what i do / who i am

being doing mother

I think a lot about vocation. I’m paid to do that, actually. Working on this practical theology project on vocation and the professions leads me – unsurprisingly – to reflect on my own vocation(s) quite often. My days flow like this, from mothering to theologizing and back again, a steady, winding stream. The baby plays, I read; he naps, I write.

Many contemporary theologians who write on vocation emphasize the point that vocation is not just about what we do, but who we are. There is a way-to-be in the world before there is a thing-to-do. As someone who likes to do-do-do, this presents a challenge for me: to simply be. But I’m coming to see that it’s not a passive contemplation. It’s a pose, a posture, an openness to exist fully in the way that God created me to be.

The being of vocation (as opposed to the doing) is what allows me to mother as a theologian and theologize as a mother. Some days this blending of callings seems nearly impossible. The baby won’t nap, I can’t work, everything frustrates me. I wonder why I ever chose to try to weave it all together when it seems to pull apart in every direction. But I’m realizing that these days are the ones where I’m trying to do-do-do instead of be-be-be.

When I can let the who-i-am set the rhythm of my days, then I can flow from reading/researching/reflecting into playing/diapering/feeding. I appreciate the rocking chair moments for the pauses they set in my schedule, the time to sit back and reflect on the spirituality of work or the pneumatology of profession. The interactions with my child are life-giving: they make real what it means to serve and work for the common good on behalf of God’s call. His world is small and his needs are, too. He brings me down to earth when my head wants to float above the clouds.

In discerning our vocations, we often spend our time and energy worrying about the doing. What am I supposed to do with my life? Where am I supposed to work? How am I to use my gifts? We spend much less time and energy thinking about the being. How am I called to be? How does my life as a spouse or parent or professional look differently when seen in the light of God’s call?

Being is less concrete than doing, certainly. But being is the central reality of our lives, the gift we are given at birth and the hope of resurrection we hold when we die. Being is life. Doing is the activity that occupies our time and allows us to serve God and others, but we must first be before we can do.

Making the distinction between being and doing has helped me to come to terms with my identity as a minister in the church. I’ve been struggling with this question for a while: am I really a minister? I labored hard for this degree in ministry, after all. I took all the classes, worked in field education, reflected and read and processed and pontificated for three intense years to be able to call myself a lay minister in the church. And then…I had a baby. And stayed home. And didn’t work in a parish, or a diocese, or any other MinistryWithACapitalM.

So could I authentically call myself a minister? Was I really working in ministry when even the work I was doing related to theology was much more in the research-reading-writing realm than in the get-your-hands-dirty-serving-God’s-people realm?

Sometimes I felt embarrassed that I was claiming to work in ministry when I didn’t have the job description to prove it. I felt like a fraud, like a degree without a destination. And I didn’t buy the argument that parenting was ministry. Parenting is vocation, certainly, and it is one of the deepest calls that exists to serve another human being out of love. But it’s not direct ministry on behalf of the Christian community, and I just couldn’t see it as such.

Until. I started thinking about this being-doing continuum. And related it to my mini ministerial existential crisis. And realized that I was getting far too hung up on the doing of the vocation of ministry, at the expense of the being. The flow between my various vocations requires that I maintain a posture of openness towards each of them, even while the everyday of my attention is focused on one. When I am concentrating on caring for my child, I am no less a spouse to my husband. When I am making time to be with my husband, I am no less a loving parent to my child.

So too with ministry and theology. While my days are filed with more mothering than ministering per se, I am still a minister. I still feel called and gifted to commit myself to service of God’s church, no matter what form that takes. Right now the work that I can fit into my life as a parent is more on the theology side than the ministry side. But it’s still ministry in a sense. It is work on behalf of God’s church, work that I hope and pray will ultimately have a wider impact than I could ever do on my own in a parish.

I am a minister, even when I am not always “doing ministry.” This is part of the being I am called to, part of the posture to which I have opened myself up before God and the world. Being sometimes trumps doing, and I am grateful for that.

Photo by Luke Michael on Unsplash.

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