There is nothing like both parenting and pastoring to strip you bare.
Sometimes literally. My daughter, as a toddler, was fond of interrupting sensitive coffee hour conversations and getting my attention by lifting my skirt above my waist.
My son, not to be outdone, had a habit of slipping away from my husband while I was preaching, stripping buck naked, and army-crawling the length of the sanctuary under the pews.
There was the time I took the youth group to Ground Zero in NYC one hot summer day as a newly minted mom, and forgot to bring a breast pump. My cups, ahem, runneth over, to the delight of all the teenagers. I bought a hand pump in a drug store, and pumped and dumped, crying and cramped in a dirty restaurant bathroom.
And of course the vulnerability and hypervisibility of parenting while pastoring has manifest in more symbolic ways. There was the time I left a wake for a beloved elder, screaming and sobbing and running home in heels, because the ambulance siren I heard was for my daughter, heading to the ER with allergy-induced anaphylaxis, again.
Or the many, many times our upstairs neighbor in the parsonage, who was also a church member, heard me lose my shit with my kids at the end of a long day.
Or the scary season in mid-high school when our son was struggling with substances, and we were battling him—and had to figure out how to ask for support while protecting his privacy. Years earlier, an older clergy mom friend had said chillingly, “little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems.” Already completely at my limit with job and the baby who would become that teen, I answered lightly, “well, that’s terrifying.”
Every one of those parenting conundrums taught my congregations better than any sermon that:
1) even professional Christians are not perfect
2) bodies have needs and limits (& are often hilarious), and most importantly:
3) vulnerability is not just acceptable. It is, in fact, the Way.
A Way that Jesus, vulnerable on purpose from birth to grave, himself lived.
My soul work, never done, is to continue to give credence to the idea that vulnerability is a form of strength. Our egos want to protect our image and our vulnerability (literally: our wounds), but our souls want to be integrated–literally, to have all our pieces in the same place instead of feeling always scattered, trying to remember which secrets to protect and which subterfuges to maintain.
My hope, as both parent and pastor, is to be as integrated as possible, fully myself everywhere. That means being unafraid to let my messy backstage show for fear of disappointing a public who might want me to project only a faux put-togetherness.
But it also means being willing to work as hard to be a Christian with my family as with my parishioners, which is to say: to be loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlling. As my best friend says, it’s good to be kind to the people you live with, since they are the ones who can most easily kill you in your sleep (in case you needed further motivation).
Parent-pastors, I pray for you today: that God gives you a little more vulnerability with your public, a little more patience with your family, and the peace that comes with being fully yourself no matter who you are with.