Recently one of my students was sharing her frustration of how she was never able to measure up to her pastor’s example. “He is doing so much to advance God’s Kingdom” she said, “and I want to be like him but I always end up lacking.” In addition to her frustration, I perceived also a sense of guilt/failure.
“Why do you think that this is happening?” I asked her. She replied: “There is not enough time and energy to do everything. I am a student, I also work, I am a wife and a mom, and I do ministry in my church.” “Look at all these things that you are doing,” I said. “I wonder if your pastor has someone who is cooking and cleaning for him, washing his clothes, and raising his kids.” “Most likely,” she replied. (Story used with the student’s permission).
The Forbes list of the nine toughest leadership roles places a holy leader/pastor in fifth place and a stay home parent in first place. (http://www.forbes.com/sites/robasghar/2014/02/25/ranking-the-9-toughest-leadership-roles/).
While there are different levels and combinations of these roles, the fact is that being a mother and a minister is not easy.
All this led me to remember Julie M. Hopkins’ book Towards a Feminist Christology: Jesus of Nazareth, European Women, and the Christological Crisis. Hopkins discusses how in the name of Christ and in order to follow his example women ministers are pressured by the church and society, to offer themselves as living sacrifices by following a path of self-exploitation and self-denial.
During this season of Lent, Christians remember Jesus’ life, sacrifice, and resurrection. While this week’s readings talk about God’s miracles of life as dry bones come alive again (Ezekiel 37:1-14) and Jesus raises Lazarus (John 11:1-45), the readings for next week talk about Jesus’ humility (Philippians 2:5-11) and sacrifice (Matthew 26:14-27:66). The Bible speaks a great deal about Jesus’ sacrifice. Hebrews affirms that his sacrifice was perfect because he represented both the priest and the offering. Furthermore, since Jesus’ sacrifice was perfect, there is no need for more living sacrifices (Hebrews 9:11-14, 24-28).
So, when the Bible talks about sacrifices, what does that mean for us today? The scriptures talk about offering spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God, such as proclamation of the mighty works of Christ through holy and abundant lives (I Peter 2:4-5, 9) as well as spiritual sacrifices of praise and good deeds (Hebrews 13:15-16).
Unquestionably, I can affirm that women are excellent at offering spiritual sacrifices of good deeds. Our churches are full of women who are doing good deeds regardless of their position, payment, or recognition. However, are women proclaiming Christ through abundant and joyful lives? Do ministers and moms reflect lives that are praising God?
As I have observed other women enduring the pressure to offer themselves as living sacrifices, I must confess that I have felt that pressure, too. Sometimes it has come from a combination of society/work/church/family demands, and others from my own imprudent decisions/choices. As a Latina woman who represents two minorities, I am often asked to do additional things on top of the ones that I already do in my home, church, and university. And to be honest, if I am not careful I can also easily end up as a living sacrifice.
Throughout the years I have discovered some valuable pieces of wisdom in order to avoid this situation. One day I realized that in my vocation, the more that I do, the better that I am perceived, and the more that is expected of me–and that workaholism (under the name of committed/passionate ministry) is highly praised.
So, realizing these (mis)understandings, I need to:
1) Stay close to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit through appropriate spiritual practices.
2) Constantly remind myself that if I do not take care of myself, nobody will do it. As ministers and moms we are expected to take care of everybody. Without proper care, this path will eventually lead to burn out.
3) Recognize my limitations, establish healthy boundaries, and honor them.
4) Learn to wisely say “no.”
5) Establish a waiting period before I accept/reject an invitation. As I wait, I ask myself: why am I doing this? Is it because it feeds my ego? Am I really making a contribution? Are people inviting me because I represent two minorities, or do they really want to hear what I have to say? Is this something that God is calling me to do?
6) Get to know myself. What do I need to make it through the day/ week/month? How much sleep do I need to function well? As an introvert, what alone spaces do I need to schedule during a given day? What do I want and don’t want? What makes me excited? What drains me?
7) Recognize that there are different seasons in life, and that some are more demanding than others. I remember experiencing more time and energy limitations when my kids were little. The key is to be able to discern, following God’s wisdom, the right priorities for each stage of life.
8) Avoid a Messiah complex. I need to remember that I am not Jesus the Savior. I am only a collaborator in his work. Thus, he is the one who needs to be (and is) present/active all the time, not me.
Following this line of thought, I need to remember also that since Jesus offered the perfect sacrifice, there is no need for any more living sacrifices. I do not do any good by allowing myself to be one.
Thus, when my bones are drying out and I find myself close to being a living sacrifice, I need to ask God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to redirect my life again, as I reevaluate my priorities and commitments. In a world oppressed by violence and hopelessness, an abundant, joyful, balanced life is the best witness that I/we can give to the power of new life and resurrection in Jesus. Amen!
Dr. Nora O. Lozano is the proud mother of Andrea and Eric. She is Professor of Theological Studies at Baptist University of the Américas, and co-founder and co-director of the Latina Leadership Institute. Lozano holds an M.Div., an M.Phil., and a Ph.D. in Theological and Religious Studies. She is a member of the BWA Commission on Doctrine and Christian Unity, and attends Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, TX, where she lives with her family.