MY JOURNEY AS A PASTOR’S SPOUSE began over 20 years ago. I was young, naïve, and a bit of a dreamer. I thought the possibilities of serving God alongside my husband were endless. As they say, the sky was the limit.
As I look back on those first years, I can see now how God worked in miraculous ways to grow my faith in Him. Some of my most trying moments, as well as the most joyous, have been in the role of pastor’s spouse.
Reviewing my journey, I see that God has been teaching me along the way many principles of His kingdom. He has also constantly been drawing me closer to Himself. My hope is that this reflection
on some key areas of growth that I have experienced can serve as encouragement for other ministry spouses.
1. God designed us to be unique for Him.
Expectations can be placed on a spouse that are just not realistic or even reasonable. God did not create you or me out of a cookie-cutter mold. We are all different from one another. There were times when church members expected me to serve in certain church ministries or to fit a mold of their view of a pastor’s spouse. I did not sing. I did not play the piano. And I was not good at coordinating a potluck dinner.
My first Sabbath as a pastor’s spouse found me sitting in a pew waiting for the service to begin. All of a sudden, I felt a tug on my shoe. Startled, I looked down to see the bright eyes of a small child looking up at me from the floor. In a quiet voice, she sweetly asked, “Are you a vegetarian?” My induction process had begun. She had been prompted by someone in the congregation to approach me with that question to see if I fit their perception of following the health message.
It took me many years to realize it was acceptable to not meet other people’s expectations. There is only one expectation that matters—God’s. His voice alone is the one that should direct my thoughts and actions. He is the one who has gifted me with talents to be used the way He knows is best. More quality time with Him has given me wisdom. Yes, there are times He will speak through other people. And when others are led by Him, it will be evident in their approach.
The best counsel I can give to help another spouse who is struggling with finding her “space” is to simply spend time with God every single day. There is no substitute for taking quality special time to listen for His voice. His Holy Spirit has a unique way of speaking to each of our hearts in a personal way. He knows how to settle in our minds what the right path is for us. He knows how to impart wisdom for the boundaries we need in order to balance all the areas of life.
Some of my gifts are active listening, encouragement, and being a prayer partner. I love to sit down with a person and give her time to talk about what is on her heart. As God leads, I share promises with her from His Word and pray with her about her concerns. I am very comfortable sharing tidbits of my own testimony that might be encouraging to someone in their spiritual journey with God.
2. People often react from a place of hurt in their own lives.
Ministry has afforded me the opportunity to shed many tears—tears over hateful words, mean emails, and snide remarks that tend to leave a deep scar on the heart. Truthfully, 20 years ago I did not know that church members, people of God, could be so cruel. And when things were said and done, I took it to heart and nursed those hurts for a long time.
Then the Holy Spirit began to work on me and help me realize a key truth that started to set me free from the pain of past wrongs: hurt people hurt people. And churches are full of hurting people. When we do not know how to properly process pain, we take it out on others. Christ’s words on the cross took on a whole new meaning for me: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34, KJV, emphasis supplied). I began to realize that, while I am not perfect by any means, the majority of emotional projectiles hurled my way had little, if anything, to do with me personally. I was simply an easy target.
There were also many instances when I witnessed my husband being the object of others’ pain. It’s one thing when it happens to you, but when your spouse or children are suffering, it goes to a deeper level of discouragement. There were times the barbs would come at him right before he would go up to preach. It would happen in the back room, the place where prayer and support are offered just before the service begins. And right before he would leave the room, someone might offer a comment that would deflate his confidence before stepping up to the podium.
However, God has worked through all the valleys of pain to help me understand His own character more deeply. No one has been treated more cruelly than Jesus Himself. His life here on earth was filled with more sorrow than joy; hence, He was called the Man of Sorrows. And yet, He was always loving, merciful, and patient. No matter the insults, He clung to His relationship with the Father
to sustain Him through all circumstances. He chose to remember His calling as the Savior of the world. He offers the same strength to each one of us. He has equipped us to walk down any path He has set before us.
3. Keep focused on the big picture of life and ministry.
In the midst of trouble, it can be very difficult to see anything good. More often than not, the darkness of pain and suffering drowns out any glimpse of light and hope. Faith tends to give way to feelings of despair and discouragement. Have you been there? Maybe you are experiencing that dark place right now.
Remember Joseph in the Bible? He was the one with a coat of many colors, a mind full of dreams, and older brothers who intensely hated him. The ones he should have been able to trust for protection instead plotted to kill him. Joseph was stripped, beaten, sold into slavery, and sent to a foreign land. He had many years to reflect on what happened to him. I’ve often thought about his attitude toward his brothers and God during those years in Egypt.
After 20 years, Joseph was reunited with his brothers. The Bible gives a glimpse into his heart as he interacted with them. After his father died, the brothers were still afraid Joseph might seek retaliation for their prior wrongs. Yet we see what I call the “original” Romans 8:28 found in Genesis 50:20: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
Through the years, I have learned to take hold of the same faith that Joseph had in the God of heaven. He chose to see his experiences through the lens of faith. His perspective was widened to see a plan bigger and more far-reaching than his own life. This is why I believe Romans 8:28. When we believe, God can take any circumstance and truly bring something out of it for our good and His glory.
Part of seeing the big picture is realizing we have been called to a work that has everlasting results. Some of my most joyous moments have been studying the Bible with friends who then made the
choice to follow Jesus and be baptized. Helping them become disciples of Christ and discover their gifts to continue that ripple effect of expanding God’s kingdom is priceless indeed.
4. Your role in ministry will fluctuate with the seasons of life.
The book of Ecclesiastes tells us there is a season for everything. Life is not static, and neither is ministry life. In our first years of ministry, I had more time to dedicate to church functions and
evangelistic campaigns. Then children came. And aging parents. Priorities do shift a bit with the changes of life.
With this thought comes the necessity of understanding healthy boundaries. If you have ever flown on a plane, you are familiar with the safety instructions that are reviewed by the flight attendants prior to takeoff. One of those instructions involves the oxygen mask. If there is a change in air pressure, oxygen masks will detach from above your seat. It is necessary for you to put on your own mask before assisting someone else. Why? If you become depleted of oxygen and cannot breathe, you are not going to be of benefit to anyone else.
The same is true in ministry life. It is easy to get so caught up in all the things that need to be done that we lose sight of true priorities. I have listened to many stories through the years of other
pastors’ spouses who lament the choices that were made at the sacrifice of their own spiritual health and families.
Every day we must apply the oxygen mask of spending time with God for ourselves. There is no substitute. Doing ministry work for Him is not the same as sitting at the table and taking nourishment for our own growth. Our marriages and families need to be strong and healthy. This requires setting aside quality time with our spouse and children to foster those relationships.
Throughout our years in ministry, my husband and I have made it a priority to spend at least one evening a week together as our “date” night. It is special time dedicated to focusing on each other
to keep the marriage relationship strong and thriving. For our family life, we set aside time every week to do something our daughters like to do, whether it’s hiking, playing miniature golf, or playing a game of tennis. And when our girls were younger, my husband and I would take turns spending weekly time with each daughter one-on-one to facilitate that individual time to communicate how special they are to us. Time is one of the greatest gifts we can share with our family.
5. Be willing to listen to others who have walked the path ahead of you.
I have been blessed to have several mentors through the years. Listening to their experiences has given me much hope. I have learned to trust God more deeply. There are many unknowns in ministry and seasons of potential loneliness and isolation. Pastoral spouses tend to have very few, if any, people they can truly confide in for personal thoughts and situations. It becomes very easy to
believe you are the only one who has ever faced a particular hardship.
This can lead to burnout, depression, and an overall sense of complete despondency. We went through all of these at various phases in our ministry. These factors can put a tremendous strain on marriages and family life. I thank God that during some of our lowest points, He always provided a ray of hopeful encouragement. And He would do it through other people—people who had walked the path before us and come out on the other side.
One such time was when we went to a prayer conference in Modesto, California. We went there completely drained spiritually and on the verge of quitting ministry altogether. But God put us with a prayer group that became the saving grace of our lives at that time. Others who had suffered pain and heartache became keenly aware of our situation and became the support we needed for that very time in our lives.
As a pastor’s spouse I know God has placed a specific calling on my life. He has blessed and equipped me to be His servant in just the way He has designed me. And the same is true for you. We may not sing. We may not play the piano. We may not even organize functions very well.
But we can love. We can support and encourage. We can believe and pray for God’s Spirit to fill us with His power to do His work. He has called us to the greatest ministry of all—to proclaim the
everlasting gospel to a world that desperately needs hope and peace. He has called us to touch others for His salvation through the unique ways He has gifted us. My fellow pastor’s spouse, you
are not alone. Be strong and courageous in the Lord. He is always with us.