To Be Made Whole

Riding my bike from my daughter’s day care, I keep thinking about how to deal with our longing for each other. It’s intertwined with my feeling of guilt. I still can’t fully accept that I feel so much better working full time than part time.

I know that she is very happy at the day care. She loves her friends there; she’s having fun and learning things that I never could teach her. But still. When I leave on Sunday mornings, she asks me, “Why do you work today? Why do you work when I’m off?” The only answer I can give is: “Because I’m a priest, darling. That’s how priests work.” Sometimes she clings to me and asks me not to leave. That’s when I leave my bleeding heart on the floor, loosen her little fingers as gently as possible, and cry all the way to work.

I know I’m privileged. I live in a country where day care is subsidized; we only pay about $110 a month. I got to spend much time with my daughter Sofia when she was really young. I was on maternity leave (with 80% of my salary) for five months full time and three months half time. My husband then stayed at home on paternity leave (with the same benefits) for another seven months. I know this is unique. I know I shouldn’t complain. But I can’t stop my heart from bleeding. I can’t make my four-year-old daughter understand that this is the way it is and will be. I can’t understand why I’m actually happier working than being at home all the time with my beloved child.

So, there it is. My husband would disagree, but sometimes I secretly suspect that I’m a better priest than mother. Guilt is my constant companion. I wonder how all the clergy men of old managed. Didn’t they lament never seeing their children (and they had so many!)? Didn’t their children cling to them when they left? Did they ever feel guilty?

In the Church of Sweden, we have two female bishops (out of thirteen). The one that was elected last, the bishop of Lund (who used to be a professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago), has a family-- a husband and two daughters. I was so relieved when she was elected. The previous female bishops had neither spouse nor children. I know I should not be such a prejudiced person, but it’s nice to know that now, finally, I have a bishop who knows all about feeling guilty when leaving on a Sunday, who knows how motherhood and priesthood clash and how they enrich each other. Truth be told, I would never, could never, exchange the one for the other. Being a mother, constantly longing for my child, gives me an understanding for God. Feeling constantly guilty reminds me that I’m constantly lacking, as mother, as human, as Christian. Only God can make me whole.

Sofia puts her arms around my neck and whispers in my ear: “Mom, you’re my very best friend.” I hug her tightly. “And you’re mine,” I answer her. Silently I thank God for this magnificent gift. Surely this isn’t coincidence. Surely God knew, and knows, who I am and what I could bring to both motherhood and church. Surely this is how it’s meant to be.

Sofia falls asleep in my arms. I lean back. For a little while, time stops. There is only now. I smell her hair, feel her soft, strong little body against mine. One moment among many, one more memory to cherish. Maybe this is what it feels like to be made whole.

Comments

Lovely! Thanks for this...

Thank you for this!

Sometimes people ask me if I intend to keep working after a few more kids (I have one now), and I know I can't predict, but I often say, "yes" because I have a feeling that I am a better mother if I'm also a pastor. You articulated some of the reasons for this!

Thank you! This is exactly how I feel about the pressure of trying to be enough for everybody, and the guilt when that fails and you can't be everything to everyone who wants a part of you.

I think perhaps there will always be a dilema in ministry and motherhood, but sometimes, yes that feels so difficult to live with.

I appreciated that you articulated it so beautifully and gave me lots to think about.

Thank you so much for articulating how I feel about ministry and motherhood. I too feel like I am a better and more engaged mother when I am a pastor...but that still doesn't eliminate the guilt I feel when I leave my toddler in the mornings.

Thank you all for your kind words! I think we all can relate to not being able to be all that we want to be for everyone that matters to us, maybe this is part of being human, maybe it's a modern problem?

Oh, how strange it was to read my own feelings and situation in your words! All the same struggles between feeling so complete as a mother, and so also complete as a pastor. But that longing to be with my children... it can be so profound at times. I, too, have a Sofia, now almost 8, followed by Natasha, 5. They have both gone through their seasons of wondering why their mommy can't be at home whenever they are - but they can also often be found 'playing church', taking turns being the Proclaimer of the Word (modelling their mommy) and sitting in the pew taking care of their children (again, modelling their mommy). We can do both, but our heartstrings feel pretty thin at times because of it, don't they.
Thank you, and God's Wisdom (SOPHIA) to you on your journey...

Thank you for this! You named it very well. I have been both a working mom and a work at home mom, and I too have felt I've been a better mother when my needs for being in ministry are being met. Right now I have the ideal situation for my family, but I know it will change again and I'll deal with guilt/conflict/grief and joy at each new stage of my professional life and my daughter's life. Thanks for writing.

Wow - I just came upon this website while surfing the text this week in prep for Sunday. THANK YOU for this post - it is so nice to hear someone else voice how I feel. I am a student minister just finishing a year long internship 100 kms from home (I should be lucky, other mothers have had to go 3000).

I am filled with guilt and grief and great longing for my six year old daughter. She cried every day for the first couple of months - "do you want to be a minister more than you want to be my mommy?" and then the tears slowly subsided as she become more independent of me. I know that this growth is a good thing and that she has been enormously blessed in her little life with emotional and material security. But it still hurts.

Before this year, Tabby would cry with delight whenever her Dad came home - but always went to Mommy when she needed something. But I knew that things had changed irrevocably one night when she flung herself into my arms upon my return - and then cried out in the night for Daddy when she was overtaken by a bad dream.

It is wonderful that my daughter and my husband have been able to become so much closer - it is a gift to them both. I am glad for them, but man does it break my heart.

Blessings & thanks!

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