where does a wife go?
by Suzan T. Hutchinson
Learn more about Women Nationally Active for Christ, an auxiliary ministry of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.
A Wealth of Need
Imagine with me…the phone rings and you respond, "Hello?"
A quiet voice answers, “Hello, I'm a pastor's wife, and I wonder—do you know anyone I can talk to? I have some pressing problems and I can't go to just anyone with them. They are, um, you know…personal, private. If the wrong person finds out it could ruin my husband's ministry.
“Oh, it's not that bad; I didn't mean to imply it is. It's just that…well, I don't have anyone I can turn to—not with things like this. I don't know what to do or where to go. I'm hoping, maybe, you can, you know, give me some names, or tell me what to do, or tell me where I can find support, who I can trust enough to share this stuff inside me. Um, listen, maybe this isn't such a good idea. Thanks anyway….”
If you have Caller ID, will you call her back? If you do, what will you say?
Lonely in a Crowd
Imagine with me again…you visit a new church. Can you pick out the pastor's wife?
What would you look for? A smile? Children flocking to her side and women seeking her company? Would she be the center of attention? Dressed in the latest style? Every hair in place? Would her children be perfectly behaved and well-mannered? Would her husband dote on her, hug her, and keep her by his side?
Get real! I would look for someone with a hint of loneliness about her, wearing a smile that doesn't twinkle her eyes, engaged in conversation yet slightly distracted. She’s alert and guarded, quick to offer a hug but not one to linger. Her children sometimes run in church, she’s wrinkled slightly with hair tousled by a child’s sticky fingers. She’s friendly but not open.
Recognized But Unknown
Imagine a woman filled with insecurities and fears—a pastor's wife. Perhaps in a new city far from friends, family, and all that's familiar. She endures financial struggles. Personal struggles. Conflicts with her husband. Stress at church. Stress at home. Silent pain. Hidden secrets. Do you recognize this woman? Can you tell me her name?
If she called, would you know what to tell her? I have some suggestions…
To the Rock
Tell her she can go to THE ROCK mentioned in Psalms, seek out the Great Physician; make a withdrawal from the Bank of God's Goodness; find comfort in His presence and answers in His Word; find strength in knowing He understands her weakness and hears her every cry; she can turn to her list of friends and seek wise counsel; seek out wives of other pastors and seek their advice and friendship (who better to understand than someone who walks in the same shoes 24/7). She can visit a Christian bookstore and purchase books dealing with the issues at hand; join support groups—online and off—for wives of ministers.
As I wrote these paragraphs, my almost-15-year-old asked what the article was about. My reply: "It's aboutpastors' wives, and how they often have no one to talk to about their problems." He said, "You know you can talk to me anytime."
"You can talk to me."
Wow, that tugs at my heart.
You see, I am a pastor's wife—have been for more than 27 years. I know the name of the woman described above. If you are a pastor's wife, you know her too.
There have been countless times when I felt I could talk to no one but my husband—no one with whom I could share my hurts, no one I could fully trust, no one who would understand, no one I could confide in.
Have you felt that, too? I sometimes need someone who will not judge, criticize me (or my husband, children, or housekeeping), and accept my quirks and craziness, who will be a friend and help shoulder the load. Have you needed that, too?
I Am One; You Are Two
If I have, and you have—don’t you think other pastors' wives have experienced the same feelings and needs?
We want to belong, to share ourselves. We wish to share what makes us who we are and why. Our husbands, children, and families often fill that need within—but what happens when we need more?
Some would flippantly say, "Turn to God." I agree. He should be the first one we turn to.
But, what if He isn't enough? Remember, He created us with an inborn desire to share, to be accepted and loved by our own kind.
God authored the first negative words in the Bible, and they concern relationship. Although God and Adam walked together, God said the relationship wasn't enough. "It is not good that man should be alone…." If God’s fellowship alone wasn't enough for Adam, why should we expect it to be enough for us?
I am one. You are two. He makes three (Matthew 18:19,20).
What's a Girl to Do?
So, what's a pastor's wife to do when she needs to open up and share something that's bothering her, a hurt she holds deep within? A disappointment? Grief? Concern? Difficulty? Fear? What does she do when (gasp!) she can't get along with a church member? Who does she turn to when there is marital strife?
Where does she go when things turn sour and she's left hiding the bitterness? Someone once told me, "Your job is to smile at all times and keep a stiff upper lip." I did that for years, but it’s really hard to smile with a stiff upper lip. Don't believe me? Find a mirror and try it.
Trust and Obey
The unique position of a pastor’s wife can quickly become confusing. In an attempt to protect ourselves and those we love, we keep silent, hiding and hoping things will get better. They don't, and hiding our feelings is certainly not the advice we would give someone who comes to us for couseling. Pastors’ wives know far too well that it's hard to trust, especially when we don't know whom to trust, or if we should trust at all.
Here's what I've found to be true:
Trust God. Trust His Word. Trust Him to provide friends and confidents. Trust Him to protect you and your confidence. Trust Him to give you strength to reach out, and the ability to accept the help that’s waiting. Trust Him to know your needs better than you. Trust Him to bring you into contact with those you need and who need you.
We're in This Together
When I told my mom about this article, she wondered aloud “Whom do you talk to?”
I replied, "I talk to you." She quickly countered, " I can listen but I can't understand—I've never been there." She’s right. For her to understand, she would have to be a pastor's wife.
I need understanding. I need friendships. I need to “let my hair down” and my human side out from time to time. I need to unwind and unload. So do you. God knows we have need of these things and has provided us with a network of helps and friends to assist in our journey as pastors' wives.
Be proactive. Develop a network of friendships. If you're still in college, develop a good support group because you will need it later. If you're already in ministry, begin a fellowship for pastors’ wives in your area. Talk to your state association about providing a Ministers’ Wives Retreat.
Herein lies the answer to our question. Where’s a pastor’s wife to go? God has given us each other. Call me. I’ll listen.
As you might guess, Suzan T. Hutchinson is a pastor's wife. She and her husband Tim live in Dublin, GA.