I WAS SITTING ACROSS THE dining room table from the rest of my volunteer team, six months pregnant, when I realized I was being pushed out. Or more specifically, I was being lovingly forced to take a sabbatical.
“You won’t have time to keep up the newsletter once the baby arrives,” my team leader said of the biweekly email I’d helped launch and had devotedly sent out for ages. “We’ll help find someone to take it on for a while, so you won’t have to worry about it. Having a baby will be enough work.”
I’m very involved at my church, helping out with lots of different ministries. But I got the same message from all my church teams. People kept insisting I step back for a while.
I resented it at first. I had no intention of slowing down. I’d read Lean In, the bestselling book by Sheryl Sandberg. And after all, I thought, I’ll be on parental leave and my baby books say newborns sleep 18 hours a day. I’ll need something to occupy me during that time.
When my baby arrived, I quickly learned those 18 hours of sleep came in 20-minute increments all day and all night, leaving me exhausted and feeling like even getting dressed or feeding myself was a monumental task. I lived in a sort of haze – one familiar, I’m sure, to new parents everywhere.
I soon thanked my church teammates, all of whom are parents themselves, who had told me (in love) to stop being crazy, and who had pushed me gently but firmly to take a break. My church family had ensured my time as a new parent was a Sabbath of sorts – I was able to focus entirely on this new little person in our lives.
There was no guilt hanging over my head about volunteer activities left undone, or concerns I was letting other people down.
I was lucky. It’s no secret most parents are stressed and spread too thin. According to a study by Pew Research, 39 percent of American parents who have a child younger than six consider parenting to be tiring some or all of the time. Thirty-one percent of parents always feel rushed, and another 53 percent feel rushed sometimes. We’re a busy, tired, stress-filled lot.
Church communities are in a unique position to offer a reprieve. Sabbath is one of the greatest blessings our Judeo-Christian tradition offers in a society that seems bent on constant busyness. For new parents, the thought of a full day of rest can seem like a pipe dream. But to have an hour or two to sit down, to worship God and to pray, to have fellowship with adults, and have other people offer to snuggle your baby while you have a cup of coffee – those little blessings are wonderful, and attainable, and so easy for a church community to provide.
Yet a lot of churches still fail to provide emotional or physical support for new parents. I’m lucky to have a church that staffs its nursery with volunteers each Sunday. Not all congregations do. I was blessed with people who dropped off food, showered us with baby gifts, and even offered rides to the hospital. I don’t think all young parents experience such generosity.
In fact I know they don’t. The U.S.-based research firm the Barna Group, which conducts surveys on matters of faith and life in America, found a full 42 percent of moms said faith communities don’t offer them any emotional support at all. Among Christians, it was only marginally better: 34 percent said they don’t receive much or any support from their church, and 46 percent said their church offers them only some support.
Those statistics should be a wake-up call for us.
Sunday school and fancy children’s programs get a lot of attention in church communities. And those are important. But at least in my experience as someone new on the motherhood scene, support is more about people than programs. It’s those personal connections and care – the stash of homemade granola bars, the smiling surrogate grandma, or the volunteer who shows the love of Christ to your little one – the little blessings provide Sabbath moments for me. And they require no big budgets and little logistical planning.
So thank you, church friends, for being there when we needed you – and even before we knew we needed you. It’s good to be a part of the family of God. I hope all mamas will one day be able to say the same.