A long time ago, my high school physics teacher defined work as moving something from one place to another. “You could work all day trying to move a boulder,” he expanded, “and if you hadn’t actually shifted the position of the boulder, technically speaking, you wouldn’t have worked.” His definition left its mark on my teenage brain. I do not know how accurate his description was, but I recall it as I enter an employment transition.
In a few weeks, I will end the pastoral work that has occupied me for the last nine years. Stretching my teacher’s definition, I can cite many examples of work in the life of a pastor. I have moved a number of things from one place to another, sometimes physically, often metaphorically.
In a typical week, I have listened for the Spirit’s guidance as I read Scripture, and then moved words from my head to the computer, and then to the congregation in Sunday’s sermon. I have gathered ideas from different sources, then created a proposal for others to consider. I have bent my knees, moving downwards to see the gap in a child’s gum left by a “lost” tooth. I have moved to the hospital bedside of a senior labouring for breath, traced a cross of oil on his forehead and recited the Twenty-third Psalm. I have raised my arms to extend a benediction at the end of the service.
It is a privilege and an honour to work as a pastor. It is a gift to listen for God’s voice and then speak with it to people. By and large, congregational ministry is respected, valued work, whether or not there is “movement.” I am sad to see it come to an end.
The new work calling to me is family work. For some time, I have yearned to be closer physically to my mother. At age 85, she is facing a multitude of challenges related to vision, hearing, mobility and pain management, losses that add up and sap her feisty spirit. She has significant assistance from family who live near her, and I am glad for those supports.
At the same time, I long to be at my mother’s side, and half a continent stretches between us. I have been surprised by the intensity of this internal call, yet it is as clear and compelling as any other calling I’ve received. I want to companion my mother as she faces the trials of aging: listen to her stories and share cups of tea, sit on the porch and watch the birds, attend medical appointments as she weighs decreasing options, sort photos and clean out closets, and cheer her strengths and soothe her fears.
So I will say goodbye to one kind of work, in order to say hello to another kind. I am grateful beyond words that it is possible for me to say yes to this calling. I have the freedom, time and means to unhook from other responsibilities and offer assistance to my family member in need.
Is this work? Is it respected and valued? When we hear someone say, “I provide quite a bit of support to my parents, or grandparents or aunt,” do we see the ministry in their care? Is a family caregiver doing God’s work similar to that of a pastor’s? Does their work move something from one place to another? Might it be a heart that is being moved, the heart of the one in need or maybe the heart of the one offering care? Or maybe both? Maybe even God’s heart is in the equation: “O God, prosper the work of our hands” (Psalm 90:17).
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.