An old tale tells the story of a quarry worker who, tired of working under the blazing sun, wished to become the sun so he would no longer have to toil under its burning rays. His wish was granted, and the quarry worker reigned over the skies, transformed in his very nature. But not for long; his pride was sorely wounded when a small cloud managed to obstruct his rays. The quarry worker then wished himself a cloud, only to later find himself at the mercy of the wind. The tale continues, and our character is transformed into many different things, only to become disappointed with the drawbacks of each transformation. Eventually, he realizes that his original state was not as terrible as he once thought, and he wishes at last to be returned to his humble first form of a quarry worker.
An analogy between this tale and the life of a pastor's wife is not altogether perfect—after all, there is no such thing as a particular "nature" inherent in being a pastor's wife. It is rather a condition defined relationally or functionally; that is, we have come to this way of life through marriage to someone who has joined the ministry following his vocation, a calling, a personal desire to serve, or for all of these reasons. Our vocation calls us to love and support those whose lives we've joined, through the ups and downs of this ministry. How, and to what degree we may play a role in the ministry depends on a multitude of factors, yet one thing is certain: we cannot escape it, it is automatic. We are pastors' wives for as long as we are united in marriage to men who have been called to the ministry.
To be sure, we all know that pastors' wives endure many discomforts and frustrations. Indeed, it would seem that over the years, the negative aspects of our lives have become so sharply and widely drawn that a nearly encyclopedic collection of stereotypes and grotesque caricatures, which purportedly represent the life of pastors' wives, are commonplace assumptions.
It is possible that a profound lack of understanding regarding the many hazards in the life of pastors' wives may have provoked a strong response in an effort to raise awareness about the special nature of this role, a response that in some cases may have emphasized extreme situations attempting to bring balance to the picture. But while such emphases may help complement representations of ministerial life toward a more accurate view, we must remember the contingency of the situations they represent as parts of a whole, a whole that is, in the end, more balanced.
First, we live in a world which is far from perfect. There is no job or career on earth whose pursuit will necessarily bring about paradise. All career choices inherently involve tasks, joys, demands and sometimes anguish. All career choices have their pros and cons, rewards and disappointments. Our lives as pastors' wives are no different in that sense. The Christian life, seen as a profession or a task of existence, is also constantly exposed to attacking darts which, in the best of cases, simply crash against the spiritual armor Paul speaks of, but which sometimes penetrate even our "joints and marrow."
After all, a pastor's wife should above all be a Christian, regardless of her profession or calling, and in that sense as vulnerable or as strong as any other wife and mother on earth. And who ever said the Christian life was abed of roses (without thorns)?
The analogy is a two-edged blade; it can make us feel distraught and abandoned by God, especially when we see the options others enjoy and that we may wish for ourselves. Yet it may be helpful to consider that other professions also have their downside; indeed, some which we would never choose.
A few years ago I listened to a radio interview with a pastor's wife from another faith. She seemed to think herself the most unfortunate person on earth because only once a month did she have the pleasure of her husband's company during church service. Certainly, this was a sad fact but perhaps not as tragic, compared to other discomforts that come with pastoral life, or even those experienced in other professions. And yet this pastor's wife told her story with such passion and anguish that one would think she was talking about the loss of someone's soul or a fatal car accident. I believe that while a cold, stoic attitude or a willful denial of the negative aspects of our experiences may have damaging consequences, a tendency to exaggerate our problems or an obsessive focus on our difficulties could prove even more damaging. To dwell incessantly on ourselves and our problems rather than to contemplate He who is the source of all grace and love may trap us in a destructive rut of self-absorption and egocentrism.
A Christian life is one marked by unselfish giving and commitment to others, no matter how emphatically some may deny this. Our Lord said, "whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34) and also "come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28-30). In other words, those who follow the Lord will encounter difficulties; such is the mark of true discipleship. We cannot expect to live without difficulties, yet in our challenges we will find joy because the grace of God envelops His servants and gives us peace and comfort on our journey. God sustains us with His power and anoints our brows with joy, turning each challenge into a blessing of spiritual growth.
Perhaps as we count our blessings and consider our present and future advantages and special gifts we could arrive at the conclusion that our experiences as a whole are overwhelmingly positive. Perhaps we will stop wishing for any of the special privileges or choices that wives outside the ministry enjoy. Let us look upon them with respect and even at times with compassion, not allowing ourselves to be blinded by the vision of a mountain, a cloud, or the blazing sun, but cherishing what we are and what we have to the glory of God.