Brace yourself: I’m about to tell you something you already know.
At least…I’m pretty sure you know it.
So, in other words, if you’re looking for something deep and revelatory, today is not your day. Hopefully you’ll read something in here that is meaningful, though.
I (and I’m sure I’m not alone on this) have worn many hats through the years. Some of these are hats I chose for myself or aspired toward. Some of these hats have been bestowed upon me. The list is long, and mostly boring. There are some intrinsic hats I wear by virtue of the situation I was born into. I am a Son, a Cousin, a Brother, an Employee, etc. Then there are hats that were bestowed upon me. They were roles I may not necessarily have chosen, but a need was presented and I was willing. Most of these have been ministry-related. Scoutmaster. Bible Quiz Coach. Sound Man. Church Locker-Upper. Building Committee. Primary Class Sunday School Teacher (that was nearly a disaster). Visitation Coordinator. The list goes on and on.
Then, there are hats that I willingly aspired toward. It was an aspiration that came out of an unction toward that particular calling. Preacher. Jr High Leader. Youth Pastor. District Youth Team.
Above all of these hats, though, there are two hats in particular that are prominent above all else. They take absolute priority in my life, and I value them above all else:
Yes, my most important ministry…and yours, too…is to my family.
You already knew that. Maybe, though, like me, you’ve forgotten that from time to time. I know there have been times when I’ve dove headfirst into Student Ministry and asked my family to sit on the sidelines while I bore into the granite tunnel-visioned. I asked them to wait indefinitely for me to see some measure of “results,” and then I would shift my attention back to them.
Needless to say, that approach never worked out the way I wanted it to.
The past 18 months I have been on a journey of deeper discovery of exactly what it means to be a Youth Pastor, but more importantly, of what it means to be a Father and Husband. Our first daughter, Loretta, was the textbook kid. She was born naturally, hit all of her milestones (most of them well ahead of time), stayed neatly within the parameters of the all-knowing “growth chart,” and has a radiant personality and love for life (even if she’s a little dramatic, like her mother).
Nearly 18 months ago, though, my little Ruby was born. I didn’t realize then exactly how much my life was about to change. With Loretta, I’d largely been able to keep the frenetic pace of Student Ministry going on my own. It wasn’t that my family didn’t need me…and certainly I was there for them for the most part when they did…but they didn’t need me quite like they did after Ruby was born.
Ruby was born with a number of medical conditions. She wasn’t able to nurse. She had deformities in her tongue and mouth. Her weight gain was pitiful at times. She whole face was misshapen, and she was malnourished. She was late or completely missed all of her developmental milestones. We would discover later that she had allergies to gluten, corn and dairy, in addition to these other things. The physical conditions were correctable; the allergies may not be. We have to buy all of our food organically from a co-op. Because of cross contamination, she can’t have anything from a store. Or a restaurant. She’ll never be able to eat processed food more than VERY occasionally.
Early on, before we figured out what was wrong, I remember going to bed some nights wondering if my poor emaciated baby was going to make it. She cried all the time. She was miserable. And my wife and Loretta were at their wits-end dealing with it. If I wasn’t there for them…no one else would be.
I was caught trying to figure out how to balance being a full-time husband and Dad, a full-time employee, and a full-time Youth Pastor. It wasn’t easy. It seemed like every time I would start to get things in balance, we’d get more bad news about Ruby. Then I’d readjust, and we’d start to have things rise up in the Youth Group that took special attention to get us through. Then I’d get things rebalanced, and I’d get a difficult assignment at work.
Truth be told, I still don’t have it all figured out. The only thing I do have figured out is this, and I guess this is really my point: if something DOES suffer, or get neglected because there are only so many hours in the day, I can tell you it won’t be my family. Because, after all…I didn’t “inherit” a family. I CHOSE to get married, and and I CHOSE to have children. The toughest pill for me to swallow was to realize that, as important as the Student Pastor role is, other people can minister to my students at times; however, no one can minister to my family the way I can.
I was looking at pictures of my children the other day and marveling at how much they’ve grown, and how far we’ve come. I only have so much time with them. I’m going to make it count.