February 21, 2011

To Young Ministry Wives: Advice from Emily

I received an email a few weeks ago from a young woman asking for advice as she is about to marry a man entering the ministry. Instead of attempting to answer her, I posed that question and a few others to ministry wives that I respect. I will periodically post their answers over the next month. I know women who aren't in ministry will also find their answers challenging and helpful. So let's get started!

Emily Freeman answers my questions today. Emily writes here and is the author of Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life, debuting in September. She is also a mom and ministry wife. I'll let her tell you the rest:

Give us a little background on you and your husband.

My husband and I have been married for nearly 10 years, and he's been a youth pastor for all of them. When he got his M.Div. he didn't plan to be in youth ministry, but that's what the Lord had and we are so thankful for these students in our lives. We have about 350 students in our high school ministry, though they never all come at once. Some days we feel the most blessed people in the world. Other days we want to quit church and move to Hawaii.

What advice would you give to ministers’ wives who are just starting out?

Beware the expectations. You may feel as though everyone has an opinion of you, an expectation of you as the pastor's wife. And maybe they do. But it has been my experience that my worst, most difficult person to work with is myself. Receive the deep, limitless supply of grace from Jesus, and then pour it out all over yourself. Take a shower in it. And after that, a bath. Then, brush your teeth with it before you go to bed. You will never indulge in too much grace.

Learn to listen without constantly defending him. One of the hardest things for me when we were first starting out was to listen to my husbands' struggles in ministry without getting angry at the people in the church who seemed to be causing them. It may seem to you that you are being supportive (How could they do that?! You work so hard! Don't they understand that?), but really, you are making it worse. When I get defensive on his behalf, he then has to deal with my emotion. Instead, listen hard. Ask good questions. Let him deal with his emotion about the situation. And when he leaves the room, tell Jesus all about it.

Reject the island mentality. When you're the pastors' wife, it may feel as though you aren't allowed to share your struggles with people. Reject that. Connect with other women in similar positions. Be willing to be vulnerable with a few of them.

What habits have you incorporated into your life that help you foster a love for God and for the ministry that He’s called you to? 

Prayer. And not the duty kind, but the I-can't-take-this-anymore kind. The gritty.

Thankfulness. The simple act of being gracious can chase away a thousand thoughts of shame and fatigue.

Accepting my unique giftedness. I love having people over, but I need lots of margin in between. Every pastor's wife does not have to have the gift of hospitality (or Bible teaching, or administration, or whatever you think you should have that you don't). Discover your art, (mothering, speaking, listening, cooking, laughing) and do it with joy.

I've learned to be honest about what I can handle hearing. When we first got married, he told me everything. And it became impossible for us to wade through the heavy. Now, he has learned the situations that are too difficult for me to release. We've learned that even if I don't know details, I can still be with him. He's the pastor, not me. I don't need to carry the burdens with equal weight. That has helped us a lot.
Thank you, Emily! 

Now it's your turn.

Seasoned ministry wives, what habits would you add to Emily's list?