“There is Nothing Spiritually Neutral About Motherhood”: An Interview with Bronwyn Lea

One of my favorite things about Don’t Hide Your Light Under a Laundry Basket is that I got to feature the voices of some of my favorite people in the book. A handful of the Bright Ideas —nine, to be exact—were written by women whose voices I trust and whose wisdom I respect, and each of the nine sections of the book ends with short, practical, perspective-shifting tips submitted by real-life moms who get it. Think of it like a literary slumber party, where we gather in all our pajama-clad, messy-haired glory to laugh at our crazy stories, share deep secrets, and talk about the meaning of life while swapping advice on everything from money management to plarn (do you know what plarn is? Neither did I).

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be featuring interviews with these women, inviting them to tell us more about motherhood, ministry, and what’s up next for them. First up is Bronwyn Lea, a South African-born writer, speaker, and mom to three who writes about the holy messes in family, faith, and culture.

Tell us about yourself, your family, and how motherhood and ministry connect in your life.

I was born in South Africa and have lived in the US for the past 12 years. I’m doing the final lap in my thirties and, while I always expected to be a full-time career woman, have been somewhat surprised to find myself a stay at home mom and occasional writer and speaker.

 Motherhood has been a huge challenge to my understanding of what ministry means. I was in full time vocational ministry when my daughter was born, and as with so many women, I felt a huge crisis of identity in my first years as a Mom. Ministry had felt so IMPORTANT and PRODUCTIVE, while the repetitive and thankless (and seemingly fruitless) task of caring for an infant left me feeling incompetent and more than a little depressed.

 God met me in the nursery, though, and slowly began to show me that just as I loved this tiny baby who just cried and took and took and took without producing anything of value… so too, he loved me. I was undone by motherhood, and the incarnated lesson that God loves me because I’m his kid, not because of what I can contribute. This, in turn, has shaped my orientation to the world: I want every person who comes through my door to know that God loves them with that wild, crazy, tender parent-love, too.

 You wrote an essay on inviting people into your messy life for Don’t Hide Your Light Under a Laundry Basket. What made you choose that topic?

I wrote about inviting people into our actual, literal, messy lives. As in the pile-of-laundry-on-the-couch-and-sticky-counters life. I chose that topic because while I never was a great housekeeper, having kids TOTALLY pushed it over the edge and we lived in absolute squalor for several years. However, my old ministry habits of inviting people over didn’t quit in those years and so, having to choose between cleaning (not an option), not inviting people over (not really an option either), or inviting people over despite the mess…. I chose to welcome people into our real, actual, sticky lives. I lost count long ago of how many people, rather than judging me, expressed something like relief or gratitude that they weren’t the only ones who had a line of ants making their way to the sticky patch under the high chair. Somehow, me allowing them to see us in all our unkempt glory made them feel safe and welcome. I wanted to share that, because I think we live in a world where we feel that if our outer selves are “unpresentable” that we have nothing to offer, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.

What stands out in your mind as one of the most encouraging things someone has said to you or done for you as you navigate motherhood, ministry, and living life as a child of God?

This might seem like something of a bizarre or macabre answer, but the kindness that comes to mind was when we miscarried our first pregnancy, and an older couple in our church came to visit us and brought us a funeral wreath of flowers. I was undone by their kindness: to visit us, to bring us flowers, and to acknowledge in that way that this was a death worthy of grieving. They taught us so much about acknowledging life, about the power of showing up, about real-time-love that wintery afternoon.

If you could say one thing to encourage the people who are going to read Don’t Hide Your Light Under a Laundry Basket, what would it be?

I went from full time ministry to motherhood, and I confess that I expected that my spiritual life would really just be put on ice for a couple of years: like shifting spiritual gears from drive to neutral. One thing that really surprised me about motherhood is that God meets us in these years with profound challenges, encouragement and opportunities. There is nothing spiritually “neutral” about motherhood: like every part of our life, it is meant to form us to be more like Christ. Sheryl Sandberg encouraged us to ‘lean in’ professionally. My advice to moms in the trenches is to lean in to the formative work God does in and through motherhood. These years are NEVER wasted by our kind and creative Father.

What’s coming up in your life, and how can readers stay connected with you and your work?

bronwynGod only knows what’s coming up in my life – haha! Thus far he has had so many surprises… so many that I now hold my future plans with a very loose grasp. However, I am working on a book project for the long term, and continue to write about matters of faith and family and relationships and culture and justice (whatever grabs my attention, really) on my blog and other fun places on the web, and I post links to these and other awesome things I find on Twitter and Facebook: I’d love to connect with you there.


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