A good self-image is nurtured by friendship. According to one fact-finding group, forty-four percent of pastors' wives have no trusted friend, and thirty percent have no person they could go to for support or any support group at all. But guess how many of those women asked for help when they really needed it? One percent. Only one percent shouted, Help! even though they were hanging on by their fingernails. Why is this the case? There could be many reasons but maybe one of the chief ones is the shallow nature of the friendships that do exist for the ministry wife.
So many people in our churches are spiritually and emotionally starved. They drain us dry instead of charging us up. They have no real friendship to offer. Yet if there's anything a ministry wife needs, it's friendship. And I don't mean just the acquaintance who comes over for coffee or goes to the mall with you to peruse the sales. Meaningful friendships are part of God's design. Every person needs at least one close friend. This is especially vital in the ministry.
For ministry wives, this can be tough. For instance, the wife of a minister is never viewed as being in the same category as normal people (a problem suffered also by her husband). Either people assume you are aloof, or they themselves act aloof. Not only that, but people in a congregation or some other ministry group feel very intimidated and vulnerable when they see weaknesses in their leaders and those leaders' spouses. They are a little afraid to know what's really going on in our lives, especially if it's ugly, or it hurts. Somehow they think we should be above problems.
For this reason, quite a few ministry wives have friends (if they have friends at all) outside their church or organization. Sometimes they are the wives of other men in ministry. Sometimes they are people with the same outside interests, such as literature, sports, or crafts. But, much of the time, the ministry wife, cloistered as she is in the unending cycle of activities and the demands of her family's needs, pursues no real friendships at all. She has been taught to expect that God will meet her every need.
Indeed, God does intend to meet all our needs. But He meets them through certain instruments, one of them being close and meaningful relationships.
I struggled with this in a youth mission situation because our leader's wife believed you shouldn't have close personal friendships on the team. She felt, perhaps from experience, that it caused tensions and friction. Maybe since she didn't have a close personal friend, she thought we wives didn't need one either. She was wonderfully able to live like that, but I wasn't. I tried very hard to be like her because I admired her and wanted to model after her, But I'm the sort of person who needs friends in order to operate at my best. As I looked at the Scriptures, I noticed that Jesus himself had friends: twelve good friends, three very good friends, and one best friend!
Think about the circles of Jesus' friendships. Jesus never apologized for his friendships, and that often got Him into trouble, even among the twelve. He was always picking His three very good friends out of the crowd and not explaining why, and that inevitably caused envy and jealousy. Jesus modeled friendships because He chose to need it and knew that we all needed it too. He knows that women especially need the friendship of other women.
During that particular time in my life, I knew that I needed to get very practical about what I was learning about Jesus and His friendships. So I sat down at my kitchen table and drew three circles within each other: the outside circle for the twelve, the next one for the three, and the one in the center for his special friend, I prayed, asking the Lord which individuals, in my life, belonged in those circles. And then I drew another outer circle, beyond the twelve, this circle representing the seventy—Jesus' close acquaintances. Beyond that was the space representing the multitudes.
What happened to me that day? As I wrote names in those circles I finally quit feeling guilty about having friends—about not spending as much time with my seventy as I spent with my twelve or as much time with the twelve as I did with the three, and so on. As I was freed up to pursue friendships, many needs were met, and I was enabled to be a better (and less stressed) youth worker's wife.
A close friend makes a big difference. Why are friends so necessary? First of all, good friends know how to listen. They allow you to let off steam, to cry, to throw a temper tantrum. They help us to process our experiences, and to be truly honest. if the many unhappy ministry wives I've met could do one or two of those things on a regular basis, they would feel better immediately. I know I did!
At one point in our ministry when my husband had a period of heavy traveling, I found the friendship of one particular woman a lifesaver. Fortunately, I had been through the learning process I have just described and was able to be open to extending friendship to Angela. She was a true friend—leveling with me in love (and when you are leveled in love you are never leveled!), being there in the tough and tender times in those early child-rearing days and, above all, making me laugh. The therapy of laughter, I discovered, happens easily between good friends, bringing release from tensions. She was also my sister, my partner in projects. Many times when we arrived home well past midnight—exhausted yet happy after evangelistic efforts with youth—we drank a welcome cup of tea together. With Angela I found a friendship of equals that was quite a new experience for me.
As I wrote in Thank You for Being A Friend, a book about my friendship with Angela and other women in my life: "As long as our friendship remained inclusive and not exclusive God enriched our lives and service immeasurably."
I found out that really good friends are accepting. Their world doesn't fall apart when your imperfections come glaring through. They don't have you on a pedestal to begin with, so when you fail or show weakness, their love and appreciation remain constant. Love isn't blind, I discovered. Only love sees.
Good friends tell you the truth about yourself. Most of the time they don't have to tell you the negative part of the truth; you are already overly familiar with your bad points.
No, a friend tells you repeatedly about your positives. He or she sees you through more merciful eyes than you see yourself. Did you know that many women in ministry are driven people—are high achievers? The personality profiles are often that of the type of person who is hard on herself, who is never satisfied. A good friend knows you well enough to tell you when it's time to lighten up. Friends are intent on encouraging, on being lifelong cheerleaders for each other.
A genuine friend can make quite a difference. So maybe it's time you prayed that God sent you one. Maybe He already has, but you were just too self-involved to see it. That's easy to do. Perhaps there is a person right under your nose who would be amazingly good at reciprocating your love and support. We are so programmed to think that we must always be the givers, and others are to be the receivers, Take a fresh look at your present relationships and examine their potential.
You fight not find a friend in your own church or team. That's not important. The important thing is to find a friend. Although the Lord sometimes brings each of us through periods of aloneness, even periods of friendlessness in order to teach us dependence on Him, those states should only be temporary. We were meant to live in relationship to others.
A good self-image should be nurtured by your best friend—your mate. It should go without saying that your husband should become not only a good friend, but also a source of positive feedback for you, helping you to maintain a healthy image of yourself. But the sad truth is that many spouses are more detrimental to the self-image of their partners than they an helpful.
A husband saddled with the responsibility of being the sole source of his wife's ego will wither in a matter of weeks. Wives can depend far too much on their husbands for their self-esteem, and that dependence generally has a boomerang effect. Spouses weren't designed to carry that kind of load alone. Therefore, it is imperative that women base their self-esteem on God and His Word and nurture it through other relationships besides the marital one—especially with other Christian women.