The Next Faithful Step
Stella the Deacon?
You are meeting with one of your parishioners named Stella. She is an occupational therapist who works Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays with clients who are recovering from traumatic injuries and coping with disabilities. She gives them specialized exercises to help them re-learn to use their bodies. For example, last week she helped people who needed to learn again how to speak, how to use their fingers and hands, and how to control their legs. Stella sees her work as a ministry. She feels spiritual satisfaction, for example, as she helps an elderly patient move toward self-sufficiency after having a stroke. “I think about Jesus saying that ‘whatever you did to the least of these, you did unto me.’ And I remember that anytime I help a client I am helping Jesus.”
You have come to ask Stella if she would be a deacon. In this congregation, deacons visit the sick, care for shut-ins, and work with the homeless. The church leaders thought she would be a good deacon because she is a person of prayer who cares deeply for others around her. She is relatively young (in her mid-thirties) but often acts with great maturity.
Stella and her husband have two children, one an infant and the other three years old. Her husband’s job has erratic hours because he works in a field where he has to respond to the needs of clients--and those needs can often come up at times no one can predict. So he is often on call to care for people. Stella and her husband make plans for who is going to care for her children and how they are going to share the parenting duties. Her husband usually takes the days she is at work and Stella takes Mondays and Fridays. But the truth is that sometimes it does not always work out as they hoped. When you ask her to be a deacon, Stella starts to talk about feeling guilty.
“I miss my kids when I’m at work and I think that I am shirking some responsibility if I leave them at home,” Stella says to you, “My husband is great with the kids. So it’s not that he can’t handle it. And I know there are moms that have to work--I guess I’m one. But I feel something profoundly spiritual about what I do as a mother. My little daughter learns to see the world by watching me and she learns to see God through the eyes I give her. It’s my job to teach her to care for others. That’s not to diminish what her dad does. I just want to have a special role.” Stella gropes for words as she tries to explain her guilt. “I look at it this way. No one else can be my children’s mother. [My husband] can’t do it. He’s got his own job as the dad. Their grandmother can’t do it--even though she is so loving and kind to the children. They need something from their mom--something only I can give. Every time someone says the word ‘mom’ my face is the one that will come into my kids’ heads.”
Stella wonders if her work as an occupational therapist is interfering with her duties as a mother. “I only get a few years to form my children,” she says with a combination of worry and grief. “And I am not sure I should spend that time caring for others at the expense of my own kids. They can find other occupational therapists. But my kids can’t find another mom. I see my daughter watch me. Like at the grocery store, she greets the clerks, says ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ And I know she does it because she is imitating me. And, truth be told, I love that. I don’t think I have enough time to be a mom and a therapist. How can I be a deacon too?” And before you can answer, she adds, “But being a deacon is important. It would be selfish just to care for my family and my clients and never have time to bring food to strangers or care for people I don’t know. Christians should care for everyone, right?” You can see she’s struggling because she does not want to say ‘No’ but she does not know how to say ‘Yes.’ She sighs, “I started to say that I would do it when my kids are grown. But that’s gonna be at least eighteen more years. And by then our parents may well need our care. So I’ll be busy with that--because there’s no one else to care for them. So I guess there is no good time to be a deacon.” Another pause. “But that would mean that there is no good time to care for others. And that can’t be right. How do people do it?”