Q&A: Pastor’s book highlights holy moments in life’s chaos
When the Rev. Betsy Singleton Snyder was ordained an elder in 1993, she was the only woman in her Little Rock Conference ordination class. Her vocation, her marriage to former U.S. Representative Vic Snyder and the four sons they have together shape the approach of her first book, Stepping On Cheerios: Finding God in the Chaos and Clutter of Life (Abingdon Press, April 2017). She spoke recently with Arkansas United Methodist editor Amy Forbus about the book’s themes and lessons. What follows are excerpts from their conversation.
When I saw the book title, I remembered that you used to have a blog by the same name. How much does this book draw from that previous experience of writing about life?
Probably quite a bit. Abingdon Press editors and I… talked about a number of topics. Abingdon has different departments: there’s Christian living, there’s leadership and theology, there’s a lot of different areas and books are constantly in the pipeline. As we talked more, we decided, “Well, if this is my first book, maybe people need to meet me to see where I’m coming from, because my experience in life is a bit different from a lot of women.”
[Blogging] was a fun experience because I wasn’t writing sermons at the time. For the first time in my life as an adult woman at the age of 47, I had no ministry other than my home life, and yes, that is a ministry, a very valid and important ministry—but there was a big loss for me when I discovered that I had to go on disability. I was on disability for two and a half years, and I didn’t know at the time if I would get better or not. So I had to kind of grieve whether I would be a pastor or not, and the writing really allowed me an opportunity to do that to a broader audience, to talk about my life. I wasn’t always explicitly religious, but people certainly knew that I wrote out of that perspective.
This book is geared toward mothers with young children, and you even address the readers as “Sisters” occasionally. Do you see ways others outside that group could benefit from reading it, too?
Yes, in fact, I saw some of the people who commented on it, one was [former First Lady of Arkansas] Ginger Beebe, and also one of my former professors, Dr. John Holbert—both commented that they thought men would benefit greatly from reading it. And I think that’s true.
But I felt that I talk a certain way and I wanted to share this like I was sitting with a good friend and talking, because that’s generally how I write, and how I preach, even. Probably how I teach. I don’t get to teach quite as much in my current setting, but when I do it’s sassy at times, and tart, and I wanted the freedom to treat it as a relaxed conversation—hopefully more of a conversation than a monologue. It’s hard with a book to have a conversation, but I thought at least it might reach women who are overwhelmed parents—and what I’ve come to see is, frankly, in a season of having children who are 10 and now eight-year-old triplets, it never really gets easier, it just changes.
What do you hope readers learn from this book?
Well, let people know that you need help. That’s a huge one. [Former U.S. Senator] Blanche Lincoln actually told me that. She had twins, and we ran into her in the airport as soon as it was public [that we were having triplets], and she said, “Oh, never turn down help.” That’s truth, and I think too many of us are ashamed, embarrassed or feel guilty to ask for help. It is a chronic female condition, and I confess I still fight it.
I think we can make ourselves sick, or distressed—or distress makes us sick. We can be in a very spiritually deadening place of comparing ourselves to other people ad nauseam, instead of finding our own voice and our own path. I think being an older parent allowed me to not be so worried about what other people say and do. Now, there have been exceptions to that… but I see a lot of younger mothers totally plagued by, “Am I doing this right?” “What is right? Can someone please tell me what’s right?” I think that does us, as women, an injustice in not trusting our own instincts, our own voices, even our abilities to get information, to fashion a family life and parenthood as we have to in the world that we live in today, which is also very challenging.
You mention the Jesuits several times in your writing. How do you incorporate their practices into your life?
I read a lot of James Martin. I loved his book Between Heaven and Mirth. It’s about humor in the Christian faith, and I developed a sermon series around it.
Jesuits invite us not to separate God into a compartment, but to see our spirituality as everything that happens, from the dirty diaper to the argument with a family member. All of those are grist for the mill in understanding our relationship with God because they involve hammering out real life, and discipleship in real life. I had no idea the Jesuits were so earthy, and I was just really drawn to that practical kind of spirituality.
I think a lot of people don’t think that somebody who is in a monastic type of community, they really sell them short: “Oh, you wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be a spouse or in a relationship…” [but] actually, living in community is extremely hard. And so at a different level, Jesuits have to struggle with the same kinds of things. It helps me to understand that no matter what our situation or our setting, and this is across the board, from a celibate Catholic order, to me, as a wife, mother, pastor in a Protestant denomination, we have similarities as Christians and can walk together.
Any favorite things you’d like to share about the book?
One of my favorite chapters is “The Wisdom of Albus Dumbledore,” because it goes back to how do we talk with, deal with, help our children process bad things? I think this is especially pertinent for Christians. There are things that people say about God in difficult times that don’t reflect good Christian theology or teaching about the nature of God. And so I don’t want parents to fall into that trap with their children, of coming up with platitudes that don’t work. Children can spot fake in a New York minute.
For a fun chapter, I like the one about our family bake-off, because I think starting traditions that anchor you are another way that kids learn. Christianity’s full of traditions, liturgically, that can really ground us when we’re faced with uncertainty, and questions, and the fear of being isolated or lonely.
Singleton Snyder’s book launch coincides with her new website, WomenadeStand.com, which will include a blog, podcasts and other content geared toward Christian women about women’s issues, women’s concerns and Christian leadership.