The Role of the Pastor's Wife (as I see it...but I might be just a bit warped)
Over the past several weeks, I've had a few pastor's wives contact me, establishing connections. They are hurting women who are seeking healing from other women that they hope can understand. I do understand. In the nine years that my husband has been a pastor, I have experienced daily little hurts that can build up and occasionally a pain that I never thought was possible.
The daily process of being a pastor's wife in and of itself is awkward. I always say the part that bugs me the worst is the ontogeny of it. The very fact that there are 140 people that actually KNOW where I live bothers me. Very few other careers involve having the general public knowing and caring about where your family lives and what happens in their lives....celebrities and big time politicians are the only people that come to mind. I don't even know if my doctor HAS a wife. I don't know if the policeman that pulled me over several months ago has kids....let alone who they are and where they live. For a woman who grew up with a six foot block wall around her house and an unlisted phone number, this can leave me feeling simply vulnerable.
One thing that brings me comfort is the whole idea of vocation. God has given me certain tasks to do in life. I am a Christian, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, a part-time social worker, a friend. Notice, I didn't say that I am a "pastor's wife" or "in the ministry."
The man that I am married to has received a Divine Call to provide care to this congregation by preaching The Word and administering the Sacraments and using these to forgive them, guide them, heal their wounds, and admonish them. He is to love them as Christ loves them. I happen to be married to him.
Where do I fit in? I'm his wife. I love him, raise his children, and try to provide a safe (though nowhere near neat) home. I rejoice in his love and honor and respect him. My relationship to the congregation? I'm a member. The things that I do in the congregation I do because I am a child of God and feel that God has given me gifts in certain areas so that I can serve there. However, I am serving God just as much in my home by raising good Christian children as I am by serving on any committee. Even more so.
My other vocations come first. I am a wife and a mother. These roles are sacred and were given to me by God. I am also a mother who has kept the responsibility for educating her children upon herself. That takes a certain amount of time and energy. It also means that I don't have free time during the day. Emotionally, it also means that if I do have time to do something at night, it is often something where I need to take care of me, so that I have something to give to my family (VBS? That's the ONE week I have off. No, I'm not teaching! Sunday School? No. I need to grow and learn. I teach through the week. Right now, I do Altar Guild and sing in the choir, that's pretty much it).
A professor at the seminary said that a pastor's wife shouldn't do a whole lot in the congregation. First of all, there are very few things that the pastor's wife can do that it wouldn't be better for people in the congregation to do. The more they serve their congregation, the stronger it is. There might be someone else who could actually grow in their role in the church if they fulfill the role that I might be swallowing up because I'm the pastor's wife and I can do everything! If my husband ends up being called elsewhere, the church will be left weaker if I've taken on a lot, because then they are left with a hole where his role was...and then one that the pastor's wife filled also. I've always clung to that (if only as a defense mechanism!)
I am an introvert. I am somewhat shy and I am uncomfortable in large groups. A key personality trait of introverts is that they are drained by social interaction. They can enjoy it...but afterwards, they need time alone to build up their energy again. I do well with interaction with only a few people at a time. I love my congregation...just not all at once. Some people get energized by serving and interacting with others. I don't. I enjoy it at times, but it leaves me depleted. I need to be aware of this...because if I overdo it, I get cranky, depressed, and mentally disorganized, and I can't meet my family's needs. That is more important.
I also am a rather emotional woman with two rather emotional children. There are Sundays where we wake up and it is clear that it just isn't worth it. I don't make my children go to church because they are the pastor's kids. Somewhere I did right, because they love church.
I also don't go to church just because I am the pastor's wife and I should be there. If I find when I wake up, that I am searching for clean clothes not because I want to hear God's Word and receive His forgiveness, but only because I am the pastor's wife, then I don't go. I have learned that it is a sign that I am overwhelmed by it all and if I push myself, it is not going to get better. I pray for God's forgiveness that on those days, His Word is not enough to get me there. The burden is far too heavy for me, so I give it to Him.
Just because my husband is called to serve the congregation doesn't mean that I have any obligation to fill a particular role. In this, I am not his partner. He is called. I am not. I am his helpmeet, to be sure, but I am not a co-pastor or a ministry partner. I am there to love him, listen to him, and be his friend. This takes a HUGE weight off my shoulders.
Does it make it easy? I wish I could say it did. Because I always know that others have certain expectations of me, and they don't necessarily see it the way that I do. They can be hurtful or distant in their expression of that. In certain situations, this can be very painful. However, I also sometimes see other pastors wives busting their butts into non-existence and their husbands' flocks still aren't happy with them....so at least I'm at the same place without being completely overwhelmed with church duties.
One pastor's wife mentioned having her guard up against the congregation. At times, I think this is a good idea. I heard a theologian speak on forgiveness once who pointed out that forgiveness does not mean being stupid. If someone is repeatedly nosy, harsh, or otherwise, it does not mean that you leave yourself vulnerable to them, or expect them to be otherwise. Knowing that this can happen at anytime is being as smart as a serpent, in my opinion. However, knowing this also can leave me with my guard up at times it shouldn't be, and then I am not open to the beauty in the people that I worship with. I make it a point to pray for the people that I worship with. In my church, since each person goes up to the communion rail, I find that as I see them, it is easy for me to pray for them and what is going on in their lives (if I know...if not, I leave it up to God. He knows) and I thank God for them. When I do this, I find I am more open to each person individually, and I am giving the future over to God.
There are definitely days (too frequent to count) where I am brought to tears by this life and that I wish that my husband would find something else. Then I remember the souls that have been brought to faith because of him. I see how much he cares for his flock. I listen to him preaching in the pulpit....and I can't imagine him doing anything else....and until the next storm, I am comforted.
These are the things that I do to make it manageable. I hope this helps. Being a "pastor's wife" doesn't mean that you have a title and a role to fill. It doesn't mean that the congregation has any unique claim on your time and your energies. Serve God because you want to. Not because of who you married-- love and respect your husband. That is your role.