January 17, 2012

Note to Self

A few months into my husband's first ministry position, one of the other staff wives from our church dropped by my house for coffee. I was a 24-year-old college pastor's wife with very little ministry (and life) experience and a whole lot of questions. She, on the other hand, had years of experience in marriage, motherhood, and ministry. As soon as she entered my home, I wanted to shake her and say, "Spill the beans!" Or more accurately, "HELP ME!" Being new to marriage and ministry, I felt so young, so inexperienced, and so very vulnerable.
We talked about scrapbooking, of all things.

I waited for her to ask all the right questions so I could reveal that I was flailing, drowning, and overwhelmed. I wanted to tell her that I was trying so hard, trying to fill up this role I found myself in, trying to keep it together, trying to figure it all out as if it was one big math problem. With my eyes, I pleaded with her to offer her wisdom, to rescue me from my isolation.

But we talked about scrapbooking.

I didn't ask her for help. I could have. I should have, but I didn't because I felt so certain that I was the only one in the history of ministry that was struggling.

And she didn't offer, although now, in hindsight, I realize that by coming by, she was trying to reach out to me. But she left with a gulf of unspoken words between us.

As soon as she left, the opportunity gone, I wished I had spilled my own beans, of how I felt, what was weighing on me, and how much I needed encouragement. But I continued on in my fog of inexperience.

If I could go back to that day and sit with my younger self over coffee, I would tell her many things. 

I would tell her to cling to God, for the enemy really is prowling around looking for someone, preferably one of influence, to devour. I would tell her to love people and quit worrying about trying to impress them. I would tell her to take every opportunity to be open and vulnerable instead of maintaining an image of a good minister’s wife. I would tell her to ask for help. And I would tell her about grace.

Then, I would open my Bible, take her hand, look her in the eye, and earnestly plead for her to heed every detail of 1 Timothy 4, Paul’s advice to young ministers:
  • Nourish yourself in doctrine, the foundational truths about God and His gospel. You will feel the pull to know more about more things or to be super-spiritual, but the truly spiritual are well-versed and well-applied in the fundamentals.
  • Nourish yourself in words of faith. Give yourself to the Word. Read books and spend time with people that spur you forward in faith. 
  • Take heed to yourself. Keep careful watch over your heart, your marriage, and your desires.
  • Labor and strive in the ministry with your eyes on God (not on other people). Ministry will be difficult sometimes, you can count on it, but look to God for your strength, motivation, and joy.
  • Don't let your youth equal immaturity. You can still set an example for others in conversation, behavior, love, dependence on the Spirit, trust in God, and purity of mind and body.
  • Don't neglect the gift that is in you. Know it, learn it, cultivate it, use it.
  • Instruct your sisters in these things, both with truth and with grace.
  • Above all, exercise yourself toward godliness. Submit to the Lord and He will grow you into the woman, wife, mother, and minister that you hope to be.
She might have dismissed me: Those words are for my husband, not me. I am just a minister’s wife. I would have been adamant with her: No! Don’t miss this opportunity! Being a minister’s wife is like living in a greenhouse— you can either suffocate and wilt from the heat or grow healthy and strong in it. It’s also an opportunity of influence—you can be a voice speaking God’s truth and grace over others or just a voice muted by selfishness and resentment. 

Sitting with her, my younger self might think I have it down now, that, with my experience, I have figured it all out. She might think I'm free of struggle or frustration. She would be wrong. I am still working out Paul's instructions in 1 Timothy; I still have so far to go. 

But I am thankful for the opportunity.

What would you have said to your younger self when you were just getting started in ministry? If you’re not a ministry wife, what would you have said to your younger self about life or marriage or motherhood?