“Are You Leaving Again?”—Balancing Ministry and Family
“Fine…abandon us,” my daughter says to me in her mock-sarcastic voice. Or is it actually a really sarcastic voice? I still can’t always be sure (even though she is approaching twenty), so I smile and reassure her, “I’m going to the 8:00 Mass and leading RCIA afterward. I’ll only be gone for a couple of hours tomorrow morning, and you’ll probably be asleep anyway.” She smiles, “All right...this time.” So, I know I’m okay. But conversations like this have become a regular part of the challenge of balancing family life with a life of ministry as I prepare for ordination to the permanent diaconate.
Learning how to understand—and create—the correct balance between family and ministry has not come easy. When simply taking courses over the first three years of formation, my schedule was predictable, and we could make plans easily as a family. However, the pastoral internship during year four presented a whole new set of variables: The internship substantially added to my already busy life as a high school English teacher; and the ministries I became involved in, such as wake services at funeral homes, were more difficult to anticipate. Furthermore, my availability at home was subject to the days and times of parish activities. Finally, I often had opportunities that necessitated difficult decisions: yes to something I found interesting or was approached to do in the parish, or no to be sure I was sufficiently present to my family, not to mention not overworking myself based on my other work commitments.
Fortunately, I learned early in my diaconal discernment that there is a hierarchy of commitment that is essential for making decisions and setting priorities. God comes first in all things, followed by family, work, and then Church (activities, ministries, etc.). However, this hierarchy can easily get jumbled or have one part running so close to another that it is easy to lose perspective.
For example, early on in my pastoral internship it was easy for me to get caught up in all the “newness” and the desire to experience as much as possible. This led to a few times when it became clear I was neglecting my family. It was sometimes challenging to have to turn down a request at my parish or not volunteer for something I wanted to do. Fortunately, after some bumpy interchanges, I learned both to check with my wife and children when scheduling and to really be attentive to the signs from them that I was potentially overcommitting. More importantly, I learned to bring my struggles to prayer and gained a deeper sense of being attentive to God’s call in all aspects of my life.
While the balance of ministry and family poses ongoing challenges for permanent deacons, it is true for all disciples of Jesus. For we are all called to diakonia—to service—in one form or another in our lives.