Sometimes the Roman Catholic requirement of celibacy for priests makes a lot of sense to me. It makes sense because celibacy is the only surefire way to avoid parenthood. And there are times when I feel like my role as a parent pulls me away from the work God calls me to do as a pastor.
Like those weeks when my carefully laid plans have gone awry and I find myself trying to write a sermon on Saturday. At our home. In between making breakfast, checking homework, and refereeing fights.
These Saturdays make me particularly testy because I do not do well writing in short spurts. I am a writer that needs to be in “the zone” to write a sermon. It might take me half an hour or so to get to “the zone,” but once I'm there, watch out keyboard because my fingers will start flying.
And as soon as I start typing in earnest, the five-year-old wants a glass of milk. And suddenly I'm out of “the zone.” And all of those insightful and holy thoughts that were making their way from my brain to my fingertips have dissolved into unholy thoughts of frustration directed at my poor five-year-old who just wants to achieve a healthy intake of calcium.
Yes, there are times when I feel like my role as a parent prevents me from being a good pastor.
Like those Sunday mornings after worship when I am trying to have a conversation with one of the lovely, wise, elders of the church. And as I strain to hear her thin voice over the noise of other conversations, my 13-year-old starts yelling in my ear about having a friend over for lunch.
Like those times when other pastors in town are meeting to discuss important pastory things at three o'clock in the afternoon. “Sorry, I can't make it. I have to pick up my kids from school.”
Please understand that I am in no way making a value judgment about the relative importance of the roles of mother and pastor. I'm simply admitting that there are times when it feels like being a mom gets in the way of being a pastor.
I wonder, is it fair to my children for me to also be a pastor? Is it fair to my church for me to also be a mother?
These are hard, heart-wrenching questions. Which is why I consider something I received at a retreat to be a most valuable gift. The retreat leaders had secretly contacted our churches and asked that someone from the church write a letter of encouragement and appreciation for the pastor.
These letters were read aloud on the final night of the retreat. It was a beautiful experience. And as my letter was read, it felt good to hear nice things said about me. It felt good to know that my efforts as a pastor were appreciated—at least by one person in the church. It was a big warm fuzzy moment.
And then the the warm fuzzies gave way to the Holy Spirit seeping deep into my bones. Amidst the predictable niceties of such a letter, I heard words I never thought I would hear: “Joanna's roles as a sister, aunt, daughter, wife, and mother make her a better pastor.”
Not, “I wish she'd polish up those sermons instead of playing games with her children on Saturday nights.” Not, “I wish I could have a conversation with my pastor without one of her kids interrupting or screaming in the background.”
According to this woman, this saint of the church, the fact that I was a mother made me a better pastor. And because she wrote these words, these words I never would have constructed in my own mind, I am able to think about how they might actually be true.
Because I am a mother, I am well aware of the fact that the world does not revolve around me. There are many people with many needs, all of which deserve attention.
Because I am a mother, I am used to things not going according to my well thought-out plans. So the guest preacher forgot about daylight savings time. We'll just switch a few things around in the service.
Because I am a mother, I know that nobody is insignificant. Everyone deserves to be heard, and sometimes the best ideas come from the most unlikely places.
Because I am a mother, I know the importance of setting boundaries. Yes, the worship leader can read a quote from her favorite Buddhist writer. No, we cannot skip the scripture reading this week.
Because I am a mother, I know that we need to take time to play. The work that needs to be done can be accomplished in the midst of laughter and fun.
Because I am a mother I have sermon illustrations from Dora the Explorer. I know the kids will get a kick out of me saying the word “poop” during the children's time.
Maybe it is true. Despite the stalled sermon-writing, the interrupted conversations, the missed meetings, maybe being a mom does make me a better pastor.
This is not to say that pastors who are not mothers are worse pastors. It is not to say that pastors who are not mothers lack the qualities I have listed above. I know many pastors without kids who have all of those qualities in abundance. I'm just not sure I would have those qualities if I were not a mother.
It's not that being a mom makes women better pastors. But maybe being a mom makes me a better pastor.
That realization is the deepest gift I have received in my ministry thus far. God has called me to be a mother just as surely as God has called me to be a pastor.
God will make a way for me to fulfill both roles. Even beyond that, God weaves these roles together in ways that strengthen my family, my church, and my spirit. Thanks be to God, from whom we have received grace upon grace.