I stood in front of the clothes dryer folding laundry and listening to Paul Harvey on the radio. Suddenly he caught my full attention with this statement, "According to one study, the greatest stress, the most spiritual casualties, occur among ministers' wives." I was stunned and found myself reflecting on the preceding two years of my husband Rick's ministry.
During one fall and winter we were barraged with family health problems. In seven months, our family of four chalked up 36 doctor visits, a root canal, two minor surgeries, three cancer scares (all negative) and a week-long hospitalization for our 16-month-old son who had double pneumonia.
We breathed sighs of relief when spring came, and better health with it. After a long, relaxing vacation in. May we returned home, optimistically looking forward to a slower pace during the summer months. Instead, Rick conducted 14 funerals and dealt with countless tragedies.
In the fall and winter of that year there were other crises: failing marriages, the kidnaping and rape of a young woman in our church family, and newly discovered cancers. Rick felt overwhelmed, overworked, and depressed. I had trouble dealing with constant child care but felt guilty asking for help when Rick was having trouble with his own work load. So I managed the home front and tried to keep from exerting any more pressure on him.
Then the following spring, just two days before our well-deserved vacation, an incident occurred which threatened his entire ministry. It was while we were recovering from that incident that I heard Paul Harvey's report about stress and ministers' wives. "What about the ministers themselves?" I wondered. Was it possible that our stress could be greater than theirs? This was a concept I had never before considered.
Minister's wife can be a very lonely position to hold. Expectations of a congregation can be unrealistic, whether in truth or in our own perception. Some people believe the preacher'- spouse should have perfect kids, a spotless house, and talents above and beyond those of normal human beings. But alas, we are only human.
Our feelings of isolation can be compounded by staying home with children. The pressures of raising our families combined with the heavy demand on our husbands' time and talents can leave us feeling alone. Added to this are the stresses faced by other members of our church family which are often brought home. Sometimes we may feel we carry the problems of the world on our shoulders.
Several times during my 14 years as a pastor's wife I have been infinitely grateful for Christian counselors. They have, perhaps, saved both my marriage and my sanity!
All of us have at one time or another felt the pressures of our calling. When the stress feels like more than we can handle alone, visiting a counselor can give us fresh insights and help us cope. Here are some practical helps for locating a counselor in your area.
Finding a Christian counseling agency may take a little effort, particularly for those who have recently moved and are unfamiliar with the area. But Christian agencies exist in most cities and are well worth the drive from rural areas for appointments.
The local ministerial association can be a good source of information. You can find out where the other pastors in your area refer their parishioners.
Consulting the Yellow Pages of the nearest large city is also a good place to start. Many agencies are listed under Psychologists, and often the name itself will indicate whether or not it is a Christian agency.
It may also be helpful to check with district or conference offices for a referral to a counselor who understands the pressures of the pastorate. These offices often have access to names of counseling agencies which deal with clergy families.
The cost of counseling can be a real concern. However, insurance policies often cover all or part of the cost of therapy. Group policies through your denomination may offer full coverage for a certain number of counseling sessions and co-payments for additional sessions.
Some agencies charge on a sliding scale according to income; others may provide services free or at reduced rates to ministry families. Cost alone should not be a deterrent. Some denominations have arrangements to help subsidize counseling through specific agencies. You just need to inquire and research to find the right situation for your income.
Dr. Louis McBurney, a psychiatrist trained at the Mayo Clinic, counseled many pastors and their families. He has recognized the great need to minister to clergy families in crisis. As a result, he and his wife Melissa established a retreat and therapy center for pastors and their wives, missionaries, and church professionals. A two-week period of getting away from it all combines individual and group therapy sessions with rest and relaxation. Information can be obtained by writing to Marble Retreat, Marble, Colorado 81623.
Going to a counselor for help is not an admission of failure or lack of spirituality. Counseling can be a source of great comfort and an impetus to growth.
Much has been written recently on clergy burnout but we clergy spouses are at risk too. We not only deal with our own stress, but we also attempt to support our husbands as they deal with theirs.
Counseling can help us do both.