Christine Hribar: Why parenthood makes me a better pastor

Little girl playing in autumn leaves

The author's daughter has helped her streamline her ministry, remember to bring all of herself to the church and glimpse God's parental love.

Photo courtesy of Christine Hribar

The balance of a baby and a parish proved daunting at first to a new mother. But then she began counting the ways that parenthood honed her skills for ministry.

My 1-year-old is the best thing that’s happened to my ministry.

Before she was born, I was something of a continuing-education junkie. In the first three years in my first call, I audited numerous classes and attended many trainings. I was certified, authorized and networked.

But last summer, I gave birth to my daughter. Instantly, being in a training for a full day, let alone a weekend, seemed absurd. Even going to a night meeting worried me. How could I do anything on this little sleep? My anxiety mounted. How will I be able to maintain a professional life with such (joyous and beautiful) limitations?

As a woman in ministry, I found the balance of a baby and a parish daunting. But then I remembered the gospel. Jesus called us to be like children in order to enter the kingdom. Jesus called the children to come to him.

And as the weeks passed, I realized that my daughter was not pulling me away from my pastoral duties. She was drawing me deeper into my faith; my new life as a parent was enriching my ministry in countless ways.

I began to name the pastoral skills I was exercising, the links between my parenting and my ministry. These connections assuaged my guilt about missing conferences and made me realize the true continuing education to which I’m called for this period.

Pacing the house at night with my crying infant, I saw that the patience, the stability, the presence I cultivated for my daughter was something I could nurture, could practice and could then bring to the intense, chaotic and painful moments of ministry.

My daughter has a severe dairy, soy and egg intolerance. It took some early, brutal months of nonstop screaming before we discerned the cause. All I could do during that time was be a calm, soothing presence. All I could do was love her and provide a stable base while she cried.

On those long nights, I remembered my year as a chaplain at a cancer hospital, where I learned to be a non-anxious presence. I truly realized that I couldn’t fix things, but my presence alone, my attention and my stability, could help.

Parenting has helped me streamline my ministry. With my daughter at home, I’m quicker to delegate, quicker to decline some meetings and better at ordering priorities. I no longer overfunction. I spend more time at home and make my work time more productive than I thought possible.

And parenting has reminded me to bring all of myself to the church -- not only gravity and grace, but also a sense of goofiness, cultivated through much toddler giggling, that I never thought I’d admit to my New England congregation. This past year, my congregation has learned Christian camp songs, offered prayers with hand gestures and shared the gift of laughter. These elements often slip in under the auspices of a children’s message or through the “Superman Grace,” but such silliness breathes fresh energy into our hard-backed pews, reminding us that God is the ultimate creator. Play and creativity are essential components of the life of faith.

Most importantly, parenting has allowed me to glimpse God’s parental love. My love for my daughter is overwhelming. It takes courage and restraint to let her learn things for herself, to watch her struggle with sitting up, to let her figure out how to pull a ball from under the table. By loving this one, buoyant, amazing creature so much, I’m seeing my love for my parishioners and for the world expand exponentially as well.

I’ve realized that my congregation is full of superheroes: not only the parents but every person who balances multiple priorities, tends to loved ones, and makes time to gather and celebrate the great Love that pulses through us all.

God knows what it’s like to be a parent, to concentrate so much love in one person. God knows that loving one child so intensely doesn’t isolate love but rather radiates love outward, so much more fully into the world.

I’m grateful for a vocation that calls me to be centered and stable and at peace with how I move about my days. The calling of a pastor enriches my parenting, just as the reverse is true. I’m grateful to serve a church that has provided enough space for me to discern these two roles, enough space to wrestle with imbalance as I have searched to embody this dual call.

I can’t make any trainings this year, but my ministry is better than ever.