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...

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