We’ve come a long way in our understanding of ministers’ wives. For decades, they were put on pedestals; seen as someone who had better always have both her own and her children’s acts together. I’m sure you’re familiar with the whole “glass house” line. I’m grateful to be able to truthfully say no church has ever made me feel that way. That being said, there are still some struggles that are inherent to being in ministry that I believe are not as commonly understood. This is written in the hopes that it will encourage others going through this struggle, and shed some light as to what your minister’s family may be going through.
When my husband and I began our ministry, we genuinely believed we’d be at that church for at least a quarter of a century. Needless to say, when that job abruptly and without warning came to an end three years in, we were devastated. As we prepared for our departure over the next several months, that devastation was only compounded. It impacted our marriage, our parenting, our mental, emotional, spiritual and even our physical health. To say we entered our next work as broken people is an understatement.
For the first several months after our move I wept most every day, the kind of weeping that shakes your whole body and leaves you doubting that you could possibly shed any more tears. Each Sunday and Wednesday for the first six months, I held back tears and tried my best to disguise in my voice the lump in my throat. Every service was a stinging reminder of everything I thought at the time that we’d lost. As the minister’s wife, I felt the need to put on a seemingly joyful smile, meet and greet all the new faces and pretend all was well in our world. After all, they didn’t know any different and I felt a responsibility to keep it that way. I didn’t want them to think my depression was a dislike of them. It was a heavy burden. My husband and I weren’t on good terms, I didn’t have any friends and I was adjusting to living in a small town for the first time in my life (did I mention I was also six months pregnant?). I had never felt so utterly shattered and, as a result, believed from the bottom of my heart I could never love a congregation the same way again.
As we began this new ministry, I was trying to navigate in my mind how to help the members feel my love and care, but at the same time keep from making any close bonds because my heart was still raw from the ones I’d just lost. Here I was terrified of relationships, but desperately craving a friend. I prayed. I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I questioned God all the time why this had happened to us and begged Him for people to come into my life and help me move forward.
He was so incredibly faithful through the wonderful people that make up this church. A couple Sundays in, a family invited us out to lunch. They sat and talked to us like old friends. The love they showed got me through another week. A few weeks after that, they invited us to their home for dinner. I opened up a little more and felt the strength of knowing someone cared. Another family invited us for Sunday lunch at their home. It was a joy getting to know them and discover some similarities we shared. One afternoon an elder’s wife picked me and my son up and drove us to the nearest town, sharing both history of the places we were seeing and some personal history of their family, and showed us around giving me tips on the best places to shop for the kids. Another bought me coffee and took me and my newborn daughter in to the bigger city to a huge children’s consignment sale. She and her husband gifted our family with a zoo membership. I’ll never forget the Wednesday night about five months in (just a day after a particularly rough prayer-filled breakdown), when a young woman at church walked up to me and said, “Hey, what are you doing tomorrow?” I confirmed I was free. “Great! My daughter and I are coming over to hang out. We’ve been wanting to get to know you.” I went home and cried, but happy tears that time, and I’m doing the same as I reminisce now. Boldly and clearly, the Father answered my prayers and I was humbled and beyond grateful. Of course, there are several others who will bring us outfits or toys that made them think of my babies or those who make it a point to share a hug and chat for a bit each week.
I’m sure all of these things seemed like no big deal to each of these kind souls, but they couldn’t possibly fathom the depths of their impact. Little by little, they’ve proven my belief that I could never feel such love for a church again dead wrong. God has worked mightily through every one of them in our lives.
As we come upon the second anniversary of beginning the work here, I sit basking in the grace and kindness of our Lord. He knew exactly what we needed. Tremendous healing has taken place for us through the exceptional group of Christians here. Words can’t convey the depths of despair I’d reached. I was broken beyond what I thought could be repaired. Praise God I was wrong. Praise God for His church. Praise God for people like you who God has equipped to be like the examples in this article.
The feelings of that year I’ve just described for you are far from isolated in this line of work. Truth be told, nearly every minister’s family I know has at least one story similar to it. You can minister tothese workers in the Kingdom. It’s simpler than you may think. Offer to show her around. Ask if you can help her unpack. Take her to your favorite coffee shop. Invite her when you’re doing something with a friend or taking your kids to the zoo. Do something to let her know that you see her and you are excited for her to be a part of your Christian family.
While this particular piece was about my experience as a minister’s wife, you can be assured the minister himself is going through the same thing. It affects him differently, but to no less depth. Love your ministers, too. Encourage your husbands to come alongside them in encouragement and friendship. They need it just as much as anybody, and given the ordeal they may well have walked through before joining your church home, quite possibly more so.
Be blessed and be a blessing – love,