I like to think I’m pretty open and honest in my writing. I want to share my experiences that they might encourage others, I want to give a picture of real life; I’ve written a lot about being a ministry mum, even wrote a book about it. In much of what I’ve written I’ve done so from the point of view of wanting to encourage women in ministry, counteracting the ever-present messages that tell women they can’t, they shouldn’t, that balancing family and ministry is not right or possible or advisable. But I’ve also talked about how I feel that my vocation to the Priesthood is no greater than my vocation as a parent, that as ministry mums we need to balance all that we do.
Largely I’ve withdrawn from all this in the last year but I feel like it’s only fair that when the ministry mum juggle is really hard, that I write about that too, so here it is.
You see, this last year has been really tough for us as a family, unbearably so – and not because of anything to do with Covid, that’s just a happy add on to it all (having said I’ll be honest I’m not going into the specifics because it’s not just my story to tell).
I have been, am, in the middle of a storm. And not just any storm, perhaps the biggest, most frightening, damaging and overwhelming storm I have ever experienced. The wind feels so strong that I can barely stand. My emotions are picked up on the gusts and flung around with abandon, risking harm to anyone they come into contact with. The walls around me, safe structures built up with care, are being torn down at such speed I cannot think of repairing them but simply watch as another piece falls down at my feet. There has been no forecast to tell me how long I will have to battle or shelter, there was no sign of a calm horizon.
I have cried, railed, shouted and sworn; prayers swinging from ‘God help’ to ‘Fucking hell God what are you doing?, why won’t you intervene?’. On good days I hear God speaking as if to Job: you don’t know the plans, you can’t see it all, I am here, you are loved and known and seen. On bad days I am so angry I want to throw the contents of the kitchen cupboards around like a village fete crockery smash (I actually had to stop myself from doing this one dark night).
Platitudes have been like sparks that fire up an anger so bold it consumes me: ‘Love Wins’ screams to me from the wall beside me. Does it? Love gives me battle strength. Love stops me running away. Love keeps me from falling too far. But it doesn’t feel much like it is winning at the moment. Where is our victory? ‘Trust in the Lord’ they say and I am reminded of Job’s friends, rhyme and reason and accusation falling from their lips as they sit with him in his storm. How can I trust, when so much around me is falling into darkness?
Life has been necessarily stripped back to the essentials, I have dropped anything non-essential from my life, and had a month off work. For months on end I have been living day to day, in some cases hour to hour. Being a ministry mum and balancing the callings both to my family and to the Priesthood has been at times completely impossible. And so my family has taken first place. First place, second place, third place, all the places.
I find myself wanting to escape. I want to leave all this behind and curl up in my own refuge near the sea, with a fire and blankets, and brandy and books – lots of books. I want to retreat. But it’s only an escape in my mind; love bonds me here and gives me little pieces of strength to carry on, to face each day, each hour, each uncertain situation.
The only way I have coped through all this is by turning to God. All my usual prayer habits or bible reading plans have gone out of the window but conversations with God, often short and always shaped by the emotion of the hour, have kept me going. I’ve been abundantly honest with God: angry, frustrated, sweary, pitiful, despairing; but also thankful in the moments of hope and glimmers of light. I’ve written psalms, one of which is below. I have left behind any sense of ambition or planning, the steps I’d made in writing and mentoring have ground to a halt. It has been painful, so, so painful. I tried to keep it all going, not wanting to see building blocks left to crumble or hard work coming to nothing. But in the end it was the only thing I could do and in that moment of crying out to God and letting go a sense of freedom finally came.
So now, things are a bit better. The future is still uncertain and carries many concerns and questions but we’re not falling any further down and there have been some amazing answers to prayer. I’ve never been good with uncertainty – I’m someone who likes to plan, with endless lists! But in letting go of everything I feel like my route plan has changed, I don’t know the what or where or who or why, but I feel a huge sense of peace in that uncertainty. It’s like God has said: let’s make some new plans together, when you are ready. As I write today I feel as if I am stood, surrounded by piles of clothes. They represent the bits of my life before – the things which have shaped my identity, and new things I’ve not yet worn. It’s up to me to decide what to put on and when, when I’m ready.
So, this post is maybe a bit of a downer, sorry about that, but I know many of us have had a hard 18 months through the pandemic, and if that’s you I hope it helps to know you’re not alone. If you’re walking through a dark valley, I’m so sorry, I hope you are able to keep going or get help if you need. And if you feel like you have no idea what the future holds, I hope you too can find peace in the discomfort.
A Psalm, written after Psalm 23
If you are my shepherd then why am I wanting?
Why is there no end to my suffering?
Why am I weeping, yet again, as I pass through green pastures
My soul is in anguish, the pain overwhelming.
I know not the path to take, I am shrouded in mist, I can barely stay upright, let alone knowing which way to move forward.
FOR GOD’S SAKE, help.
I am walking through the darkest valley, and I am fearing evil
I am not comforted by your rod or staff.
Your word makes no impact.
My prayers are dead.
My cup is empty.
Goodness and mercy? Meh. They are not here.
My heart yearns to be in your house. Where suffering is no more. Where love abounds. Where I am em-balmed.