I saw you Sunday morning.
I’d just pulled up to the church, proud of myself for arriving fifteen (well, thirteen) minutes early. I have a tendency to run late, you see. The more people I have riding in the car with me, the later I’m likely to run. My two teens and I somehow made it out of the house on schedule and now we could enter the church at a leisurely pace to find our seats. It’s always embarrassing as guests to be rushing in as the service begins. Dodged that bullet!
But as I got ready to exit the car, I saw you. You hopped out of your SUV and quickly got your toddler son out of his car seat. You walked to the other side of the car and opened the door. I didn’t see if one or both of your young daughters hopped out. I wondered where your wife was.
“The preacher’s cutting it a little close, isn’t he?” my daughter chuckled.
“That makes me feel so much better about myself,” I replied.
I was feeling a bit voyeuristic, so I got out of the car to make my way into the church. But I wondered. You see, I know what was waiting for you inside the door. It awaits every pastor the moment they cross the threshold. You would be greeted by folks who need “just a second” to share a story or prayer request or complaint, even as your toddler squirms in your arms and your daughter pulls at your arm to hurry up. I knew you would be going over the checklist in your mind to make sure nothing was left undone for the service that was minutes away from starting. I knew you might be puzzling over how to fix that sermon conclusion that you never felt you could get just right no matter how many times you rewrote it during the week. I knew you were calculating if there was enough time to get your kids to the nursery, retrieve your robe, and make it to the sanctuary on time.
I see you, Preacher Dad. I know that even though you are expected to be “on” the moment you walk in that door, you never stop being a father. I don’t know if your wife is out of town, or if she is sick, or if she just needs a little rest. Being in the third trimester with Baby #4 can’t be easy. I personally hoped she was home alone with her feet propped up, enjoying a bit of peace and quiet. But you’re a good dad. If you snapped at the children to hurry up or to stop squirming, I didn’t see it. But if you did, then I totally understand.
I thought about these things as I sat down and scanned the bulletin. The associate pastor was preaching. Good. I mean that in two ways – good because she is in fact a very good preacher (too, I might add), but also good because maybe you would be able to sit and breathe for this worship service.
I thought back to my own experiences as a Preacher Mom with young children – and a single Preacher Mom at that, with a tween-aged daughter and two adopted babies. I remember the Sunday when there was no one in the nursery when I went to drop my newly adopted infant daughter off. She was the only tiny child in the church. (I had not adopted my second child yet.) I sat down in the rocking chair, cooing and talking with her when the chair of the worship committee flew in. “You need to hurry up,” he said. “It’s less than five minutes until worship starts.” He was quite annoyed. I looked at him for a minute before replying. “You better get ready to preach then, because it looks like I’m keeping the nursery today.” A few minutes later his wife came back, looking none too happy to have been appointed as the last minute nursery worker. Worship started a little late that day.
I remember how hard it was to be a Preacher Mom with young children and how no one seemed to understand my dual calling. One Sunday a member told me I looked pale and wondered if I had forgotten to put on my makeup. Did she have any idea what it was like to get a 12 year old, a two year old, and an 18 month old fed, dressed, and to the church? I remember thinking to myself, “You’re just lucky I’m not still in my pajamas!” Another time a different member got annoyed when my children started getting fussy after he’d had me cornered following worship with a long list of questions and complaints and was still talking long after everyone else had left. Poor kids were bored. And starving. I have so many stories…
I hope your church is patient with you. You are a man with two callings – father and pastor. You seem pretty passionate about both. Just don’t forget to breathe. When you are accused of being inattentive to a parishioner because your child is in distress, when you find yourself solo parenting on the same Sunday that nothing in worship is going smoothly, when someone comments that you look tired and not well put together that day (Wait, do people do that to male pastors?), or when you would give anything to not be bothered with family long enough to be able to shine in your role as pastor – stop and remember. You have two callings. Two wonderful, exhausting, competing (at times), demanding, holy callings. All that talk about balance? Don’t waste your time looking for it. It’s just a myth. Just do the best you can.
I see you, Preacher Dad. And I’ll be praying for you.