The Secret Life of a Pastor's Wife

A partner in ministry insists on being the wonderful, normal person she is.

Laura McKenzie, a pastor's wife at Harbor Christian Fellowship in Costa Mesa, California, loves to read, write and walk on the beach with her family. This article appeared in Virtue, January! February 1994. Used with permission.

Many Christian women are haunted by the mythical Perfect Woman. You know her. She always does the right thing, consistently reflects Jesus' love and finds new ways to do good works. More often than not, she's dressed in someone else's expectations or trying to fill a previous role model's shoes.

Ministry wives, missionaries, Sunday school teachers, mothers and singles participating in a panorama of church roles know her especially well. As Jill Briscoe, a pastor's wife and women's ministry leader for more than 20 years, says in her book Renewal on the Run (1992, Harold Shaw Publishers), the ghostly Perfect Woman or "Mrs. Bionic Chris­tian" can make us feel desperately inadequate and very worried. But you can lovingly break the stereo­type, Jill says, by insisting on being the normal, wonderful person you are,

Here, a pastor's wife tells her story.

"I sing because I'm happy, I sing because I'm free."

I wonder where we should go to lunch? The kids are dressed pretty nice today. Maybe we should try IHOP —but is this a week we have money? Should we drive through Taco Bell?

"His eye is on the sparrow."

Rats. I forgot to introduce myself to that new young couple near the front. I hope I can get away from the piano fast enough to say hello before they disappear .

"And I know He's watching me."

Ryan needs a haircut. I'd better take him myself so his dad won't let them give him a flat top again. That was horrible.

"His eye is on the sparrow."

Boy, am I starved already. I should have eaten something for breakfast. I hope I can make it through the sermon.

"And I know He's watching me."

I'm a pastor's wife. The man married is senior pastor of a little church in Southern California. We love the Lord very much and desire to serve Him. But some­where along the line, I joined the ranks of women who wear their hair just so, low-heeled shoes, and dresses, always, dresses.

Being a pastor's wife more than 10 years now, I am confused. The dilemma I face is one of personal identify. I play the piano, lead singing, solo for specials, greet people and smile, smile, smile. I do what is expected . . most of the time. OK, some of the time. But I feel different from all the other pastors' wives.

I love to wear jeans and T-shirts, love-to play baseball and hike, wear my hair long, loathe making crafts, like to watch TV and (most despicable, I know) hate to cook. In fact, I look for every opportunity to get out of it.

Somewhere I got the idea that because of my husband's job, I was supposed to be perfect, perpetually neat so people can drop by my house at a moment's notice. Highly organized, but flexible. Never late. Efficiently managing every task on time. Accommodating anyone who swings by for dinner.

The pastor's wife must be a matchless mother with superior children, I learned, usually 2.5 of them: a shiny-scrubbed young man and an angel-girl with hair in ponytail. (No tomboys, please.) If there is a baby, he must be cute, never noisy and, naturally, breast fed. But no one must ever actually see this event. The pastor's wife must play the piano and sing, love crafts and sewing; be a gourmet cook, creative, good at working with young children, supportive of her husband (keeping him first at all times), passionate inher love for God; never-complaining, selfless and always willing to eat the bony piece of chicken. She must clip coupons, be outgoing, always happy .... and, oh, make it all look easy.

My house is usually just clean enough to relax and eat a sand­wich in the living room. The beds are quite lumpy. My three children are usually dirty and busy, and would go to sleep with their skates on, if I let them. At church, I am forever chasing them around and whispering threats in their ears to be good: "Heidi, we have a missionary today. Please, please, please, I can't do it without you, please sit down and keep quiet, just this once." I know many ladies of the church look up to me and try to learn what a Christian woman is by my exam­ple. The responsibility is weighty. I want to be a willing servant of Christ and let my light shine. But that's not easy because, often, I don't know exactly who I am.

My dream is to become a successful writer, somehow contribute to the literary world with my heart and spirit, ink and paper. S 'one people say my poems are "nice" and ask to hear them on the appropriate occasion. But I desire more.

I don't need to publish a best­seller, become famous or make a million dollars. I just want to express myself, open up, explore my innermost thoughts and in the process help others come to terms with their own feelings about this experience we call life.

I graduated from college this year at age 36. It took me eight years to get my degree. l had babies along the way and many church members questioned my wasting time. But my goal was to graduate with high honors and I did earn the award for highest grade point average.

Some of the church could not understand why I had to go to all that bother. They wanted to know why raising children and teaching Sunday school wasn't enough. I didn't know why. I only know nothing was more fulfilling than the moment my name was called and I walked across that platform.

And I do know that in trying to live up to people's expectations, I never could. But when I felt like a miserable failure, facing my shortcomings turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Now I'm in the process of becoming the woman God created.

I must cross the vast abyss between the way people see me and who I really am. I don't need advice. I need support. I am learning to love myself more and trust myself more. And my love for Him has never wavered.

I am taking off the mask because I plan to go barefoot, sleep in late on Saturday mornings, sing and serve with joy the God who sets me free.

Laura McKenzie, a pastor's wife at Harbor Christian Fellowship in Costa Mesa, California, loves to read, write and walk on the beach with her family. This article appeared in Virtue, January! February 1994. Used with permission.