Heather Haginduff is the Associate Minister for Youth and Families at Trinity United Church of Christ in Canton, OH.
Since seminary, the majority of the books that I own are about religion, the Bible, and the Christian Church. And most of those books, I can barely get all the way through. Because who really wants to work while doing something that is supposed to be recreational or leisurely? So, this fall, I decided that I will never make it to the 20th anniversary of my ordination if I wear myself out during middle age. I won’t have anything left to give if I don’t fill the well. I have to feed my soul with words that support me—not as a pastor, but as a person. I ordered Glennon Doyle Melton’s new book Love Warrior and read it in less than 48 hours.
I was first introduced to Glennon’s writing on her blog, Momastery, when I had my second baby. With my first baby, I was diagnosed with mild postpartum depression. Not the immobile kind where you lay in bed all the time. But the manic kind where you are constantly moving and you hate everyone. After breakfast, I would clean up, nurse the baby, put the baby down for a nap, wash all of the baby clothes, vacuum the floor, answer some emails and repeat this frenzy until my husband came home to see me crying on the kitchen floor.
For 8 weeks of maternity leave, I tried to figure out why all of the church ladies lied to me. Why would they all tell me that motherhood was fulfilling? All I could see was that this was total bullshit. I was exhausted and hungry and smelled bad all the time. I couldn’t wait to get back to work and be a person again. Through my fatigue, I realized that those women didn’t lie me. They totally believed that stuff they told me. But I wasn’t glowing or feeling “fulfilled” at all.
By the time I had my second baby, I was a little more prepared, but now I had a toddler and an infant, which no one tells you is exponentially harder than just the one. I knew about my postpartum depression, which only really meant that I was aware that it was happening. I snapped the second baby to my chest and taught confirmation and organized fundraisers and led youth group with the baby attached to me. I just couldn’t settle into motherhood like other moms did. I loved my babies, but I was feeling depleted and terribly lonely.
Then someone on Facebook posted a picture of Glennon Doyle Melton jumping for joy outside of her children’s school on the first day of school. I laughed out loud and knew that it was inappropriate. Only bad moms are happy to get rid of their kids after summer break. Good moms cry about that day, right? But Glennon looked normal. She didn’t look like a bad mom. And yet, she let someone take a picture of her inappropriate joy. And then, she put it on the internet for everyone to see. What was up with this woman? I went on her blog to find out who she was. Holy cow!! That picture was only the tip of the iceberg. This lady was alive with inappropriate, truthtelling joy. And she didn’t do it to be provocative or attention seeking. She did it to be herself. She wrote funnysad pieces, about how beautiful and brutal, how “brutiful”, life is. She wrote letters to moms who were dripping in children and told them that they can do hard things today. I felt so relieved. I felt less lonely. I have been in the Momastery ever since.
There is much about Glennon’s story that I don’t identify with. I am not a recovering alcoholic. I don’t have an eating disorder. I never had bad religion shoved down my throat. My husband hasn’t been unfaithful. I’m not even that interested in being perfect or pretty. But, like Glennon, I have always felt “too much”. I sing too loudly, I dream Big dreams and often have to be “reeled in”. She writes about how girls are expected to be small and pretty and quiet. “We know what the world wants from us. We know we must decide whether to stay small, quiet and uncomplicated or allow ourselves to grow as big, loud, and complex as we were made to be.” She continues: “How can I be expansive and free and still be loved? Do I trust the unfolding and continue to grow, or do I shut all of this down so I fit?” The difference between Glennon and I is that she tried to fit and it came with a cost. I never could get away with fitting, so I did a different kind of pretending…and it came with a cost too. Either way, not showing up as yourself comes with a cost for girls.
The treasures that Glennon offers are not just for women, though. In Love Warrior, Glennon highlights the human condition of wanting to create “easy buttons” that will transport us out of our pain. For her, the easy buttons were booze and food and perfection. For me, the easy buttons are shoe shopping or planning a fun activity for the weekend or overworking. Even youth ministry, as a chosen niche, might have been an “easy button” 17 years ago. “Real” ministry was full of suffering and conflict and death. Youth ministry was a frenzy of fun activities! Little did I know that when teenagers are in pain, they are in PAIN. And they don’t need an “easy button”. They need a witness.
Glennon’s book gifted me with the simple message that pain is mandatory, but suffering is optional. To be a part of the human race, we will love imperfectly. And when we love imperfectly, we will feel afraid and angry and lonely. But God is always with us. And with God by our side, we are safe to go into that pain and let it be our teacher. “You are not supposed to be happy all the time. Life hurts and it’s hard. Not because you’re doing it wrong, but because it hurts for everybody. Don’t avoid the pain. You need it. It’s meant for you. Be still with it, let it come, let it go, let it leave you with the fuel you’ll burn to get your work done on this earth.”
For someone for whom busyness is addictive, “be still with it” sounds like the worst idea ever. But being a person means being a Being, not a Doing. This is why the psalmist writes “Be still and know that I am God.” How else are we, human beings, supposed to know that there is a God and we are not it unless we are still enough to know it? Glennon doesn’t prescribe a way to “be still”. Being still is precise. It is personal, as close as our very breath. Being still is about being intentional and self loving. It is about resisting the urge to bolt for the door or push the “easy button”. Being still is the journey of the Warrior.
Love Warrior might help me be a better pastor, but I will put that expectation on hold for now. Instead, I will practice sitting with pain instead of transporting from it, which might make me brave and wise and powerful, like the Warrior. Today, I will practice being a person versus a pastor. I will practice being still and know.