She must be friendly and on point every single time the church doors open. She is surrounded by a lot of lovely people who know her name, and she does her very best to learn their names as well. She takes the time to make sure she looks well-dressed because people expect her to look the part. Heels and pearls, or jeans and sandals--whatever is appropriate at her church.
She leads by example by being one of the first to sign up, show up, and help out in all the events. She is involved in a lot of big things like VBS, ladies circle, nursery, planning showers, and assisting at weddings. She always shows up with a gift, a dessert, and kind words. She oohs and ahhs over the new babies, celebrates the big moments, and cries with the grieving families. She is always there, and people can always count on her.
But, inside that cute exterior is a festering wound the world will never see.
She's a complete and total mess and has no way of letting the people around her know about it. It's just too dangerous--for her and for her husband. Anything she says and does is under constant scrutiny by the congregation. She doesn't want to say or do anything that will call attention to herself nor her spouse and family.
She cannot tell you that under that perfectly put together exterior that she is dangerously close to falling apart. She has worked herself into a ball of anxiety and has to do her best to plaster a smile on her face as she walks into the church each week. She is so afraid of disappointing people and letting them down.
She cannot share that she is embarrassed that her kids are acting like terrors and sass their teachers. She is unhappy with their behavior, but even more ashamed that people might be judging her "lack of parenting skills" which somehow reflects poorly on her husband and their ministry.
She worries that everything she says and does will be misrepresented and misunderstood. She worries that her mouth will get her into trouble again, or that she won't say the right words at the right time. She knows that she's going to let someone down--especially those with high standards for her glass house. She just prays when she offends someone, that it's not someone with high influence in the church.
She is often lonely. Lonely because her spouse is called away during dinner again. Lonely in the midst of another church event. Lonely as she sits alone in church because her husband is preaching or leading worship or working with the teens. Lonely because she shoulders a lot of responsibility and a lot of filling in when someone backs out at the last minute. Lonely in the middle of the Ladies Circle meeting.
She cannot share with you how she aches on the inside. Darkness curls up next to her ears and heart and whispers the most discouraging words. It reminds her of the many, many times she's failed and how shameful her actions have been in the past, and how terrible it would be if anyone ever found out. It tells her over and over again that she's not smart, good, spiritual, pretty, and/or together enough to be a minister's wife. Or a youth minister's wife. Or the children's minister's wife. Or the lady married to the elder, deacon, and/or Bible study leader.
So these ladies have to hide. They have to hide all of their struggles because they have learned that the church is not always the most welcoming place for those connected to leadership. Nobody wants their ministry families to have issues, and the churches will try to ignore it or drop them like a hot potato. Most of them can't even share a blog post like this one because of fear that people in their own congregations will misunderstand and hold it against them. People love to gossip and tear down and gloat in the failures of the holy, and the last thing these ladies need in their lives is one more voice telling them what a disappointment they are.
Because, believe me, there is enough of that going around in their heads and hearts.
I've encountered a wide variety of ministry families in different churches over the years, and I am happy to say that there are some churches who absolutely take care of their ministers and their families. I've also encountered some who are not overly invested in the ministry family's well-being, and some churches that mean well but just miss the mark.
Even in the most encouraging churches, it can take years for the ministers' wives to let their guards and walls down--especially if they have baggage from a previous church or experience. When my husband was a full-time minister, I was so thankful for those people who came alongside of us in each of our churches and encouraged us through immense joy as well as in our most painful times. And, I'm thankful that we still have fellow ministers, board members, and friends who walk beside us now.
Now that my husband is a camp manager, we have the opportunity to work with many different ministers from all over during our camp sessions. We hear their triumphs and losses. We hear about the wonderful things in their congregations, and we hear the hard things, too. It is our desire to be able to pour into them, cover them with prayer, encourage them, give them freedom to speak, and we want to speak out when they are unable to speak up for themselves.
Your ministers' wives are often unable to speak what is on their hearts. They don't need another casserole or message to deliver to their husbands. They don't need another opportunity to serve. They don't need another committee to chair or job to fulfill.
What they need are champions in their lives. They need people to fight for them and protect them. They need honest and true friends who will take care of them. They need people in their congregations to see them as more than a minister's wife and accept them as they are, and love them for it. They need encouragement and prayers and love. They need people to pray for them as well as their staff spouses. The need people in their lives to speak truth to their hearts and to remind them that they aren't alone in their feelings. They need to be gently reminded that they are humans like rest of us and are unable to live up to the unrealistic expectations they place on themselves.
Church (the collective), these ministry wives need you, too.
to be continued. . .