October 8, 2010

For Fellow Pastors' Wives

I’ve tried playing the role of the perfect minister’s wife. I’ve tried earning the respect of others by being the perfect minister’s wife, attempting to please people and be what I thought they wanted me to be. All my attempts only revealed my failures, creating a deep pit of guilt for my wallowing. The list of internal “shoulds” became endless, like juggling too many balls. I couldn’t keep up.
Even after we learn that God best uses us when we stop comparing ourselves to others and we’re ourselves, the pull of the “role” is so strong that it stays with us throughout our lives. Expectations are powerful, even those that are not real, just perceived. The lure of the role, of playing the perfect minister’s wife, causes us to take on tasks that we aren’t suited for, to isolate ourselves from friendships in the church from fear of hurting someone’s feelings, to stuff our needs deep inside instead of showing weakness or vulnerability.

If playing the role leaves us in cold isolation and plays on insecurities why, then, is the temptation to play the role so great?

Because imitation is easier than being ourselves, especially when others are watching.

Because the glory of human applause appears more satisfying in the short term than pleasing God.  Once we receive it, the temptation to pursue it grows exponentially.

Because relying on the expectations of others to mold who we are and what we do doesn’t require introspection. Busyness, the calling card of the minister and his wife, drowns out the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.

Because for the type-A among us, the role acts as a checklist so we can know we’re doing enough or being enough.

Because it’s simply safer playing the role than be authentic and messy before others.

But if it’s a role, it’s an act. We’ve dressed ourselves up in costumes, caked on our stage makeup, and dutifully spoken our lines. We play to stereotype, but our hearts, with our gifts and passions, is buried so far underneath the costume that we lack the ability to hear the Lord or to live authentically as His follower.

In playing the role, we train ourselves to act, speak, and live in such a way to garner the audience’s approval. When we receive it, we relish the glory, the attention, and the respect. But when the audience grows quiet or critical, we despair about what we’re doing wrong and complain that we’re unappreciated, committing ourselves to earning their favor once again.

The result of all this acting is that we lose sight of our true audience. It is God, our audience of one. God didn’t call us into ministry alongside our husbands so that we could play a certain character or read from a script. He called us into this life because this is the route He’s chosen for us to grow in Christlikeness. Shockingly, the ministry life is not about us, our comfort, or our likeability. It’s about surrendering ourselves, placing everything in our lives at his disposal and for His glory. He wants to use our specific personality and gifts where He’s placed us, but when we’re distracted about what He’s given other ministry wives or by what others think of us, He cannot use us as He wants. When we’re inauthentic followers, God cannot and will not use us to influence others. He wants our hearts. He wants our attention. He wants us to listen for His expectations and His approval, not the weak applause of fellow human beings.

A brilliant, talented young concert pianist was giving the first concert of his professional career. As he played skillfully through his program, the audience sat in rapt attention, hardly able to take their eyes off the young musician. At the conclusion of his performance, the audience exploded into a standing ovation. All were on their feet, except for one old man at the front. But the young pianist went off the stage crestfallen and dejected.

Afterward, the stage manager came up to him full of congratulations and praise, but the young pianist said, “I was no good, it was a failure.” The manager responded,  “You didn’t fail! It was tremendous! Look out there, everyone is on his feet except one old man!” And the young pianist responded, “Yes, but that one old man is my teacher.”

The young pianist’s focus, even in the middle of a large crowd observing and evaluating his performance, was his teacher. If we drop the role and live authentically before God and man, our focus will be on pleasing our Master as well. It’s not only for our sake that we must flee from the lure of the role for if we lose sight of our audience, how much more will those around us lose sight of theirs? If we don’t hear from God, believe God, and act on what He says, how we can expect the people we lead and serve to do it? If I’m playing the role, they will too. So we become like marionette puppets, moving stiffly among each other, with frozen smiles and hardened hearts.