For me, being a parent is beautiful and hard. There are moments of sheer joy and delight, moments that are thin and beautiful and beyond words, moments that make my heart swell so fully that I am sure it will pop right out of my chest. Those are the times when I fall to my knees and thank God for my sweet five year old. But then, coming almost as quickly and often just as unexpectedly, there are those moments with my child when the anger and frustration and confusion wash over me, and I can’t see straight I am so overwhelmed. These are the moments when I know I am just along for the ride, and I am no longer under the illusion that I am in control. I still fall on my knees in prayer in these moments, but there is no thanksgiving involved, only the plea for help. Yes, Annie Lamont had it right when she wrote there are only two kinds of prayers—“thank you, thank you, thank you” and “help me, help me, help me.”
Just a few days ago, I had one of those moments, where I found myself praying, “help me, help me, help me.” Though I was far from filled with anger and despair (nothing that dramatic, thank God), I was incredibly confused and uncertain. In this instance, my dear son, who can make my heart happy with only a smile, was rolling around on the ground. Now he does this from time to time and sometimes it is just because he feels like rolling on the ground–he is five and that is what a five year old does. But I am learning that he does this also when he is feeling unsure of himself or of his surroundings. My child doesn’t typically throw fits or tantrums. When he is scared or overwhelmed, there is very little screaming and shouting and crying. One of his MO’s when he is stressed is to drop to the floor and I can’t for the life of me get him to sit in a chair or stand up or do whatever is socially appropriate at that time. So there he was a few days ago, stressed out and rolling on the ground, babbling about something and gently kicking his legs, and there I was, praying help me, help me, help me…
Not a big deal, really, except that this all happened in the midst of worship. Did I mention that I am the pastor of this beautiful church, and big part of my vocation, part of my job, is leading worship? I love leading worship, and this congregation, The Church of the Good Shepherd, UCC, loves worshiping, and more often than not, we have amazing worship together. But every so often, my roles collide. Every so often, I am called upon to be pastor and mother at the same time, in the very same moment and often in front of a large group of people (oh yeah, with a microphone on too!). Yes, when my roles collide, I am most definitely praying, “help me, Help Me, HELP ME!” J
It dawned on me the other day that most people in their professional lives don’t bring their children to work with them. I have never been to the doctor’s office with the doctor’s child in the room with them while they try to discern what is ailing me. I don’t see professors or police officers on the job with their children in tow (or spouse/partner, for that matter). There is a reason why most schools won’t let teachers have their own children in their class. But pastoring is different. We not only bring our families to work with us, our churches expect us to do so. Rightly or wrongly, a pastor’s family is part of the package, even though only the pastor signs the call contract.
Most of the time, this is a gift, both to the pastor and the pastor’s family. We are in this vocation because we love God and we love church, and we want our children to grow up in a faith community. I want my little guy to grow up in The Church of the Good Shepherd more than anything. We came to this church specifically because we wanted Josiah to be part of this supportive community that celebrates God’s beautiful diversity, we want him to be surrounded by a church that celebrates who he is, we want him to grow into a responsible and loving adult who will love all of God’s children in the same way. But when the roles collide, it gets tricky. Am I a pastor or a mother first, particularly in the context of worship? How do I parent my child, in awkward and frustrating situations, in a very public way? And most confusing of all, what does these kinds of pressure/ambiguity of roles do to and for Josiah, who doesn’t have the slightest clue (and shouldn’t, really) about pastoring/worship/professionalism? What about Josiah who is only five and who only wants his mama on Sunday as he does any other day of the week? Yes, here’s the prayer again, “Help me, Help me, Help me!” And the prayer “Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.”