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Ministry after Becoming a Mom

Is it possible to balance two full-time callings?

I have two major callings on my life: motherhood and ministry. Navigating these callings simultaneously can be challenging to say the least. Most days I feel successful with one and a failure with the other. Then there are days where I feel I have failed miserably at both. So on those rare occasions when I feel like I can maintain that delicate balance, I celebrate.

As a little girl, I dreamt of one day becoming a wife and mom. I used to play “house” for hours each day and named several imaginary children at a ridiculously young age. Then in high school, and even more so in college, I started to sense a second calling on my life to vocational ministry. At the time, I didn’t really think about whether or not those two callings were compatible. I just knew deep in my soul that I wanted to be a mother and I wanted to spend my life serving in ministry.

A New Reality

It wasn’t until a few months before my daughter was born that I began to sense the tension between my two callings. As I began researching childcare options and strategizing the logistics of being away from my daughter for longer trips such as our upcoming summer camp, I started to feel torn—and I recognized this wouldn’t be the last time I felt that way. I have a ton of support from my husband, extended family, and coworkers, yet I was having a hard time imagining what it would look like to be the hands-on involved mother I had always dreamed of being while still fulfilling my responsibilities as a pastor.

The tension became even more palpable while spending the first 10 weeks of my daughter’s life on maternity leave. I loved being home with my baby. I loved rocking her to sleep for her naps and being there to watch her learn and discover new things seemingly every day. I spent many of those blurry-eyed, spit up soaked moments during those 10 weeks wondering how I would possibly reintegrate into my ministry role when the time came.

My first few weeks back at work were physically and emotionally draining. Leaving my daughter in someone else’s care at such a young age was just as tough as I had imagined. Pumping in my office and washing out bottles in the church kitchen were not easy tasks to add on top of my already packed schedule.

Eventually, however, I was able to get back into the swing of day-to-day ministry life. In fact, I found that in some ways, being a mom while in full-time ministry worked really well. I was able to bring my daughter on most of our youth trips and retreats, and the students I worked with loved passing the cute new baby around. I had some flexibility at my church, so I could even work from home occasionally. The church members were helpful and supportive during Sunday services, lending a hand with her diaper bag or offering to hold her if I needed to take care of something. I heard many comments about how much everyone enjoyed seeing my daughter in the nursery on Sunday mornings and, as she got older, toddling the church halls.

In other ways, however, it was still really difficult for me to balance both of these callings well. There were many late night church meetings and youth events that kept me out well after my daughter’s bedtime. I remember tears streaming down my face as I sat up late pumping breast milk, watching her sleep on our video monitor, and wishing I could have rocked her to sleep. Our weekends were often booked with church activities and my husband worked weekdays, so family time was hard to come by. The church members, who loved and supported me as a mom, didn’t always love it when my early motherhood responsibilities interfered with my ability to attend a long distance trip, or when my sick baby meant I had to reschedule a meeting. They loved seeing my daughter toddling the halls—until I had to quickly cut off our conversation to keep her from toddling into the parking lot.

During my early days of motherhood, I felt extremely torn between my two callings and started to question everything. How could I reconcile my desire and calling to be a mom, while also trying to fulfill the demands and expectations of full-time ministry? Most days, I felt like both a terrible pastor and a neglectful mother.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to this overwhelming feeling of failure, including the hormones of early motherhood, the unique demands of my position as a youth and family pastor, and the temperament of my daughter. The biggest factor affecting me, however, was the unrealistic expectations I placed on myself.

There were always going to be people who were disappointed that I couldn’t operate in my ministry role the exact same way that I had before I had become a mother. It was inevitable as a working mom that I would miss out on some things at home. In reality, though, the main person who was disappointed with my performance was not my boss or congregation, nor my husband or daughter. The person who was most disappointed was me. I had somehow slipped into the delusion that I could be both 100 percent focused on my ministry and 100 percent focused on motherhood, without either role being impacted by the other.

Lessons Learned

I grew up being told that I could have it all: a fulfilling family life and a vocation I loved, without having to choose one over the other. For all intents and purposes, that reality is true for me. I don’t have to choose between motherhood and vocation. I really can pursue both of my callings, and I have so many resources and support networks in my life to help me do so. But it is lunacy to believe that this is an easy process, or that balancing two full-time callings isn’t exhausting and painful at times.

I’ve also learned that I don’t necessarily have to pursue both of my callings to the same degree during every season of my life. I am the only mother my daughter has, and it makes sense that my calling to motherhood will overshadow my calling to ministry during the early years while she is still so dependent. Yes, I am called to ministry. There is no doubt about that. In this season, however, I will have limitations as to what I can and cannot do—and I have to give myself grace in that reality.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that I neglect my ministry role or slack off in my responsibilities. It did mean being more intentional about developing other leaders and delegating those tasks that were no longer realistic for me to perform. It also meant learning to ask for help and trusting others to love and care for my daughter in my absence. I also had to make the decision to give up some aspects of my ministry role for a season, as difficult as that decision was to make.

I am still in the process of figuring out what it looks like to reconcile my callings to both ministry and motherhood. I don’t have it all figured out yet—not even close. But I do know that the struggle is worth it. I know that I am learning to be a better mother and a better servant of Christ because of these struggles I have faced.

I am never going to live up to my own unrealistic expectations to perfectly manage all areas of my life, but I know God can still use me to further his kingdom if I faithfully follow him in the tasks he has for me to handle today.

Jessica Charney is a wife, mother, pastor, and teacher. She lives with her husband and daughter in Sacramento, California, where she also serves as an adjunct professor for William Jessup University. You can learn more about Jessica by visiting jessicacharney.com.

October06, 2016 at 8:00 AM

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