Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Friendship 102-My Rusty Halo

I started talking about friendships of pastors' wives in this post. Pastors and their wives frequently report a lack of friends as one of their top stressors. However, many well-intentioned articles, books, and seminars will vigorously assert that pastors and their wives can't and shouldn't have friends among their church members. Here's one such article from Focus on the Family. One quote from this article is:

Search for friends outside your church. Other ministers' wives in your community, parents of your children's peers or women who share similar activities (i.e., craft classes, local fitness center) may offer great friendship, as well as an environment for non-church related conversation and fun. Friends you make here will not face the obstacle of knowing you as their pastor's wife.

There are many reasons given for why PWs should not have friends in church. I'll try to hit them all over subsequent posts. However, in this post I will focus on a very reason that I have heard from many a PW. It is this:

I can't have friends among church members because if they knew my struggles they wouldn't be able to respect me and look up to my leadership and that of my husband. (This are also usually the same people who insist on being called "Pastor/Reverend/Brother" and "Mrs." rather than first names).

There are many, many thinks wrong with this vein of thinking in my opinion. First of all, the last time I checked, Jesus Christ was the only sinless perfect human to walk the earth. We all have struggles. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Is it really startling and shocking to let someone else see the chink in our armor? To find out that, alas, we are all merely human? Personally I find it therapeutic to find out that someone has the same struggles, insecurities, and "favorite" sins as me. C.S. Lewis says, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too? I thought I was the only one." Also, we are biblically commanded to bear one another's burdens (Galatians 6:2). If we don't share them with anyone else, how can they help bear them?

I have a great example of this to share and one of my most profound moments of being ministered to by a church member. At one church where my husband was a youth minister I was going through a very difficult time personally. The details aren't important and are way too personal to share and the issues have long since been resolved. However, I was in a long dark night-time of the soul kind of place. I received one piece of information that pushed me even deeper into the abyss. I was bawling my head off and then I went for a long drive. I got home and was still sobbing uncontrollably. I asked my husband if he would call Nancy for me and ask if I could go to her house and talk to her. I need to explain to convey how bizarre this request was. Nancy and I weren't particularly close. She was an older church member, probably about 10 years older or so than my parents. I knew her casually and we had been a Ladies Bible Study together. She lived on the street behind me in a huge restored Victorian mansion. I had never been to her house, I just knew where she lived. However, I knew that she had lived through a similar experience as to what I was going through because of something she shared in Bible study. I knew I needed to talk to her. My husband had to make the call because I was crying so uncontrollably that I couldn't talk.

It was almost 10:00 on a weeknight. Horrible timing! And as I subsequently found out, she was packing to head out of town the next day AND her husband's company (he owned a large factory in town) was in turmoil because the workers had gone on strike that day. This was not a good time for her. She didn't tell me any of that. I found out after the fact. She urged me to come on over. I got to her house and was a mess of ugly crying--splotchy face, swollen eyes, runny nose, dry sobs. She met me at the door and I burst into fresh tears while she just hugged me and held on. I'm sure her shirt was covered with my snot and tears. After I regained a little composure I talked and talked and she listened. She gave me some advice, told me some of her story, but mostly she listened...and prayed with me. I left and several days later received a bouquet of flowers with a very special card indicating that she "got" me. She understood the place I was in and the emotions I was feeling. That was honestly one of the most significant experiences of my life. She saw the ugly core of me and raw, naked emotion and she loved me anyway. I got to share my burden (and it really did take so much weight off my shoulders) and she had an opportunity to minister to me. Isn't that what "church" is about? Pastors are supposed to be equipping the church members to do the work of the church. She did! Win-Win. If I had been too proud to convey my need and my pain to her, she would have never had the opportunity to care for me and I never would have been blessed by her ministry to me. She lost no "respect" for me in the process. In fact, we did become friends and later took a roadtrip across the state together.

I think when we share our struggles together that we can hold one another accountable, pray for each other, and encourage one another. Instead of trying to lift ourselves up and appear perfect to the rest of the world, we should adopt the attitude of persecuter-turned-renegade-missionary, Paul. In I Timothy 1 Paul says

15Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.

Paul was eager to share his story and his life with those he ministered to. I don't think that any of us should dwell in some cesspool of poor choices and low self-esteem, but sharing our struggles with sin and our victories as well seems pretty biblical. In Hebrews 10 we are urged to continue to meet together to encourage one another. Inside that part of the function of the bride of Christ? In one church that my husband served in as youth minister we had a senior pastor who openly admitted his addiction to internet pornography and the steps he had taken and accountability measures he had in place. This just made me respect him more. We know that pornography is one of the biggest temptations and sins among men period, but also among pastors. There is some solidarity and comfort in knowing that you aren't the only person sitting in the pew (or behind the pulpit) dealing with the issue, I would imagine. We (in ministry) always want church members to feel comfortable, to be able to open up and share themselves, to be vulnerable, etc. and then when are shocked when they attend our church, but go to another church for counseling. Why do they do this? Because they don't want their pastor to know that their marriage is one the rocks or that their teenager is on drugs. Maybe if the pastor and his wife made the first step to be vulnerable, not as some gimmick and show, but in real, personal, genuine friendships, then the culture of the church would change.

All in know is that I have repeatedly broken this rule about no friends in church. I've done it again and again and again. Have I been hurt? Yes, but opening your heart to someone else always comes with the risk of being hurt. But...no risk, no reward. And the good far outweighs the bad.

More myth-busting later...

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Secret Lives of Pastors' Wives: Friendship 101-Silver and Gold

Carol, Bart, Yoshi-Bart's guide dog, Robert, and me

This is a picture of us with our dear friends, Bart and Carol Pierce. We broke an unwritten ministry rule when we became friends with them. At the time of our initial befriending...hang on, it's pretty scandalous...dare I admit the taboo? Okay, *deep breath*, my husband was a youth minister, their son was in the youth group, and they were mere church members. *GASP!*

I can't tell you how many times I have had other pastors' wives tell me that I should never make friends among the congregation of our church. Thankfully I have never heeded this silly, outdated, and frankly, un-scriptural, advice. I'm a renegade that way. The reasons that some PWs are taught (sometimes in seminary, sometimes by other PW mentors) not to befriend church members (CMs) are many. Here are some of the most common:

*CMs won't look up to you and respect you if they really know you (e.g., if they know that I yell at my kids, question God, miss a quiet time with God, argue with my husband, eat a pint of ice cream by myself, don't dust often, have Twisted Sister on my iPod--good running music, etc.)
*CMs will hurt me. They'll be friends at first, but if I really open myself up to them they will use it against me and I'll be hurt in the process
*CMs are out to get me and my husband. They just want to be friends because they want to get the dirt on us and then have control over us.
*CMs are users. They want to get to know us so they can use us to improve their position in the church and/or say "Look at me! I'm friends with the pastor."
*CMs can't be really good friends, because they can't relate to the stresses and demands of ministry. Best to find someone who can understand.

Isn't that horrible, negative, and depressing? If I can't be friends with CMs, then who can I be friends with? The pre-approved friends list for PWs includes other PWs, friends who live out of town, and maybe some community members. However, the general community must be handled carefully because those people might be friends with some of my CMs and then there could be a sharing of information. Not only do I believe this is hogwash, but I also believe that this is a lie straight from the pit of hell. Satan likes nothing more than the cause division among a group of believers. However, I believe that God smiles when the people in His church truly love one another and share their lives with each other. Generally, most of my best and dearest friends have been regular ol' church members in the churches we have served.

So back to Bart and Carol. There are those handful of friends who will always be among the best and dearest. Bart and Carol are among that select group. I remember learning as a Girl Scout/Brownie a song that we sang in a round: "Make new friends, but keep the old. Some are silver and the others, gold." The Pierces are gold. Pure gold friends. Friendship has been tested now by distance, through disability, and through differing viewpoints of some political and theological issues. However, we have all seen each other when we just wake up in the morning, when we are crying, and when we get the late-night silly giggles. We have weathered some hard storms together. We have seen each others snap at our spouses and lose our cool with our kids. Bart and Carol have not only seen our dirty laundry, both figuratively and literally, but they know all of the skeletons in our closets and I'm pretty sure we know at least most of theirs.

Here's the thing though. To me it's not weird at all that we were friends with church members. They unusual thing about our friendship to me is our age difference...and that's the beautiful thing too. Isn't it bizarre and wonderful the people that God sees fit to place in our lives and knit our souls together with? Our first experience with the Pierces was actually through their son, Matt. We were living in Missouri at the time and they moved to Missouri from Kansas. Robert and I were 27 years old, this was Robert's first full-time position, and he was the youth minister at our church. I was a stay-at-home mom, Adam was a toddler, and Noah was not yet a twinkle in his father's eye. Matt was in my 10th grade Sunday school (what a fun class that was!--and the first time I realized that I wasn't scared of teenagers) and became involved in the youth group. Sarah was only in 6th grade at the time, so she didn't get involved in the youth group until the next year. Bart and Carol started out helping with the youth and that's how we initially got to know them. We had fun with them and really liked them, but they were parents of youth and we were just young pups with a baby and (thought we) had nothing in common with them. We did end up at their house a fair amount because they had an awesome finished basement and hosted a lot of youth events there...or Matt and Sarah just had parties with their friends and invited us too. Then, because neither of us had family in town, we started getting together on Christmas night and having a birthday party for Jesus. By this time, we all realized that we all just enjoyed spending time together and it was no longer taboo for us to simply go out to dinner on a double date sans kids and just have a good time. Here's the kicker though...Bart and Carol are just a very few years younger than our parents.

This is something we don't often discuss because it doesn't matter in the slightest. However, initially, it was very odd to me. I remember going off to college and making friends who were my sister's age. She had always seemed so much older than me because she is 5.5 years older. That was a huge difference when I was a 6th grader and she was a senior, but not so much of a difference by college. However, Bart does have a child from a first marriage who is our age. He and Carol married later and had children a little later than many and their kids keep them young. I don't even ever think about the difference in our ages anymore, but it was strange when they met our parents because they are closer in age to them than to us. However, having friends at a whole different place in life than us has been such a rich and rewarding experience. I taught their daughter Sarah how to drive and when they were here it was bizarre for them to see Adam driving now. Their kids are 30 and 26. Ours are 16 and 13.

Carol and I have been roomies at many conferences over the years and Bart and Robert have gone fishing and also backpacked through Colorado together. We have spent holidays together, including a Christmas when they came down to Baton Rouge. Carol and I used to have slumber parties and she was the person who helped me do the final cleaning when we moved out of our house in Missouri to move to Louisiana. They were defenders of Robert's youth ministry, they were supporters in the church, and they have been friends through it all. Robert has seen Bart and Carol a couple of times over the past few years when he has met them in Chicago to see some of Matt's productions. However, I haven't seen them in probably 3-4 years. I keep up with generally where they are and what they are doing either through their kids on Facebook or Robert talks to Bart occasionally on the phone. I hate to talk on the phone and Carol isn't a big fan either, so we go long stretches without talking to each other. However, they were just here for a week and we picked up where we left off. There was nothing weird or awkward about our time together. We just jumped in and got straight to the hard, vulnerable, emotional subjects and heard one anothers' hearts. We laughed a lot. Matt came up for a couple of days and we got to spend some great quality time with him too. We spent the night at the house they were renting twice, had them over for meals twice and went out to eat. Carol and I took a couple of long walks together and Bart and Robert did a lot of fishing. They got to attend our new church plant. Bart got to share with my counseling class at the university about losing his sight. We just got to hang out and be. Some of the best times were in the morning at their rented lake house with everyone in jammies and bedhair, drinking coffee, and talking.

So being friends with church members? Absolutely! More on why I think that it's not only okay, but is actually advisable in a later post.