October 6, 2010

The Common Struggles of Pastors' Wives

This is our best "pastor and pastor's wife" pose and the one time my husband has worn a monkey suit, as he calls it, in a year
Yesterday, I said I'd tell you about my life as a pastor's wife. Today, I'm ready to spill the beans. So here goes.

I love being a pastor's wife. I love sharing the truths of God with others, especially about His grace toward us, and I have plenty of opportunities to do so as a pastor's wife. I love being intimately involved in the lives of others and speaking words of encouragement over those who need it. I love having influence in the sense that I can play a large part in creating a faith community that I myself want to be a part of. I love that God has used this role in my life to grow, challenge, convict, and use me. I love sitting under my pastor/husband and watching God use his leadership and gifts in our church. I love welcoming  people into our community and helping them get connected in discipleship relationships.

As with any job, however, there are challenges and struggles that come with being a pastor's wife. The difference is that the challenges that I face come from my husband's job, not mine. In my opinion, that is often why pastors' wives struggle with their role: the lack of control over their own lives, which, if not handled well, can lead to resentment, bitterness, and rebellion against God.

Having spoken to many pastors' wives over the years, I have found that we share a common experience and, therefore, common struggles. These are challenges that we are trying to work through in a God-honoring way, but they are challenges nonetheless. Here they are:

  • Loneliness and Isolation. Most people look at me funny when I say this, but it is probably the most common challenge for pastors' wives, no matter if they are in a small country church or a megachurch in a major city. I have thought about the reasons for this many times because I have experienced it myself. In a nutshell, here's a few reasons why: some people feel they need to put on a super-spiritual act with us, never sharing who they really are, creating a barrier to real relationships; we are mostly initiators rather than initiated with, leading us to question if we belong or are wanted; we are often responsible for or leading the gathering of people we're in so we get in the habit of withholding our own needs or not letting people serve us; we do not lead a "normal" life, which feeds a tendency to feel like we're different than everyone else, that no one understands our lives, and that we're all alone.
  • The Lure of the Role. The pastor's wife struggles with what she perceives are the church's expectations of her, whether real or imagined. And most of the time they are imagined, self-driven expectations to be the "perfect" pastor's wife. We are human so we struggle with wanting to please people, wanting them to like us, and wanting them to like our husband. The perceived role is powerful; it tempts us to maintain a certain image rather than being authentic, revealing our weaknesses, and serving the Lord alone. It can also, if we let it, develop into pride: we believe the role is important and we are to be respected and loved. Our challenge, crazy as it sounds, is to maintain the heart of a servant in the midst of our constant serving. 
  • Dealing with Criticism and Cynicism. It's inevitable that the pastor and his wife will face criticism. Kyle and I have experienced it, some that God used to bring change in my life and some that, in its bitterness, hurt me deeply. I have friends who have left the ministry because of the way they have been treated and some who are still in ministry, but have been so wounded that they have isolated themselves so as never to be hurt again. 
  • Wrestling with the Call. Most days, pastors' wives are thankful for the call on their lives, but some days they wish for a more "normal" existence. Sometimes, in my rebellious heart, I pity myself for what this calling requires or, in my selfishness, I resent that our lives center so much around my husband's job. During my wrestling, God always reminds me of the rewards of this life, rewards that many will not see. He also reminds me of Jesus' willingness to lay down His life for others and that my calling, pastor's wife or not, is to give myself for others.
  • Maintaining Balance. My husband and I work diligently to maintain our priorities and try to make sure our calendars reflect those priorities. Busyness or an out-of-balance life is a constant threat to our intimacy with God, marriage, family, and relationships. If we're not careful, the urgent needs of the church overtake our lives. I've found this is a challenge for most pastors' wives, but it's doable and it's necessary for the spiritual and emotional health of the pastor and his family.
How can you minister to your pastor's wife? (and, yes, she needs your ministry to her)
  • Ask her questions. Get to know her.
  • Write her a note and tell her a specific way you've seen God use her.
  • Express appreciation for what she does.
  • Invite her.
  • Ask her to sit with you Sundays.
  • Let her be herself.
  • If you have a criticism about the pastor, go to the pastor, not the pastor's wife.
  • Most importantly, pray for her. You can find a great guide here
If you are a pastor's wife, stay tuned for my next post written just for you.