Like everyone I have many identities – daughter, wife, mother, Nana (five grands and one on the way!), worker, and finally . . . pastor’s wife. And that puts me in a special club. A club of women who are trying to navigate the expectations of their particular church culture and do no harm along the way. A friend once said to me, “Well you can’t really make your husband’s ministry successful, but you sure could make it worse.” Gulp. That’s just a little bit of pressure. And I have felt that pressure at different times in the last thirty plus years of my husband’s ministry. I have felt the weight of not meeting people’s expectations, having a busy husband, trying to shepherd our children through painful church experiences, the sense of never having done enough, and that if things don’t go well at church somehow it’s my fault. And then of course the weight of my own mistakes and sins – the times I really did say things that were hurtful or didn’t notice someone else’s need – how does one live a public life where you and your family are on display in all of your weaknesses?
Well, I can share with you a few strategies that definitely don’t work. It turns out that denial doesn’t help (as in “I’ll just pretend I’m a regular church member”), also self-protection, bitterness, guilt, self-pity, manipulation, and avoidance. None of these things help. But Jesus helps. The one who called you into this life is also the one who shepherds you carefully and kindly through this life.
How has Jesus helped me? He gives more grace. It was God’s grace that turned a self-centered, self-reliant young woman toward him. It was God’s grace that showed me my great and daily need for forgiveness and help. And then God gave me a life (pastor’s wife included) that forces me to acknowledge how needy I am every day. And if I forget, then my relationships show me once again that I can’t do it on my own. When I notice my sins, to survive, I have to remember that the forgiveness of sins is the heart of the gospel message. When I notice others’ sins, to survive, I have to share the grace I have received – because forgiving others is also at the heart of the gospel message.
The pressure cooker of 24/7 ministry puts ours and others’ sins and failures on display, but it also puts on display the grace of God that allows us to receive and give daily forgiveness and mercy. It turns out to be true that “blessed are the poor in spirit.” Blessed are those who have nothing and know it, because that is the way to receive everything from our faithful Savior Jesus. To the extent that being a pastor’s wife forces me to rely on Jesus for everything – that is a great grace.
Which brings me to another important way that Jesus has helped me through the last thirty years: his rule over all of life means he is able to use every hard time for our good and his glory. There have been times when I felt crushed by life and ministry. During one of those times we were getting ready to leave the church where we had ministered for many years, and I was sad, scared, and angry. A friend of mine said to me, “This happened to us too and looking back I can see that God transplanted us in the kindest way possible. He gently dug us up, shook some dirt off our roots, and replanted us where he needed us.” I looked at her and thought, I don’t see it that way. But now, many years later, I do. I see that God’s plans were better than mine. I see his kindness in how and when he moved us forward. I see that he had things for us to do in another part of his kingdom. I see that no harm came to me and mine. Yes, he shook some dirt off our roots (dirt that needed to come off), but he took great care of us as he did so.
I didn’t choose to be a pastor’s wife (actually since my dad was a pastor it was a conscious thought that I would never, ever be a pastor’s wife). But you can’t be too careful with God. It turns out that you can be a non-Christian who takes up with a fun bartender at work and still end up one day serving the Lord as “the first lady of the church.” And it also turns out that the life I didn’t choose is a rich life – full of deep friendships with folks I would never have met otherwise and the amazing privilege of being invited in to the most significant and hardest moments of people’s lives. We see faith on display in God’s people through joy and terrible tragedy. And I am forced to live by faith as well. What could be better than that?