I knew two things when I was young. First, that I wanted to be Amy Grant when I grew up. Next, that I would settle for writing the descriptions on the backs of shampoo bottles if the Amy Grant thing didn’t work out.
I also knew what I did NOT want to be: a pastor’s wife. I screamed, I cried, and I swore up and down that I would never, ever, marry a minister. This was, as you can imagine, troubling to my parents — two wonderful individuals who just happened to be, wait for it, pastors. My relationship with my parents’ jobs was tumultuous, at best. My outbursts left my parents scratching their heads on many occasions, wondering what they had done to deserve me.
So, imagine the shock — theirs AND mine — when I married a minister. Because you know what they say about “never saying never.”
And I don’t regret the decision, either, on most days. Over the past 18 years, Christian and I have built a wonderful life together.
Sometimes, however, I feel a lot like that child who wants to fling herself on the floor, screaming and crying that she doesn’t want to do it anymore. I knew this role would be tough. Sometimes I think it might even be tougher than I had anticipated.
There are some women who seem to have been born for it. Take my mother, Lola, for example. My dad recently retired, for the second time, from a church in the Orlando, Florida area. Her stint as a pastor’s wife lasted over 40 years. And can I say that she rocked that job?
Lola was the epitome of the best pastor’s wife: she sang, led songs, organized. A distinct childhood memory of mine was of the smell of pot roast when we got home from church on Sundays.
“I just tried to be supportive,” she said. “I tried to make his job easier. I didn’t put on any airs, didn’t try to be something I was not.”
I often feel as if other women are doing a better job than I am — like those couples who invite us to worship via gigantic interstate billboards.
I understand that there are many types of pastor’s wives; there are some of us who feel comfortable on that interstate billboard and some who don’t.
Others, for various reasons, sneak in the back door five minutes after church starts. My reason is that I hit snooze too many times before I drag myself out of bed. Other reasons are a little more selfless.
“I’m the last to show up for a reason. I want everyone else to get a seat, or to get a doughnut before I do,” said Jamie, a pastor’s wife in the Des Moines, Iowa, area.
One thing is for sure, though: life in the ministry is stressful. Ninety percent of pastors report working 55 to 75 hours per week.
“Your pastor works way more than you think he does,” said Kristen, a pastor’s wife in the Midwest, “and struggles with the burdens of many on his shoulders.”
“My husband works six to seven days a week,” added Jamie, “and can go weeks without a day off.”
Eighty percent believe that pastoral ministry has negatively affected their families. Seventy-five percent report a significant stress-related crisis at least once in their ministries (pastoralcareinc.com, 2017).
Here are five more things that some of us wished that people understood about us:
#1. Sometimes we wish our husbands would have “normal jobs.”
I realize that there really is no such thing as a “normal” job: every profession has its ups and downs, its advantages and its drawbacks.
Having no weekends off has been hard though, especially since I went back to work full-time. When I was a stay-at-home mom, weekdays and weekends often blurred together. Friday night’s sparkle lost a little of its luster.
But there is something special about Friday afternoon, isn’t there? After having worked 40 plus hours and endured all of what life had to throw at us during the week, the mental brittleness that has accumulated over the week gloriously dissipates. The entire weekend looms with endless possibilities.
This is generally not how the pastor’s family approaches each weekend. There are really no such thing as weekend getaways — or “getaways” in general.
Particularly when the other spouse works. This goes for holidays, too. Christmas means work. Easter means work.
“It’s difficult watching everyone celebrate holidays with their own families and tight knit circles of friends,” said Kristen, “while usually spending them alone ourselves.”
Jamie said that she didn’t expect that, “so much of our lives, who we are, how we work as a family, our routine would revolve around the church calendar. It’s tough giving up my husband at night, on weekends, and on holidays.”
Personally, I have learned to embrace Thanksgiving — a holiday where there are no church obligations. I love Thanksgiving: the food, the family, the parades, the long weekend. I have happily adopted it as my favorite holiday. I look forward to it, year after year.
#2. We don’t always want to be there.
I guess there are always a few pastors’ wives that this doesn’t apply to, but sometimes our hearts are just not into it.
Perhaps the week was particularly difficult at work, or our children — or life, for that matter — gave us an unusually hard time. So, when YOUR excuse for not showing up for church on Sunday is because you’re busy, we totally get it. We are busy, too. We would love to sleep in on Sundays.
We feel as if our lives revolve around church throughout the entire week, in some form or another. There are always preparations to be made, meetings to attend, endless talk about the church. By the time we get to Sunday, church can be the very last place we want to be.
But when bad things happen — to us, to friends, to our family — it is hard for us to be there at all, even when church is the exact place we should be.
When my husband was deployed to Iraq in 2006, I spent much of that year hiding. I can count on one hand how many times I showed up to church. I think I could disappear because it was a larger congregation; I wasn’t so easily missed.
When I did show up, the questions were well-meaning, but repetitive. They reminded me that he was gone. Once, I went to a different church and ugly-cried through the entire service. I scared my children — and probably several other people’s children who were sitting in my general vicinity.
I have heard that people often stay away from church because crap happens in their lives, sicknesses or deaths, that makes it emotionally tough to answer any questions at all. Sometimes just a hug and an “I am so happy to see you” is perfect.
#3. We have seen the best people — and experienced the worst.
I have met some of the best people in our churches. Amazing, loving, giving people who were the best kinds of witnesses. When my kids and I were alone for those 15 months my husband was in the Middle East, a church family consistently brought us dinner every single week. We were easy to please: our weekly request was always spaghetti and meatballs. This was something we looked forward to; most of the time we ate frozen dinners. The members of this family are some of my very favorite humans, even to this day.
One of the best things about being a pastor’s wife, says Jamie, “is the incredible love and support that people give to us on a regular basis. It’s so humbling.”
“One of the hardest things we had to do,” said Lola, “was that we said goodbye to a lot of good friends. The upside to this was that we have friends all over now.”
Pastoral counseling appointments are always confidential. Other meetings, however (sometimes unfortunately), are not. My husband has tried to protect me from the worst of it because I am sensitive: conflict gives me nightmares. Humans are messy. My husband is much more gracious about this than I am — maintaining that their brokenness is just proof that they “need Jesus.”
Just like in the “real world,” people in church can be quick to criticize. That “sticks and stones” nonsense? Total crap. Words hurt, damage, leave scars. It can be even tougher to hear criticism about a spouse who is trying really, really hard.
Kristen’s worst experience in church life came when she and her family were told there was no room to sit in the congregation.“That was a low point in a rough call.”
“I take it personally when people are rude to my husband,” said Jill, a pastor’s wife in Florida. “Putting my heart and soul into a church and having things go badly…it’s hard on us as a family.”
It is unusually easy to take it personally. Although the church is a “business,” albeit a 501 c 3, it does take an exceptional amount of emotional energy to make it a success.
#4. We’re lonely.
This is surprising to some. We expected this role to be difficult at times, but not lonely — not when we are, generally speaking, surrounded by people.
Kristen has been surprised it. “Being away from my home, my family, my friends. I didn’t expect to feel so incredibly lonely.”
Up until our most recent move, I didn’t have close friends. Especially in the church. There has always been a feeling that we need to keep people at arm’s length.
I feel as if I can’t talk about personal things with people in our church. I am, by nature, a fairly private person: my regular conversations would never, ever be anything like Carrie Bradshaw’s. There are, however, some occasions in life that call for a good “girl’s talk.” Maybe it is just me, but I feel that girl talks are not necessarily appropriate to have with parishioners.
My husband and I fight, the default behavior of my kids sometimes seems to that of “brat,” and my house — I will be honest — sometimes looks like the Tasmanian devil flew through it with little to no abandon.
But, still, this has come as a surprise to certain people we have allowed into our lives. The “you’re a pastor, so how can you…” — fill in that blank — haunts us. No family is perfect. No individual is perfect. The occupation has been held against us. I am going to go out on a limb here, but I feel that every single pastor’s family has felt emotionally beaten down at least once in its ministry.
What has changed since we moved to Florida is that one of my closest friends is a Jehovah’s Witness. We agree to disagree about our respective faiths, we respect each other, and we encourage each other in our own faith walks — as different as they may be. For the first time as a pastor’s wife, I have a safe place to go to if I need to have a girl talk.
#5. We are really, really proud of our husbands.
Although we share the difficult moments, we are also there to experience the best moments. Very few people have what it takes to get up in front of people and be vulnerable, interesting, thought-provoking, AND entertaining every single week. Ministry, I believe, is a calling.
“We are doing this because God called us to,” said Jill. It is also rewarding. “Working really hard on VBS or a musical or cantata and seeing it all come together is one of the best experiences,” she added.
Kristen continued, “I think it’s an amazing thing to be able to share the Gospel, shepherd congregations, and walk alongside so many different types of people from call to call […] the bonds we make with people in our congregation, because we have no family here, those bonds can run deep.”
We are proud of our husbands — what they do every day and what they have sacrificed for their ministry. And although it is not where I saw myself when I was little, I wouldn’t change a thing.
© 2017 Mary Ann Magnell ALL RIGHTS RESERVED