef up my corporate earnings potential. I’m going to do God’s work. And when I am at home, I am doing God’s work there, too. I trust that God calls me to the cemetery and to the swing set. Both are holy places. Now, what’s the production timeline on a device that will put me in two places at once?

Elaine Murray Dreeben is the pastor of Canyon Lake Presbyterian Church and also serves God as a wife, sister, daughter and mother of two incredible children.

Image by: Elaine Murray Dreeben
Used with permission
2 replies
  1. Amy
    Amy says:

    This piece really tugged at my heart. I’m only just starting my candidacy journey, and I have 2.5 year-old and pregnant with our second. I know I’ve been called, but I also hurt at the thought of constantly leaving my family during our precious time together. I can only pray and persevere forward with the hope that God has a good plan for our family that includes my calling. Because right now, reading this is really hard.


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