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April 13, 2010

Calling All Mommies

Serving more than our kids

Every Easter my in-laws make the trip from Michigan to Chicago to spend Holy Week with us. They enjoy spending time with us and our church as we journey from the palms to the cross to the empty tomb. And they especially revel in the chance to snuggle our little toddler for a whole weekend while my husband and I serve. Their sacrifice means I am free to give my worship leading gifts to the church.

When I had my daughter last winter, I briefly considered taking a “Holy Week break.” I didn’t think this was necessary—for me or for her. She would be with her grandparents for a few hours each day. Not the worst thing for a kid.

I think my compulsion to step back was primarily guilt-driven: I saw a lot of moms giving up most of their own needs and gifts for the sake of their kids. A noble calling. But what if God didn’t wire me that way?

Parenthood requires deep sacrifices—some of which our children will never even realize. Those sacrifices are still fresh for me as a new mom. I make them in small ways every day: not getting that nap I so desperately want because she won’t sleep, forsaking that second glass of wine while I’m breastfeeding, declining a party invitation because we can’t find a babysitter. I can deal with these.

But the big ones hurt, if I’m being honest. Waiting on grad school. Watching someone else fulfill something I’ve always longed to do. Even “selfish” ones like watching my body expand and shrink—but not as much as I’d hoped.

Are these hits worth it for this beautiful little life full of possibility? I’m eternally convinced. And does it ache to let dreams go, even if for a season? Usually. But what about those gifts that are so integral to our sense of self? Do we strip ourselves of these in exchange for the new garments of motherhood? What if we feel naked without them?

Author of Gifted to Lead, Nancy Beach says “God didn’t make a mistake” when he designed women—when he designed you—with unique gifts to give to the church and the world. And those don’t just disappear when we become mothers. I’m still trying to figure out what the balance looks like, but I’ve watched gifted women interweave these two callings into a beautiful offering to the Lord.

What about you other moms out there, new and seasoned? Is it a struggle for you too? How do you balance your “mommy gifts” with your ministry gifts? Which gifts have you had to let go? Which ones are vital to your personhood and ministry?

Related Tags: Motherhood; gifts


Your post hits me close to home today, as I've been battling the same issue in my heart for the last few months and especially this week. I have been doing youth ministry alongside my husband for the last several years - most of our marriage, in fact. During that time I've led small groups, helped suss out the logistics of big youth events, been a sounding board for my husband's ideas, and even officially worked for the same church. Eighteen months ago that all came to a near stand-still when our son was born. He's delightful, but exhausting. I quit my job because it didn't seem necessary; I've majorly cut back on the amount of "help" I provide my husband's ministry; and I have done whatever it takes to continue leading a small group of high school girls. Initially I hung onto that because I felt I needed some space in my week without parenting responsibilities, where I could "be me." Then it was about "being there" for the girls. But this week, I don't know why I'm doing it anymore. Youth ministry used to be like breathing for me - I couldn't help it happening anytime I was around teens. Now, though, it feels like I'm pulling teeth. And my "relationship with God" feels just like it looks with quotes around it.
I guess the bottom line is that I don't think I'm finding a good balance. I'm not wracked with guilt, not reveling in all the "wonders of motherhood," not sure anymore what my gifts or ministry are. I'm pretty discouraged, and who I am - what makes me unique - seems to have gotten buried beneath the weight of parenthood and housework and responsibility...

Good post, Bonnie. Motherhood is a constant struggle of not losing yourself in the midst of necessary sacrifice. With my three sons ages 7, 3 1/2, and 9 months, I am currently in a stage of feeling the sacrifice pretty hard. I often half-jokingly tell people they're sucking the life-blood out of me.

There have been seasons in my mothering life when I have been very proactive about making sure I prioritize my schedule and life so that I take care of things in the following order: spiritual, personal, marital, parental, and provider (the last category being all that other stuff we do - care for our homes, cook, work outside the home, etc.# When I have been in a season of following those priorities well, I have felt more able to minister to the church and others. Unfortunately, I don't feel that I've been doing that well recently, as pregancy and beyond with my third pretty much upset all balance. I also find myself to be less intentional about life decisions than perhaps is always best; I do think it is worthwhile to step back from things and evaluate from time to time how they are working in life as circumstances unfold.

I think many parents #Christian and non-Christian# get out of whack and think that the kids should always be first priority in every situation. I don't believe that to be true. Taking care of your spiritual life and marriage should always come before that. Unfortunately it's hard to enact in real life because kids simply take so much of your physical energy and time.

As a word of encouragement to Rachel, I would say that kids DO get easier than they are at 18 months! And, for me, doing ministry is not a sufficient way to care for my own soul. While I do engage in ministry #my husband is in full-time church ministry and would not be happy if I was not a part of it!), I would never do it for the reasons of having "me time." I must find that elsewhere.

Bonnie, you raise EXCELLENT questions for devoted Christian moms - devoted not only to their children but to God! It is a struggle and one that requires constant self-evaluation as to who is on the throne of our heart - God, our children or ourselves? I've found that relying on Him to bring to pass what He has created me for has resulted in Him weaving together my roles as a mom, as God's child and as an individual. It definitely won't look the same for everyone but if someone is seeking a solution to this struggle, my heartfelt advice is to stop striving and let God open doors and show you the path through His Word. He knows the perfect plan for you to bring Him glory no matter the season of mommyhood!

Great questions, Bonnie, and ones I wrestle with daily as a mother of 5 (ages 1, 4, 4, 6, & 10) and a writer. I want to do everything well, but it can be sooo hard! I do find that I am a better mom, though, if I'm also doing something else (like writing or leading at church) where it's not "mommy, mommy, mommy" 24/7. Doing nothing but meeting the needs of my children all the time tends to make me cranky and impatient. A little time focused on something else helps me to be more centered in all things. Still, it's always a struggle!

I am a new mom of an 8-month-old and am highly struggling with this right now. I have both an undergraduate and graduate degree in a ministry related field and I am now rarely able to use my gifts as I have in the past. I knew things would change, to a certain extent once I had little ones, but the magnification of change is incredibly challenging. I can barely sit through a church service anymore with my little one, much less do much else. I would like more balance. I just have a very clingy mama's baby who doesn't take well to others for very long. This is affecting not only my spiritual/ministry life, but my marital life as well. I look forward to reading how some of you experienced moms find this balance, especially with a difficult child.

Laure, I have a health professsional degree that took 8 years of college to attain. I worked for a few years, then married, and ended up having 3 children. My middle daughter was very difficult, she was very colicky and didn't even smile during her first year. I gave up my career to raise my children, and it's something that I never ever regret. My middle daughter was difficult, but has turned into the most wonderful, beautiful, devoted to God young woman that you could ever imagine. Believe me, she was rough at times, my family and friends never saw a baby as rough as she was (well, it lasted until she was about 5 lol). But even if they are not as "tough" to raise, I can't tell you how important I think our role is to raise our children to love God and put Him first, and to become good, Christian human beings, now pursuing their own goals. That has been a far more difficult, but loving "job" than the career I was prepared for after college. You only get one chance to raise your children, and believe me, the time just flies. It seems they go from being like 6 months, then soon they are entering kindergarten, and before you know it, they are applying to colleges. You don't want to ever regret putting your children after your career. Raising children right is usually a full-time job that will, believe me, use a lot of the knowledge you gained in college. You don't want to regret how your children turn out in this very difficult, world. That daughter that now seems so tough, will fill your heart with so much love, that you never imagined you could love someone as much. In today's world, with it's temptations, it requires your full-time attention to raise a child of God. I understand that a lot of people have to work while raising their children, but I honestly think it's better, if possible,, to stay home with them. It's just something you don't want to regret. You're talking about your child, and that will far outweigh your career when you look back in time.

I also have and continue to struggle with these questions. I have a 3 year old and a 3 month old and couldn't be more thankful for these little blessings. My oldest has been difficult from day 1, strong willed, yet very attached and will not stay with people she does not know well (like nursery workers!). It has been a long time since my husband and I have been able to attend service together (easily at least) unless we don't bring her to church and have her stay with an extended family member. Fortunately, we are making improvement in this area.
Like you, Laurie, I too have an undergraduate and graduate degree for ministry. My husband and I always planned to have me focus on raising our children until they were of school aged before returning to a formal ministry position like I had. (I was able to work part time in the ministry until my first child was 2 since I was able to work from home and was at a child friendly church that allowed me to bring her to work with me. I had to stop when it became too much for me and I felt both jobs were suffering.) That said, that doesn't mean that there are not days I miss being more active in ministry since I am sure of my calling and gifting to do so. I continually bring this to the Lord, as well as my mentors (also women in ministry who have raised children) for support and encouragement. For me, this is an important season in my children's lives, where I (my husband as well of course) are attempting to lay a strong foundation and I want to give it my all. In my case that means not pursuing my dream ministry position. However, the Lord continues to provide me with ministry opportunities that are more manageable in this season of life that energize me and allow me to use my gifts.
I don't have it all figured out, but I trust the Lord will honor my obedience to what I feel he is calling me to at this time (focus on mothering) and grant me the desires of my heart (desires he has placed) in the right season.
May the Lord give us all the grace we need to be the wives and mothers he desires us to be and servants he has gifted us to be in his timing!

I found that your life comes in seasons and different ministries. When I had my daughter, my ministry became raising her to know God and develop a relationship with God. Don't overlook that as a VERY IMPORTANT MINISTRY in itself. While you take a "break" from the other ministries you once were involved in, you do not need to stop involvement. All ministry can benefit from prayer coverage. In fact, this is actually the most important part of a ministry. I too, took a break from ministry and work until my daughter started elementary school. As she grew, I looked for ways to utalize my gifts in coordination with things that my daughter was involved in at church. Now that she is in middle school, the door has been opened to pursue my "ideal" ministry which involves being part of the worship team on Sunday morning. God has actually worked it out so that our practice time comes right before youth group meets so that I can still spend time with my daughter and take part in the youth ministry also. It may not be your "ideal" ministry, but with the gifts God gives, He can utilize them in many ways. Just be willing to be a little more creative in trying to find ways to be a servant. There will come a time (sooner than I hope) that your children will be out of the house and on their own. You then start a new season of life and have the freedom of pursuing that "ideal" ministry you have been dreaming of. However, don't short change what God can work out through prayer. He can and promises to give you the desires of your heart. If your heart is really pursuing Him, he can work out all the "road blocks" you come into contact with.

LIke all of you I have a young child and she is 7. The most important thing God allowed me to understand is while I'm worrying about how hard balancing work, ministry, and motherhood can be, HE has already equipped me to do it. Priority number one is making a special 15 mins to pray and read a scripture. Without this daily connection I tend to be anxious and usually more easily distracted from being that nurturing woman of God, He's called me to be. Understanding that taking care of home is a ministry of its own allowed me to "rethink" those difficult situations everyone in this blog was addressing. I definately don't have it all together but like someone else said they will not be babies forever, they do grow up and become independant of us. Remember its only for a season, and God's grace will carry you to the next one. We can continue to pursue our dreams even if it FEELS like our life in a tizzy at the moment.

These are questions only middle class or above can even ask. 99% of the world, raising children and working to survie and put food on the table everyday are the norm. So I find it fascinating how locked we are into a Western mindset. People raise children all over the world without such internal emotional anguish. Quite honestly, I am not susre it is good that we even have this choice. The goal of raising children is to teach them to follow Jesus, obey his commands, serve His world, and bring His Kingdom. What I see in most cases is staying at home means more play groups, library time, endless lessons-music, dance, sports-and lots of activities. I am not sure I necessarily see more service, more love, and more committment to Jesus.

i was a pastor before i became a mom. when i had my little girl, it conincided with a time of crisis in the church which led me to step back and return to school. now i have a little boy too and i have not stepped back to the full plate of pastoral ministry because it would not be humanly possible. every woman must find her own place, position and season. the key to balance is to have a strong core - be secure about your worth and accept the seasons of life. (something i keep learning!) it also means accepting our limits. in our hearts before God we eed to decide what kind of woman and then wife, mother, minister we want to be. all families and marriages are different - and we need to know what we need to put in for it to fluorish.. rest in the Lord.

i briefly skimmed the comments so i don't know for sure that someone hasn't mentioned this, but MOPS is an absolute sanity saver for moms of preschoolers who are buried, like me! you can find a group near you at mops.org

Reading through everything, I'm wondering if we can really sort out the challenge of women being wives, mothers and doing ministry without talking about the men being husbands, fathers and doing ministry. I mean, would this very much desired balance really be achieved by mothers alone without much change to the fathers' roles and life styles? This is just a question I have with no good answer in my own mind and heart...

This was a great post for me, as I've stuggled with this issue many times! I'm a stay at home mom, but do lots of ministry things as well. For me, it often comes down to an issue of obedience. God wants me to obey no matter what he asks me to do. sometimes that means focusing more on my kids, sometimes that means focusing on ministry. If God is asking me to stretch myself in a leadership role and I say "no" for the sake of my kids, then that is disobedience. And no one benefits from that. I am just thankful that God loves to communicate with us, and really does direct our steps.

The whole journey of intermingling both my callings ~ as minister, as mother ~ has been a challenge, more than I ever imagined when I met and married my husband, and we started our trek to adding children to our family. I was already a pastor as a single person, so I just imagined that it would all just come together with ease. But truth be told, I have been challenged regarding my priorities, and overcoming some pretty hefty guilt (false guilt as I have discovered) when one or the other "calling" has to take a back seat. All I have wanted is to be obedient to His calling in my life, but what I have realized that as much as I would like to believe it about myself, I can't do it all, and with two small, highly energetic children who come to us with some added challenges, I have to continually focus on evaluating each opportunity on its own and see how it fits with what is right now priority for me, and that is parenting my children.

At this point, I have chosen a parenting sabbatical from pastoring, as opposed to trying to do formal ministry and mothering at this same time in this season of life. I do this and contiue to seek out creative opportunities to minister, being completely open to whatever God has in store for me and my family.

Regardless of what I am doing in a formal way #I am an ordained elder in our denomination so there is a responsibility to be involved in some sort of assigned ministry role# I know that in my children, and their extended families #both my children came to our family through adoption#, there is for now, and in the foreseeable future, my priority in ministry. As time goes on, and our family becomes more established, I see the opportunities opening up. We are trusting God to show the way, just as he has done so far in our lives as a family.

I recently found this blog and am thrilled to find a resource to get me thinking about ministry and leadership.

Interesting post! At this time in my life, I too feel overwhelmed but at least I know that others feel the same way I do. And as I type lol my 7 month ds is being rocked in my arms. There are tiems where just keeping the house clean is a struggle. My other 2 kids (ages 6and 3) already know about pririties lol...a word I use often. I too have borne false guilt but I know that God won't give me more than I can bear. Thank you Jesus! I also would like to pursue further studies but that is not possible at this time and I feel as if I have to put my career on hold for these kids and as if I have been robbed for opportunities. It was refreshing to be reminded that my kids are more important than any career! May God continue to bless you ladies as we all go through these seasons of life lol. And yes, men/husband do play an important role. Although I wish my dh could do more (and I have spoken and spoken and no longer speak about it lol), I do appreciate the help that he gives, such as rocking the baby at 12am and sleeping with him so that I can get some much needed sleep! My new motto is "THIS TOO SHALL PASS!"

I have two children, ages 4 years and 5 months. And I have been gifted and called to be a teacher. Why must women give up their ministries and callings when they become mothers, but men/fathers musn't? If parenthood is "the most important career you'll ever have," why isn't that reflected in expectations of fathers? Some balancing of responsibilities and the work load is called for here, I think. Kudos to all the fathers who do their share of the parenting so that their wives are free to also pursue their callings in ministry or otherwise.

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