Our colleague writes:
I find myself getting busier and busier
(not unexpected given the life I lead as the mom of three elementary
aged children, the wife of a very busy professor who travels a great
deal, and a part time pastor). I begin to feel as though I am on a
racing train. So I will say to myself "OK, I am very busy this week
but next Monday once the girls are all in school I will have time, and
I will get my sermon started, and I will be able to deal with this
very very messy house." And then something happens - a funeral comes
up, or one of the girls gets sick, and I am back to scrambling through
my week, doing everything in a half-baked sort of way, resenting the
fact that my plans have been altered once again, resenting the idea
that I NEVER get caught up, no never, that my children will be wearing
shorts in November since I still haven't had time to get out their
winter clothes, resenting the thought that once again, I didn't get to
research my sermon the way I wanted to or needed to, resenting the
fact that I am waking up at 5:30 in the morning and my mind is racing
and I don't even know what to do first.
This is my life. I know it isn't going to change. The life of a
pastor, and the life of a mom, is "interrupt-driven". So how do I
deal with it all without going absolutely nuts? I walk every day for
an hour before dawn, I spend time with my kids every afternoon when I
pick them up from school - but the sermons don't get written well, the
house is a mess, and my brain is on overdrive.
HELP! please..I need ideas. I need a brain that works...I need to
slow down my racing heart. How do I live in the NOW and still be
thinking of the next sermon, the next eulogy, the next Bible study
class, and not forgetting to pack the gym shoes for the
kindergartner's gym class tomorrow?
From Sunday's Coming:
This question breaks my heart – I can feel my pulse-rate rising with each sentence. I hesitate to even try to reply because I don’t want to come across as the know-all telling a fellow-traveller what to do. But I can’t fail to respond to such a heart-rending level of honesty.
It sounds like you are doing amazingly well in a hugely difficult situation. My ‘little girl’ is now 15 but for over half her life I have been on my own and doing a full-time ministry job – I’m speaking from my own experience when I say there were days I felt totally frazzled, inadequate, and (yes, you used the word) resentful. When I was working I felt guilty I wasn’t at home: when I was at home I felt guilty I wasn’t working.
One phrase that kept me going was to say at the end of a hard week or a hard day ‘I have done the best I can for everyone – church, family & friends – in the time available: God grant me rest tonight and strength tomorrow’.
The hardest thing for me to let go of has been the feeling that as a ‘Minister-Mother’ I should be perfect – or at least good at everything – well-turned out child, unflustered me, tidy home, and a home-made cake for the church event! I found that I had to cut myself some slack, talk to my church about the help I needed, admit to close friends how I felt, and learn to slow down sometimes.
I have NOT got my life completely sorted out, but I’m still standing and happier than I was 10 years ago.
What surprised me most when I talked to people about how badly I felt I was doing was that so many said ‘But we think you cope really well!’ - my feet were paddling like mad, but they only saw the calm swan on the surface. The other great surprise was the number of people who wanted to help: in my case it was to do with offering after-school childcare, evening baby-sitting, and even occasional holidays for my daughter. At other times I’ve had people do meals for me, and the best 3 months of my life were when I had a cleaner! - there is help out there, I feel sure. May God grant you the wisdom to ask for what you need – and give others the grace to support you as you need.
Matriarch Jennifer writes:
We feel your pain! It’s a tough job, and so hard to feel as though life and work are balanced or harmonized. We understand.
For me, living in the now is all about planning ahead…way ahead! It helps me a lot to do some sermon planning in advance. I try to work at least a quarter in advance on themes and texts and choose the hymns that far in advance, so that our musicians have good ideas to work with. I find this plan frees a lot of time for the unexpected and still provides some good sermon writing time.
I do a lot of organizational stuff with my kids the week before and the night before events. (We get gyms shoes in backpacks the night before!) I need to say that my spouse is a gem and is an equal partner in domestic stuff. Whether or not that’s a gift you have also received, it’s still possible to do lots of pre-planning and trouble shooting and involving others in managing the day-to-day and creating amazing, self-reliant kids. (This comes in handy later…) Is there any room in your budget for a domestic god or goddess? If so, I’ve heard that they bring a lot of peace of mind as a by-product of their time helping with dusting and vacuuming and such.
How great that you’re caring for yourself by walking daily and caring for your family by mapping out time with them!Matriarch Sue offers:
Oh wow, what a timely question. I have the luxury of having entered ministry after my children were grown, so I never had to juggle ministry and soccer practice, but I do hear you on the other aspects of the "ministry of interruptions". My mistake over the years has been in thinking that every request made of me was a crisis that needed my attention immediately. I was wrong. Certainly some things, such as funerals and crisis calls from the hospital, need to handled immediately, but a lot of the rest of the "stuff" can wait. There may be people in your church who don't like the fact that you don't "snap to it" when they make a request, but they'll get over it.
It's taken me a very long time to discover the word "No." It's taken me eleven years in ministry to assert my own right to self-care and to realize that without it, my shelf-life in ministry is going to be very short.
So, for example, there is a special Christmas function at your child's school one afternoon, but it takes place during the week that you usually set aside for home communion prior to the holidays. In the past, I would have done the home communion and apologized for missing the "personal" event. Not any more. NO WAY. No one is going to die if they don't get their home communion until the next day, and they will probably love to hear about your child's school event while you visit the next day.
Another example: a funeral comes up and must be dealt with along with Sunday's worship. See if you can delegate the children's story, or the Prayers of the People or another part of the service for Sunday, just to lighten the load because you are busy with the funeral. The worst that can happen is that someone you ask might say no. If so, go to someone else. The funeral will add extra hours to your week regardless of how much you delegate, so be sure to take back those extra hours - the following week. Not next spring, sometime after Easter. Not during Epiphany. Not during July when it's quiet. Next week, when you need to take a breath and take back that extra time. If you don't - all of those overtime hours (in the UCCan, full time ministry is officially described as a 40 hour week) - will build up to the point where you will just never take the lieu time at all.
I found out the hard way that the church will never thank you for a 60 hour week - they will simply absorb it as their "norm" and expect more. YOU are the only one who can set and insist upon boundaries that give the best of yourself in all parts of your life. The church is better off when you're not spinning your wheels at 150 mph every day. Your family benefits when you take back the extra time you put in at work when it's necessary. Most importantly, you benefit when you slow down, enjoy every element of your life and don't have to feel resentful of any of it.
A question for you: When was the last time you took a whole day and just had FUN? - your kind of fun - a day with your girlfriends of shopping and pedicures, a movie, a date night, whatever.....If it's been too long, do it. Soon. You'll be glad you did.
Matriarch The Vicar of Hogsmeade writes:
I hear you. I've been a single mom and full time pastor for more than 10 years. Being flexible without being chaotic can be quite the trick. So, as the saying goes, let me give you my advice, I'm only using some of it ...
At the risk of being too basic, and missing the point, first, get a calendar and use it. I used to use a 1 page per day Daytimer now it's Outlook. I need something that lets me see a month at a time and yet track daily activity, too. I put everything for every person in the family on the calendar. Let the calendar remember all of the stuff so you aren't trying to carry everything in your head at the same time. Use the alarms on your cell phone to remind you or notify you of the next thing. If I need to pick up a kid at 3:00, an alarm tells me at 2:45. Then I work on whatever I need to until I hear the alarm without constantly checking the time. Also, use the calendar to track the time spent for church so you don't over work without knowing how much it is. When you must over work, be sure you compensate later. The church will not take care of you. The church will always take care of itself. You must take care of you. A retired preacher once said to me "As a preacher, your inbox will never be empty. When it's time to go home, go home."
Then, laying aside the organizational/time tracking part, figure out what is most important to you and what you can tell yourself to let go. For example, long ago when I couldn't get everything done, I decided that house work would not keep me from spending time with my kids. So, until I could afford to hire help, our house was "passable," not sparkling (and now it's sparkling every other week on Tuesdays). And, even today, most of the time clean laundry is found in a basket or on a hanger close to the dryer rather than in drawers. My mom used to give me grief over such things & I said, "My kids are only this age once. I'm playing UNO with them now while they'll still play with me. I'll have a museum house when they're gone." It wasn't that I didn't want an immaculately clean house. It was a decision I made to keep sane and I didn't/don't give myself a hard time about it. Not everything has to be done well (or "right") to be good enough.
So, give yourself a break, too. While your sermons may not be printed in Christian Century, I bet there are people every week who hear the Word of the Lord. And when there are funerals, I'm sure they receive comfort. Do what you can do and trust the Holy Spirit to have your back.
You are the only one who can make the choices that will give you peace. Be ruthless in deciding what you really can do and how you will prioritize it. Look honestly at the things that give you joy, peace, & the other fruits of the spirit. Try to minimize the things that cause resentment. (I don't do breakfast meetings. I am not a morning person & I resent them so I don't agree to them. I shamelessly use getting my children to school as my excuse if needed. Usually, "That doesn't work for me." is enough.) Then stick to your decisions until it is time to change based on the foundational principals of what is important to you -- not the moment of the day. You have a whole life to live, it all does not have to be done now.
Thank you, dear Matriarchs, for sharing your wisdom. I have to admit that found myself wondering if I ought to hire a cleaning service! (Seriously - I'm very interested to read that piece of advice from more than one Matriarch. I'm the only Mom my kids have, but the house could be cleaned by anybody!)
So, what about the rest of you? How do you handle trying to achieve some sort of balance, or at least sanity? I know that for myself, I have had to let go of the idea of "balance" as something that is ever going to be achievable in some sort of perfect state - the idea of balancing it all just became one more burden of unrealistic expectation on my life. We're interested to hear thoughts from the rest of you. I will be away at a meeting (actually a mini-retreat after I drop the kids off at school!) but will check back in later today.
We have several questions in the queue right now, so if you've written and are wondering when we'll get to yours, know that it will be in the next few weeks. As always, if you have a question, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.