The alarm goes off on Sunday mornings at 5 a.m. In the dim light, I choose my dress, aiming for something not-too-sexy, but not-too-frumpy… something that by some small miracle has avoided all the stains that accompany raising young children and my own clumsiness. At some point I think: What’s the fuss? This outfit will be covered by a robe most of the day anyway. I laugh to myself, wondering if Ruth Bader Ginsberg ever has these thoughts in the morning before donning her robe. Probably not. She’d wear whatever the heck she wanted to wear! That settles it for me too. I’m sporting the heels.
But I don’t dare put the heels on before I get downstairs. I tiptoe past my sleeping 3-year-old’s room, aware of every creak of every board. If I make it to the stairs without a squeak, I want to throw my hands up like Mary Lou Retton sticking the landing. If I duck out before my little people wake up, there are no hard goodbyes, except that part of my heart that sometimes would love to sleep in, then make waffles and stroll to the park on a Sunday like other families.
If I am honest with myself, my 10 years in ordained ministry have involved many balancing acts beyond the clothes and the navigation of creaky hardwoods. Some things have had to give. The whole idea of spring break is a work in progress, since it falls during Holy Week every year here. Weekend trips are non-starters. But we still play our hearts out on Saturdays, even if I am tired on Sunday. It’s wonderful to sightsee with my son or get a ton of errands done on my day off when the rest of the world is at work. Open parking spaces can be a vessel of grace.
Presbyterians sure love when things proceed “decently and in order.” But for me, ministry and life mix together into a jarring set of encounters with little margin of time to reflect, little time to harvest the beauty and pain of one moment until midway through the next. I used to be hard on myself about this, wishing for a better calendar or a clearer job description so that each moment of my life could be attended fully. But now I am seeing life and ministry as seasonal. I’m finding that the liturgical calendar is handier than a wall calendar. I seek rhythm more than balance.
I remember learning about the stylistic differences between Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Matthew was the thorough scholar. Luke was a historian, particularly attentive to social justice and people at the margins. John was a mystic and poet, imagery and emotion saturating his words. Then, there was Mark.
Mark seemed to be zipping the news off like a late night email before the end of the world. Everything happened “immediately,” a word he used more than 40 times. The immediacy in Mark’s Gospel meant that Christmas was barely there. Easter morning was raw and unresolved. Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry was characterized by interruptions, one powerful interaction only making sense because of the one that came right before and the one that came immediately afterwards. They are called “sandwiches.”
In my experience, ministry and life have not been tidily separated. It has had Markan qualities. Christmas is a blur. Easter can feel like a jagged surprise even when we know it comes every year. At one moment I am holding someone’s hand at the hospital, feeling the softness of her palms, quite different than the mess of tape, bruises and IVs on the other side. The next moment I am in the car, planning a meeting over the phone and the conversation flows into the intimate details of someone’s family situation. Then, I pick up my children. I marvel at their construction paper crafts. All that glitter. I kiss their newest boo-boo. I hold their hands as we walk through the parking lot, hands that are tiny, smooth, dirty only from playing in the sandbox, and it’s then when I reflect on the hospital visit again, or the phone conversation. It’s then when I give thanks for life, its fragility and its vigor, its complexity and simple joys, all of the precious sandwiches that make up my life, and God rarely trims the crust off.
It’s then when I glance up to the sky, take a breath of grace, take a moment to acknowledge the holy ground I have trod that day, the healing and interruptions, the healing in the interruptions, the startling arrival of Jesus in the crowd of mundane things. I am perplexed and amazed, then I move on.
Immediately. Urgently. Gratefully.
Becca Messman is the associate pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Herndon, Virginia. She leads “Lunch for the Soul” – a ministry with Hispanic day laborers. Her other passions are preaching and offering pastoral prayers, leading retreats, energizing church leaders to serve the community around them, youth and young adult ministry, and cultivating the “fear and trembling” holy journey of parenting. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Dave, her two young children, and her dog Luna.