url-1At five-foot-eight and 140 pounds (well, give or take a few), I’m not exactly suited for gymnastics-especially now that I’m deep into my forties. Yet, here I am performing an amazing balance beam act these days, incorporating multiple one-footed pirouettes, creative leaps, and limber back walk-overs with wondrous execution. I’m talking, of course, about the Olympian task of balancing family requirements with full-time ministry.

To be sure, the physical part of this task is enormous. The old saying “A woman’s work is never done” doesn’t do justice to the demands upon a wife and mother who is also a minister. Perhaps something more apropos could be borrowed from the Timex commercial: “Takes a lickin’ but keeps on tickin’.”

We’re blessed in this day and age to have Starbucks to help keep us tickin’ past the midnight hour so we can finish the laundry after the family has gone to bed. (Except for the time I confused my Starbucks travel cup for the baby’s tippy-cup…that night, baby and I had a sort of role reversal.) Likewise, Costco and Stouffer’s can help with no-prep meals that make our dinner table look gourmet.

The part of the balancing act for which there is no commercially-prepared product is the emotional tug-of-war that accompanies any family woman’s interface with ministry. We want to be there for our parishioners and co-workers in the vineyard, but often their emergencies come into conflict with our family’s needs. Which goes first? If we determine to put the most urgent ones at the top of the list, the demands can be so continuous at times that one or the other is bound to suffer.

What can keep us from falling off the beam during these hectic seasons? Here are four parts of a healthy perspective:

First, remind yourself that stressful seasons are just seasons and not forever. You may feel like you’re falling right now, but tomorrow is another day, and God’s mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23). If you do end up losing your balance, be assured that the Everlasting Arms of God are there to catch you and keep you from breaking your neck. So, let yourself have a cry, get a good night’s sleep, then get back up on the beam.

Second, don’t let those seasons turn into a lifestyle: ask for help when you need it. It is not weakness to tell your family and church team that you are beyond your limits. In fact, some folks may welcome the opportunity to help you after you have given so much to them. Many will be encouraged by the candid admission of your limitations, realizing they are not the only ones with these kinds of struggles. Remember, God sees His whole church as a team whose members are there to support one another. He doesn’t put superhuman expectations on us just because we are pastors. We’re the ones who do that to ourselves.

Third, trust in God to meet your family’s needs when you can’t, and recognize that some sacrifice on their part is not harmful but maybe even healthy. It’s not a bad thing for your four-year-old to learn that she may have to sacrifice a bedtime story because Mrs. Smith from church has an emergency that needs your attention. Your four-year-old will learn that the world doesn’t center around her, and you will be modeling a servant lifestyle that she will emulate as she grows.

As she gets older, bring her along to help meet others’ needs. She won’t see it as a sacrifice if she’s included in the “fun.” Just don’t let the various Mrs. Smiths of your church preempt every night’s bedtime story. Let Mrs. Deacon deal with those urgencies some of the time.

Fourth, be proactive about scheduling your time to include the types of ministry that are fulfilling to you. We can’t always do what we have a passion for, but we won’t survive if we don’t do it at least some of the time. Women in ministry can easily be drained by the many demands of the nearest (and noisiest) people. But not even Jesus stayed available to the demands of the multitudes all the time. He had a passion for intimate times of ministry to His closest disciples (Luke 22:15), and sometimes He even went off on His own to engage His Father in prayer. If hospital visitation and running the church office are your “supposed-to” jobs, but teaching children is your passion, find a way to fit teaching into your schedule – and hold onto it tight! It will feed your soul and make the other demands of ministry and family seem less arduous.

We may not have the grace of Mary Lou Retton in our balance routine, but it is possible to stay on the beam if we keep a little perspective. Fortunately, most of the folks who watch us don’t have a clue about perfect gymnastic form, anyway.

Laura Gunnarson and her husband, Dennis are associate pastors at Church for All Nations, Tacoma, Washington.

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