By Ashley Muñoz, Singapore
Because God made it that way.
When I was a child, this was the response I got all the time.
Why is the sky blue and the sun orange? Why do ladybirds’ wings fold that way? For every question I had, my dad, who is a pastor, would answer, “Because God made it that way.” It was so frustrating at that time, but looking back, it drove me to be curious about the world around me, and to figure out answers on my own.
Growing up in church brought its share of challenges. Whenever I tell my friends I’m a pastor’s kid, they imagined me as someone who never swore, listened to Colin Buchanan and who had the privilege of calling a whole bunch of pastors in church “Uncle”. In their minds, I was always dressed in a petite flowery dress, talked politely to adults, and sang with all my heart. Everyone knew me as the “Pastor’s Daughter” and expected me to behave like one—holy and God-fearing, without a fault. Outside of church? I was just your average kid. But, oh boy, when I am at church, I am famous.
I think the reason I didn’t crumble under all those expectations was my upbringing. My parents never made me feel like I needed to perform (to act and be a certain way) for others. I remember one time I felt embarrassed about bringing my half-eaten breakfast to school. My father said to me and my brother, “You never need to be embarrassed about anything other than sin.” That has always stayed with me and has helped me deal with the expectations of others. As long as my heart was pure, what other people thought or wanted from me didn’t matter.
So, I give credit to my parents for how they raised me. My parents modelled to me godly behaviour and holy attitudes. They spoke kindly to each other, committed their plans to the Lord, and brought me to church every Sunday without fail.
Growing up, I had many opportunities to see my dad encourage and exhort the congregation with God’s Word—to trust and obey (Exodus); to do everything with integrity (Proverbs); to guard our hearts against evil (Psalms); to seek first His kingdom (Matthew). The most meaningful thing for me was seeing how my parents not only taught the Word, but they also did their best to live it out.
It wasn’t until secondary school when I experienced a rift with God. God had put me in a good school with challenging classes and an environment of competition and grit. Like the rest of my classmates, I worked hard. By God’s grace, I scored relatively well in my exams and wrote essays that were read out in class. But over time, my heart started to change. Increasingly, I sought my security in the grades that I got, forgetting it through God’s grace that I received those good marks. Whenever I did well, it further cemented my identity as “a top student”. When I didn’t do well, I would beat myself up, “I’m so useless. I can’t do anything right.”
Around the same time, I started to enjoy chapel time less. I grew tired of the songs and devotions. At home, I was critical and angry, often speaking sarcastically to my parents and brother, displacing the stress of school onto them because I felt like they didn’t understand what I had to deal with. My father disciplined me, of course, but they didn’t know what was causing my behaviour because I didn’t care to share my feelings with them. The truth was, I was suffering from a lack of faith. At this point, God was not at the centre of my life—my academic performance was. I felt like God had nothing to do with all that I had accomplished.
God didn’t heal my heart until Junior College, when He inflicted on me an illness that almost landed me in hospital. I found it difficult to function normally and had to take time off school for weeks at a time. During that time, I started to question God: “Why does this have to happen to me?”
In response, all the childhood memories of Sunday school resurfaced, and with them came the promises of my loving heavenly Father. I read the likes of Jeremiah 29:11, Psalm 119:50, and Romans 8:38–39. Psalm 119:50 especially spoke to my heart because I felt like my life was being impaired by my illness, but God’s salvation plan preserves my life. In addition, it showed me that school was not everything—God was. It reminded me that we do not work for this life, but for the life to come. I was forced to reorder my priorities and question what I was striving so hard at school for.
When I was finally able to go back to school, I surrendered my love of achievements to God, vowing that whatever I did, I would do for His glory and not mine, and to work for Him and not for human masters (Colossians 3:23). Before I started any schoolwork, I would pray earnestly for my motivations to be right, which was what mattered to Him, not my grades. I started to read my Bible regularly, and I slowly grew to love His Word again. I prayed to God to help me love my family, and He answered.
One new habit I nurtured after falling ill was asking my parents questions about the faith. I used to resent them and avoided talking to them. But as God began to show me that I needed to love my family, He also showed me that they could be a sounding board for me to approach to discuss life’s problems. And thankfully, they readily indulged me and explained the Bible clearly to me. As I recovered, I also began to talk more about the deeper stuff with my friends, like how I could apply the lessons God was teaching me to my daily life. I went on a mission trip and learned to serve the people in His kingdom. Over time, I was drawing closer to God again.
Today, I involve God in my everyday life and make the effort to acknowledge Him and to put Him first in everything I do. I talk to Him when I’m down and I praise Him when I’m happy. As a result, I feel His presence beside me, every step of the way.
Being a pastor’s kid is really not so different from being anyone else’s kid. I go through the same ups and downs, cry, get up, and live my life as anyone else would. I disobey my parents, answer back, get angry, and throw tantrums or a cold shoulder when I don’t get my way. I sleep in, play video games, and binge-watch Netflix like the next person.
Being a pastor’s child doesn’t make me any holier. It only makes me more acutely aware that I am set apart for Him. One good thing that has come from people’s expectations of a “Pastor’s Kid” is that it reminds me to think and behave as a Christian, and not as one of the world (Romans 12:2). Following my parents’ example of ministering to the church, I have also learned to use my own gifts to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). But ultimately, it is the Lord who has enabled me to experience the journey of losing Him, finding Him, and learning to walk with Him again.