It happens almost every day on the way to and from my son Jake's daycare.
We're pulling past the last street in the neighborhood, between the rows of parked cars, and these crazy thoughts run through my head:
"Maybe I should've been a teacher, because then, you know, I'd be home in the summers and he wouldn't have to go to daycare."
"Maybe I shouldn't have gone to seminary."
"Maybe if I just brought him to Bible Study sometimes and wrote my sermons during naps. Yeah, that might work."
And then I drop him off and he clings to me for a second until his teacher comes and he joins a group of smiling children at a pint-sized table.
I drive to church through the neighborhood again, passing moms or nannies—I'm not sure which—pushing strollers and tricycles, with babies strapped into front carriers.
"Maybe I should have taken him for a walk this morning. I could've gotten up sooner. We could've gone to the park."
Sometimes during the day, while I'm working at church or in the community, I'll run into someone from church.
"Where's Jake?" they'll say.
And I'll respond dumbly: "He's in daycare Monday-Thursday."
I wonder: "Should he not be in daycare? Should I be able to pull this all off at once?"
I've always been one who feels guilty easily, so being a mom and a pastor—and a Lutheran—comes naturally to me. It's silly really, but there are ample opportunities to feel guilty in two of the singularly most deified and diminished roles modern society has to offer.
Take motherhood. On one hand our society has almost deified it. No one works as hard as a mom, we're told. No one does as much, cares as much, is marketed to as much.
On the other hand though we diminish it. Some of the praise sounds almost patronizing, especially when it's coupled with fashion terms like "mom jeans" or "mom shoes" or "mom haircut."
We have "dance moms" and "hockey moms" and "pageant moms." There's the infamous TIME magazine cover article: "Are you mom enough?"
Underneath the deification and popularization of famous "moms," there is the underlying idea that somehow motherhood is not really hard because it all comes naturally to women. The argument is biological, and it so undergirds human society around the world that even I myself subscribe to it. I expect myself to be Jake's "ultimate" parent—the one who rescues him when hurt, comforts him when crying, spends the most time with him during the week, usually picks him up or takes him to daycare. This is because most of us still assume the most "natural" parent is the mom—even in my case, when Ben is a doting, dedicated, and entirely-capable-to-do-it-without-me-Dad (you should see him on Sunday mornings).
Meanwhile I am called, by God and by the church, to be Pastor of St. Philip Lutheran Church in Glenview, IL—a suburb north of Chicago.
Like being a mom, the role of pastor is both deified and diminished.
On one hand, a Pastor should still be a moral teacher and in some sense moral example. Pastors are expected to be emotionally available but not overly emotional. To always have time for whatever anyone needs. To conduct oneself according to the image of God; following the example of Jesus.
There's the old joke that's not really a joke: "I thought you only worked on Sundays!"
We are archaically important but sometimes contemporarily ignored. Like moms, we're put on a pedestal - but what we say isn't always heard: "Oh, that's just something moms say."
"Oh, that's just something pastors say."
Both roles are considered to be difficult but also seemingly "natural," not "work" in the sense we normally think of work.
And each role requires by its nature that it must consume you. Children are children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Sometimes as moms we lose ourselves in our children, if only for a moment, and there's nothing wrong with that. They're absorbing, consuming: from inspecting their first diapers to deciphering their first words and holding out your arms gingerly for their first steps.
Pastors enter into a role that is best served when we lose ourselves in order to be filled entirely by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. But being a Pastor is not done unless it is consuming.
I'm not complaining, because the Church of Jesus Christ is an incredible calling to be consumed with. This week I was able to work through the Parable of the Tenants in the Gospel of Matthew, and as I read it, it was revealed to me that this Parable is not just an ancient foretelling of the Crucifixion but a modern depiction of what is happening this week as thousands of unaccompanied children languish in a neverland between life in America and destruction in a forceful return to Central America. In the parable God anoints those whom we reject. Jesus' story and his subsequent crucifixion warn us today against our sinful impulse to reject those whom God may be sending.
Women—and mothers—are often our own harshest judges. But Jesus came not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved through him.
Sometimes I like to pretend to myself that I can do it all. I can work full-time AND attend stay-at-home mom events. As much as our society still may lift up the "natural" life of a stay-at-home mom, I know through a deep and abiding faith that both calls God has given me are genuine. That's the beauty of being Lutheran, in a way, because Martin Luther was one of the first to write about vocation, about the priesthood of all believers: that whatever God calls us to is holy indeed, a calling, and we can be called to more vocations than one.
So I drove to daycare again, passing the stay-at-home moms or nannies pushing their strollers. We walked in, Jake played with the ducks, he wanted me to hold him for a minute as we walked into his classroom and his friends from his age group were sitting down to lunch.
He was sad for a second, but this was his routine. It was comfortable and familiar for him. And I had to admit, he had done well in daycare. He was learning, and making friends his age. It hadn't been bad or detrimental for him at all.
At the end of most days, when I pick him up, before we leave he has to show me his friends and all the toys he's played with that day. He's proud of himself, of what he calls "ssscool."
As I drove away, passing again the strollers and babies, I felt something other than guilt or regret. I was proud, too, if only for a moment. We were making it work, both of us, this new life of daycare and work and two callings, and the God who makes the impossible possible.
Rev. Angela Denker is a former sportswriter turned Lutheran pastor in Chicago. Denker covered the 2009 Super Bowl and was published in 2007 in Sports Illustrated. She blogs at Overwhelming Jesus.