February 22, 2013

The Plastic Pastor's Wife (Guest Post)


I love Annie Garman's writing. She and her husband Colby have, through random circumstances, become friends of ours. Annie and Colby serve at Pillar Church in Dumfries, Virginia, which is just outside of D.C. Pillar is doing some incredible work in strategizing to reach the D.C. area with the gospel. You can find Annie online here.

I had only been married and in ministry for a total of 4 weeks when our senior pastor told us we were going to our first ministry conference. I remember feeling like I was faking it or something;  I had barely started at this new role…was I really in need of a conference to “revive my weary spirit?” 

The conference ended up being a great way for us to get to know the senior pastor and his wife and (preemptively) fill up on encouragement.  Most of the conference teemed with timeless wisdom we desperately needed.  One particular session, though, I will never forget. 
It was a “women’s only” break-out session, and the speaker had silver hair that spoke of her seasoned perspective and experience.  This particular pastor’s wife warned us to be careful not to get too close to other women in their congregation.  Such behavior could be detrimental.  After all, we were the pastor’s wives…we needed to protect our husband’s reputation.  

I was stunned. 

If keeping a safe, healthy distance from people was what was expected from me in my new job, I didn’t know if I could do it.  I had always been very open with people, transparent about my struggles, and vulnerable to a fault. 

Luckily there were other women in the room who challenged this woman’s advice during a “Q & A” time at the end.  I listened to their critiques, the back and forth dialogue, and stored it all away in my heart, wondering if the issue would come up in the future. 

It didn’t take long. 

At almost every turn on this journey, I have had to make a choice.  Will I find some trusted people to confide in when I’m struggling or will I care more about keeping up appearances and struggle alone? 

The times I’ve believed that I can’t show weakness have been the loneliest and darkest times.  The times I’ve shared with select people how I’m REALLY doing have resulted in life-giving conversations that have ministered deeply to both parties.

Of course, there were times I felt NOBODY on earth could understand.  Perhaps I was right.  Maybe there were some things that were unique to my experience and my marriage.  But I also came to realize the truth that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity.”  (I Corinthians 10:13 HCSB).    The Message sums it up well: “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face.”

Just because we’re pastor’s wives doesn’t mean we’re subhuman.  We experience many of the same emotions, dips, and challenges that the women in our church face.  Pretending that we’re above those things puts us on an unnecessary pedestal, too far from the hearts of those we seek to reach.  Besides, I’m sure it could get lonely up there. 

So, should we share everything with everyone?
It depends.  I think we can be real with everyone about our weaknesses, paving the way for honest dialogue about sin and Jesus.  Additionally, because of the nature of ministry, I think pastor’s wives should have a few friends who she can share deeply personal things without fear.  These friends can be in the church or from a different church. 

But what if your struggle involves your husband?
Again, having a trusted friend or two in your life with whom you can share ANYTHING (“I just want to stick a fork in his EYE!!”) without being judged, who will point you back to Jesus, is vital to a pastor’s wife.  Even if that person IS in your church. 

“Won’t sharing about my struggle hurt the ministry?”
If it does, then your ministry is superficial.  People need to see that the pastor and his wife are real people, not plastic.  They need to see that everyone struggles with sin, that occasionally we all fall, and—for that very reason-- Jesus is to be treasured more and more.  

Yes, yes, and yes! Thank you, Annie, for the encouragement to be vulnerable with a safe few. Readers, how to you practice intentionality and vulnerability with others?