The Minister's Wife

The Minister's Wife: Superwoman or Super Sad

Is the pastor's wife either superwoman or super sad?

Vernee A. Stoddart, M.S., is donor response coordinator for Global Missions and a lifestyle consultant. She enjoys reading and music. She and her husband pastor in Maryland.

Times are getting more dramatic as the years go by. There is so much discord today in confer­ences and local churches. There is an alarming rate of divorce among members, the credibility of pastors and leaders are on the front page, a lack of unity, sympathy, and love among leaders and membership is increasing, and church-hopping is seemingly the new style of worship. While all of this is going on, there is another group of church members faced with crisis situations. Ministers' wives, believe it or not. According to one conference official there is reportedly eighty-two percent of marriages in the ministry tha'A are in crisis situations. How could that be? It has been said that ministers' wives today are less tolerant, more career-oriented, and are less prone to taking active roles in church-related activities. However, an­other report concluded that a lack of love and appreciation for her gifts and talents is exhibited from both the church members and her spouse. I tend to agree; however, I believe there is more to this issue. I believe that a lack of personal fulfillment of goals and dreams is a contributing factor to the stress of many ministers' wives.

As a minister's wife of thirteen years, it has been very challenging for me to experience personal fulfillment in the area of career and personal goals. Because of the nature of my husband's job (calling), I am often moved to new locations out-of-state and, of course, that means I have to quit that great, or possibly not-so-great, job. Once we are settled in our new environ­ment, new home, and new school for the children, the job hunt starts all over again. It can be quite difficult to land a job outside of the church schools or conference of­fices. Unfortunately, a great per­centage of job interviewer's ques­tions are "Why do you move around so often?" Additionally, there are many of us who wait at least six months to a year to get a job in our field of work. We prepare ourselves educationally, but are unable to fulfill a long-term respon­sibility to our employers. As a result, we have to settle for the job that is less fulfilling. Just after receiving my master's degree in business and a promising job placement in the immediate future, my husband's new assignment landed us two states away. I, of course, went on like Sarah "follow­ing where he leads." I felt I had no choice or say in the matter because ultimately this must be the place where God called both of us to be. It was then that I knew I did not want to become lost in the church shuffle as my husband continued to excel in his career (calling) while my career and aspirations were at a halt. Does this mean that as a minister's wife I should let my personal goals and dreams dimin­ish?

I have found that my experience is similar to other pastors' wives who have chosen to pursue their careers along with being a minister's wife and mother. There are those who enjoy their jobs, have great stability, seniority, and potential for growth. Knowing how difficult it is in the job market, their husbands reluctantly agree that the wife should remain in herjob to fulfill her goals and dreams. Needless to say, this decision comes with a great sacrifice, commuting on weekends, loneliness, and being away from the family circle both at home and in the church. At another time, I spoke with a minister's wife who was working for the govern­ment. Her husband received a new district assignment out of state. Unfortunately, in that city there were no government facilities where she could possibly request a transfer. As a result, she quit her job. Years later, she returned and visited her former co-workers still working at the government facility where she had previously worked. She discovered that her friends now have high grades in the system, received promotions, and increased salaries. This sister was down. She felt so out-of-touch and disdained because she had given up on her dreams and goals.

Another minister's wife shared her experience of wanting to work part-time but her husband re­quested her not to work so she could be home to raise the children. She exchanged her dreams for her family. She now remains unful­filled.

And finally, another minister's wife shared a dialog that occurred between her and her husband. He lovingly admonished her not to forget that wherever he is called, she is also. She agreed with him except for one small point. She told him that she does believe that she has been called to be a minister's wife, but her calling does not bring home a paycheck or personal fulfillment (His call or her call?).

Does a career-oriented minister's wife bring a hindrance or liability to the ministry? Is it our duty to forsake our goals and dreams in order to do the will of God? Should we feel guilty for wanting something of our own to work towards? Are we wrong? Are we being selfish or self-centered?

All in all, there exists ministers' wives who are faced with a significant amount of discourage­ment, rejection, and loneliness in pursuit of their careers. The stress of being apart from their mates, raising children alone, traveling back and forth to be together on weekends, have caused the health and well-being of some wives to deteriorate mentally, emotionally, and physically. Some have substi­tuted dreams and goals in ex­change for food which caused them to gain lots of weight. There are those who lose interest in their careers, in their personal appear­ance, in the interest of their husbands' ministries, in their mar­riages, and also in the church. Sad to say, I know of one minister's wife who turned to alcohol for relief for her unfulfilled needs. The devil is taking advantage of the vulner­ability of unhappy ministers' wives. Yes, there are crises that exist and we need to deal with them by the grace of God. Unfortunately, some of us are so stressed out and sickly that we cannot glorify God and exemplify His Word in our lives!

To those of you who may have been faced with or are presently living in challenging situations such as these noted, I would like to encourage and affirm you. How do we handle the question of being loyal to God while at the same time, exploring the idea of pursuing our careers and goals? I do not profess to be a counselor, psychiatrist, doctor or lawyer, but I come only through the peace and love re­flected by the radiant character of Christ and also as a minister's wife who experienced this in my life. By firmly claiming the promises of God and experiencing victories through His power in my life, I share this with you:

God is concerned. "For he satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness" (Psalm 107:9). God is concerned about everything we feel and do. Everything that He touches is special. Has he touched your life? If so, your goals and dreams are special too. We must continue to believe that it is God who directs our paths through every stage of our lives whether we are at home with the children, living in an unpleasant area, attending school, or employed outside the home. We are placed where we are for His glory and to be His witness. Even though challenges arise as minis­ters' wives, life doesn't have to be vexatious because we know that God is concerned and He's working it out for us. In addition, whatever your circumstance, it is nevertoo late to fulfill your goals and dreams. Remember God's promise: "The Lord will perfect that which con­cerns me" (Psalm 138:8).

Don't lose heart. "Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a. woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised. Give her of the fruit of her hands and let her own works praise her in the gates" (Proverbs 31:30-31). A great deal of our time is expended as a homemaker and mother. Much time is spent ministering to the needs of our husbands and to the needs of our church family. And praise God, these are wonderful and holy elements of life. It is a blessing to be an instrument of God! Yet, some of us neglect to take the time to cultivate our goals and dreams. We become less motivated and regretfully wonder what it would have been like had we fulfilled those goals and dreams. Some of us are so busy there doesn't seem to be enough time in a clay for ourselves. Even if it takes ten minutes a day or one hour a weekto work towards your personal goals or dreams, it is worth it.

God created beauty and uniqueness. Let's cultivate our characters to reflect the beauty and splendor of Christ. We are not usual women. We should possess a quality that outshines the usual. And yet, some of us are wearing a mask pretending to be the happy and perfect minister's wife. What is a perfect minister's wife? Is she content with who she is? Is she at peace with her fellow sisters? Is she at peace with God? Unfortunately, there are some ministers' wives who are mentally frazzled trying to keep a phoney appearance instead of just being themselves. Have you ever compared yourself to other pastors' wives who seem to have things all together? There are those who establish exclusive relation­ships within our circle (ministers' wives) to look and feel important. There are some who do not feel worthy to show ourselves friendly for fear of being rejected. We tend to lose our individuality and simply settle for being known as "the pastor's wife." Down inside Iies insecurity, low self-esteem, personal dissatisfaction, and frustration. It's quite unfortunate that manypeople miss the beautiful flowers we really are if we just could be ourselves and not what everyone else expects us to be. Just as God created a variety of flowers and delightful fragrances, we are unique in many special and delightful ways too. What God has for you, it is for you! You are one of a kind. However, we either experi­ence burnout, become incognito, jealous, depressed, or spiritually dead. We may even want out of the marriage. Remember, you are uniquely designed by God. Trust God to know all about you and allow Him to mold you into something even more unique and beautiful "Let your conduct be without covetousness, and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you'"(Hebrews 13:5).

Pray always and be thankful. Talk to God. Stand until His will is clear. His promises are true: "The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth. He will ful­fill the de­sire of those who fear Him; He also will hear the cry and save them " (Psalm 145:18, 19). Sisters, do service for God because you love Him and not because you are a minister's wife fulfilling a role. When we truly are trusting in the Lord we will be more confident and have an abiding trust that He will direct our paths in our goals and dreams. Hold fast to your dreams and goals. Seek counsel from mothers who love the Lord. I thank God for blessing me with a beautiful Christian mother who always encourages me to pursue my dreams and never let them go.

God blesses us with talents and gifts for His glory. "The highest education for women is found in the thorough and equal cultivation of all her talents and powers" (Daughters of God, pg. 20). One day I tookdeep introspection and sought out my strengths, my weaknesses, what gives me per­sonal fulfillment, my goals, and dreams. I realized that I am good at teaching. I have a real interest and burning desire to teach and reach people's needs in the area of health and lifestyle. I want to help others learn and recognize that health and lifestyle contribute to life's successes and dreams! I started with a vision, conducted research, studied intensely, carefully planned, organized, and now I am in the process of starting my own lifestyle consulting business. Praise God! Now, whenever my husband and I are reassigned to a new area, I can continue to fulfill dreams wherever I go.

So there you have it. There is a way to glorify God without feeling guilty about pursuing your dreams and goals and still be a beautiful minister's wife. I found the key to it all. It is simply wrapped up in this promise: "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4). It is God in you, your love for Christ, the Holy Ghost that directs you and brings about the fulfillment of your dreams, hopes, and aspirations.

For those ofyou shepherdesses who have truly found the key to fulfillment and joy, praise the Lord! However, reach out your hand of experience, wisdom, and encour­agement to other sisters in the ministry faced with trying situa­tions. Don't criticize or shun your sisters because they may not have attained the heights of grace and the beauty of holiness. These godly elements are vital. They 'too, are candidates for the heavenly king­dom and we want to hear God say "well done" to all of us.

Vernee A. Stoddart, M.S., is donor response coordinator for Global Missions and a lifestyle consultant. She enjoys reading and music. She and her husband pastor in Maryland.