Every pastor’s wife I’ve ever met (and I’ve met a lot) has struggled with the dual nature of the pastor’s wife role. It’s simultaneously exciting and fulfilling and really, really hard. Pastor’s wives discuss these things when they are alone with other pastor’s wives. Tomorrow, I’m teaching a series of workshops (with my good friend and fellow pastor’s wife, Neely) at the Northwest Ministry Conference - for pastor’s wives. We taught it last year (not that we have this thing wired – we are seriously a pair of the least likely pastor’s wives one could imagine) and were astounded by how isolated and depressed many pastor’s wives feel on a daily basis. Well, not astounded exactly. Having had our own moments of struggling in the role, we identified with them in a big way.
Things that contribute to the pain inherent in the pastor’s wife role vary. But, the list that follows is what we heard from a packed room of pastor’s wives last year. Here goes:
There are expectations from members of the congregation and community that the pastor’s wife will be a certain way, that her children will behave a certain way, and that she will never struggle or hurt. These expectations are not always spoken – usually they are implied. She is to dress a certain way, smile a certain way and meet needs she has no clue are there. There’s little room to express individuality. Often pastor’s wives feel pressure to meet expectations without having any real authority within the church context. One woman called it “impotent authority.” Also, they report struggling with guilt when they grow tired of hearing praises about their husbands while no one knows their name. The most honest in the group of pastor’s wives said that being “the wind beneath their husband’s wings” was great, but not all there was. Almost every pastor’s wife had experienced some kind of severely wounding betrayal brought on by lost friendship or church politics gone badly. It was also reported that there are many people who want to befriend pastor’s wives in order to know the pastor or simply be close to what they perceive as power. And, mind you, the pastor’s wife job– in most denominations – is not a paid position.
In short, this is a hurting group of women.
The core message I hope to communicate to other pastor’s wives tomorrow, and one that I still re-learn on a daily basis, is that your primary role in life is NOT to be an exemplary pastor’s wife. Your role is NOT to meet the expectations of your congregation, friends, or husband. Your role is to simply let God love you. Your role, as is the role of any Christian, is to serve out of your unique passion and giftedness. This sounds so simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s not. Whether the church a pastor’s wife is in is big or small, people are constantly watching. This pressure can feel stifling, restricting and lonely. And, when it comes down to it, exhausting.
I’ve never really fit the mold of the 1950’s pastor’s wife. And, actually, I’m quite proud of that. I have opinions on politics and theology that can be very different than my husband’s (gasp!). I am an INDIVIDUAL with my own complicated, intense faith. From the beginning of our ministry journey, I’ve set pretty clear boundaries about family time and have tried to participate in ministry as I felt God calling me to – instead of basing my service on other people’s expectations. Well, most of the time. Avoiding other people’s expectations can be a hard one. Especially when you are a people pleaser.
I wanted to blog about this because I wanted people to know that pastors and pastor’s wives (who have names!) are real people. Real people with hurts, hang-ups, dreams, issues, and spiritual struggles. Real people who don’t want to be put up on that impossible pedestal. Real people who sometimes fight with each other. Real people who will disappoint you ('cuz we're not Jesus).
Lest anyone interpret this honest post the wrong way, let me qualify some of the complaining with this - I love my husband and believe wholeheartedly in his gifting. I am a committed follower of Christ who is daily working out her salvation with fear and trembling. And, I am content to live in the tension.