There was laughter and I was not a part of it. From my lonely vantage point, I gazed wistfully at the happy pair. They were obviously enjoying each other’s company. The smiles were large and abundant on every face and you could practically feel the warmth radiating from them.
The older woman laughed and smiled, then reached out and warmly embraced the younger woman.
Though it was a happy scene, I felt far from touched. A cold, bitter, resentment swept over me.
I caught myself. I knew those feelings were wrong and I shouldn’t have felt them. I should have felt happy for this young woman who was receiving this love. After all, she was a new convert who barely attended services. Still, my heart ached. Secretly I wished that I too could skip services and receive that kind of attention. I knew that purposefully missing services would be wrong, but I also knew that’s why she was receiving this warmth and love. And, as I thought about my treatment by that older woman, I had only received coldness and judgement.
In the car on the way home, I turned in tears to my husband and said, “I really wish I looked as broken as I felt, then maybe they would love me too.”
While on the outside I seemed like the strong, stable, faithful, and fully grounded pastor’s wife that I should have been, in reality I was not. Inside, I was weak, lonely, and hurting.
Sure, it was my fault for not developing my faith to a point of strength and not dedicating myself fully to the work, but it was hard. I felt the expectations of others keenly (though they generally didn’t state them) and felt isolated from the rest of the congregation.
The isolation was not just imaginary either. Multiple invitations to go out for coffee went ignored and unanswered. Many of the greetings I received at church services were quick and curt hellos. One evening saw me sobbing in my husband’s arms after I made dinner for a fellowship meal in our home and not one soul turned up. When I saw those same people who treated me coldly embracing others with warmth, I felt emptier than ever.
It’s not that these people were incapable of love, it was that they didn’t show that love to me. And that hurt more than my words can express.
Women who marry men in ministry often start their new roles enthusiastically. They are women who love men that love Christ more than anything. They often sacrifice a lot but are happy to do so, knowing that their efforts are a support to their husband and the Lord’s work.
Yet, as willing as they may be to support their husbands and the church, they are not always ready to receive all that comes with it. While their men have more often than not had training and preparation for church work and all its hardships, most wives of preachers have had little or no training in the Word of God. Further, they often don’t realise that expectations will be placed upon them as well as their husbands. Young, eager, inexperienced, and oftentimes (definitely in my case) immature in spirit (as well as life in general), these women rush headlong into something they don’t fully understand, expecting to be just as much a part of the church as everyone else.
I stepped into the position of a minister’s wife when I was married. I was 21. As I look back, I can’t even believe how foolish some of the things I said and did were. I barely knew what my Bible said and struggled with sin. I failed to meet many expectations of the church and unwittingly botched up many relationships.
I know I didn’t do everything right as I started out. I made many mistakes. Even then, I knew I wasn’t perfect but, honestly, I really had no idea what to do or what was really expected of me.
I know I needed one thing desperately that I still need desperately, and always:
Your minister’s wife needs you to understand.
UNDERSTAND THAT SHE’S HUMAN
She is as fallible and human as you are. You make mistakes; she will make mistakes too. She may not make all the right decisions. She may not say all the right things. She needs community and fellowship. She may struggle with sin. She has the capacity to feel angry, tired, frustrated, burnt-out, and lonely just like you.
She is the preacher’s wife and there should be expectations placed on her, but she also is subject to all the same feelings and limitations that you are. She needs you to understand this and to offer her gentle correction when she falls, grace and forgiveness when she repents, and friendship all the time. She needs to be treated like she’s human too.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34, 35, ESV).
UNDERSTAND THAT SHE WANTS TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT
She has chosen to love and submit to a servant of the Lord. More often than not, that is a strong indicator that she desperately wants to be a faithful servant of the Lord – but perhaps she doesn’t know how to better herself, hasn’t had a Bible education like her husband, or is struggling with her faith. I know that I’ve struggled with each of these things at several stages in my journey.
Be the woman she needs. Don’t be the woman with gossip, harsh words, and judgement, but the woman with a gentle, guiding hand and a tongue full of wisdom.
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering [your]self, lest [you] also be tempted. Bear […] one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1, 2, KJV).
UNDERSTAND THAT SHE NEEDS TO FEEL USEFUL
Very often congregations hire preachers and give little thought to what they want the wife to contribute. While I know some preacher’s wives complain of expectations and workloads, a lot of us want to be given things to do. We want expectations. We need them to feel useful. We don’t always want to be considered as an appendage to the preacher (even though we love our husbands an awful lot).
If your preacher’s wife doesn’t seem to be fitting into the congregation, perhaps she isn’t aware of what is expected of her. Give her a place in the congregation that makes use of her talents so that she can feel like she is a part of the work too. People grow the most when they have a place to use their talents.
“from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:16, ESV)
UNDERSTAND THAT SHE HAS TO GROW INTO HER ROLE AND YOU CAN HELP
Give her time. Did you put in a stellar performance during your first week at your first job, or did you need time to learn where things were, how to interact with your various work colleagues, and how to perform with the most efficiency? I’m sure you took time to settle into your role. Likewise – and to an even greater extent – don’t expect a young preacher’s wife to know exactly what to do as she begins work with your congregation.
Perhaps you can invite her out for coffee and tell her about the various members in the congregation and their needs and personalities. Let her sit in with you as you teach a Bible class. Invite her to see how you do a certain work in the congregation or community. Invite her over to learn a skill, such as canning, knitting, or baking. Let her see and help with your work behind the scenes. Watch her blossom under your mentorship.
“The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as become[s] holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2:3-5, KJV)
UNDERSTAND THAT SHE MAY NOT BE WHAT YOU EXPECT HER TO BE
The minister’s wife is often expected to have a certain type of personality: organised, tidy, in-command, out-going, and creative all at once. However the truth is that she may either be some of these things or none of them. A lack of these traits doesn’t mean she won’t do a great job – it just means that she may not do the job you want or do it in the way you think she should.
Get to know her talents and her personality and let her add her own unique expression to theall have different roles to play in the body of Christ and can’t be made to be great at things that God hasn’t given us a talent for. This includes the preacher’s wife.
“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness” (Romans 12:4-8).
Though the minister’s wife, just like everyone else, will have to answer to God for those things she has done and will have to bear her own burden (Galatians 6:4, 5), there are some things the congregation can do to make her work easier. The congregation can help the minister’s wife to grow through loving correction, gentle guidance, and bearing her burdens when necessary (6:1, 2).
Do you find yourself getting frustrated with your minister’s wife? It’s understandable. She’s human. Everyone can be a little bit frustrating at times.
As for myself, I know I didn’t (and still don’t always) do everything right and did a lot of things that when I look back would have been very frustrating to those looking on. However, I know I have always wanted to do what was right. Perhaps your minister’s wife just needs some help to be able to grow into her role.
A whole lot of love, truth, grace, and understanding goes a long way. Maybe you can be that catalyst for growth she needs in her life.
“I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another” (Romans 15:14, ESV).
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, KJV).
If you would like prayers or someone to talk to, you can contact me. I’ve been lonely and thought I was the only one struggling. I don’t want anyone else to feel like that!