I love this photo. Exemplified in this photo is where my life as a mom and as a pastor intersect. This is the day that my daughter was baptized. I love how my son is looking up and probably wondering what is going on. My husband who is also a pastor had the joy of baptizing my son. So, on this day, I had the unique pleasure of baptizing my daughter. There is something special as a pastor/mother to be able to say the words to your daughter as you pour water on her head, "You are special. You are created in God's image. God chose you and loves you before you are able to do anything to deserve it." I often look at this photo as a reminder of the blessings I have in being a pastor/mother, especially on those days when the blessings are not so obvious.
Previously, I wrote a blog about women in ministry in the 21st century. In that blog, I shared some of the personal struggles and challenges I experience as a pastor and as a mother. I thought I would share a little more about my experience, not because it is unique, but because I believe this experience is increasing for women in ministry. I have many women colleagues in ministry who often share the struggle of juggling both. As much as I am blessed with a supportive environment, here are some of the lessons learned from the challenges I have faced being a pastor/mom:
Lesson 1: Have Patience
I start with patience because that is the obvious first lesson learned. Whether it's patience with your child, spouse, self, or congregation -- patience is truly necessary to get through the day and sometimes just the moment at hand. As a pastor/mother, I mostly remember my patience being tested when well-meaning congregants would generously share their unsolicited advice on how to raise my kids or how my kids should act at church. This leads me to lesson 2.
Lesson 2: Give Grace
Grace -- receiving it, extending it, and overall exercising it -- is a lesson that I continue to learn over and over again. Being a pastor/mother means that I am not going to be at my 100 percent all the time, that I will drop the ball at times, I will disappoint you, and I will make mistakes. No one is harder on myself than I am when those moments happen. Sometimes, I feel I am better at extending grace to others, but it is absolutely crucial for my self-care to extend grace to myself, as I would to others.
Lesson 3: Let Go
I think what helps with lesson 2 is developing lesson 3 -- the art of letting go. I am not a control freak, but I can get frazzled when things don't quite go a certain way, or something unexpected happens. Most days, they love going to church. But there have been times when my son who refused to go to the nursery would play dinosaurs at my feet while I preached, then incessantly ask me to fix things or request my attention, causing me to be distracted while delivering my sermon. On occasions like this I have to realize that I can't control the moods of my kids. I must let go.
Lesson 4: Have a Sense of Humor
Being able to let go becomes easier if one develops a sense of humor. Kids bring multiple opportunities to develop one if a person is lacking in such an area. I can immediately think of two incidents in which having a sense of humor is the only way to go: big booger on the blouse (and no it wasn't mine), and a big chocolate stain on the butt from where my son slapped me after downing some chocolate cookies. Enough said.
Lesson 5: Ask for Help
I'm bad at asking for help. I also don't live near family, which I think would make asking for help easier. It's not that I want to be a super mom or a super pastor/mother at all. It's mostly because I don't want to put anyone out or inconvenience anybody. But there is a lot of truth to the saying "it takes a village." And I'm blessed to have a wonderful faith community to be that village for me and my family.
Lesson 6: Grieve Loss
In seminary and chaplaincy training, I was taught how to sit in grief with others, provide appropriate pastoral care, and create a safe space for the grieving. What I wasn't taught was how to grieve a loss when I am the pastor of a congregation. I had difficulty getting pregnant with my first child, so when we easily got pregnant with our second, it was a wonderful surprise. In the twelfth week of my pregnancy, however, we miscarried. I wondered about my ability to be a pastor when the mother in me was grieving. What I realized is that I didn't have anything to worry about. My congregation was incredibly gentle, grace-filled, and understanding. I was surprised by how many women shared their own stories of miscarriage, loss, and grief. As a mother, I was able to grieve at my own pace, and as a pastor, I was able to empathize with those who experienced similar loss.
Lesson 7: Self-Care
Well, it wouldn't be a good list of lessons learned if didn't throw in self-care. Frankly, I admit that I am not great at this in the traditional sense, meaning I don't take a lot of "me" time, don't exercise, or carve out time for a hobby. However, one thing that feeds into my sanity is the Google calendar, which is color coded according to mine, my husband's, and the kids' schedules. It also helps me to not over book. I try not to live a busy life, but a full, balanced life.
Lesson 8: Freedom
My last lesson learned (at least for this blog) is knowing when to give my kids the freedom to explore, be curious, and be themselves. As a pastor, there are certain things that I'm intentional about exposing my kids too -- opportunities to serve others, develop empathy and compassion, and a sense of awareness of what is happening in the world. But I also want them to have the freedom to discover, make mistakes, and wonder. That's what I hope for as a mother. And as a pastor, I will try to not use my kids to rate the Sunday School program or be guinea pigs to new ideas and activities I want to try.
So, to all the pastor/mothers out there: I commiserate with you. I am in awe of you. And I am blessed to be in such good company. It feels less lonely knowing you are there. I look forward to hearing your own stories of being a pastor/mother.
Theresa Cho is a Reno, Nevada native who graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago with awards in preaching and theology. She blogs at Still Waters.