One Lonely Saturday

The following story is make-believe. Sort of. The events of the story actually happened, but they didn't all happen to the same person. They couldn't have. Or could they?

Jeff Barker is assistant professor of theater at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. Reprinted from The Church Herald, January 1994. Copyright © 1994 by the Church Herald Inc. Used with permission

It was a Saturday morn­ing. She was expecting their third child. She had spcnt the morning feeling some contractions. At high noon, she could tell that this was it—high noon in more ways than one. She said to her husband, "Honey, it's time to go to the hospital." The trouble was that her husband was a pastor. And he had a wedding that afternoon.

At this moment it seemed to her that her entire married life had been a tug of war between her needs and the needs of the church. Like ketchup. Since their parsonage was right next to the church building, whenever there was a church dinner and the church refrigerator ran out of ketchup, one of the hospitality committee would turn to her and say, "Do you happen to have a bottle of ketchup we could use?"

Yes, she did. Yes, she would go get it. Yes, it would get completely used up during the evening. Yes, the money would come out of her personal budget. Ketchup. Mustard. Relish. Butter. Salad dressing. Milk. Coffee. Little things, But it was at moments of stress that all the little things spoke to her and said, "You don't matter. Only the church matters."

She should have known; she'd heard it the very first time she donned the role of pastor's wife. It was back when he was in seminary. He had a little student pastorate. One Sunday shortly after they had gotten engaged, she went along with him to the church. Several of the parishioners stood there in the lobby looking at her. Finally someone said, "Did you come to sing?"

"No. I don't sing."

"Are you going to play the piano?"

"No. I don't play the piano." 

The silent stares spoke volumes. "You don't matter. Only the church matters."

Perhaps she had uncon­sciously responded by trying to win the church over—trying to prove that she was worth something. Like the time that she made a Thanksgiving meal for the entire congregation. Granted, it was a small congregation, but the money for the food did come out of her own pocket.

At the end of the meal, one lady who had stayed to clean up had commented, "That's an awful lot of leftover potatoes." And then with a smile and a nod, "A waste of money."

She had wanted to shout back, "It's not the church's money! It's my money! And if I want to waste $3 worth of potatoes, I'll waste $3 worth of potatoes!"

But after all, what she wanted or needed didn't matter. Only the church mattered.

At least that's how she felt on this Saturday noon when she desperately needed to go to the hospital and none of the church people who had said they would take care of the other two children when the time came could be reached now that the time had come, and her husband continued to make preparations to go to the wedding..

Finally they found someone who would take the kids, and at one o'clock they pulled up to the hospital. And he, with the weight of the responsibility of his parish upon him, dropped off his wife with the promise to return as soon as possible. She walked through the hospital doors alone.

For her, this was the road much traveled. It started every Saturday night when he closed the study door to put the finishing touches on the next day's sermon. Sunday morning, he left early to prepare for the service. She got the kids up and dressed and fed and to church. She had lost track of the number of times her kindergarten son had made his Sunday morning pronouncement, "I hate church!" And as an afterthought, "And I hate Sunday school, too."

She sat as a single mother, wrestling with her children during the service. All the other children seemed to be perfect angels.

After Sunday dinner, which she prepared; her husband took a much-needed nap. When he got up, he put the finishing touches on his evening sermon, grabbed a sandwich standing up, and left early to prepare for the service.

The rest of the week was equally lonely. Her husband kept office hours during the day, did some calling in the afternoons, and met with committees in the evenings. When he was home, he would observe. "You don't want me home for me. You just want a babysitter." It was true. She was getting so that she couldn't stand to look at the kids.

She knew that her husband was under pressure to keep the parishioners from saying, "He's not working hard enough." So she tried to do her part, but she was starting to feel like the wicked witch saying, "Get home!" How many times had she asked herself, "Is there something wrong with me? Don't I love God enough?"

Yes, she did love God. She loved him desperately, longingly.

"In my life, Lord, be glorified, be glorified." A snatch of a worship chorus floated through her mind as she walked down the hospital corridor alone. "In my life, Lord, be glorified today."

She pulled herself together and signed in between contractions. She settled into a comfortable birthing room. Things began to brighten a bit.

One day, they would look back at this and laugh. Like the time when they were first married and she was still in her professional mode. She had gone away on a consulting job, and her husband had made his own pink Jello salad to take to the church potluck. He had doubled the recipe but forgot to double the water. For years after that, whenever someone brought pink Jello salad to potluck, everyone laughingly referred to it as "Pastor's Plaster."

And the time one of their parishioners got arrested for bouncing a check, and they had to go down and bail her out. It was their church treasurer.

These were things to laugh about. Another contraction, and she suddenly was aware that she was incredibly tired and alone.

She was tired of having to cover for people who did not do their jobs in nursery, Sunday school, cleaning, getting special music, etc., etc., etc.

She was tired of feeling responsible at every Bible study whether she was the appointed leader or not.

She was tired of people complaining to her in hopes that it would get to the pastor.

She was tired of the annual salary evaluations.

She was tired of always having to say, "I got it on sale" for fear that people would say they were getting paid too much.

She was tired of not being able to share her true prayer requests.

She was tired and alone and empty. She felt like walking up to the church and saying, "I'm not smiling any more. In fact, I'm giving up my faith today. You have faith for me."

"In my life, Lord, be glorified, be glorified . . ."

She picked up the phone and called the church building. Her husband answered.

"How much longer? is the wedding over?"

"No, it hasn't even started." "Please hurry!"

"Is the baby coming?!"

"No. But I need you."

"I know. I'll be there as soon as I possibly can."

She hung up the phone. "In this room, Lord, be glorified today."

The minutes and contractions ticked by. The nurses were there. But no beloved soul mate to walk through the dark valley. The doctors came and went. Each time the door opened, her heart leapt in anticipation. Which was worse—the contractions or the opening and closing of the door?

She was close now. So close. The anesthesiologist arrived to prepare her for a spinal. It was a new procedure for her. She hadn't had it with the first two children. Had she made the right choice? Were the medical risks too great?

She was gradually learning that she could not confront human trauma with an institutionalized God. Like the time she had gone to visit the grieving mother whose suicidal daughter had been placed in a psychiatric hospital and then stabbed and killed by a fellow inmate. She had remained speechless as she sat in the presence of that heartsick mother. She had simply listened and learned and had herself been helped.

So now, with no one to speak words of comfort to her, a time when perhaps even Job's comforters would have been better than nothing, she was silent before the Lord. And oddly, or perhaps it wasn't so odd, she remembered the weekend a half a year ago when they had brought in a Lay Witness Mission to their church. At the end of the weekend, there was an invitation to recommitment. She and her husband had walked forward and knelt to pray, recommitting their lives to Christ. A few minutes later, she opened her eyes and peeked around to see their seven-year-old daughter kneeling just behind them. And she looked beyond her daughter and saw that the center aisle of the church building was lined with kneeling people. So many people want to have strong faith—to live completely for Jesus—if only they have someone to show them the way.

The spinal was finished. Pain and fear now gone, she found herself alone with God. "In this new birth, be glorified today." The door of the hospital room swung gently open. It was her husband. Never in the history of ministry had a pastoral call been so welcome.

A flood of such welcomings came rushing to her mind. Like the time that her husband had rifled her basket collection to make Easter baskets for a needy family—and upon discovering that he had given away a basket that had great sentimental value to her, he had gone and pur­chased brand new larger baskets and filled them and somehow managed a trade. He had been a welcome sight as he came up the front walk, bringing the lost basket home to her.

A welcoming like the young woman she had shared room mother duties with at the grade school. A woman who wasn't interested in "religion," as she called it. They had many good talks, but she had never even invited the woman to church. She knew this young woman would say, "Back off!" And then one Sunday morning, this woman came into the church building, bringing her daughters. After worship, this very same hardened-against-God woman came to the back with tear­stained cheeks—it wasn't the pastor's wife who led her to the Lord. It was one room mother welcoming another room mother into the heavenly family.

And suddenly, before she knew it, it was over. The doctor was handing her husband the scissors to cut the umbilical cord.

Here was a wonder. Another child whom she would try to keep quiet on Sunday nights by nursing him under a blanket that the older two children would suddenly want to play tug-of-war with.

Another child who would think he had thirty-six grandmas because of the way the church ladies would spoil him.

Another child who would lurk around corners in the parsonage, listening to the many adult conversations, hoping to catch a glimpse of God.

That night when her husband kissed her on the forehead and stole quietly from the room, she knew he was headed to his study to put the finishing touches on his sermon for tomorrow morning.

And at this minute, she also knew that she wouldn't have it any other way.

Jeff Barker is assistant professor of theater at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa. Reprinted from The Church Herald, January 1994. Copyright © 1994 by the Church Herald Inc. Used with permission