It happened again, just the other day.
Someone came to compliment me on a sermon I preached, and after I thanked them for their kind words they asked the question I dread.
Are you a pastor at this church?
I smile and answer the same way every time.
No, I’m not on staff here. Just a volunteer.
There is always an awkward silence after that as they process how they feel about that. It never fails. It always happens.
That’s when I feel it— the smallness of my humanity. It’s lit by the tiny flicker of fear that I am not enough. Being a pastor’s wife is strange in this modern new world, where women are encouraged to avoid being defined by their relationship with a man. Being a Pastor’s Wife feels awfully prosaic some days.
This post is really only for the women out there who said “I do,” one day, and then found themselves married to a pastor. It’s for those of us who have had our lives and roles defined by the calling and career of the man we chose to live for forever. If you’re not a pastor’s wife, you’re welcome to read on, but I’m not sure it will make a lot of sense to you. Or maybe it will. Maybe there are connections between you and me that I can’t see because of my own relative blindness.
I don’t really know.
What I do know is that, despite my own slightly progressive views and the healthy, amazing church I️ am blessed to belong to, sometimes I feel like a poster child for the patriarchy.
I’m the wife who sits on the front row, amen-ing her husband.
I’m the mom who is supposed to have all the answers and wisdom for a whole congregation.
I’m the woman who should be the embodiment of Jesus to her neighbors, friends, church members, and strangers.
No pressure, right?
I’m a Pastor’s Wife, or a First Lady, depending on your background. The people in our church call me both, and it’s an honor to be loved and supported by them. But as the role of women shifts and broadens in the Body of Christ at large, my little place here next to my husband feels like it’s beginning to squeeze me a bit.
It’s a shame, really, that I’m not on staff at the church, or employed in some other career that could give me some real cultural oomph. It would be simpler to have a job description to follow, a performance review to let me know if I’m doing all of this the right way, or to be able to point out that I’m not “just a Pastor’s Wife.” Some definition might help me when I’m unsure about what I’m doing as a leader, as a wife, as a friend to church members, or as a mom.
The most certain things I carry are the love of God, the love of the man I married, the holiness of God’s Word, and the sinking feeling that I could be doing more for someone, somewhere.
I feel the call of God to build His Kingdom in grand and sweeping efforts within our city. I feel the importance of speaking for those who can’t speak for themselves. I know that if my husband and I don’t forsake our privilege and convenience for those who have neither, there isn’t much chance that our church, as a whole, will be able to make much progress for the gospel in our city. This city is our mission field, this church is our spiritual family, and together we long to lift the weary, restore what’s been lost, and heal the broken.
And yet, I have teenage children who are growing up faster than I would like. I don’t want to miss a moment of what’s left of their youth. I want to sit and soak in these last few years of that they’re at home. These children are pieces of our hearts mingled with God’s mercy and joy. We get one shot at parenting them in their teenage years. And let’s be real, teenagers are the most awesome weirdos we will ever get to love. These kids are our future, this is our natural family, and our time with them is holy and precious and slipping through our hands.
I feel torn between two holy callings, one to tend a church community, and the other to tend my own offspring. Neither pays me a single cent of a salary. Both are messy tasks, full of misunderstanding, failure, repentance, forgiveness, mercy, deeply-felt need, and sacrificial love. In both places I feel my less-than-adequate talents and abilities disqualifying me, all while God keeps telling me to get up and keep fighting to offer the kind of love to His people that He has offered to me.
Hey, Pastor’s Wife, don’t grow weary in doing what is good. Hey, Mama, go ahead and try to love that foolish child again. You’ve got the Holy Spirit living in you and the blood of Jesus covers your life. You’ve go the Word of God and new mercies every morning. Gird up, honey.
It would be easier to just sit down and wait for Jesus to come back.
He promised He would, after all. But so far, Jesus is holding off on that one. He promised us some other things, though, too. Jesus promised us that we would have many troubles in this world. And He promised us that He would always be with us.
I suppose, whether we sit down and wait for Him, or stand up and fight to make the world a place of deeper love and mercy, we will face troubles and we will find that He is with us. I don’t think that means that sitting down and fighting are responses of equal value.
Because when I listen with my deepest heart, I hear the words of Jesus to Peter in John 21:
Do you love Me?…. Feed My sheep.
The love I have for Jesus should look like hands offering care and nourishment to the people around me. I realize as I consider Jesus’ life that He had no agreed-upon job description or tidy box to check regarding His employment. Jesus knew who He was and He knew what He was meant to do, and He simply did whatever the Father told Him to do.
Why is it I seem to want something more than Jesus was given? Apparently, my silly, modern, first-world expectations will have to be allowed to fall to the ground if I’m going to be particularly effective. It may seem like Jesus and I are making this up as we go along.
Love Him. Feed them. This is at the center of everything we’re meant to do when we live the gospel.
And there is always enough in Jesus. Every time. Even for a Church Volunteer/ Pastor’s Wife/Overwhelmed Mom.
So here’s to you, my slightly unconventional Pastor’s Wife friend. I hope you stand and fight today. I hope you let the love you have for Jesus open the door for you to love His people in deeper ways. And I hope His love for you sustains you when you aren’t sure you’re going to make it through another awkward and challenging moment.
You are amazing, and I’m right here with you.