My freshman year of college, I went through a period where I loved Multigrain Cheerios. It was my go-to snack. So when I went to the grocery store one day and found boxes of this cereal on sale, it was like hitting the jackpot; I loved getting a deal on something I was going to buy anyway.
But as I started to put the boxes in my cart, the whole display of cereal boxes started falling down. The display had been set up in one of the biggest aisles, and there was no stopping it once it started to topple.
I remember watching in dismay as other shoppers passed by me- it was obvious that I was one to blame- yet at the same time I instinctively knew I had a choice about what story I was going to let this experience tell. Was I going to be humiliated by it and hide behind my embarrassment, or was I going to chalk it up to experience and let it be the reason for a good laugh?
I chose the latter, and though this was a low stakes situation, these days I think back to that grocery store trip fairly often.To me, it’s a mental picture that illustrates what I often feels like as I try to hold the various roles and responsibilities of my life in tension. Between work, school, kids’ activities, finding time to connect with Thomas, meal planning and preparation, and everything else that fills our schedule, there are plenty of days when I feel just one step away from the whole thing tumbling down.
To give you a bit of a background, my husband and I live in Central, MN, with our two kids, a Golden Retriever, and two hamsters. I’m a full-time Lutheran pastor and my husband is a public accountant. Thomas grew up in the Netherlands until he was nine, when his family emigrated to New Zealand. We were married the same week I graduated from seminary and that my first congregation voted to call me as their pastor.
My first call was to a small, rural congregation, where I served for four years. We had about 250 total members and a very small staff. Our daughter was born while serving this congregation. Then, while pregnant with our son, I received a call to serve as associate pastor in a large congregation nearby. This congregation, where I’ve served for nearly eight years, has over 2500 members, a dozen full-time staff, and four weekly worship services. Our son was born on my only day off between calls.
I remember hearing our Dean of Students in seminary share a statistic about the number of women compared to men in parish ministry. At the time, the number of men and women graduating with a Master of Divinity degree in the ELCA was about equal. Once women started a family, however, many left the ministry because of the challenges that arose and the lack of support that was available in navigating the demands of each calling.
Over the years, this is something I have thought about often. Because of the blurry lines that exist in ministry between work and family time, I feel the constant struggle of juggling home and work and caring for myself as well as others. I often find myself wondering how much is enough and if I’m doing the right thing, and more often than not, there are no easy answers.
There have been times when I have felt defeated in my efforts, as though at any given moment, I was letting either my family or my congregation down. At times, I’ve also found myself on the verge of burnout, unsure of how I would be able to do this for the long-haul.
In those times when it was much easier to see the ways I was falling short than it was the things I was doing well, I would find myself thinking of that day in the grocery store when the tower of cereal boxes came tumbling down. “That’s my life,” I would start to think.
Sometimes this feeling made me want to crawl under my covers or stick my head in the sand like an ostrich. But on my best days, I remembered that I had a choice about how I would respond- that rather than shrink behind a feeling of failure, I could lean into the discomfort, smile at myself, and in so doing accept that it wasn’t up to me to keep the whole stack together anyway.
It is those times when I have been able to laugh at myself and cut myself some slack when I have felt God’s grace most strongly and when I have felt most fully alive. Though I have spent too much time over the course of my ministry trying to be who I thought others wanted me to be, when I started to pay attention to what gave me life and what drained me, I was able to not only accept, but embrace, the woman God had created and called me to be- in all my various roles.
My sincere hope is that through sharing some of my own journey, it will provide an opportunity for you to reflect on your own, to listen to what God may be saying, and to be inspired as you take a few moments to tend to your heart in the frenzy of life.