So, I’ve been on hols.
Lots of thinking and writing time.
A small disaster of a locked iPad and losing a week of writing but I am over that (french wine definitely helped).
I’ve been thinking a lot about writing more about being a working mum, a clergy mum in fact, and how that works (or doesn’t as the case may be). So as I continue to ponder that here’s something I wrote recently for the fab Junia Project blog competition. I didn’t win but it expresses so much of what I’m feeling at the mo I thought I’d share it here anyway…
The Guilt Battle
I’m a ‘CM’- aka ‘Clergy Mum’ and a fair-weather feminist. Fair-weather? Well, yes, because if I am completely honest I spend way too much time wondering what it would be like to spend my days as a ‘SAHM’ (Stay at Home Mum): in my mind I could be baking wonderful nourishing treats for my perfectly behaved offspring, to munch on the moment they waft through the door; I lust after perfectly plumped cushions and dust-free floors; and goodness, what would it be like to arrive for the school run with delightfully brushed hair and, heaven forbid, manicured nails?
This is my daydream. On the days when I screech up to school 10 minutes late with the Vicar on my mobile phone plotting the weeks events, as I shove my children into the car, waving furiously for them to be quiet so I sound at least vaguely professional, and responding to the cries of ‘we’re hungry, did you bring a snack?’ by frantically searching the glove box for a non-furry mint imperial or two. Thing about actual dreams is they are usually completely bonkers and full of our own anxieties…
As a ‘Clergy Mum’ my daily life swings from the unclimbable washing mountain, where the summit is never reached; to the hand holding of the dying, preparing for another’s perhaps unwanted, summit. Both are an absolute privilege and yet I never feel that I am succeeding at either, more like just about keeping the wheels on. The only time the cushions actually get plumped is when my kids are throwing them at each other. Guilt has been an unwelcome guest in my life for far too long because being an egalitarian in the church is tough, and sometimes I’m just tired of fighting my way through it – those are the times I think about booking that manicure at the spa.
And yet, I feel called to be a wife, a mother and a minister. I am the daughter of an ambitious, working mother. I have a wonderful husband who shares equally in the domesticity of our lives and the crowd control, err, I mean parenting, of our children, and, whose gluten-free Yorkshire Puddings are to die for. So what’s the guilt all about then?
Like many women (and men) age-old societal norms still lurk in our souls ready to jump out and whack us over the head when we are least expecting it; stereotypical ideals still scream at us from advertising and media (‘mansize tissues’ anyone?); and negative words once spoken within our earshot whisper themselves to us on a loop. As if fighting our way in ‘a man’s world’ wasn’t enough, sometimes we are our own worst enemy. Those guilty, fear-filled thoughts call out to us enticing us to wallow in them:
‘Am I a bad mother?’
‘Will our kids turn out as delinquents because I haven’t made them home-made brownies?’
‘Will I be frowned upon for expressing that opinion in a room full of men?’
and, insert your own personal insecurity here…
But instead of heading to the spa, as inviting as it may be, and the oh so fluffy towels… No, no. I shall not be tempted… Instead, I seek out spiritual support. In 2 Timothy 1: 6-7, Paul (he of ‘we love to hate him’ fame) notes:
‘Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind’.
Not fear, But: Power. Love. A sound mind.
Three tools for us to use when the guilt and condemnation strike.
So, Power. Not of the power-tool variety sadly, though I feel sure there is an analogy in there somewhere, no, a spirit of power. God gives us great power in many ways, but for now, how about ‘choice’? Choice, so simple and yet such a gift. Choice gives us such power and authority and we must take hold of it and use it. As Paul Coelho once noted, the day will come when we may well be asked:
‘What have you done with the miracles that God planted in your days? What have you done with the talents God bestowed on you?’
What am I doing with that gift of choice, when I am wishing I was immersed in a culinary masterpiece rather than heading out the door to yet another evening meeting? With one foot in the parenting camp and one firmly in the church, (which remains largely a man’s world) I feel continually called to challenge ingrained attitudes. I have power to influence those around me, to gently bring to mind the unrecognised lenses through which people view the world; to point out the comments that wound ‘unintentionally’; or the decisions that are formed with ‘inadvertent’ prejudice.
There is no guilt in God’s power.
And, Love. Love simply has to be the cornerstone of all we do. Paul says ‘without love I am just a clanging cymbal’, he even says love is worth more than understanding all mysteries and knowledge, which is a pretty big deal really. Sometimes all that is needed is to draw attention to something – people view things through their own upbringing and experience without knowing what they do. Of course there are the haters too, but why join them? Why be part of #TeamAngry?
Whenever I feel trodden upon, whenever another minister turns his back on me because of the lumps on my chest, whenever I am ignored, shouted down or belittled, whenever my own sisters in Christ accuse me of ‘letting the side down’, I choose to respond in love. Love is the best bomb disposal unit ever invented. Have you seen how quickly a loving word can deflate a puffed up angry chest?
There is no guilt in God’s love.
And finally, a sound mind. God gave me a sound mind. Really? A sound mind often seems far from me, when all around is blurring into one, when I start to preach the shopping list instead of my carefully crafted sermon – now in the clutches of my husband and his shopping trolley – then I need to remember the sound mind bit. But more than that, it’s so easy to let harmful words permeate our less than thick skin, you know that old playground rhyme ‘sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never break me’? What a lot of tosh, sometimes words are the most hurtful, the things that stick with us and taunt us when we need it least. Knowing that the Lord has given us a mind to use, a brain to compute with, and the thought processes to fight our way out of a guilt battle can be a huge comfort.
There is no guilt in a God-given sound mind.
So, when the kids are clamouring for supper and there’s just half a block of slightly old cheese and a squishy apple in the house; when the next evening meeting goes beyond 10pm debating the vitally important issue of church cobwebs; or when I realise the only conversation I’ve had with my husband in 3 weeks is one about clearing up cat sick, then I will stir up in myself:
‘God has given me a spirit of power, of love and a sound mind’
and I am going to darn well use it.
AmyAugust 8, 2017 at 3:52 pm
I think my biggest guilt feeling so far this summer as I juggle my work, kids and the discernment process, is my time with God! When I am in a routine and know when the kids are off to school, when my normal work hours are and when my next DDO meeting is, I can more or less plan how I can fit in morning prayer, my fab Bible in one year App and even some unstructured beautiful prayer time. When the routine goes, I find it so hard to find moments with God. Yesterday’s beautiful reminder that he is still just about with me was watching a short film with my children on their ipad, and suddenly realising that I could see their two beautiful enraptured faces reflected in the screen – a reminder that sometimes there is so much more to see. Is it bad that my time with God is reduced to moments such as these? How can we Mums have precious time with our Father as well as our kids?!! I feel so guilty that I am failing him, and then I feel guilty that I am feeling guilty!!
JulesAugust 8, 2017 at 4:14 pm
I know exactly what you mean! But a wise woman told me once not to stress during these busy times, and, as you have noticed already, you see God in different ways when you are busier, perhaps more fleeting but still he’s there and showing you! She suggested to me to try and find different rhythms for the holidays and term times and that does help I’ve found. Then I feel I put less pressure on myself. I know I can’t spend an hour reading the bible and praying etc in the school hols because it’s just not practical (and it often isn’t during term time either!). God sees the heart, that’s what I try and remember 🙂
AmyAugust 8, 2017 at 4:26 pm
Super advice – thank you!
Helen CookAugust 8, 2017 at 8:33 pm
Be calm and know God loves us completely in the busy times and the quiet times, in the routine and the mayhem, in the structured prayers and the off the cuff ones, when we feel victorious and when we feel we’ve lost it all, at the beginning of time and the end of time.