March 22, 2013

In Her Shoes: Medical Wives

I asked and you delivered. My question: "What's it like to be a pastor's wife?" Your answers could have been my very own:

  • Life is very full.
  • My biggest struggle is fearing God rather than man.
  • I wish I had the mental and emotional space, as well as the time, to cultivate deeper relationships with more women at our church.
  • I want people to know that when the pastor says no to your gracious invitation, it might be so that he can say yes to me and our kids.
  • I am honored to get to do this.
  • I appreciate how my children get a front row seat on positive and negative consequences in life.
  • I wish people would believe me when I tell them I'm just like them.
  • I enjoy getting to counsel and comfort someone in need.
  • I struggle watching my husband work so hard and pour out his life and then hear him questioned.
  • Friendship can be difficult because we inevitably end up talking about church and I feel like I'm "on the clock" rather than out to coffee with a friend.
  • I want people to know I need them.
  • I struggle with feeling inadequate and unsure of my role.
Ministry life is rewarding yet difficult. However, the longer I live, I recognize that everyone is walking a hard road in some way, and they simply want to be known, listened to, and understood. As we relate to women in our churches, the best thing we can do is ask questions, listen, and try to put ourselves in their shoes. They need that way more than a formula or a pat answer.
In order to help us with this, I'm going to invite women in different life circumstances to share on the blog in an occasional series. Today, I've asked my neighbor and friend, Aimee, to share. Aimee's husband is a medical resident, of which there are many in our community and church. She also leads a ministry to medical wives in our church called Side by Side. I asked her to help us understand what life is like for her. I invite you to read and listen with a heart to minister to women in her same position.

Over the past eight years, my husband has been in “medical training”, the process required for a person to become a physician. It sounds innocent enough, but in a room full of doctor’s wives when someone mentions those words we all knowingly shudder. Each one of us has their own story of how they get through it. There is a lot of talk of being in “survival mode”. Yet I’ve been thinking lately how much more appropriate it would be to say that I have spent a lot of time in “dying mode”.

It felt like I had lost my husband during many of these training years. I didn’t know what it was like not to go to bed alone, raise our kids alone, spend weekends and holidays alone. When he was home, the pressure and exhaustion permeated the house. I struggled with resentment because he couldn’t see me anymore. There was no time, no talking, just the work. Pretty soon it stopped feeling like we were married.

Church has been an especially lonely place for me over these years. Church life thrives on being committed, being involved, fostering fellowship with other believers. A training physician basically works and sleeps. Church is a luxury they can’t always afford and for many this is a time of great spiritual decline. We stayed away from church for several years. We felt so out of place among the normal families. Most Sundays I was on my own and when my husband was home I struggled with giving my only day with him over to the Lord. When we saw so little of him, the sacrifice felt very steep.

I remember one Sunday a few years ago my husband was finally off of work to attend church with us.  The sermon series was on the passages in Colossians dealing with marriage and family. That particular day our well meaning pastor directed a warning to the husbands in the church, “If your job is forcing you to choose between your work and your family, it is time to get a new job.” I looked at the ground, eyes welling up. That day was the first time in weeks I had seen my husband in daylight. When we got home we both felt defeated and misunderstood. We didn’t need someone to tell us the way we were living wasn’t conducive to a healthy marriage and family, we were living it, we knew. It wasn’t intended to be so but it felt like judgment in our weakened state.

We spent a long time without hope until I started to share openly, at the risk of sounding spoiled and self focused, what it meant to be a medical family, how hard my life had become, that I couldn’t manage what was being asked of me and I was afraid my family was falling apart. Fortunately, I found those in our church cared and responded. My world was foreign to them but people tried to enter in. As I was welcomed and listened to, loved and served by his body, God worked in me. Instead of feeling like I was dying I started willingly myself.

I still feel tired and lonely often in my circumstances but I no longer feel that sense of entitlement that resulted in so much bitterness and despair. My marriage has been transformed by God’s grace and our great devotion to one another. I used to believe that I deserved a husband to be home to help me, to give me attention, to give me time to restore. I can desire these things but if I am insistent I deserve them it only leads to brokenness. I believed that I shouldn’t be asked to play both mom and dad to our kids or give up my own dreams and identity to serve my husband in countless ways while getting nothing in return. I didn’t want to die to myself but the power of our faith is that what follows the dying is the living.

Being a doctor’s wife IS a privilege, not for what I stand to gain but for what I have been forced to lose. There is beauty in being stripped of your ability to have expectations because it allows you the freedom to give them up.  It is not a lesson I learn once, but daily. I know you can relate to us, you ministry wives. Our husbands are responsible for the health of people’s bodies, yours are responsible for the health of people’s souls. Remember us, reach out to us, we have much to learn from each other.

Thank you, Aimee, for sharing.
Readers, do you know someone like Aimee? How has this helped you understand and minister to her?