I’ve decided that balance is a myth. I get asked pretty often how I balance full-time pastoring with full-time parenting, and if I’m honest, I don’t.
I would love to say that my life is perfectly instagrammable all the time, with my cup of coffee and piles of sermon prep books in the background and a smiling baby on my lap. But that’s not what it looks like at all. More likely my day looks like grabbing a cord out of the baby’s mouth while trying to wrangle a spazzy dog with my right hand, clutching my laptop in my left hand, and a cold cup of coffee forgotten in the microwave. Or asking my husband whether the baby really needs a bath tonight or if he can just be put straight to bed so I can finally write my sermon without distraction for at least forty minutes. Something always seems to give.
The word “balance” seems to create an image of all things working together in sync all the time, and that’s just not the way it works. When the baby needs attention, he doesn’t need that attention to be balanced with church work—he needs all of my attention. When a parishioner needs my counsel on an issue, they don’t need that counsel to be balanced with a baby on my hip—they need their fully present pastor. When my husband needs me, he needs the me that isn’t wondering whether the baby got his vitamin drops today or the church electric bill got paid on time. Things will always be somewhat unbalanced. Something has to give because no one can wear all of the hats all of the time.
We aren’t meant to be all things to all people all the time.
When we try to balance everything perfectly all the time, what ends up happening is that we feel exhausted, the people in our lives feel neglected, and we feel an incredible amount of guilt or even shame because we just don’t understand why we couldn’t do it all. But the truth is, we weren’t meant to do it all. We aren’t meant to be all things to all people all the time.
Somewhere along the line we have been sold this myth that moms are supposed to be superheroes who can cook five-course gourmet meals from scratch, invent creative learning games for the kids to play, run all the errands, throw a perfect, Pinterest-worthy birthday party, and look good doing it. Likewise, we’ve also been sold this myth that pastors are supposed to be jacks-of-all-trades who preach better than Billy Graham, run board meetings better than a CEO, balance budgets like an expert financial advisor, and somehow also know how to fix the leaky toilet. But these are both myths that can leave us feeling like failures if we don’t measure up.
When we try to do all the things, we don’t find balance. Instead, we find stress, we find burnout, and we find shame. We run the danger of doing exactly what we are trying to prevent: pushing our children away from church, creating distance in our marriage, and instilling a lack of health within our congregation.
These days, amidst the crazy, I have been meditating more and more on the body of Christ described in 1 Corinthians 12 and specifically this idea that the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” but that they must work together. I wonder how many times in my attempts to do everything, and do everything well, I’ve told the hand I don’t need him or her? I wonder how many times I’ve done church work that others are meant to do, that others would be better at doing—but I’ve done it because I succumbed to the myth that I must.
I have to let go of this superhero-mom image that has been elevated in our world, and I need to allow others to invest in the life of my child.
But the body of Christ doesn’t just apply to church work. When we baptized our son this year, one of the things I told the congregation was that it takes a church to raise a child and that, while I am his mother, his baptism signifies that the church together will raise him. This is a profound thing to say but a hard thing to live. I have to let go of this superhero-mom image that has been elevated in our world, and I need to allow others to invest in the life of my child.
I was reminded of this need over the past few weeks. It’s been a particularly busy season, with a baby that has become mobile, a congregation seeking to be more active, and my bivocational work picking up steam. The days I have felt overwhelmed have been numerous. I looked at the church calendar with dread one day, getting increasingly frustrated that the baby wouldn’t just sit in one place so I could finish my projects.
I was trying to do everything on my own—and I was doing a terrible job. I was trying to balance the shepherding of the church with one hand and parenting with the other, and before I knew it, I had run out of hands. I walked into our monthly board meeting with a bit of a heavy heart. How could I continue to be a good pastor for them, a good mother to my son, and a good wife to my husband? As we began to go over the calendar, my heart began to get more heavy, tears started to fill my eyes, and I told them, “I just can’t do all of this. It’s too much work for me, and I’m exhausted.”
The board members looked stunned. They had no idea I felt so overwhelmed. Because I had been trying to balance everything on my own and telling the eye, the hand, and probably the foot that I didn’t need them, the church board thought I didn’t need them. After my confession, the entire tone of the meeting changed. They looked at me and said, “We don’t expect you to do it all; we need and want to do more.”
Not every board meeting will run that way. Not every pastor-mom will be looked at with compassion when she says, “I need help,” but more often than not, I think we will.
Part of our role as pastors is to equip the church to be the church, and part of that is allowing them and empowering them to step into their gifts and serve. If we continually do everything without ever asking for help, they often don’t even know if there is a place for them to serve.
So I’ve decided to stop focusing so much on achieving an impossible degree of balance and focus instead on what it looks like to live and work in community with others. To allow others to hold my baby on Sunday morning while I run around completing the tasks I need to get done. To allow members of my congregation to lead events, to make the coffee, and yes, to fix the leaky toilets. I’ve had to humble myself and admit, “I can’t do it all; I need help.” But as a result I am a much better pastor, parent, and spouse. I no longer look at the church calendar with dread. Instead, I am confident that others can and will help shoulder the load as we learn what it looks like to serve Jesus, each other, and our community well.
No, there is no such thing as balance, and giving up on trying to find it is the best thing I’ve done. But there is such a thing as grace, and there is such a thing as community—and I have found that they are the better gifts.