Today we're starting off a multi-post series on the misconceptions of women. Everywhere we look we see women in roles or seasons of life that get stereotypically categorized as this or that. Perhaps you are one of these women or perhaps you have never stopped to understand these women. This series is meant to expel some of those stereotypes and give you a different perspective of women who sometimes get a blanket judgment.
We're beginning with the pastor's wife this week. My dear friend Linda is sharing about own misconceptions of being a pastor's wife and her real life as one.
I’m not sure what your ideas are of being a pastor’s wife are, so I will not assume they are the same as mine were. Therefore, I will share with you the ideas I had about what being a pastor’s wife was all about.
I grew up in church. My family faithfully attended every week. Because the denomination I grew up in felt it necessary to change pastors every few years, I had quite a few opportunities to watch various pastors and their families interact with my family and the church as a whole.
After I went to college, I made the choice to attend a different church (and denomination). I was introduced to the senior pastor, the associate pastor, their wives and families. These families were faithful… they were in church each time the door was open, seemed to always have a smile on their faces, and seemed to love the Lord in abundance.
I met my husband at this church and after we were married a few years, he got “the call” to go into the ministry. My response was quite shocking to me… I HATED the idea. Why?
I hated the idea of being a pastor's wife.
Why had I developed such a fear of being a pastor’s wife? Why did this “title” cause me to wake up in the middle of the nights with a cold sweat? Why had I not considered it to be a wonderful calling, rather than somewhat of a curse? WHY?
I admit, I was quite surprised by my reaction to this opportunity.
After months of praying about it… I realized that I had unknowingly made some assumptions of what being a pastor’s wife required. Before I share with you my list, let me make it very clear… this was my “opinion” and as I have learned since that time, my opinion, although may have seemed accurate in some ways, was wrong in so many others.
The truth was… I was afraid.
I feared my husband going into the ministry and myself being given the title of “pastor’s wife” because every single pastor’s wife that I had met seemed “’perfect”. They seemed to me to have it all together spiritually. I envisioned them getting up singing the hallelujah chorus each morning… grabbing their Bible and coffee amidst a perfectly clean home for their morning devotions.
I imagined them looking at their husbands with adoring eyes no matter what he did on any given day. I imagined that she could quote any scripture asked of her with reference and commentary complete…. I imagined perfection.
I imagined “The Martha Stewart” of Christianity. Every day was filled with purpose and meaning… and smiles and laughter… perfect meals, perfectly balanced budgets, perfect prayer times… a perfect singing voice and ability to play any given instrument…a perfect hostess with a perfect house. (Did you ever watch Seventh Heaven??)
A life filled to overflowing with joy and happiness and peace… A life, so very unlike my own…
I also saw (in my circle) that pastor’s wives were a little bit out of reach. I imagined that they had a whole group of friends who were also on a another level, an elite group who didn’t bother to associate with regular church folk. Friends that they could talk with and share their life with… because none of the pastor’s wives I had met seemed very interested in being “friends” with the congregation.
Although they did offer advice and support… they never seemed to share any struggles they were dealing with… I assumed they didn’t have any.
And then the deep dark honest truth came out one day… the only area I felt was not perfect, in the life of the pastor and his wife were their children… most I had witnessed were unruly, overly mischievous… and to be honest… well… sort of just plain old brats! You know the saying, “Those pastor’s kids are the biggest brats in the church.”
That was NOT what I had ever wanted…
I DID NOT WANT TO BE A PASTOR’S WIFE!!!
Prayer and Surrender
After much praying, and seeking the Lord, I eventually realized that my husband and I were both called to the ministry. I finally surrendered my will (and fear) when the Lord spoke to me in a very loving, gentle voice after I had named once again, all of the reason I did not want the title that He seemed to be offering me… He said, “All I ask is for you to be yourself… I will take it from there.”
So, I didn't need to play the piano and lead the choir?
I didn't need to act like I had it all together every single day?
I didn't need to be “stand-offish” to the congregation?
This call didn't automatically require my children to be disobedient and mischievous?
My husband could still upset me when he forgot to throw his socks in the laundry basket?
It would be okay if I didn't wake up singing hymns? And I could forget where Bible verses were located?
I didn't have to be “perfect”???
No… perfection was not what the Lord was asking of me… He was asking for me to say yes to His call…. And to simply be me… His daughter… A member of His precious Bride.
He showed me that the main responsibility that He was asking of me was to be “real” and honest to those around me, to love unconditionally, to serve my husband and my family and those that He would lead to our congregation. Slowly, and prayerfully, I thought that I would be able to say yes to what He was asking.
After four years of Bible School, my husband and I were offered a congregation in the same town we had lived prior to leaving for school. We have remained at this congregation for 17 years. I have learned a lot about people… especially about pastor’s wives… Let me share with you what I have learned.
The Mask of Perfection
Pastor’s wives are not perfect!! (Surprise, Surprise!)… But the majority of pastor’s wives are so afraid of being criticized for their limitations that they put on the facade of perfectionism. I have shed more tears over this issue than all other combined since I’ve said “yes” to the call.
Being judged, criticized, and complained about by those that you serve day in and day out is very difficult. It has been the biggest surprise to me… I never knew that Christians could be so hurtful…There is nothing more painful as pouring your lives out to someone only to have them leave your church with no explanation… or worse yet, with words that are half-truths… and gossiping to make you look like the devil himself.
I also understood in a real way, why so many pastor’s wives appear so perfect… they try so hard to appear this way because they fear so much the words of criticism. I fight very hard not to put up a “perfectionist” veneer. My motto is this: I will be judged either way… so I might as well just be real.
The surprise for me has come (after years of fighting this battle of being “real” to those you serve) is that in time, those that I serve have also stopped wearing masks of perfection. They have understood the truth that “intimacy” means… into me you see… if we really wish to be the church united as Christ calls us to be… each one of us needs to be real… the good… the bad… the ugly… Redemption and grace are more beautiful when we can share honestly from what we’ve been saved from.
Pastor’s wives have just as many needs as you do, but are afraid to share them for fear that you will judge her. She oftentimes refrains from sharing prayer requests for fear that she will be misunderstood… She most likely doesn’t have a “higher group of friends”… most pastors’ wives are very lonely. Loneliness is a huge misunderstood issue in the life of pastors. Being surrounded by your flock who calls you anytime day or night does not equal friendship. Friendships are a two way street… give and take.
I recall one day I was attending a home party along with some other friends (outside of the church.) When I was asked to introduce myself, I shared my name, where I lived and how I knew the hostess. Then, the hostess told everyone in the room that I was “Pastor Dan’s wife.” I heard the “Ahhh’s” and then the one girl commented to everyone, “Well, ladies, let’s make sure we keep our jokes clean today.” Everyone laughed… but once again, I felt an unspoken barrier come between me and the others. No one else was introduced by what their husband’s occupation was… “Hi, this is Cindy… her husband is the banker… or the lawyer, or the ditch digger.” Why is it that I am constantly being identified with what my husband does for living? Many pastor’s wives have built walls of protection around themselves due to the isolation they feel or the pain they have received from others… and a fortress in a lonely place.
Pastor’s children act out oftentimes because their parents are so busy with everyone else’s lives, they are oftentimes unknowingly neglected. They are also expected to be perfect… Kids are kids… they only need loved and affirmed.
I made it a priority throughout the years to ask my children how they are doing “being a PK” (Pastor’s Kid). We have had many open and honest conversations about words people have spoken over them, and the truth of what the Lord says about them. For example, one day when my children were small, they came home from church and my one daughter seemed a little down. I asked her what was bothering her. She said, “My Sunday School teacher yelled at me in front of the class today.” I asked her why. My daughter said that she had forgotten her bible and the teacher said “What? The pastor’s daughter forgot her bible??”
I told my daughter that just because her daddy was the pastor did not mean she had to be perfect, and that although we should try to remember our bibles, the Lord loves us even when we forget. I also led her in a prayer to forgive the teacher for embarrassing her, and to ask Jesus to help the teacher to understand this simple truth… PK’s are just children whose dad’s said yes to Jesus to teach his word… nothing more or nothing less.
Because I have actively done this with our girls, I believe they have weathered this role (that they did not choose) very well. We have also given them the freedom to speak into our lives… and most recently they told us that they felt that we were not spending enough time with them due to the duties of the church. It’s a tough balance, but with the Lord, it is all possible.
What You Can Do To Help
So, I assume you know a pastor’s wife… my best advice to you is to love her… treat her you would any other sister in Christ. Allow her to make mistakes. Don’t talk about her behind her back (or anyone, for that matter.)
Let her have a bad day. Understand when her children act out, and don’t tell them or anyone else that they are a disappointment. Understand that she is human, needs a day off once a week… And most of all, pray for her.
The demands placed on your pastor and their family are tremendous… allow them to be your leader, not your Savior.
Jesus is the only one designed for that… and He does it perfectly!!