Back to blogging after taking an almost month-long hiatus. I intentionally took a break from blogging over the holidays and then came back to work on MY FIRST SERMON EVER, which was an awesome experience and which is almost exactly like giving birth to a child, recovery period and all. (In the best way possible.)
Getting up there and stepping into my authority as a preacher was new for me, and a very, very big deal. Between fighting a lifelong case of imposter syndrome (youngish Asian American woman who grew up in an ultra-conservative church – hello, authority issues) and the pragmatic challenges of being a stay-at-home mom of three, it was a true work of grace that God a) put me up there and b) gave me a word about having “authority and power” as children of God (John 1) that also reflected my own coming into authority as a preacher. So in sum: pretty sweet, God. I see what you did there.
This whole preaching thing also invited me to reflect some on calling, and the way my calling has changed throughout the past several years. And about leaning into them, and what in fact that even means.
I’m a few years behind, I know, but I seriously appreciated Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead (and the 2010 TED Talk, which is what I watched. Let’s be real). Especially how she names the “internal obstacles” (her words) that prevent women from meeting their full potential in the workplace: the assumptions about our own capacities and limitations that drive our choices. As a woman who in 2013 was smack in the middle of my childbearing years and at a crossroads in my career path, Sandberg’s advice to “lean in”; not to leave before you have left; and to ask yourself, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” was timely. And thought-provoking, and encouraging.
Now, a few years older and more seasoned, I want to riff on this theme of leaning in. Because maybe it’s just me chronically overthinking things, but the nagging existential question for me was never about whether to lean in or not. It was about what I was leaning into.
I know I’m not alone on this.
When I was 25, a full-time teacher, a part-time grad student and pregnant with my first baby, I thought: I’ll stay home. For a year. Hubs and I will take the income cut and live super simply, then I’ll go back into teaching after baby’s first year and I will love it. But before I was anywhere close to his first birthday I thought: no way. I’m not ready. I need to spend more time with this squishy baby. Hubs was on board, so another year at home it was, with some extras thrown in. We cobbled together a creative solution of me mostly staying at home while taking on some childcare for a friend’s son, and for a few hours a week dipping my toe into InterVarsity staff life, taking on a (very) volunteer role as staff at Harvard.
Fast forward four years. In that time I had gone on IV staff to plant a chapter at Fairfield University at twenty hours a week; dropped to ten when our second, Grace, was born; found out we were expecting our third and left staff completely; and have stayed at home for going on my second year. In this past six months I’ve had a couple of campus speaking engagements, gotten my blog up and running, and preached a sermon at church for the very first time.
To an onlooker it might seem like I can’t quite make up my mind with what I’m doing; that if I could just have a five-year plan and stick with it, things would be fine. But I’m more a two-year plan kind of gal (if that), and even with a plan, it’s hard to know what your uterus is going to end up doing. Sometimes babies come when you want them to, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you’re “not not” trying and here comes Number Three, hot on the heels of Number Two.
Sometimes you succeed at what you’re doing in work. Sometimes, you don’t.
Sometimes, you do lean in. You lean in and in and in, but somehow…. It just isn’t enough. Whether you’re the lone woman breaking into an all-boys club, or there is no room for advancement, or you get laid off unexpectedly… The question of leaning in is complicated by all kinds of disappointments and systemic injustices that any amount of sheer individual willpower will not overcome.
Or, if you’re like me… You have this baby. You have these two, or three babies. They may not be sleepy-eyed and gurgly anymore, but they are still your babies. Even if they spend their days eating you out of house and home while grilling you about DC vs. Marvel. Even if they insist on washing their hands “mine self.” They are still your babies. And you want to be around for them.
Well what you do then is… you lean into. You lean into the hardship, the heartaches, the inner conflict of wanting to be a dozen places at once. You lean into because the reality is that there are these things pushing back. You realize that for each action you elicit an equal and opposite reaction: it’s a law of physics and in the adult world it’s called making choices. You can’t have it all, not because you’re a woman living in the twenty-first century, but because that’s just what it means to be human: you make choices. And if you’re a mom, you choose: paying for daycare, or taking a paycut. Long days at work thinking about your kids, or long days at home pulling your hair out. Cobbling together a life where you have a little bit of both, and living in consistent flux. You want lots of things at once – we all do. So you pick your pain.
And, thank heavens, you lean on. You do this because there comes a point when you have to. Because the right choice is never easy when there are things you dearly love in the balance: your work, your kids, your sanity, your sleep, some peace and quiet. And it’s amazing to know: God cares about this stuff too. Specifically the first two. He’s the one who’s given these gifts to you, and he wants you to enjoy them. He is FOR you.
He doesn’t choose sides in the Mommy wars. He’s on YOUR side.
So ladies, we can come to God honestly with our struggles. And we can come to him openhandedly with all that we have in life. He’s the giver of all good gifts and he wants to help us know how to use them.
Leaning on him helps us wisely discern what things are worthy of our time and energies in each season, precious commodities that these are. Leaning on him gives us the grace we need to face frustrations, the perseverance we need to stick with our choices, and the joy we need to strengthen our hearts. Leaning on him helps us see clearly what matters most. Leaning on him reminds us that we are dearly loved and that we are enough, because he is always enough, and he loves us unconditionally. It is not our station in life that defines us, but our relationship to our Heavenly Father. In that deep security is the great freedom to live out our callings.
And I realize I speak from a place of privilege, of this assumption what we can all choose what we want, or where: and I know I was lucky to have been able to do that. Like I said, systemic injustices are real; and life knocks people around a whole bunch. But it’s in those places that God, even and especially, will meet us: where his grace is even more amazing, and his hope is even more precious.
And leaning on him reminds us that our calling is more than a job: our calling is our unique placement in his heavenly economy for a time. Our calling is a single, unified vision for serving God’s kingdom in a way that our whole selves can engage in. Our calling is a gift and a responsibility.
Thus, as moms, we can be less concerned with this fallacy of balance, as if family and work were two opposing forces. Rather we should be looking for that sweet spot, a state of dynamic equilibrium where our tanks are filled up even as we pour out; where who we are as women (daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers) enriches and is enriched by who we are in our work. And when we’ve found that sweet spot, we hang on, because this is a gift: finding that place in Jesus where our yoke is easy and our burden is light. Yes, it’s still work – it all is, that’s living. But when it feels light, that’s like gold. That’s his grace.
Yes, there are moments of awkward. And there are moments of amazing. Quick story. When Sam was two years old I planted a chapter at Fairfield U. Stubborn and crazy as I was in foregoing any childcare in those days, I had to go into this freshman dorm wheeling a toddler in a stroller and knock on people’s doors and invite them to a kick-off event. At first, I was mildly mortified and somewhat amused by what I was doing. But then I had the realization: he is HERE. For a reason. INVITE your son into this. (That’s what InterVarsity staff do, right? We make invitations.)
So I did. Before I went to knock on someone’s door, I asked him to pray with me for that student by name. And when students opened their doors, at least I was… memorable. At least, I was clearly committed to what I was doing. And maybe we were even a little bit cute. Quirky for the sake of the Gospel. I’ll take it. God uses it.
The experience is etched in my mind because in that moment, we were all being transformed. Mom was working for Jesus, and Sam got to see that. He sent his precious, two-year-old prayers up alongside mine. He did evangelism while wearing diapers, praise Jesus. For that one September afternoon, I’d found my sweet spot.
Here’s the tricky thing about this sweet spot, though: it’s a moving target. I couldn’t plant a campus chapter now, I just don’t have the energy to make it a priority. And I couldn’t have blogged four years ago – I just didn’t have the perspective. And God calls us into different things in different seasons, and we need to be continually attuned to what he has to say. We need to hear our hearts, take our mental temperatures. And he leads us. He’s our shepherd, after all. That’s what a shepherd does. He leads.
And that’s why we lean on. We lean into the hard stuff, yes, and man, does it lean right back. But most of all, we lean on the One who equips us out of his unending strength and love. Maybe that’s what we mean when we talk about following Jesus: it’s not enough to have made his acquaintance; there is somewhere he wants to take us. Where has he taken you?