This weekend is Mother’s Day, and can I be honest? I really don’t like this weekend or Father’s Day either. Not because I don’t like my parents, I love them to death. But because this is a hard time for Elise and I as we walk through the infertility journey.
Celebrating with others is hard. Watching all the moms get flowers, cards, and brunch dates is difficult as we sit in our pew waiting and hoping. It’s hard when people ask me questions like, “Don’t you want kids?” Or, “How are you able to lead our kids when you don’t have your own?” In so many ways we can feel unseen and alone.
These questions aren’t unique to Elise and I. Many of us who serve in ministry have been hurt by insensitive or calloused remarks. Things like, “When will you grow up and be a real pastor?” “Youth ministry is just childcare for teenagers.” “Oh you went on a retreat…guess you used up your vacation time.” “Do you really think you’re called to be in ministry?” Or, “You’re a woman, you can’t be a pastor.”
Words matter, and the words we share have great power and impact. I’m not saying anything that those of us in ministry don’t already know. We know the power of words, how they can build up and make you feel on top of the world, and how they can rip your heart out and make you feel like nothing. Ministry hurts sometimes. I don’t think it’s always intentional, but it can often feel like it is crushing your soul. But should we just give up? Should we just roll over? Do we just take it on the chin? What do we do when ministry is hard?
Lean into your networks.
One of the best things I’ve done in ministry is get connected with people who are in similar life circumstances and ministry careers. Being able to talk to people who understand the complexities of ministry and working within a church is huge, especially when they are third parties. They are there to walk with you, love you, and challenge you. These are the people who are in your corner and will have your back.
Find solace in the communities you trust.
In the networks and communities you have, you will most likely find people who you can relate to and connect with in deeper ways. When I joined my cohort in 2021, I never considered how deep and meaningful those relationships would become. But even within that cohort, I connected at a deeper level with two others and as we grew in our friendships we were shocked at how similar our stories were. Because of that unique bond we were able to love, support, and challenge one another on a deeper level. Within your communities you will find people with whom you connect on a deeper level and those who can be an even stronger, supportive community.
Model a caring community to others.
Sometimes dealing with hurt, especially when it’s coming from within a church or ministry, means you need to be able to explain and model what a caring community looks like. Here is what I mean by saying this: sometimes people, and even church communities, don’t know or understand that what they are saying, doing, or implying is actually causing hurt. Whether it’s out of ignorance or lack of understanding, people can do and say things that hurt. Because of this, we may need to model and educate what a truly caring community looks like. In doing this, it isn’t about trying to be smarter or better but instead about helping your communities grow and become more like Jesus in how they love and care for one another. This isn’t easy, but it is something that could truly help generate change and growth.
Be honest with yourself.
There are times I just want to dismiss hurtful things that are said or done. I just want to push it down and pretend like it doesn’t hurt. But the more we dismiss our emotions or push them down to a place we think they won’t return from, the more we are hurting ourselves. It is okay to be honest, to say how you feel or how things have effected you. It’s not wrong to emote and display what you’re feeling. It’s not okay to bury those feelings or to lash out which will happen when you keep trying to push those emotions down.
So be honest with yourself and those closest to you. Let your feelings, emotions, and thoughts be known. If you’re hurting it’s okay to let that hurt be known to yourself and those closest to you. I will say this: it is okay to be honest with those who have said or done things to you (whether unintentionally or intentionally), but be mindful of how you do it and what you say. Words and approach matter deeply, especially when you’re in a leadership position. It doesn’t mean not sharing how you’re feeling, it means doing it in a way that helps them to understand and prayerfully evoke change.
Talk to a counselor.
One of the best things I have done since moving to Pennsylvania is start to see a counselor. It’s honestly helped me in so many ways. It allowed me to address past trauma, to understand the hurt I’ve experienced from churches, how to share my emotions and feelings with Elise, and how to handle different moments that arise each day that often seem out of my control (because they are). I know that in some ways there is still a stigma attached to seeing a counselor, but this will be something that truly will help you process and work through the hurt in your life. It isn’t a one-and-done type scenario. It may take months or years, but ultimately it will help you understand and heal from the hurt that you’ve experienced.
Be honest with your spouse and protect your family.
Sometimes we try to mask our pain from our spouse and family because we think are protecting them. Other times we mask the hurt to keep them from experiencing that same hurt and becoming embittered toward the church. However, that response is not only unhealthy and self-destructive, it will also harm the relationships you have with your family. They aren’t immune to the hurt you’re experiencing, and even when we think we hide it well, we really don’t. Being able to share where you’re at with your spouse and in appropriate measures with the rest of your family allows you to have a safe place, a place of respite.
Listen to honest critique and trusted people.
I’m not always the best at receiving critiques and criticism. It usually sits with me for a long time and I tend to over process what was shared and allow it to affect me in ways it shouldn’t. But I’ve learned that when I have trusted people in my life who I know are for me, I can hear their insight and critique better. When it comes to working in ministry we will often hear criticism, both helpful and not. But when we hear it, we should measure it and see if it is helpful and true. And sometimes figuring this out means going to those you trust and asking for insight even if it isn’t the insight you want. When you have trusted people you can go to, it helps you to self-reflect and self-assess to find ways that you may need to grow and mature. Bringing in trusted people gives you a safe place to process and grow.