This is a God who sees me, through you.
My husband just celebrated a monumental anniversary- 10 years in the parish. It may not seem that big to those outside the church work world, but for those of you in, you know – It’s exciting stuff!
It got me thinking- what are things that would have been helpful to know on day one? It’s almost like being a new parent. Would I have even been able to listen if someone would have tried to enlighten me on the difficult stuff? For what it’s worth, though, here are some of the things I’ve discovered in this ministry life that I just wish I would have understood earlier. Things they either don’t say in Seminary or my ears just weren’t open enough to hear them.
#1 – Church hurts.
It doesn’t always hurt, there are endless joys, but I just didn’t know that it would be so hard. There is the timeless joke that church is hard because it’s full of sinners. And this rings true! We are all sinners, so why am I surprised when someone says something hurtful, when someone criticizes my husband unnecessarily, or someone (myself included) fail to put the best perspective on it all? Ministry is a wonderful and beautiful gift from God. But let’s not fool ourselves- It’s difficult. Someone please tell us this. Shake us and tell us the reality of watching families fall apart and children become prodigals and friends walk away from church forever. It won’t scare us away from ministry, it’s part of strapping on the armor. Would I trade it in? No. Because God heals the hurting places, and unlike basic Neosporin, His healing creates something completely new and worthwhile, better than before, and this testimony in Christ will go out and reap a bounty.
#2 – Finances will always be difficult.
No one ever got into the ministry looking for the big bucks, it’s true. But when we pulled out of the seminary parking lot and into the parsonage garage, I thought that with a regular paycheck and some savings in the bank, it might at least get a little easier. Truth: money is a struggle for all people, all the time. Yes, there is contentment and I feel like we’ve gotten there (or at least closer to the “I know what it is to be in plenty and in want…”) but whether you have millions (ha!) or the small salary of covering a vacancy, stewardship always will require thought and sacrifice. Money is difficult because you care about what God thinks about it. You are constantly living in the realm of should we use a little to go out to eat or buy the little one a new pair of shoes, should we spend the fuel to visit a good friend…well, then we have less money if the youth group has that fundraiser next month. Ahhh! Constantly thinking and planning with money is exhausting and there will never be enough of it because our sinful flesh always craves just a little bit more. I am glad I finally understand that there isn’t a magic amount in a paycheck when it just all gets better and contentment comes. It’s time to lay it before God, ask Him to help our churches be faithful to their pastors and help us to be content in each circumstance and help us find answers to the difficult times. He is faithful when people are not.
#3 – When people don’t choose church, their not choosing between something else and you…they’re choosing between something else and God.
Ok, hear me out- it’s not that when someone misses a Sunday they’ve gone heathen and we’re all judge-y about that. Nope! But it does hurt when a visitor comes and they pick the church down the street, or you invite someone to Bible study for the fourth time and they have too much going on to do it. This is a weird church worker family emotion, that I’m not sure others understand. It’s personal. We have to work to not take it personally, because even in this, it’s about God, it’s not about us. People have to make all kinds of decisions and it’s not the preaching or the programs or the anything that people come to church for, in the end. It’s about Jesus. It’s between them and God. Maybe God has a ministry plan for them in this other choice, maybe they’re ignoring His still, small voice to get involved in a Bible study…who knows, God knows. We invite and we love, He fills the gaps when people disappoint. Know that He thinks highly of you. You are complete enough for Him in Christ, it’s not personal.
#4 – You will need someone to spiritually care for you.
As much as we wish God gave us superhero powers when we entered this church work life as a family, He didn’t. (Well, He gave us the Spirit, so that’s arguable…but you get the point.) We need spiritual care, just like the next guy. And for us, it’s not as easy as showing up and sitting in a pew on Sunday. How many of you feel like a single parent on Sunday mornings? I get the sermon recap at lunch, so that helps. Our husbands are our rocks, but they can not be everything to us at all times. And there is a weird and wonderful and complicated dynamic involved with sleeping with the pastor. This is personal opinion here, not Biblical truth, but I believe we need to seek spiritual care in other places also. Who else do you have in your life that can fill you spiritually? Maybe for you it’s not a person, but your own quiet time with the Word in the evening, or you have a spiritual mentor from your home church, or someone you know that lifts you up in prayer regularly. I have a women’s Bible study that meets every Wednesday. I can share my real self there. I don’t have to hide. I am filled weekly. I have a tiny group of gals from college that I talk to every day in a little chat group. I get a text from my friend, Sarah, that says “What’s your day look like today? I’m praying for you.” almost every morning. These people fill the Spiritual places deep in my heart and my husband helps them to overflow.
So- would I have listened had someone shared these jewels early on? I hope! But who knows. When we are young, whether in age or experience, we feel like we kind of know. We almost need to be in it to experience the yoke and lift it before the One who can make it something beautiful.
I pray for ministry wives every day. What would you add to this list? What wisdom can we glean from you, sister? May those yokes of “youth” be a blessing to you eventually. May you always be filled with the Truth and Knowledge of the One who trades us His yoke, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Corinthians 12:9
If there was a test for pastor’s wives, I generally feel like I would fail. Well, maybe not fail, but pass just barely. I have some skills in ministry. I have a degree in ministry, two, after all, and a passion for God and loving His people, but that doesn’t mean I feel like I’d pass the pastor’s wives challenge. Can anyone relate?
There is no challenge, of course. No test. No rules. Just real life and real forgiveness.
So, here is my fail.
My husband’s grandma died last week. We came back early from vacation and he prepared to perform the funeral. We were sad, thankful that Grandma Gigi was 98, and had been a wonderful blessing in our lives, but sad and missing her smiling face already.
Funeral day came. I dressed my kids and prayed endlessly for my husband. Lord, give him the words. Lord, give him strength. Lord, give him peace.
The family walked in the church and I sat down with my beautiful kiddos in the pew right behind “reserved for family”, because there was no room in the inn evidentially. My three year old found the nifty wooden sign declaring “reserved for family” and promptly threw it to the floor. He loved the clattering noise and was ecstatic when some kind soul in front of us placed it back on the pew in reach. 3 more tries and I found a different home for that sign.
My 9 year old, nearly refused to go up and sing with the other children in a rendition of Jesus loves me. He pushed his Old Adam shoes into the bright red carpet and walked noticeably and painfully slowly to the front of the church.
Midway through the sermon my 11 year old began weeping in earnest. She loved her Gigi. She was heart broken and sad, and distraught at her first real reminder that on this earth there is death and sorrow. I put my arm around her and tried to gently comfort her, until my 3 year old simply could not be contained in the quiet anymore and began stomping his feet against the pew in defiance of experiencing one more minute of the service.
All of this was expanded by the sweet woman behind us who clearly had a hearing difficulty and whispered a loud play-by-play to her fellow worshipper – “He likes that sign!” “He doesn’t want to go up there and sing!” “She misses her Grandma!” “He’s ready for the service to be over!” She meant well, and in her defense was inadvertently supportive, but it was embarrassing to say the least.
I hauled my 3 year old out of church, down the middle aisle, burying my face in his neck, to camouflage the sobs welling up in my throat. This was a disaster with a capital D. I felt spent, sad, and still anxious for my husband preaching his heart out.
I stood in the hallway of the church, feeling lonelier than I’ve ever felt in 10 years of ministry. Someone quietly walked up behind me and gave me a hug, a member of our church, a friend. Her words were simple and sweet. Gospel in my dark moment…”I’m so sorry. I wish I could make it better.”
The message of the church. The embrace of love in the moment of despair. That’s all I needed. That turned what felt like an epic mom failure and pastor’s wife nightmare into a moment between friends. I am not alone. When I am weak, God gives me strength, often through His people, from someone who simply wanted to help make it better this side of heaven.