As pastors’ wives, we don’t have to be in our unique role very long before we realize it is a tough role. Many times, we lose who we are and struggle with our own identity. I have asked a pastor’s wife friend of mine to share her journey with you today how she recovered her identity.
When I was asked to contribute to this blog, I was both honored, and anxious. Then I found out that my topic was to write on the identity of the preacher’s wife and I nearly panicked. You see, Preachers’ wives have always amazed and intimidated me. In my mind the preacher’s wife is poised and perfect; always gracious and always wise. I have fallen far short of my own ideals of who and what it means to be one of us, let alone the ideals of others. And while I freely admit that as the preacher’s wife I have had some amazing experiences and wonderful rewards, this has also been without a doubt the most difficult job that I have ever had. So even as I accepted the honor of contributing to this blog, I seriously wondered what on earth I could possibly offer to you out of my thirty-four year love-hate relationship with her. The advice I was given by the sweet sister who invited me to share with you today, was to simply tell my own story and share from my own perspective. Father’s answer was the same; to just tell you the truth. So based on the advice of a lady I truly admire and Father’s very clear directive, here goes…
I became The Preacher’s wife at the tender young age of fifteen. At least that’s how old I was when the dashing young man with the bluest eyes I had ever seen took me by the hand, told me about his Call, and invited me to be the one who (just before my eighteenth birthday) would take his name and stand beside him for life. From that moment I was swept away by the wonder of love and the deep desire to become all that he would need me to be. After all, my amazing young husband was on a quest to be the perfect preacher. It seemed only fitting that the perfect Preacher ought to have the perfect Preacher’s wife as his helpmate.
Thus began a nearly twenty-year quest to become the perfect Preacher’s wife. I read books about how to be a good one. I listened to archived broadcasts from Focus on the Family. I attended classes at the annual Brotherhood Lectures. I asked other ladies that I thought were successful at it and tried very hard to follow their suggestions. What I came to understand during those years, was that being The Preacher’s Wife meant different things in different places. In one place it meant being the best-dressed and friendliest woman on a Sunday morning. In another, it meant donning a ‘brown sweater’ (but that’s another post) and allowing the elders’ wives to take center stage. In one place it meant being the Nursery class or Children’s Ministry backup at a moment’s notice. In another, the expectation was that I would organize all of the functions of the Ladies’ Ministry. In yet another, it meant being ready with an explanation for every question the ladies had about the Bible, but never being the first to answer. In almost all locations, however, the unspoken expectation was that being the preacher’s wife essentially meant being on almost every committee, volunteering for every campaign. It meant being the unspoken, unordained ‘Deaconness of Slack.’ It meant always being alert to notice any task that any other woman was not doing and to go do it graciously and silently. In all places it entailed being hospitable, hardworking, and gracious even when my husband and children were criticized, mistreated, overlooked, or excluded.
By the time I was in my mid-thirties and David had been a preacher for about a decade, I felt that being a perfect preacher’s wife was, to quote Solomon, “like chasing after the wind.” It was a shifting construct; one that did not have a true, written, biblical “job description” that I could pursue with any degree of confidence, much less competence. Sometimes I succeeded at giving the appearance of being good at it, though. In fact, I was even invited once to be one of the speakers at a day-long regional workshop for wives of pastors, preachers, ministers in missionaries. So I came and I spoke. I sat on the panel. I shared all of the advice that I had been given on how to embrace the identity of being the preacher’s wife. Several of us were there that day at an event that had promised to be, “the last word on how to rock our role as a preacher’s wife”. (Guess what…it wasn’t.)
I left that day feeling like a hypocrite. Over the years I had prayed and cried, studied, and done everything I could think of to be secure in my identity as a Preacher’s Wife, yet I still kept falling incredibly, unbearably short. Moreover, I realized that in his own journey to be the perfect preacher, my amazing husband had encountered those same frustrating circumstances but on an even more difficult level. He, too, had been chasing after an ideal that shifted from place-to-place and even from year-to-year; always tauntingly, dauntingly elusive. We found that instead of a refuge, our home was a place of tension and turmoil. Our marriage was paying the price for it. Unfortunately, so were our children.
Two things happened right around that time that had a profound effect on me. First, I read an article about a survey that had been done regarding the lives and working conditions of ministerial couples. Suffice it to say that while the results floored me, they showed me that I was not alone in my frustration. Second, as part of an all-church effort to encourage church members to discover their Spiritual gifts so that we could, “ all become more active in the ministries of the church”, I took yet another Spiritual Gifts inventory and found that there was no clear reading on what my giftings were. All of my scores were similar, and for some reason really bothered me. The summary informed me that this kind of an outcome was the result of either a.) somehow being on being more spiritually developed than everyone else and thus having more spiritual gifts, or b.) being so deeply involved in too many ministries and thus lacking a clear vision of the actual spiritual giftings that Father had given me. If this was the case, the book said, my situation would lead to, “a works-based expression of your faith which would not be spiritually beneficial in the long run to you, your family, or to the church.” Well, I knew for sure and certain that “a” was not the case! Sadly, so did my family.
In my ministry now as a Christian women’s life coach, I would call what happened to me next “cocooning,” but at that time I didn’t know what to call it except an identity crisis. My emotions became increasingly difficult to manage and (trust me) were definitely incompatible with what I thought it meant to be the perfect preacher’s wife. My prayer life became desperate as I cried out to Father to not only help me understand what was ‘wrong’ with me but to deliver me from it.
And oh, was He faithful! Father revealed to me that I had spent the past couple of decades pursuing in my own flesh a persona that HE had not asked of me, and therefore was not resourcing me to fulfill. He showed me that I had worn myself out attempting to live up to a heap of unrealistic expectations of hundreds of people (including myself, my husband, and total strangers). Even worse, He revealed to me that instead of receiving the best of me, my husband and children had been getting what was left of me as poured myself into pursuing someone who forever remained more elusive to me than the Proverbs 31 Woman.
I cried out to Him and asked Him why being a good preacher’s wife was so elusive to me. He responded by asking me if I could find her in the Scriptures. I had never considered that question before but no, I could not! The Word was resoundingly silent. It occurred to me, therefore, that every “job description” that I ever had for her was based in human expectations, not Father’s. She was an archetype who existed in my head; constructed by the enemy who had somehow found a way to take my heart’s desire to be a “good preacher’s wife” and twisted it into an image that I could never attain and an identity that I could never quite achieve. Father showed me that in my quest to make the church ‘happy’, I had stopped delighting myself in Him. In pursuing the one identity, I had completely neglected the other: my true identity in Christ Jesus. I confessed to Him that I had allowed that identity to become my master and admittedly, she was not a kind one. Then He gently reminded me that I could not serve two masters. The grief that I experienced at this revelation was again, completely overwhelming. But so was the relief I found in His sweet reassurance that I did not HAVE to serve two masters. I could choose.
I acknowledged to Father what He already knew: that I would personally never be able to live up to the ideal of the preacher’s wife. I grieved the loss of her, I truly did. But then I began asking Father to help me to recover what it meant to simply be David’s wife, a biblical wife…a Titus 2 Wife. As I sought a word from Him about how to become the wife that my husband needed me to be (instead of the wife that the church wanted me to be), my heart became convicted with the realization that I had been viewing my husband through that same kind of lens. So I asked Father to help me stop that, too. I asked Him to help me to once again see my husband as Father sees him, as David the man instead of David the Preacher. It took a great deal of prayer, processing, and practice, but somewhere along the way as I began recovering my identity as David’s wife, I rediscovered David, my amazing husband. David the blonde-haired artist with the bluest eyes that I have ever seen. David the father who doubts himself on a daily basis. David, the amazing, loving, creative, godly man whom Father has called to preach but who, like me, has suffered under the weight of an ideal that he would never be able to attain. David who just needs me to be David’s Wife… a role which (as it turns out) has been much easier to fulfill.
When I’m invited to speak to churches on ‘How to Love Your Preacher’s Wife’, my message has sometimes been unwelcome to say the least. When I’ve shared it with other preacher’s wives, they are not quite sure how to respond. But every once in a while, it strikes a nerve and ministers to someone who, like me, has been striving under a burden she was not meant to carry. Our eyes meet and in that moment I know that SHE is the reason He sent me to this church today. When she sneaks off to find me later, I hold her, cry with her, and pray over her. For just that moment I am for her the someone that I needed when I was her; a love note from Father that tells her that she is not crazy, ungodly, or alone.
So there’s the truth, my sweet sisters. I am a recovering preacher’s wife. It was a burden that I was unable to bear and I failed miserably at it. I have no great advice to offer, no great lessons to teach, no lofty achievements, no honors, and no fame. I never became the perfect Preacher’s wife, so I am not qualified to guide anybody else to that destination. I have nothing to give you that will help you to be the Preacher’s wife that you always wanted to be. I couldn’t even help myself, and sometimes I still struggle with the shame of admitting that..
In His grace, mercy, and provision, Father has used my failure for His glory. By His Spirit and His resourcing, I am continuing to grow in and embrace my identity as a Christian wife. In recent years, He has seen fit to equip me as a certified marriage and family educator and coach. Together with my husband, Father has blessed us to co-found a ministry dedicated to helping Christian husbands and wives recover what it means to be a Psalm 127 family. By Father’s grace I can now walk alongside and support women who are on the journey toward a Titus 2 identity. That I can do with confidence and joy! My own failures at the first identity force me to admit that I am much better suited to the second.
But maybe… just maybe…that’s all the identity I need.
I pray what Anita shared with us to will remind you that your idenity is not in your position as a pastor’s wife or in your husband but in Christ. You are God’s girl!
We are here to walk with you on this journey. Please let us know how we can help.