Clay-Pot-Truths from a Minister Who’s Also a Parent
The Rooted Conference was not at all that I was looking for – well, except for the good food, great camaraderie with like-minded people, the life-giving Gospel truth, the gorgeous venue, and the chance to get away and consider God’s calling on my life. Besides that, it was not at all what I was looking for.
Let me explain.
The specific challenges I have faced this year are as a parent, rather than as a youth director. I’ve asked myself countless questions throughout this time: Does God need to shape me as a parent for the sake of my ministry? Can I be a bad parent and a good church youth director? I think the answer is “yes” and “no.” If my bad parenting disqualifies me as a youth director, then there are many days when I yell at my kids as they walk out the door to school, that I probably should not show up to work.
However, I suspect that God is teaching me the same Gospel truths to shape me in all roles of my life: husband, friend, youth director, and father.
So yesterday morning I flew from Philadelphia to San Diego for the Rooted conference. Tonight, I will take a red-eye flight back so that I can be at my son and daughter’s soccer tournaments tomorrow. I think they will be grateful that I came to this conference before returning to them.
You see, one of the truths I heard loud and clear this weekend was that we are earthen vessels, otherwise known as clay pots (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are very fragile, messy, and ordinary people who God uses to do His work. God does this in order to show that the all the surpassing power and glory belongs to Him, and not to us. I was reminded that there is no such thing as the perfect earthly father. The only perfect father is God, working through loving but selfish and sinful dads like me.
But God not only spoke to me as a parent this weekend. The truth that I am simply a clay pot is super convicting, super encouraging, and super hopeful for me as a youth director as well. It takes the pressure off! I do not need to be an extra-ordinary youth director in order to be effective. In fact, God says that it’s in my “ordinariness” that He chooses to reveal His amazing treasures. Man did I need to hear this gracious truth for the sake of my ministry to students!
However, it is on the sideline of the soccer field this weekend where I will really show my true colors – to see if I have really internalized this clay-pot-truth. Only nights ago, my daughter moaned how stressful it was to have me on the sidelines of her games. I have to admit a little angst in hearing this. I am her biggest fan! I thought to myself.
“You always yell at me,” she said.
Well! For good reason!
In my (totally unbiased) opinion, my daughter is one of the best players on the team. I want her to play like it. I want everyone else to see that she is one of the best players on the team! I want everyone to see that she is not just an average player, but an extra-ordinary player.
…Oh. I see. She is a clay pot too.
This humbling realization reminded me of something I once heard my sister say about her now grown children. She is a blogger who wrote the following words about raising her children:
A few years ago Brian and I heard Eugene Peterson speak at a conference. In the midst of Q&A he made a statement that (first) made us laugh and (second) became part of our list of family values: “Most of us are pretty damn ordinary.” I guess another way you could say this is that we do not want to take ourselves too seriously. One result of this value, for us, is allowing our kids to spend a good deal of their growing up years as an unrecognized figures among a mostly unrecognized crowd. We do our best to surround our kids with a tribe of thoughtful, affirming friends outside of the more generic education. This is not to say they’ve never had the opportunity to shine in their classroom but that is more the exception than the rule. (A Sacramental Life by Tamara Murphy)
So why do I yell at my kids while they play soccer? I guess the reality is that I want the “surpassing glory” to belong to them, and to me. At the same time, I am missing the chance to teach them that, like me, they are just imperfect jars of clay. Ones made in the image of their God. Ones chosen and loved by their Father. Ones so precious that Jesus went to the cross for them. They are entirely ordinary, bringing nothing of value on their own – but rather invited to hold and carry and share God’s eternal treasure.
I wasn’t expecting this from the Rooted conference – to be shaped in my other life roles. I pray that I might model this lesson for my children, and that I can model it for my youth ministry. Will I? By the grace of God, yes! It is the heavenly treasure offered to me as a child of God – but it is going to be a slow process of learn, fail, repeat. I am, after all, a clay pot.