God’s Storyteller

Post Author: Beth Birkholz

Most of my pastor friends who are also moms have either younger children than I do, or much older.  Much has been written, and rightly so, about parenting a baby while you lead a council meeting, night nursing followed by church in the morning, and how to manage day care and babysitting with the odd hours of a reverend or two.

My daughter is entering the country that’s now called “tween,” and I feel like I’m making my own path, once again, through this weird place that’s called being a pastor and also a mother.  So I write this with the hope of encouragement from someone who does not know more, but is a little further down the path.

My son is six years old, and my daughter is nine.  They’re not babies, as they remind me daily, but they’re also not teenagers yet.  We still snuggle them at night before they go to sleep (and sleep all night!  See, encouragement!), but we do have to remove earphones or Harry Potter from their beds first.  I’m sure the term “tween” was invented by some Disney marketing guru, but it fits where we are.  Between.

That being said, between is pretty great most days.  They go to school, so day care is not as much of a life-wrenching issue as it used to be, when we go to work (my husband is also clergy).  When one of us leaves for a meeting, they don’t seem to mind (vs the leg-hugging antics of a few years ago).  My son sometimes will say, after a long day at work and school, “Mommy, I barely saw you for, like, two minutes today!”  But he doesn’t seem to be traumatized by the fact, just managing his own busy life in addition to mine.

They go to church with me and they have their own world, now.  They have friends who they eat with and chat with, and my daughter volunteers for the crazy stunt that the Sunday School guys have cooked up that day.  My son tries to con his way into the donut holes in the teacher’s lounge, and he’s still little enough that he usually is allowed.  They go to worship and children’s church, sing from the hymnal, and our organist says that my son sings the communion liturgy very well right when I do, from the pew behind the altar.

For the first time this year, on Christmas Day, my daughter acolyted, which in our church, means she lit the candles and put them out at the end.  It was a big, big deal, and she put on the white robe and did a lovely job.  My son read the prayer of the day from the pulpit like a little pro, which he had begged to do.  My husband, who doesn’t serve the same church, assisted me in serving communion.  It was the first time that our whole family had leadership roles in worship at the same time, and I wanted to just freeze the moment when it was such a big deal, not a burden, and yet they were old enough to actually do it so well!

At night or in the car, they ask me questions about God.  Big questions, and they are not cute little letters to God.  My daughter asks why God allows pain, and I suspect she has questions that she doesn’t ask except in her head.  She gets sad and complains about the unfairness of life because she never met my dad, her grandpa, who died before she was born. My son asks who made God, and how God got here to make everything else.  Also, why did God make bad stuff?  It’s getting a little trickier to answer without platitudes or brushing it off.

Another way in which having older kids is a little more difficult to navigate is in voluntary simplicity, if that’s your religious practice, or just living with a pastor’s salary in an affluent area!  My daughter’s good friend had a birthday party in THE destination for birthday parties where I live (true story: P. Diddy’s daughter had HER party there!), and of course, my daughter wanted to have hers there as well.  But the cost….yes, we could have sprung for it, but we just were morally opposed, frankly.

We had to have a big talk about stewardship, and choices.  We explained, as we have before, that we try to use our money in ways that would be pleasing to God, and without judging the other family (see where this gets tricky?), that we don’t think spending that much was a good choice for our family.  There were tears, and then there was a fantastic party at a local pizza and pottery place for 1/10 the cost.

I do still struggle with having such a crazy full-time job some days.  My husband is part-time, so that helps some, but I still feel that tug of shame or guilt or whatever it is that I can’t make them cookies when they get home every day (I make them on my day off, okay?).  Sometimes I’m not sure what’s going on with Girl Scouts or baseball, but usually my husband does.  Sometimes I wonder if they’ll resent the church in the future for my working, though I’ve seen very little sign of that yet.  One of them did say the other day “stupid work!” and I heard myself echoed on my worst days.  Oops.

But something else happened that made it come sharply into focus for me, what I do and who I am.  My daughter sang in the choir last year, and while I was serving communion, I caught her looking up at me and smiling with this beautiful look of what I saw as pure pride.  I had a moment when I saw myself through her eyes….her mom, in a white robe, in a position of authority, giving out the greatest gift to hundreds of people.  I was so proud, so amazed, that she was growing up with a mom like me, and I can only hope and pray that she will see herself as someone who is worthy of power and authority, whatever job she chooses, because she saw that in me.

My son brought home a card from school where he was supposed to compliment his parents on something, and he wrote, “I’m proud of the way that you tell people about Jesus.”  It doesn’t get too much better than that, really.

Except for this.  I asked my daughter in the car the other night on the way home from swim practice (an excellent place for big conversations!) how she felt about having a mom who’s also a pastor.  She said this: “I think it’s awesome, because you get to do three things at once.  You get to be a pastor and tell people about God, and you get to take care of us, and you get paid to do it!”

She went on, “I think that God calls certain people to do things, like, you’re like, God’s storyteller.  I wonder what God will want me to do!”

And that, my sisters, makes EVERY BIT of my life worth it.

Beth Birkholz is an associate pastor at a large-ish Lutheran church in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.  She’s married to another pastor with whom she has the children mentioned in this article, and also a dog, a cat, and four backyard chickens.  She blogs at chickpastor.wordpress.com.

Photo by Beth Birkholz.

11 replies
  1. Martha Spong
    Martha Spong says:

    Dear Beth,
    Since I remember seeing you with your son as a baby in your lap six years ago, it’s beautiful to picture the four of you together at worship, and so wonderful to hear your daughter’s affirmation.
    My kids were 7, almost 12 and 16 when I was ordained (I was 41). I lived the part of parenting you’re in now while I was in seminary. My daughter, the youngest, will be 17 soon and to her it feels like I’ve been doing this forever. I feel blessed that she loves coming to church. As we met the sort of obstacles you describe with birthdays and money, I’ve been gently matter-of-fact about how we make choices. She is currently trying to schedule a visit to Fun Town with a classmate who is leaving town before school is over to go to Basic Training. The group chose a Sunday and the park is open 10-5. “What’s going on at church,” she asked? “It’s Children’s Sunday, and the adult choir (in which she sings) is singing that special anthem the choir director arranged.” “I wouldn’t want to miss that,” she said earnestly. “I’ll meet them there later.” Church *is* our special time together, a reverent time that is also a family time…and my work. When the boys, now men, are home, they regard it the same way. If they’re here on a Sunday, there’s no question how the time will be spent, not because it’s a “rule” but because it has been the Rule of our lives together. I feel blessed.
    (Although I know the 21 and 26-year-olds are not doing that in their own weekly lives, I trust it will come back again someday.)

  2. Jo-Anne
    Jo-Anne says:

    Hi Beth, I am an Anglican priest in the diocese of Melbourne, Australia. Ordained in 2002 when my 4 children were 9, 11(twins) & 13. I was 41 too. Today they are all studying at different universities and I am so very proud of them. It was a difficult time during their teen years as they struggled with identity, peer pressure and adolescense and I do confess to often feeling guilty that I was always so busy. But, I firmly believe that our greatest gift to our children is being true to oneself.

    I, in time, learned to schedule my days carefully so that I could do the drop off and pick up after school at their various extra curricular activities and Saturday sport. My husband worked and could not do after school duties or Saturdays. But I could! I was a priest, but I was also a mother and it was important that I share this part of their lives as much as possible. To be there for them whenever they needed me. I maintained a family dinner each night – no tv – so that we could all discuss the events of our day, successes, disappointments, hopes, relationships, etc, and this was observed until each in turn moved out of home to attend uni. This way, no matter how busy I was, and them, it was a time we could spend together as a family. I am not sure exactly where those years went but I am so grateful as I look back how much I was able to give them.

    3 of our 4 children attended an exclusive Anglican day and boarding school which posed problems that I struggled with immensely. (The 4th steadfastly refused to follow her siblings!) I was always opposed citing the fact I wanted our children exposed to people from all walks of life and socio – economic status. My husband disagreed and argued that as parents it is our responsibility to give them the best start in life possible. I gave in. All of their friends were from privileged backgrounds so I can certainly relate to the issue you presented here. My kids often complained of ‘being poor’ but they didn’t exactly have any idea what that really meant as the benchmark was as high as it could be – literally.

    Ultimately, we made the choices we made. Yes, we made some poor choices, others were good but we made them after careful consideration, much prayer and discussion.

    Out of the 4 of them, only 2 have remained attending church as young adults. I expected this as all my postings have not had many children so my kids have not had the opportunity for social, communal, spiritual connection that most of us take for granted. Out of their school friends (and they went to a church school!) none attended church on a Sunday. I believe their peers help form them as much as we parents, hence why social bonds in church are AS important as the bonds they share at school. As young adults now they will all say how proud they are of who I am and what I do. I am so blessed as a mother to have questioning young adults who feel they can be themselves. I know for the 2 that have turned their back on the church, they know what they have turned away from and will know what they can turn back to at any time in the future. They also know, and accept, that when they are home, and for major feasts such as Christmas and Easter, church is where we are as a family. I do so love seeing them all together at these times, despite the pained looks I can see from the sanctuary, as it is not often these days given their studies and part time work commitments during breaks. If I have taught them anything it is to follow what is deep on their hearts, for that is where God is within them.

  3. The Rev. Sue Trigger
    The Rev. Sue Trigger says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I hear what you’re going through. My husband and I are co-pastors serving two churches. We are part time at each, but beyond full time in reality. Our daughter was 7 when we began our first call and her worship foundation was already secure. We had taught her to worship and she had no problem participating in worship without us next to her.

    Our son, who is twelve years younger has had a much more difficult time. He’s experienced more of the “expectations” of children to sit and be quiet as he sits alone in a pew, or with some friends. He’s been told he can’t sit in the balcony without an adult, while some people volunteer, he hasn’t had the family experience our daughter had. We’ve invited him to sit with us up front, but he’s too shy to be comfortable with everyone looking at him. Right now, he really doesn’t like church. He finds it boring and doesn’t like to participate, except in our casual Sunday evening service. There he loves to stand at the table with us and participate in Communion. So, I’m concerned about his teen years in the church. It’s coming right up.

    He’s eleven now and really resents the church and the demands on our time. When one of us leaves for a meeting he will often complain and suggest we should quit our jobs and be artists. 🙂 He’s excited that he gets to go to the Jr. High youth group in the fall. They sit together in the a.m. worship, so I’m praying that he finally feels like he has a comfortable place to be in worship.

    Meanwhile our daughter is 23 and is considering a call to Seminary and is getting involved in a New Church Development. Although she has declared that she would love to teach theology or get involved on the larger church level, but she could never be a pastor. She’s seen too much of the inside of the church in a couple of unhealthy congregations we were trying to lead through conflict.

    So in short, I’m offering a perspective that says being a PK is tough and too many church members see it as some kind of insider benefit when in it can also be an outsider exclusion. It’s a challenge. It will be interesting to see if my son stays with the church like our daughter has. I began my career as a church educator and have certainly seen my children’s experience as a testament to the value of being involved in nurturing you child’s worship experience.

    It sounds like the congregations you are serving have been positive experiences for your family. I pray that continues to be the case.

  4. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:

    Beth, so beautiful. A few tears here as I read your piece. It describes where I am in my parenting and pastoring life right now, and you’ve just captured it so well. There are new and different challenges than when our kids were small, and there are new and different joys. So many wonders. So many surprises. Thank you.

  5. Sarah G.
    Sarah G. says:

    Oh, what a lovely piece and wonderful encouragement! My son just entered the separation anxiety stage, so the image of children who can celebrate their mother’s call is just balm to my soul! Thank you!

  6. Pamela Szurek
    Pamela Szurek says:

    Hi, Beth.
    Just want to tell you that many PK’s turn out to be tender, thoughtful, caring Christians. My daughter is 30 now, and though many times I had to choose between meetings and being with her, she still calls me the “cool mom”. (Frankly, so do many of her friends. I seem to have mothered a slew of 30- and 20-somethings and teens along the way!) She bonded with the oldest and youngest members of all the congregations I served, and was my right hand for every youth event and “Silly Saturdays” for the little ones. She is devout, joy-filled, and genuinely good. I am truly blessed. May you be so as well. As to the hard questions, it’s good practice for ministry anyway — and look at all the post-seminary theology you get to do!

  7. Sara Jensen
    Sara Jensen says:

    Beth, you continue to be an inspiration to me. I am blessed by your friendship. These are encouraging words to a mother of younger children!

  8. Bromleigh
    Bromleigh says:

    This is wonderful — and just the right inspiration as I try desperately to write a sermon on vocation. Thank you!


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