It is extremely hard to be married to someone in the ministry. Your life is filled with all kinds of expectations — from every person you know in your life, and many you have never met. And most of the time, those expectations don’t match your own dreams for yourself. How do you find a sense of balance and sanity?
If you had told me 10 years ago I would be married to a pastor I would have laughed in your face. I did not marry a pastor, nor did I expect to be. My husband and I were high school sweethearts over 30 years ago. It was really a ‘love at first sight” kinda thing. As the story goes, When I was 14 we met in the halls of Brookfield High and we knew we belonged together. We became best friends and over the next two years we spent a great deal of time together in those very halls and at the Cedar Cinema, a childhood hang out of ours that provided Disco Dances each and every Friday night. We were dance partners and rarely danced with anyone else. We were the couple that everyone circled around and cheered on while we danced our way into heaven in the middle of that circle. One night, after being best friends for almost 3 years, he kissed me and I most definitely kissed him back. It scared me to the point that I ran out of the building with him chasing me yelling at me that we could make it work. I knew better. He was half Japanese and I was american. In the world of diversity in our families and the town we lived in…I thought it would never work. So that year when he graduated from school, he left…for the navy…and vanished out of my life for the better part of 22 years. When he returned to our home town, he searched me out and found me again and when I saw him it was like I was high school all over again. That was in 2003. We married in April of 2004 and we have been involved in wedded bliss ever since. Well for the most part. Two years into our marriage he told me he was being called into the ministry. I laughed at him and said “no you’re not.” He asked why I would think that and I said “because I KNOW God is not calling me to be a pastor’s wife. I am not your typical pastor wife material. I am not your sit down, shut up, bake cookies all day kinda wife.” With that he replied “I am pretty sure God knows we are married.”
So here I am 8 years later…married to a pastor.
Being a pastor’s wife comes with many challenges. I have learned to live on about 4-5 hours of sleep a night. It has been easier to go back to sleep in the middle of the night after being awakened. (I have always had problems with that) I no longer have to explain why I home school my children, (they now say “oh you are a pastor’s wife). I am constantly worn out with making referrals to the pastor, i.e. “can I talk to you about something”…my response, “that is something you should really talk to the pastor about.”
I think one of the most challenging things pastors wives faces is friendships. Finding time to make a friend and be a friend is a huge challenge. But for pastor’s wives, the issue is far more complicated. For some the role of pastor’s wife negatively shapes and stifles the development of personal friendships. I read somewhere that 45% of pastor’s wives do not have close friends.
It presents a challenge for many reasons.
1. Many women look to the pastor’s wife as job description not a person. When I am introduced to people I am introduced as “this is Jeannie, our pastor’s wife” or “this is Jeannie, Richard’s wife.” Some days I feel that is a death sentence as far as searching for a friend. I have been a pastor’s wife for 8 years and until recently didn’t have friends who didn’t see me as a person. Some never will. I can’t change that fact or how they feel about me, so I search for friends among people who relate to me as Jeannie, not as “the pastor’s wife.” Those people who view me as nothing more than a pastor’s wife have a hard time expecting nothing more than that from me. There is so more to me than that. If only they could see.
I have been burned by friends in the past. Before I became a pastor’s wife and since I have been one. I think the times since becoming a pastor’s wife hurt worse. Why? Because those women were supposed to be Christians. As Christian women, we are to help, encourage, laugh with and enjoy each other. We can offer or accept support when things are tough. None of these great characteristics of friendships need to be compromised by being a pastor’s wife. People look at me differently as their friend. Do they talk to me? Do they not talk to me?
I’ve heard all the arguments against the wife of a pastor forming friendships within the congregations they serve. But I don’t buy them. On one hand I am supposed to find only Christian friends. If I don’t look to church for that, then where do I look. The grocery store? Wal-Mart? The women of the church that my husband serves are the people who I see the most. They are the people who I interact with the most. Why would I not search for friends there?
But how can I form friendships in the church without getting burned? And how can I be open with people without jeopardizing my husband’s ministry? That’s where some rules have to be followed. There are three things I look at before forming friendships in the church:
1. Pray for discernment. This is probably the most important one. Only God can lead you to someone you can trust. If you ask Him to do that for you, then trust to wait for Him to do it in His time, He will provide you with that very thing. On the surface, some may seem very trustworthy, but I ‘ve been burned by such people. In short, don’t get too close to anyone whom God doesn’t give you a good feeling about. Enough said.
2. Be willing to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a very scary thing. It opens you up for so much. Listen to conversations you have with others and listen to conversations others have with each other. I am not saying eavesdrop on other people’s conversations but if a group of people are talking it usually is centered around 1 or 2 people. If the people you are trying to discern about, are gossiping about others or complaining, it is a pretty safe bet that they are not a person you can trust or confide in. It is so easy to get caught in that trap. It has happened to me and the aftermath it caused was horrid. Just because someone tells you, “you can trust me”, doesn’t mean you can. Have I ever trusted the wrong person? Of course. Did I get hurt, or was my husband’s ministry affected? Yes. Have I learned to be more cautious? You bet! But has that kept me from trusting again? No way! Because intimacy means taking a risk.
3. Use good sense. Yes, I take risks, but I am not stupid. I try to look for people who are mature and emotionally healthy. Staying away from gossips, people who don’t hesitate to tell me about everyone else’s business. Being loose-lipped with the wrong person can be disastrous to the ministry. People who tend to sniff around other people’s garbage, tend to air your garbage also. Unfortunately I had to learn this the hard way. And the people involved tried to damage my husbands ministry. I realized the only way to “fix it” was after lots and lots of time on my face realizing it wasn’t my job to fix it. God showed me through His word and prayer that I was to let the healing happen in His time. Eventually it did and I realized who I could trust and who I couldn’t.
A good friend, chosen by God, can bring so much joy into your life, and God knows we pastor’s wives need to laugh and have a good time the same as other wives. There are less than a handful of ladies that have brought a joy into my life like no other. We have laughed and cried our way through many ups and downs, held hands and prayed for God’s people, and everything between. I cannot imagine life and ministry without them.
God created us with a desire and need for friendship. It is part of God’s plan for our lives — a resource for health, joy and ministry. Jesus confirmed this truth when he said to the early disciples, ” You are my friend ( John 15:13-15).
13 Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. 14 Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. 15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
What a privilege we have, this possibility of friendship with God and one another. Let’s live up to our privilege.