I am so delighted to have been asked to stand with you today to offer every minister’s favorite part of an ordination or installation service: the charge to the minister. It’s a favorite because first, someone else has already given a very fine sermon, so the pressure is off – what a relief! But most importantly it’s a favorite because this is where we get to give the advice we most need to hear.
We share the delight and the responsibility of being the settled minister of a congregation while parenting young families. And while women make up the majority of our ministry these days, models and companions who have walked this road of motherhood and senior or solo ministry are still not all that common, and in our larger world the journey of combining a professional life and motherhood are the subject of many studies and many emotions, notably the fun ones: grief, anxiety, shame and regret. All of those things apply when we combine the vocations of ministry and motherhood as well.
These dual roles can often feel like dueling roles. What they have in common is that in neither vocation is there a clear roadmap. The world is rife with terrible tales of both bad ministers and bad mothers, and both vocations are subject to images of goodness idealized to inhuman proportions. Short of setting ourselves on sainthood – which is particularly unrealistic in a tradition that abandoned that notion a couple of centuries ago – we have to find other ways to live in the very large landscape between perfect and terrible. The charge I have to offer you this morning is to live in the power of these roles at least as much as you live in the fretting over each of them.
But how? First you – we – must befriend disappointment, both our own and others, and mine its lessons for spiritual wisdom.
That sounds like a downer, doesn’t it? I know I experienced it that way in the first few years of balancing ministry and motherhood. Heading out the door to another evening meeting with the screams of my toddler begging me to tuck him in ringing in my ears, it felt as if there was no decision I made that wasn’t disappointing someone.
Thank God for male business scholars, then, especially Ron Heifetz who gave us the great insight that “leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can tolerate.” And from Jeffrey Miller (the author of The Anxious Organization) the truth that “life is an endless series of no-win situations if what [we] mean by winning is making everyone else happy.”
As pastor and as parent, as spiritual beings living imperfectly in a flawed world, we have to remember that our job is not to make people happy, our job is to help ourselves and others grow.
While your heart may often be torn as you decide between being there for every soccer game and being there for the unforeseen funerals and pastoral needs of the congregation, know that whatever, whomever you have to disappoint will also be offered an opportunity for autonomy, for resilience, for living into their own power and purpose.
As someone who has to say no – to being present for everything, to destructive behavior, to the internal or external expectations that we do everything perfectly – you will also have the chance with each thing you turn away, to get in touch with the greater thing you turn toward. Behind each disappointment, each no, is a greater yes. Not every time, but over time, let yourself continue to stay in touch with that deeper yes and let its bright star guide you.
So as your charge I also offer you some of the things to which I would have you say yes:
Yes, to the fact that you are held in a love greater than you could ever imagine.
Yes, to that love which shows up in the moments of joy with your family and with your congregation, as alive in church basements as on playgrounds.
Yes, to that love that shows up also on the days when nothing has gone right and you resent that you decided to be with an ungrateful bunch at home when you could have been in the adoration of the church community, or vice versa.
Yes, when it shows up in the form of a jar of homemade jam on your desk at the end of a day of meetings that made you fear not just for the fate of your congregation but for humanity itself.
And Yes, when it shows up after long weeks of juggling care of sick children with getting the sermon written and the staff evaluations done in the simple drawings of a pre-schooler who proudly shows her teachers Mommy in a flowing robe saying words of peace.
Yes to the fact that though you may feel the scrutiny of the eyes of the community, they are not looking for your perfection, but for how you find your way back to grace when you have faltered.
Yes to the people and practices that keep you grounded in humor and humility, brought to life by calls to justice, and held in your own private struggles.
Yes to this glorious calling that uses every part of who we are and invites us to bring it all to the altar of overflowing love that reaches out across chasms of our imperfections to make ever more goodness real.
Yes to the pleasure of finding many and varied companions along the way, and at the end to rest in the joy and laughter and song that life itself has given as abundant gifts to all people in every time.
Even in your longest days of having to say no,
Let yourself be claimed by each and every yes.