I attended a women’s theology conference in February 2014. The theme of the conference was “purpose,” and the other women at my table were chatting excitedly about figuring out God’s calling in their lives.
I didn’t feel like I could join them. I’d had my son on September 29th of the previous year and asked for a divorce exactly one month later. As I sat at that table, my car was in the shop, undergoing expensive repairs. I didn’t have a job. My estranged husband was looking into apartments so that he could move out, and I had no idea how I was ever going to care for my children. I wasn’t chatting excitedly about mission or ministry; I was thinking of those two human beings whose lives depended on me and how I was going to feed them.
When it came my turn to talk about what I believed was God’s purpose for my life, through my tears, I told the other women at my table my fears and concerns. I said that I really wasn’t sure what God had for me in terms of mission or ministry anymore because I was just struggling to survive.
And one of them said, “Right now, God’s mission for you is to take care of those children. Don’t you worry about anything else for the time being.”
It was like a great weight lifted from my chest.
I wear a ring on my finger that says , “Here I am, send me!” (Isaiah 6:8). When I was 18, I took off to a college several states away from my family where I knew I would be in an extreme religious minority because I believed God wanted me there. One of my favorite Bible verses is Jeremiah 29:11, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.” The mission I saw God having for me was always more expansive than raising my own children. I respected everyone who saw raising children as their primary mission in life, the same way I respect people who run 5K marathons, but I never wanted that to be me (in either case).
In his 1522 sermon “The Estate of Marriage,” Martin Luther said:
“Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.”
Yes, I do love how it’s the father that is washing the diapers in Luther’s sermon! But, the point is: menial parenting tasks can be holy acts, and us single parents may find that we have time for little else but menial parenting tasks. The other actions that we take to care for our children, working full-time, childcare headaches, training for a better career so we can improve their quality of life, and hurrying them off to church by ourselves, these can all be holy acts.
I hope God has other things for me someday, either when my children are old enough to not need some attention, or when/if I remarry and finally get some committed, regular help with them. I truly do yearn to be involved in God’s work in other ways.
But, for now, I try to remind myself that every class I attend at the community college and every page I write of my master’s thesis is a holy act geared towards caring for my children. For the time being, it’s okay that that’s all there is.