I count it as one of my biggest "minister's wife failures."
I was on the phone with a woman who attended our church, fielding her latest complaints about my husband. I can't recall exactly what the criticism was about during that particular call (loud drums? long sermons?), but I have no difficulty remembering how I snapped.
I told my startled caller, in a clear and unequivocal manner, that I'd had enough of these kinds of complaints and that I was done. Like, totally done. Done like a bad dinner.
I was as surprised as she was at how fiercely I spoke my mind, once it all came pouring out.
She saw a glimpse of the very real, not-so-nice, grouchy, awful me.
In my book, The Minister's Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness and More (Tyndale House, 2020), I tell the rest of that story; how my husband loved me through it; and how, after a couple of weeks had passed and my pulse rate had finally returned to normal, mutual forgiveness followed in a small coffee shop.
I wish my unfortunate caller had known the insights below before we had our awful conversation. I believe they can help any church member understand—and maybe also know and love—their minister's wife even better.
Ministers' wives are growing too. I'm a sinner saved by grace, just like you. I might even be worse. I would never have been awarded the title "Most Likely to Be a Pastor's Wife" in my high school yearbook. Marrying a minister would have been the last thing on my mind back then. Sometimes it still surprises me.
I've made mistakes in my past, and I make them presently and daily. The future undoubtedly holds a few biggies as well. Assuming that I am a spiritual giantess sets me, and you, up for relational failure.
Ministers' wives are real flesh-and-blood people with struggles, just like anybody else. We let people down. We have our limits. We will disappoint you. And sometimes we will need to ask for forgiveness because we went a little batty on the phone one afternoon.
It can be a lonely life. How can it be lonely, surrounded by a church full of people? It's lonely when people set you apart a little too much and view you as walking ahead of them, not beside them. You might be put on a spiritual pedestal that you did not ask for or want (see above).
People might view the minister's wife as someone to receive complaints or suggestions (see above again) instead of an actual person who might be lovely to speak with about lots of different things. And at times, in their natural longing to be heard, parishioners talk at their pastor's wife instead of with her. But occasionally try to ask her some questions too: "What are your hobbies?" "Where did you grow up?" "Tell me about your family."
Though I'd been a writer for years, I believe there were churches my husband served where most people never knew that. No one asked. It's also very likely that your pastor's wife lives far from her family because of her husband's job; so be kind to her, especially around holidays when her husband is probably gone even more and she's alone in her kitchen baking Christmas cookies.
She will love you even more if you are kind to her husband. Love her husband, and you will have no greater fan than the minister's wife. We are already fully aware that our husbands are not always right and that they can make mistakes. Truly, you don't need to tell us that. And pastoring is a hard job. It's a calling that is tough enough already.
The people who are kind—even in their rebukes or suggestions—are easy to love. We already want to love you, so when you make it even easier ... well, it's practically a lovefest. When you are kind to him and our children, you are kind to us. We see you, friends. I remember those kindnesses as dearly—and just as clearly—as I remember my own mistake on the phone that day, and all the others I have made and the grace that has been given to me in this difficult but beautiful life of being a minister's wife.
Karen Stiller is a writer with more than 20 years of experience. She serves as a senior editor of the Canadian magazine Faith Today and as a journalist who has shared stories from refugee camps in South Sudan and Uganda, the slums of Senegal, and the countryside of Cambodia. Her work has appeared in Reader's Digest and The Walrus, among other publications. She moderates the Religion and Society Series at the University of Toronto, a debate between leading atheists and theologians. Karen holds a master of fine arts in creative nonfiction from University of King's College, Halifax. She lives in Ottawa, Canada.
Karen Stiller's memoir in essays, The Minister's Wife, releases on May 5, 2020.
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