Monday, May 31, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Oh Woe is Me!

I have oft times heard PWs moan and groan about their lot in life, how put upon they are, and how "nobody knows the trouble I've seen." As my own husband frequently teases me, I do NOT have the spiritual gift of mercy. Therefore, to lamenting pastors' wives everywhere I have two things to say:

1. Get over yourself!
2. And my personal favorite: Put on your big girl panties and deal with it!

I am not totally heartless, but I also think that we shouldn't go around looking at the cup as half empty. Happiness is state of mind, but joy comes from Jesus. So, if you are having a terrible pity party I suspect that you have elected to write and send out your own invitations. However many PWs will say, "But you don't understand! My husband is on call 24/7, 365 days a year. People at our church are out to get us. The gossip is unreal. Finances are tight, etc." Yeah, I do get it. Circumstances happen, but our response to those circumstances is our choice. So we have to decide if we are going to wallow in self-pity or delight in the Lord. To be truthful, I have thrown a few extravagant pity parties in my day, complete with whine and cheese. However, as I general rule I think I do try to buck up and "just keep swimming" a la Dory in Finding Nemo.

Here are the two most common lamentations of pastors' wives that I have heard:
1. No one truly understands how miserable it is to be the wife of the pastor. I have to share my husband with so many other people.
2. We are so lonely and so far from family.

I'll tackle each of these issues. For starters, being the wife of a pastor is a misery. According to some accumulated statistics from Focus on the Family, Barna, Campus Crusade for Christ, etc.: Over 50% of pastors’ wives feel that their husbands entering ministry was the most destructive thing to ever happen to their families. Eighty percent of pastors' spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession. The majority of pastor's wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.. This makes me wonder...are any surveys ever done to see how the wives of general surgeons, politicians, and traveling salesmen feel? My guess is no. I have heard again and again that no one understands the plight, the sacrifice of the pastors' wife. Well, have you really talked with wives who are married to men in other professions? Different day, same story. Wives of men who are in construction or real estate are living a feast or famine life. You wanna talk stress? Not knowing how much money is coming in from month to month is pretty darn stressful! And given the current economy and lack of new construction just exacerbates the problem. Over-worked and long hours got you down? Talk to the wife of an accountant during tax season, the wife of a pediatrician, obstetrician, general surgeon, or anesthesiologist when they are on call. Many a holiday meal, family celebration, or milestone have been interrupted by physicians getting called into the hospital at the most inopportune times. Does everyone want a piece of your husband? He needs to be at three different events in one day and needs to put in an appearance at 5 different nighttime functions in one week? Talk to the wife of a politician, a professional entertainer, or a university administrator. Is your husband out of town attending conferences, camps, retreats, or denominational events for several days at a time a few times a year? Are you left at home alone to handle the house, the kids, and everything else by yourself? I don't think that wives of traveling salesmen, wives of news reporters and journalists, and especially the wives of men deployed to the Middle East for 12-18 months are going to have much sympathy. Is your husband the target of antagonists in the church? Is he gossiped about? Is his job stressful? Again, talk with a judge who has made an unfavorable ruling, a police officer working a tough inner-city beat, a firefighter...and then thank the Lord that your husband doesn't set foot in the midst of life or death danger every day he goes to work.

So, no, I don't buy the lie that ministers' wives are especially put upon. Being a minister is no better or worse than a thousand other professions. Same with being the wife of a minister. Wives of plumbers, mechanics, physicians, chefs, merchants, sailors, etc. all have unique worries and special struggles. Yes, there are some unique stresses to being the wife of a minister, but other married women in the grand sisterhood of life CAN relate. When we link our lives to those of our husbands we also share in their vocation, for better or worse. We can decide to complain and magnify the inconveniences and negatives of their profession or we can look for the silver lining. You know, things like watching our husbands do what they were created to do. Watching them grow in their calling. Realizing that our husbands have the coolest job in the world because their interactions with people and potential impact can have eternal significance. Reveling in the joy of perfect obedience and being in the center of the will of God. Sharing in the excitement of lives being changed...or griping and complaining about hours worked, church members who annoy, and how much better a life outside of vocational ministry could have been.

Now for the loneliness/so far from family business...
I'm going to address friendship over several posts because I think it is the crux of this issue. It is also a topic I am extraordinarily passionate about and I know I will have a lot to say on the subject. Because of that, it will take me a long time and be emotionally draining so I keep putting it off. But for now, I want to briefly address the feelings of loneliness that come from being far away from family, especially during holidays and special events. I get this too. Except for a brief 2-3 month period when we were first married, we have not lived in the same city as either of our parents or siblings. The closest we lived was a 3-hour-drive. Currently we live a 19-hour-drive from both of our families. We do not celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, 4th of July, birthdays, or any other major holiday with them. In fact, my whole family, siblings included, were together last Thanksgiving and this is what they sent me:

While I was thrilled to get the photo and know that they were thinking about us, it hurts to miss them and be the only branch of the family tree missing. I know that personal jokes were made, old stories were shared, and that we missed much laughter and lots of good food. We always call our families on holidays and do the old pass-the-phone-around so I get to talk to everyone, but when I hear the laughter and cutting up in the background it hurts to miss out on that. I could sit at home with our little family of four and cry, but that would be stupid, pointless, and totally against my nature. So, here's what we do instead...

One of my spiritual gifts is hospitality and it is no mistake that I love to talk, enjoy cooking, and adore making new friends. Instead of sulking and feeling sorry for ourselves, we came to realize years ago that there are other lonely people on holidays. Now we seek them out, invite them over, and have a party! Our most consistent thing had been to invite international students from the local university over for Thanksgiving every year. These students are learning English, they are in the dorms alone during the holidays, and most of them have never been in an American home, much less participated in an American holiday. It is the ultimate cultural experience for them. It makes cooking challenging as there are often vegetarians, those who don't eat beef or pork, and even an occasional vegan. We make sure to have food that everyone can eat. We started doing this with two Indian students when we lived in Louisiana, then we had 3 Chinese teenagers our first year in Wisconsin. Last year we had students from India, China, and Japan, a professor from China and her boyfriend from Greece, as well as two transplanted families from Texas. The Texans were also pastors and church planters so they were far from family as well. Not only are we not alone for the holidays, but we get to learn about other cultures, share our traditions with others, and we get to be international missionaries simply by sharing a meal around our table. I think that really makes Jesus smile. I know it makes me smile! It is also so fun to introduce international students to Thanksgiving turkey, cranberry sauce, and green bean casserole. They usually bring food to share as well.

And today was Memorial Day. Instead of just hanging out and grilling in the backyard, my husband made a huge pot of jambalaya and we invited the entire neighborhood over, as well as some other friends and church members. We ended up with over 30 people at our house. What a joy and privilege that is! Some neighbors mentioned how they had talked about having a get together before, but nothing ever happened, so they were thrilled. It was very last minute (we invited everyone on Saturday for Monday), but we decided that we definitely will do it again. We also had some church members bring 4 new people whom we had never met. Everyone blended and meshed well and we had a great time. We just provided the jambalaya, drinks, and paper goods and had everyone else bring lawn chairs and a dish to share. We had more than enough food for everyone. Good conversation was had, new friendships were formed, neighbors got to know each other a little better, kids played in the yard, grown-ups played bocce, and the day was sweet.

So again, I don't buy the loneliness thing. You can and should certainly miss family. But if you are lonely on holidays that is not your lot in life. It is a choice. We make that choice on Christmas. We keep Christmas down to just our little family of four and we enjoy that in a whole different way. We love having a full house of friends. However, after all of the Christmas rush and hub-bub, we like a simple quiet family Christmas. We stay in our pajamas most of the day and don't have to rush to clean up the wrapping paper or get dressed. We eat a simple lunch of pastalaya, salad, homemade bread, and dessert, then we nap and go to a late matinee movie. It's our special family tradition and we don't invite anyone in to share it with us as a general rule. However, last year we had some church members who were going to be totally alone on Christmas and that's not good for anyone, so we did make an exception and invite a few extra people. They knew that it would be casual and low-key.

Bottom line on both of these issues is we get to choose to think that nothing is worse than being a pastor's wife and we are the most put upon women in the history of the world. Or... we can embrace the unique place in the world that the Lord has placed us and look for the roses among the thorns. As for me, I kinda like how the old curmudgeon Paul puts it:

Philippians 4: 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.

1 comment:

  1. [...] The Secret Lives of Pastors’ Wives: Oh Woe is Me! June 2010 5 [...]