Being a stay-at-home-dad can be risky!

I consider myself a stay-at-home dad since I resigned from my full time career as a pastor. After nine years of ministry burning the candle both ends and over-working, depression took hold and after finally reaching the point of seriously planning suicide I sought help. I couldn’t go back though. So I made a deal with my wife. If she went to work for us, I’d take care of the home – lock, stock and barrel. The reason for this was that she wasn’t traveling too well either emotionally because of the toll mental illness had taken on us.

And so I took on a new role. I organised the home, established routines for the kids, and went on a steep learning curve not so much in how to do the job, but how to find a rhythm in each week so that I could still live in an active recovery space and not become overwhelmed by the fact that housework is never completed – it’s the nature of the beast.

I was intrigued to read that while house dads are increasing in number (10-14%), it’s not all beer and skittles. A recent The Age article reported some old research that put men at 82 times higher risk of heart disease than their career paid counterparts but went on to outline some other risks suggesting

Househusbands who linger too long can find themselves in premature retirement, shut out of the workforce, and quite isolated…

House husbands need look no further than house wives to know that it’s not going to suit all of us and that the downsides are the same irrespective of gender. There can be less “job satisfaction” because the work is never done. Progress with the children seems slow at times. It feels like spinning the wheels compared to say an engineering sales role that I performed where I could measure my sales figures.

I’ve done a couple of key things to make it work for me. Firstly, I don’t hope to have it all done. I try and prioritize and get down the key things and let other stuff slide (although I do get defensive if I feel criticized for this). Secondly, I make sure I get out enough and have some kind of life outside the home. I work two days per week in the community services sector, I fly fish (this captures exercise, mateship and photography as well) and I drop in on the local Men’s Shed once a week and make something – like a chicken feeder, or spice rack for example.

One advantage men have is that we’re not “nesters” by nature, so we’re not in general as “houseproud” as a women. Nor do we feel as scrutinized as the fairer sex by their peers (the sisterhood can be a harsh club at times). We’re not as susceptible to guilt when we don’t get it all done so we can still be happy in the face of a full laundry basket, or sit down and have a cup of tea even though the dishes are piled up on the sink. We don’t feel like we should be able to do it all like your average mum who feels like a failure if she doesn’t. I know I can’t do it all and am fine with it. I get the kids to help and train them. Once a week they cook for us. They fold their own laundry. They tidy their own rooms. They all have chores that need to be done. I’m doing them no favors if I do everything for them. We’re a team.

As I sit here, my thighs and glutes ache. The school athletics carnival last Friday had a parent race. My wife entered last year and came a dismal last (she’s a shorty), so I was urged to enter this year and win (for the kids of course!). I entered and whupped those other dads and won. The kids were all suitably impressed. All up, I consider what I’m doing a privilege. There aren’t many dads who have as much involvement in their kids lives when they’re young. Most have to work full time. I don’t and that’s a blessing.

After burning out, would I ever lead again?

I’ve been in church leadership since 1990, and full time staff from 2000 to 2009 when I was forced to resign due to depression and anxiety. Would I lead again? Up until now, I would have refused to even contemplate the idea. But my wife just came home after attending church – my former church, fuming about things like hypocrisy, in-authenticity, and PR bullshit (we’ve been made a scapegoat for anything that was bad about church) and we had a great discussion about what church could be like if we could start with a blank slate.

If this burned out, back-from-the-brink pastor could dream a little dream, it would go something like this:

If a pastor didn’t have a budget to meet, rosters to fill, attendance wasn’t measured, and behavior modification wasn’t on the radar, then I reckon it would be a ball. We would be free to do what we’re gifted for.

One caveat would be that I would not be paid – and therefore not full time and not on staff. I don’t think I would even have anyone “reporting” to me in any official capacity, and I definitely wouldn’t have a job description. I would do what I am gifted and led to do and what I’m passionate about. That beautiful little sector where the circles of gifts, strengths and passion overlap is where I’d live.

I’d think more about following Jesus than leading others. I would let Him lead them and remain only a catalyst.

I’d think more about two-way conversations than preaching messages at or to people.

I’d focus more on relationships, than productivity and efficiency.

I would hasten slowly.

I would concern myself more with journeys than destinations.

I would be brutally honest and leave PR spin to politicians, salesmen and con artists.

The life of the church would not revolve around me. I would not be the primary vision caster or motivator. I would allow people to get their own vision from God.

The church wouldn’t be exclusive. It would be a place for followers or non-followers alike.

Relationships with God and others, underpinned by love and acceptance would be the highlight.

Being would take priority over doing.

We wouldn’t own buildings or take on any debt.

The Sunday Service would not be the peak spiritual experience of the believers week.

The arts would have equal place with the spoken word.

Busyness would be a swear word.

I would not burn people out volunteering.

People would be more important than things, issues, ideas, structures, programs, productions, goals or causes.

I would tell stories. God’s story. My stories and others’ stories.

Yes it’s just a fantasy and no I don’t think this will ever happen, but there’s nothing wrong with dreaming is there? Some like Small Boat Big Sea are at least heading in the right direction. A transcript of an interview with them really gives me hope.

What Happened to Wonder?

It’s a bit like playing a game of snap. Just as I was posting about how I crave a different church service, Tim Schraeder asks “What happened to wonder?“. Here he grapples with the same kinds of ideas. Just goes to show maybe I’m not crazy! He says:

There’s a tension that many churches are dealing with these days when it comes to their services and it’s the battle between right and left brained thinking, or emotion over intellect.

Churches, well the progressive, innovative, edgy ones, get production. Some churches feel like a rock show or Broadway, and while I’m a bit indifferent to their methods, I feel that in looking, sounding and feeling like the world we’ve lost a true sense of wonder.

Today our churches look and feel more like conference centers or coffee shops and instead of creating reverent, reflective space, they are cozy and casual. Gizmodo did an article about the STORY Conference which we hosted at Park a few months ago and said, “The Park Community Church in Chicago is a multi-story Christian center that more closely resembles a Starbucks than any cathedral—and in fact houses its own coffee shop.”

I’m not saying those things are bad, people obviously need to be in space that’s warm an inviting… but I guess I’m wrestling with if that’s the right way.

While I completely agree that the message is what matters most, the tension we live in is the fact that people hear messages on different wavelengths. Some can sit and listen to a 45 minute sermon and get it. Other people need to see a picture or hear a story, some need to hear a song. Some people need to be inspired by beauty while others simply need sacred space to reflect and remember. There’s multiple ways to hear the same message.

Today, flickering pixels are our stained glass and God has given us so many new ways to communicate His unchanging message… to do things that evoke our emotions and touch both our mind and our heart. To bring words to life through an image, a story, or a song.

I’m not saying we need to reproduce a jonsi concert, add more lights or more music, get bigger screens and better projectors… I just wholeheartedly believe we need to first be captured with the awe and wonder of who God is and let Him use the gifts He’s uniquely given to all of us to share the what we have seen …

When was the last time you left church in awe… not of the production, music, lights, or anything else… but truly left in awe of who God is and what He’s done?

Schraeder believes that the artist can help save the church. I agree that the arts should figure more prominently (their demise is a consequence of modernism) but disagree that they can (alone) save the church. I do however totally and wholeheartedly agree on where he’s going with it all. If I could go to a church service that I could dream up, it would be one which made me wonder – about God, life, relationships, heaven, earth, people, glory, mystery, faith, miracles, pain, suffering and redemption. I would have a space to reflect, pray, listen to Him and worship. I would not experience a show, a production, a lecture trying to explain or teach anything, desperate fundraising, coercion, pressure, alienation for not volunteering or humiliation.

Schraeder asks pointed questions, that really deserve answers from today’s contemporary modern church:

When was the last time you sat in wonder of God’s love and grace? When was the last time your heart was truly moved? Where is the sense of wonder?