My oldest daughter gave me the compliment of a lifetime. “You know, Mom; you’re really great at being a mom.” The baby was off her schedule, up too late, and still needed her dinner when we got home from the church Christmas program. She was fussing and cranky, too worked up to focus on the spoonful of puréed chicken and noodles I was offering her. My biggest girl was having her own late dinner across the table, observing the whole operation as I combined soothing tones of encouragement and gentle offerings of her favorite snacks to finally get the baby to settle down and realize that eating food could actually be the solution to her hunger. To a ten-year-old’s perception, I accomplished the impossible; no one could ever get a baby that mad to stop crying and eat, and who ever would want to talk sweetly to a baby that’s screaming at the top of her lungs? Well, don’t worry, it hasn’t gone completely to my head, but unsolicited feedback on my job performance is exceptionally rare and, in this particular case, well timed.
Many times I’ve heard from both working and stay-at-home moms that I have an ideal situation. I get the best of both, being able to take my kids to work with me. I’m not cooped up in the house all day with only children for company, but I’m not tied to a cubicle, staring longingly at my baby’s picture. Oftentimes, that has been true. But there are also many times when I’ve had the worst of both; where my professional to-do list had to compete with a teething infant or a curious toddler. Unlike my stay at home friends, I couldn’t drop everything to attend to my child. Unlike my working friends, I couldn’t drop her off at daycare and focus on my work. As long as I’ve been working and mothering, there have always been days when my baby had to cry it out, when my kids had to play solitaire in the youth room, or when I had to pay someone else take them to the park on a summer day. There have also been meetings that had to be carried on with a giddy toddler squealing during the video, youth group campouts that included school-aged tagalongs, and potlucks to which we just didn’t make it. And I haven’t yet mentioned the cooking or laundry.
Working and mothering has always been a tricky balance, but I felt called to both, so I found ways to make it work. There were seasons where I felt like everything was just right, and seasons where I could have quit my job at any moment. Combining my twelve years on staff with the years of volunteering I did before I was staff, this year’s high school graduates and I have been together since they were in preschool. I feel confident that God has used me in the lives of young people to shape their childhood for the better. They have experienced the love of Christ through my church’s ministries in ways that God put me there to facilitate. I do not question that, up to now, I was called to be both a minister and a mom.
But everything is different now. Not just for me. I see it with my husband and my in-laws, too. When you put our littlest girl next to our oldest, it’s like a flash forward. In a blink, they go from itty-bitty, to all grown up. We really felt like we were trying to savor the days with each of our kids, but it is undeniable that our sense of urgency is amplified this time around. We’ve experienced the speed of life first hand, and we just don’t want to let even the smallest moment get away from us. There’s no “we’ll do that tomorrow,” or “maybe next time.” I feel like Nicolas Cage’s character, Jack Campbell, in The Family Man. I’m seeing how all those compromises add up. I’ve come to the conclusion that even if you have the best job in the world, which I do, and Jack thought he did, God can still call you away.
Maybe I’m a wonderful youth and children’s pastor, but it’s my first and highest calling to be a wonderful mom. I hope I’ve done both, but I’ve made compromises that I don’t want to make any more: compromises that God has laid it on my heart to back away from. Perhaps it may demand I make a whole new set of compromises, as leaving my job means giving up a calling that has become part of my identity. I fear that it may be a surrender to sexism in that it suggests that I can’t be the best mom and the best minister concurrently. It will be sad, and it will be hard; it will turn my life upside down. But we’ve made arrangements with the church for me to resign this spring. When my kids get out of school this summer, for the first time, we will wake up each morning to see together what the day brings. When my baby weans this spring, for the first time, it won’t mean that she crosses a threshold, whereby I must spend the majority of my income paying someone else to nurture her during the day.
I’m nervous about the financial impact; I’m anxious about my professional future; but I know I’m leaving ministry to pursue a proud profession that I’m gifted for. And despite my uncertainties about what the future holds, “I choose us.” Not over God, but over professional ministry, during this season of my life.
Good people live right, and God blesses the children who follow their example. Proverbs 20:7