Being a pastor’s wife might be one of the hardest jobs out there with no job description. There are lots of expectations (from others and ourselves), but expectations don’t equal understanding. Expectations don’t help us find our space – that space God created us uniquely to fill and serve in. But over time we gradually figure out what it looks like to come alongside our husbands and be an integral part of a unique, Kingdom-advancing team. We find our space, and then…everything changes.
Covid-19 hasn’t changed your space, but it has changed some of what you do in it. There is still a crucial space alongside your husband as he leads that only you can fill. But navigating that space is taking some adapting on my part. There are many new struggles – churches going online for the first time, asking ourselves “will our church even be able to weather this storm and stay open?”, the weight of leading and “going where no one had gone before”, the pressure of shepherding a flock with so many more needs than they had just months ago. Other struggles may have been there all along – now we’re just forced to deal with them. Maybe it’s a tough marriage season, struggling kids, struggling elders or leadership – those things didn’t go away. We just squeezed them a little more and added some more stress – which always helps bring out the best in people (yeah, right!).
As the Alongside coaches have been talking with pastors’ wives from all over the U.S., from lots of different denominations and movements, from church plants to megachurches, we’ve seen some clear similarities in our struggles. It helps to hear that I’m not alone in my wrestling. But more than that, when I can gain some understanding about my struggle and some new ways to think about it, I am more able to get off the merry-go-round in my head, get above it, and get on to dealing with it. Hearing how others are choosing to respond to their fear with a fierce faith gives me what I need to take a deep breath and walk forward with that same fierce, courageous faith.
So here are the struggles that we are seeing in our own lives and ministries and among many of our fellow pastors’ wives. Take a few moments to gain some understanding… and to embrace some new opportunities for fierce courage.
UNDERSTANDING #1: UNCERTAINTY IS EXHAUSTING.
In fact, though we walk in trust that God has all of this, we feel the weight of those we are trying to care for: the weight of the boss who just laid off tens, hundreds or thousands of workers, of the single working mom who is trying to school her kids and keep her job, or of the daughter whose mom just died and is alone in her grief. We feel it. And the connectedness, the structures of relationships that have helped us to love those that are hurting in the past, are disrupted.
In “The Psychology of Crisis”, Dr. Henry Cloud outlined for us the five structures of life that are disrupted by crisis and how we can lead well in helping people reestablish those. These structures help us feel “well” and healthy, organize life and be able to take on normal struggles. These areas have been registering “red alert” in ours’ (and our peoples’ lives) for months now.
These life structures are:
- Connectedness – the wiring of relationships that provides the network for doing life
- Structure – the framework of routines that allows us to know what is coming, predictability
- Calm – the ability to reason and problem solve; disrupted by fight, flight or freeze experience
- Control – the sense of being able to make decisions and control my experience; people often give up God-given self-control they were designed to have, learned helplessness
- Productivity – sense of competency, contributing to purpose; leads to disengaging
Here is the webinar link by Dr. Henry Cloud. This helped us understand what was happening and help those in our care (staff, congregation, friends, and neighbors) to understand as well.Dr. Henry Cloud’s “The Psychology of Crisis”
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME AS A PASTORS WIFE?
The new ways that we’ve had to re-establish connectedness are not natural and take a ton more energy. So don’t be surprised when you feel depleted. Zoom and phone calls can help mitigate the loneliness for a moment, but are rarely life-giving. They don’t fill our tanks the same way that face-to-face interaction does. This means that giving ourselves more “white space” in our lives is crucial. The walk around the block isn’t just for your body, it is helping to replenish your tank. But realize that, especially if you are highly relational, there is nothing that is going to fill you up like those relationships. That is how you were created. However, in the meantime, there are things you can do to add to the tank.
- Press into your time with the Lord. Realize the crucial nature of your time in His Word and prayer. Only He “has the words of life.”
- Resist the temptation to think of yourself as “another burden”. Even though this is a highly stressful time for our husbands, we need to talk with them about how we are feeling, how our emotional needs are changing in this season. Ask him which of the “life structure disruptions” he’s experiencing the most.
- Find, or rediscover, something that energizes you. Maybe its biking or running, creating art or reorganizing. Find a few moments each day to do that. I know, I remember well having littles at home. It’s super hard. Can you lay out the week with your hubby and see where a few moments might be found? For each of you?
UNDERSTANDING #2: YOUR PARTNERSHIP IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER.
The weight our husbands are carrying is far more than what they’ve carried before. There are many trying to give predictions and advice, but even the most seasoned leaders have not led through this kind of wilderness before. It is normal to be feeling the weight of wondering “what about all of those people we worked so hard to connect with? Will they still be there?” “How will we keep our staff if giving goes down?” “How much should we help with the financial needs of our people?” “How can I pastor those that are hurting when it’s hard to even see them?”
There are many known challenges that are glaring us in the face. But sometimes the unknown creates more anxiety – and often that anxiety stays hidden. We’ve found that oftentimes we, as pastor’s wives, can see the anxiety rise in our husbands even when they can’t see it themselves. Piled on top of that is the pressure to do something when they aren’t sure quite what to do. This alone is considered one of the highest creators of anxiety.
Pouring courage into our husbands is one of the most crucial but also most difficult parts of a pastor’s wife’s calling. Helping them manage these new kinds of stress can often leave us feeling pretty helpless. If you want to dig into this a little more, here’s a great podcast by Carey Nieuwhof with Steve Cuss. It’s fantastic – listened to it twice and then Craig and I talked about it.Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast with Steve Cuss
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME AS A PASTORS WIFE?
- “What do you fear most?” Ask him the question. Call it out. Bring it into the light. Sometimes when anxiety feels crushing but we can’t identify anything that we haven’t given over to the Lord, this question is the catalyst for the conversation that lifts some of that weight.
- Resist the urge to tell him what to do. Leaders act – but anxious leaders act too quickly. You can bet your husband is feeling the pressure to act in lots of different areas and embrace tons of different ideas. Resist the urge to push him to move. Perhaps the Spirit has been cautioning him to wait and watch- to press pause. That is often the course of wisdom. So, ask good questions and pray diligently for the Spirit to lead him and that he would follow.
- Cultivate inspiring hope. Actively look for places in your lives where God is providing and create a public standing stone – make Him famous. This might mean creating family conversations, a Thanksgiving Tree in June, or a pile of rocks in your flower garden. You minister out of what is happening at home. Model frugality and a willingness to sacrifice. Look for places of excess to be generous.
UNDERSTANDING #3: YOUR (and God’s) CREATIVITY IS YOUR GREATEST RESOURCE.
If you are employed by the church, you have your marching orders and are reinventing what your ministry looks like. If you are not employed by the church, you have had to carefully navigate what your ministry space looks like and it is often all about connecting with people. As pastors’ wives, our connectivity and accessibility are very valuable to us. We manage them carefully because they are both our greatest resources and the things that are often abused. These have been interrupted – but in the interim, our creativity is our best resource. Some of us find ourselves not knowing what to do, with all the venues for connecting with people suspended. We are reinventing those paths of connection. Others of us find ourselves overloaded, picking up the pieces of those things our husbands are trying to do without a team. Maybe its leading online worship, calling families for weekly check-ins, or devising activities to engage the kids in living rooms while parents try to listen to our husband’s message. Your space may look different but your presence is still crucial.
Do you know that you are a calming presence to the people of your flock?
Do you know that when they see you, or hear you, they are reminded of “normal” and that God is working in their midst, through His leaders to get them through these rough waters?
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO ME AS A PASTORS WIFE?
- Feeling pushed out or overlooked – realize that you are here “for such a time as this.” Take inventory of those opportunities that are only here for a short time. For example, my neighbors would never have gotten together to just talk under normal circumstances, let alone about heart-struggles. But after a few weeks of this, they jumped at the chance to get together online and talk about “How to Survive a Crisis with a Healthy Heart”. It was mostly guided conversation but included a short Bible Study on Philippians. God used this to build community among a group of people who were sharing many of the same struggles, eager to hear about how God wants them to deal with fear and crisis.
- 4 weeks of conversations with a short study in Philippians for online gatherings during COVID 19. Designed for unchurched or those that have had a poor experience with church.
- If you want to see my outlines for this Neighborhood Gathering Time, here it is.
- Feeling overwhelmed and overloaded – realize this is temporary and assess the critical versus the comfortable. What can we absolutely not do without? What is crucial for me to invest in during this season? Talk this over with your husband.
- “Lord, who would you have me connect with today?” Listen and act.
- “Lord, am I mobilizing those in my circle?” or am I trying to do it all myself? The more our people can focus on the needs of others, the healthier they will be. Remember that this is definitely a marathon and not a sprint. Sprints take guts but marathons take wisdom. Allow this time to put a magnifying glass on what is most important.