At General Assembly 2017, my wife and I—both of us delegates—did our best, with the help of my mom, to juggle three kids and the numerous responsibilities we had. One evening, we found ourselves completely overwhelmed by dinner. Our kids hadn’t been sleeping at night and had, naturally, grown grumpy. We could not get ourselves out the door for the evening service, so instead, we decided skip the service and order food to eat in the room.
We phoned in the order, and I picked it up. Inside the hotel on my way back up to our room, I found myself in the elevator with General Superintendent J.K. Warrick. On our way up, I made small talk: How was he doing? Were they keeping him busy?
He was kind and cordial, inviting of questions from a pastor who probably looked like death warmed over. He asked me how I was doing. He asked if I was a delegate and if I’d brought my kids.
Then I asked a question I immediately regretted.
“When do you speak?” I asked, knowing general superintendents often brought the sermons during the morning and evening worship sessions. No sooner had the words left my mouth than he burst into genuine laughter. Not a laughing-at sort of laughter but a knowing, I’ve-been-there-before kind of laugh.
“I actually spoke tonight,” he said.
The blood drained from my face. “Oh . . . really?” I said, internally kicking myself. Of all the nights, and all the elevators, this was the night and the elevator when I decided to ask that question. Well done, Michael…well done.
Truth be told, if the elevator door had opened at that moment, even if it hadn’t reached my floor, I would absolutely have gotten off right then. However, as these things typically go, this was the one time at General Assembly the elevators didn’t stop. Not once. It went all. the. way. to. the. top.
I was mortified.
“Well, this is embarrassing,” I said, trying to figure out what to say next. I finally decided to just come clean. “My kids were having a rough night, and we couldn’t get ourselves together enough to make it to service,” I confessed.
Dr. Warrick’s laugh trailed off, though the kind smile stayed, and he said something I’ll always remember. He said, “It’s okay. It feels like yesterday when we were juggling kids at conferences, and we know how difficult this all can be.” He continued, “Michael, taking care of your family always comes first. Always.”
Taking care of your family always comes first. Always.
Right on cue, the elevator slowed, the bell dinged, the door opened, and he and his wife exited.
My wife, who is also ordained, and I pastor a small church and are parenting three kids under the age of six. It’s chaotic work that includes many, many moments when we ask ourselves, “Are we doing this all wrong?”
Be it at a General Assembly, a national conference, a district assembly, or an average Sunday morning at our local congregation, it’s not uncommon for us to find ourselves stretched to our max, our schedule full, the responsibilities daunting, and the little voices around our knees talking without end. And that’s just what other people see. Privately, it doesn’t get much easier. Exhausted and overwhelmed, we find ourselves failing to do devotions as much as we want, unable to serve in our church as often as we’d like, and our patience far more thin than we want to admit. We are not the persons we want to be, and we are not all we feel we should be. Many days, if we are honest, we feel like shadows of ourselves.
Lately, though, I’ve been reflecting on the words of Dr. Warrick in that elevator. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about my church and family balance. For me, and maybe for you, it feels as though we are often just trying to hold on, hoping one day things will slow down enough to let us catch our breath.
This kind of living can create all sorts of anxiety because we feel like there’s a target we’re not hitting. It can create tension between ourselves and our congregations as we find ourselves unable to be fully present for them during our most exhausted moments. It can feel like God is disappointed when we say our short prayer before falling asleep, worn out from a day full of scraped knees, broken hearts, and runny noses.
Yes, it can feel nearly impossible to keep up with the demands around us, and there are days when we check out, saying, “Nope, tonight it’s just not going to happen”—all the while hoping tomorrow is better. On those nights—when we lock the doors and pray for mercy, hoping tomorrow is better than today—I hope you hear the words I heard on that elevator that General Assembly night.
“It’s okay. I understand how difficult this all can be. Always remember to take care of your family. Family comes first. Always.”