Husband & Wife Articles


Where God Wants Us

The fishbowl life of a deacon and his family

By Joel Schmidt

Everyone will be watching you.

That was one of the first warnings we received when we decided to pursue the diaconate. They’ll be watching you to see if you’re holy enough, if you measure up to what they think a deacon should be.

Then, there was the whole thing about a deacon having young children. People will see what kind of parent you are, particularly how you handle your kids in public. They will be watching them, too. Your kids will be the “the deacon’s kids.”

Sometimes we heard those lines from people who were genuinely interested in informing us that additional scrutiny would be part of the package, whether we liked it or not. Sometimes we heard the warnings from people who seemed intent on discouraging us. In those cases, they usually added: Is that really what you want? You should wait until you’re older.

Wait? For what? Did Abraham wait when God called him? What about the Apostles? Did they put God off until they were in a better position to do ministry work, or at least had tied up a few loose ends? No. God called, and they went.

To be clear, I am not comparing me and my family to those biblical figures. The point, however, is that God’s timing is rarely the same as ours. His plans for us are often very different from our plans for ourselves. His plans often involve sacrifice, stepping out of our comfort zone, and a host of other things we would otherwise tend to avoid. Most people don’t ask to be put in a fishbowl, but sometimes that’s exactly where he puts you.

This dynamic is not unique to being a deacon. Friends of ours know this all too well. Incredible witnesses to an openness to life, they have a large family of closely-spaced young children. Yet the attention they draw is not always positive or life-affirming. The wife intimated that she feels like she can’t ever have a weak moment in public, and must always put forth a super-happy and joyful face, lest people think: You shouldn’t have all those kids. You should have spaced them better.

Discipleship costs. Money, comfort, personal desires, whatever it may be for us. Often, it is precisely those costs that feed our discernment process, that drive us to our knees, asking Jesus, “Is this really what you want of me?” To every person who asked us during diaconate formation some variation of, Is this what you really want? our answer was always, “No. This is not what we want. We believe this is where God wants us right now, whatever the end he has in mind.”

I am becoming increasingly convinced what God wants is our witness. He wants us to make him present in the lives of others. He wants people to encounter some aspect of him by watching us, by meeting us, by interacting with us. He wants us to be church, which literally means a community of people who have been called out or set apart. He wants to use us to call others out of the world of selfishness, materialism, individualism, and violence, into a new way of thinking and acting, a heavenly city where peace, love, compassion, and forgiveness hold sway.

This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. Yes, the mother of many is allowed her weak moments. Without them, she would seem otherworldly, unapproachable. Whatever she has that we would desire for ourselves would seem unattainable. Perhaps this is why the Lord tells St. Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). It is the cracks between our strengths that allow the light of Christ to shine brightest, because the power to love, to forgive, to pick up and carry on, so clearly does not come from us.

Joel Schmidt is an ordained deacon for the Des Moines Diocese and holds a doctorate in biochemistry. He lives in Des Moines with his wife, Lisa, and their three young children. Joel and Lisa write together at The Practicing Catholic.