Before I had my son, I didn't know if I would enjoy nursing or not. I always thought I'd do it, but it's always seemed kind of weird to me. As a person who's never been fully comfortable in her own body (I was that kid who always batted wildly at a ball when it was thrown at me... never really got the hang of, you know, catching it...), nursing seemed a steep hill to climb.
Yet not only do I enjoy it, I really love it. I love watching our boy eat and knowing that I'm providing for him. I love how excited he gets when it's mealtime. I love tracing his pudgy cheeks, holding his softer-than-soft hand, and looking into his face as he has breakfast and lunch and dinner (and second breakfast, second lunch, second dinner and a half-dozen midnight snacks!). I love not having to heat up a bottle in the middle of the night.
What I wasn't prepared for is that nursing would teach me to be a better pastor.
("Huh?" you say?)
Someday when I'm not so busy with a newborn and a full-time job I'm going to write a book called, "Everything I Learned About Ministry I Learned from Breastfeeding." Just kidding. Mostly.
Ministry attracts a unique sort of person. Most of us are people-pleasers, though we try not to be. Lots of us are good at caring for everyone around us in lieu of caring for ourselves.
The majority of us want, more than anything, to please and honor God and to love and serve our congregations. Yet the people-pleasing and the others-caring can get in the way of us being good pastors. It's true.
In my first year of ministry, I was often at the church late, late, late into the night fiddling with a sermon or checking that the lights were off or sending just one last email. There were weeks where I worked many, many hours over my allotment for no other reason than just wanting to do a really, really good job. These were not weeks with funerals or other ministry add-ons. This was not Holy Week. I just couldn't stop. Oddly, I got sick a lot (she says, with irony).
One church member commented that she had gotten an email from me at 3am.
"That seems... not healthy to me," she said, gently.
In my second year, I would run off to the hospital willy-nilly at an emergency phone call while barely stopping to put on shoes on my way out the door. It didn't matter if it was lunchtime or dinnertime, I'd just rev up the car and be on my merry way. Hours later, when I sat by a congregant's bedside fairly fainting from hunger, I would realize my mistake. You never know how long a hospital visit will take. Take a moment and get ready. Really ready. This-could-be-seven-hours-and-if-it-is-I-need-to-be-prepared ready. For us gluten free folks, that involves more than just some spare change in a pocket for a run to the hospital cafeteria.
Now, in my third year, I am a nursing mother. Not your vision of what a pastor should be? Growing up, it wasn't mine, either. Pastors were men. Women shouldn't be pastors, especially women who were called to be moms. The two just did not go together.
But here I am, back in the pulpit, officiating at funerals and weddings, preparing families for baptisms, and nursing our little boy (not, obviously, at the same time!). And it is making me a better minister.
The thing about nursing is that it is inescapably bodily. I can (and do) pump milk often so that I can stay through that committee meeting or be present at the hospital for hours at a time.
But nursing moms have to eat. They have to drink. If they don't: no more milk.
So now, when I'm tempted to rush out to the nursing home because so-and-so, who I dearly love, is approaching her final days, I pause first.
Not just a granola bar while driving to my next visit, either. I eat meals with protein and calcium and fiber and carbs. What I eat goes to my little boy, after all, and if I don't eat well, neither does he.
Not just a soda while sending a batch of emails, either. I drink liters and liters of water, apple and orange juice, almond milk, smoothies, and the occasional cup of coffee. Being well hydrated is essential to producing enough milk, so if I don't drink well, neither does he.
This may not sound revolutionary to those of you with *normal* vocations, but for many of us in ministry, and for me, it is. Ministers are often so invested in caring for others that we don't care properly for ourselves. And then we get sick or fall asleep at the wheel or burn out or just don't do the tender caring that pastoring requires. We get snappish because we haven't eaten. Our sermon isn't polished because we haven't slept. We forget to offer a hug or a handshake because we have a burning headache due to dehydration.
Nursing my son has become a metaphor for me for in nurturing my congregation. I can't feed our little boy unless I'm fed. I can't feed our congregation unless I'm fed, either. How soon I forget this when I'm running out the door again, briefcase and Bible in hand.
So thank you, sweet little son, for helping teach mommy something she couldn't learn on her own. I'm sure it'll be the first of many lessons you have in store for me, and I'm grateful for that. Thank you for making me slow down enough to eat and drink and savor and rest.
Thank you for having needs that remind me that I have needs, too.