Editor's note: This is one of our top 20 CBE Writing Contest winners. Enjoy!
“Reclaiming my time.”
The world stood in disbelief last year when seasoned California congresswoman Maxine Waters (affectionately known as “Aunty Maxine”) refused to allow a man to co-opt her allotted time during a routine House Financial Services Committee hearing. Mouths hung open and there was a sense of corporate finger snapping as Aunty Maxine ignored the man’s delaying tactics and pressed him for answers. On that day, she immortalized the phrase "reclaiming my time."
It was bold and unprecedented, a necessary moment. The treasury secretary was deliberately trying to avoid a congresswoman’s questions by allowing the time to run out. On the surface, his words—full of compliments and trivial observations—appeared harmless. But participants are only allotted so much time on any given question, so his actions were strategic.
Aunty Maxine has been playing the game for a long time. She knows the tricks of the trade and she was ready for the excuses and the questions designed to redirect and distract. But her mantra, “reclaiming my time,” wasn’t really about the issue of time. It was about respect. The kind of respect that inspires people to respond to direct questions with answers and not platitudes.
No, Aunty Maxine wasn’t falling for a pat on the head. She wanted acknowledgement of her presence and right to sit at the table. That Thursday, she wanted answers and she made sure everyone knew it.
Last month, I celebrated twenty years in ordained ministry. It was a somber occasion for me as I pondered the question asked by a fellow (male) minister: what had I accomplished in twenty years? I paused for a minute to process his weighty question. Immediately, he began sharing all of the things he’d done in his twelve-year ministry career.
Taken aback by how he centered his own achievements, I shut down. Weary and irritated, I walked out of that room wishing I had the courage of Aunty Maxine.
How many conversations have I endured in which someone steamrolled me or diminished my call and accomplishments? How many empty platitudes and delaying tactics have I heard over the course of twenty years? How many condescending smirks and hollow compliments from those who thought I should just be grateful to be in the room or at the table?
I returned to my office, picked up the phone, and called my personal “Aunty Maxine,” a female mentor who has been in ministry for forty years. She listened, we laughed, and I cried a little. She then repeated congresswoman Waters’ phrase in a different way: “Don’t let the haters steal the God-given time you have on this earth. It’s your time; make the best of it.”
At this stage in my life and calling, I’ve decided that I’m not going to give any more time to the naysayers. I’m going to respect myself enough to recuse myself from meetings, gatherings, and people that I know aren’t going to welcome or make space for me and my ideas. For the ones that I must be present at, I’m going to make the conscious decision to contribute as much as possible—but if they don’t listen, I’m not going to blame myself. No more going home rehearsing what I coulda, woulda, shoulda said or done. No more!
No more shutting down. From now on, I’ll speak up to make others aware of how their words impact me. No more ignoring disrespectful looks or comments from male clergy who tolerate me at the table in hopes of maintaining my seat.
My grandmother used to say: “go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.” So, if my voice isn’t being valued at the table, I will find another table or create my own. I’ve wasted enough time trying to appease and placate!
Since antiquity, women have endured systemic oppression and cultural stereotypes. We’ve been deemed unworthy to hold priestly/ministerial offices. And since antiquity, women have defied assumptions and limitations to operate in their God-given callings anyway. I’m simply joining the ranks of these women, choosing to no longer be distracted or redirected by those who don't seek my highest good.
As I stand at this precipice of rediscovering what I prefer to call my “Esther courage,” I’d like to share a few words of wisdom for every women in ministry who needs to reclaim her time, too.
1. The churches, communities, and ministries we're called to aren't ours.
Even if we planted or founded them, our ministries don’t belong to us. Every accomplishment, every pew, every sermon, every life, and every moment belongs to God! The work belongs to God! We belong to God!
Let that truth free your mind and your time. This work will get done. There will be people who don’t affirm, like, or acknowledge you. That hurts, but your calling and your work are in God’s hands and not human hands. Surrender your time, talent, and treasure to God and trust God to help you over the obstacles others try to put in your path.
2. Don’t waste your time, gifts, or energy.
Don’t waste time on people, programs, and polity that obstruct or delay you. Don’t waste any more energy on fields that are infertile. Become skilled at identifying distractions and unwelcoming environments. And, surround yourself with “Aunty Maxines” that will help you see these traps and leave them behind.
Many of us have spent years devoting ourselves to projects and ministries that drain us but don’t produce any fruit. It can be hard to leave them behind, especially because a woman “failing” in ministry is often judged harshly. But we need to.
Don’t stay beyond what’s necessary to see that your gifts aren’t welcome or the project won’t succeed. Give it a trial period. A short trial period. If something isn’t producing results after eighteen months, cut your losses. Stop feeding something that won’t yield a return.
3. Speak up!
Take a lesson from Aunty Maxine: a moment of bold and courageous truth moment is often exactly what’s needed to change the outcome of a situation. Other people (namely, young clergywomen in training) are counting on us to champion them in our spheres of influence.
Don’t be afraid to speak when the moment presents itself. Ask the Spirit for wisdom on when to speak up and what to say. I’ve learned that a carefully placed interjection can save countless people a lot of headache, heartache, and time.
4. Take the time to celebrate!
Celebrate the gifts God has given you. Celebrate the small victories. Celebrate births, baptisms, good grades, and homeownership. Celebrate family and friends. Travel. Eat good food. Laugh out loud every day. Be kind and generous with yourself.
Don’t be shy about celebrating your accomplishments either. Ministry can be demanding and intense. If we don’t name the gifts, note the wins, and celebrate the blessings, it can be a hard road. Invest your time in celebrating life. And, most importantly, don’t apologize for being proud of what you’ve worked hard for. And remember, taking joy in what you’ve accomplished is different than being self-centered.
Thank you, Aunty Maxine, for your timely and prophetic mantra. Sisters in ministry, I hope you will take it to heart as you continue in the good work to which God has called you. Let’s reclaim our time together!