Thursday, July 03, 2008

If you haven't been there - be quiet.

If you have - help somebody.

The other day I found myself really upset while reading a pastor's wife's blog.

Oh, I wasn't mad at her. She seems to be a precious woman. She wrote a few things she wanted to share with everyone about the life of a pastor's wife.

She said things like, "sometimes mine is a very lonely life..." and "sometimes I bear burdens no one could ever imagine the weight of..." and "I just want everyone out there to know that your pastor's wife is probably dealing with some really heavy things you have no idea about..."

She was opening up with her readers and being transparent and she encouraged everyone to pray for their pastor's wife everyday, adding that few could ever understand or imagine the burdens upon a woman married to a minister.

Many comments from readers followed, all positive but one. It came from another pastor's wife, who left a comment saying, "Sister, it's evident that you are bitter and I will pray for you..." and then went on to chastise and rebuke and give her advice about the dangers of being transparent. What followed were a bunch of old school "words of wisdom" about how pastor's wives need to avoid any close relationships, keep all our feelings to ourselves, and whatever we do don't speak of these things aloud even with other ministers because talking about our hurts just breeds resentment and bitterness. (That's funny, I've always found that holding things in is what often breeds these negative emotions.)

Did the commenter actually think she was helping this woman? I feel strongly that if you're not going to help somebody, at least don't hurt them! When people become judgmental like this, God has a way of allowing them to go through experiences to understand the things they've been blabbing about but previously had no understanding or compassion about.

I would bet my closet of shoes that the commenter has never gone through some things that the pastor's wife blogger has! ***sigh***

In our first pastorate, Larry and I pastored an abusive church. Our son who was just a baby at the time was even thrown across the room by one of the nursery workers who was upset because he wouldn't stop crying. I. am. not. kidding.

It came to the point where we had to leave. It was so painful. It was one of the most depressing times of my life. All of our possessions that we did get to keep were sitting in a Sunday School classroom (couldn't afford a storage unit) and our life was headed nowhere as far as I could see. Pretty dang depressing if you ask me. I needed a case of Prozac but ended up just downing 1/2 gallons of "death by chocolate" ice cream and gaining 30 pounds to try to soothe away the pain.

Up to this time our closest friends (another couple in ministry) had not gone through anything like this. Pastoring for them had actually been pretty even keel. A few bumps in the road here and there and normal pressures of the ministry, but nothing colossal. No church splits. No forced resignations. No business meetings from hell. No leaving with no where to go. Nothing like that. So when we went through our issues and ended up losing everything, it was hard for them to comprehend what we were going through. When our friends would call and talk to us we let them know the reality of what we were going through. We would just dump out all our feelings on the table and emotionally we were a mess. Instead of what I expected to receive from our best friends, what we actually got were preachy platitudes, and cliches, and sort of a condescending attitude. Several times I said to them, "you just don't understand." Then there would be silence on the phone. Things were strained with us during that time, but we remained friends.

I realized they had no idea where we were coming from and I hoped they never would. Because I wouldn't have wished it on my worst enemy let alone my best friend.

Larry and I got back on our feet again ministerially about a year later, and things started looking up. We started pastoring another church and went into some of our best years in the ministry the next few years. About five years later we got a call from our best friends, who had still through it all remained our closest friends. The same thing that happened to us five years prior had now happened to them! They were devastated as you can imagine.

Nothing made sense for them. Life was crazy. Their world turned upside down. Supposedly "Godly" people in the church doing amazingly unGodly things. They lost their home. Lost their church. Lost their livelihood. Lost their kids school. (Their kids were enrolled in their previous church's school.) Where to from here? Life was absolutely a fog of depression for them for about a year. They never imagined any of this would happen to them. Like many of us in ministry, they had started out believing, if you just go to a church and you love God and love the people, everything will always work out. No. That's not the way it always works. Sometimes you love God, you love the people, and they eat you for lunch. Really.

From the first phone call I never had anything but compassion for them. Never once did I ever think of saying, "I told you so" or "now you understand". I didn't have to try to imagine what they were going through - I knew. I could feel their pain in such a strong way, although we were separated by many miles in my heart I was by their side each day.

I decided to give my friends what I would have wanted back when it happened to me.

I called them every single day. For months and months. Just to say, "how are you feeling today?" Just to listen. Not to talk, just to listen.

I let them vent their feelings in a safe place. I knew pouring out their feelings unedited and raw didn't mean they were bitter, resentful or unspiritual. They were simply hurting and needed a friend.

I reminded them they were still God's called and anointed. I often told them, "remember, one church's trash is another church's treasure!" I encouraged them -- their abusive church did not determine their future. God has the last word.

I sent a card or note by regular mail every single day. Sometimes I'd enclose a tea bag with a note that said,"get a cup of hot water...make this tea and sit down and relax and read my note" and then proceeded to encourage them through the letter and speak life into their spirits. It was my goal everyday to give them a call, a card, some kind of meaningful touch to let them know somebody out there felt their pain and they weren't alone.

I sent a packages with small "love gifts" of encouragement for them and their kids .

I prepared a letter of reference from Larry and myself to try to help them get a new pastorate. I told everyone I knew in ministry about my friends, that they were looking for a new pastorate and would be an incredible answer to some church's prayer.

I made it my mission to be a part of their healing process and get back on their feet again.

Most of all I prayed for them every single day.

It wasn't long into this whole journey that one day on the phone with my friend, they said, "Deanna, I'm sorry. We had NO IDEA."

I said, "what do you mean?"

They said, "when you went through your ordeal, we had no idea what it was like. We had no idea this is what happens to some people. We didn't understand or comprehend what you were going through, but now we do."

I said, "that's okay, I understand. But thank you."

The fires we went through have bonded us and our friends much more. We both have an understanding now and a compassion for ministers that runs deep. My friend confessed to me that they had a lot of repenting to do for the judgmental attitude of their past when they would look at other ministers who seemed to be hurting and would think, "what are they whining or crying about? Are they just getting bitter? They need to just get over it. Their situation can't be that bad..."

Now upon having this life experience, they realize in some cases it is that bad! And also, in some cases it may be even worse - for people can go through things we have never experienced yet nor could understand.

It's easy to judge when you haven't been there. My prayer is that those who haven't been there would be quiet, and for those who have to reach out and give others what they need. I think that's the God thing to do, know what I mean?

Post script: about a year into their ordeal, our friends ended up getting voted into a church across the country in a new place of ministry where they never imagined they'd end up! They have been absolutely wildly successful there and are thriving! The church has exploded in every way possible under their leadership. They are leaders in their district. The church treasures them! Their family is healthy and happy. God is amazing!!! We are still best friends, continue to talk on the phone and by e-mail all the time and usually preach in each other's churches every year when we can get away to do so.

8 comments:

AshliO said...

I've never been a pastor's wife, but I've always imagined it would be one of the hardest jobs on earth. And I always pray for my pastor's wife! Blessings to you! Ashli

Cassandra Stafford said...

Wow. This post made me cry for several reasons. One, I have been that person--in the middle of a really hard time--and have noone who could understand or offer a shoulder. I have HAD to keep it in and did fight bitterness. Two, I have since made those Godly friendships and have been ridden out ministry storms with them and I teared up thanking God for them as i read this. Three, just old memories of how hard ministry and church life can be and how it is so not intended to be that way. And thanking God that we are currently in a great church with great people and hoping it stays that way....we have said it though--we hope it never does, but if it does "eat us for lunch" ever agian....we are packing up and moving to Florida.....:)

LAURIE said...

Deanna, once again you have shared a wonderful word. Why is it that when we see someone down, instead of picking them up - we kick them? I am a Pastors wife, and yes at times it is hard but then I always come back to whose I am. I believe that sometimes we go thru things for the benefit of others; like you shared about your experience of that abusive church. If you had not gone thru that you may not have been able to minister to your dear friends at the time they needed it. Not only do we go thru things for the benifit of others but when we go thru these things we must always realize that God will be honored and glorified thru it. NO doubt it glorifies God when we pour ourselves in others and encourage them and lead them to the strength and power of Jesus Christ! -blessings, Laurie

Leanne said...

A thousand amens to this post.

Like Cassandra, I'm tearing up, too - for most of the same reasons she listed.

sparkled*life said...

Being in the ministry is so hard. You are under a constant microscope. People are always having a ruler to see if you measure up. It is crutial that we have people to vent to. To just unload on. This lady that wrote that nasty comment has to realize that we are people to. Just cuz we are doing God's work doesn't mean that we are just living life smelling roses. There are things that cut you deep. Way to go girl! You put it great....

Beloved MaMa said...

This stands true in so many avenues! In anything we could possibly go through, there are those who don't quite understand and therefore offer unwanted advice instead of a listening ear. After my miscarriages I had one lady tell me "I am so happy for you because God has big things in store" Another lady "I'm not normally this prophetic, but there is something not right with you" NO KIDDING! and another "Well, sometimes these things just happen" Unfortunately, I've been on the other end as well... the end where I truly didn't understand, completely lacking compassion. Out of my lack of compassion, I realized that I desperately needed to glean compassion adnd guess what? God provided compassion making moments in my life. No, I don't believe he wanted me to suffer by any means... but in the midst of several situations, I have learned a bit of compassion. I can now cry with those in circumstances I now understand. Your post today speaks at so many levels...both for pastors wives as well as for anyone who has ever gone through rough times. Thank you

Deanna Shrodes said...

Wow, it's amazing to me how many people relate to this. It's amazing and sad.

Beloved Mama, I know just what you mean. We too suffered a miscarriage. And it was two ladies in the church of all people who said things to me that were most hurtful. Please keep in mind I am only repeating what they are saying here, but one said: "you need to rejoice in this happening because the baby was probably retarded anyway and you don't need to deal with that..." and then another said, "you're young you'll have plenty of kids."

I was floored. This was from two "seasoned saints" (?) of our church WM group. Give me a break. "The baby was probably retarded"...have you ever heard of anything so offensive to say to a mother who just lost a child? And the "you'll have plenty of kids"...do you hear of anyone saying this when their 5 year old gets hit by a car or their 10 year old dies of cancer? NO! But they will say it in a heartbeat with a baby because it is not valued as much as a life in some people's eyes.

Sometimes people really, really need to be quiet. If those two ladies just would have hugged me, that's all I would have needed. I didn't need their words.

At the time we were in bible college and the Dean of Men, Jeff Fersuson, was also my husband's baseball coach. When he heard about the miscarriage he ran over to out apartment to see us. He came in and all he did was sit down on the couch and cry with us. And that meant the world. He also asked wht the worst time for me was in dealing with the emotional grief. I said at night, usually around 9 pm,I can't stop crying when I'm trying to wind down and go to sleep. He said, "my wife and I will pray for you every night during that time."

It meant the world.

DaNella Auten said...

I too can relate far toooo well. The last church we pastored severed us up for lunch on a daily baisis... Everything from "He isn't anointed because he uses notes to preach", to "She wears a wig!" Just hurtful lies and rumors. We left there and had to move out of the parsonage, to nowhere... We started attending a local church where God was able to heal us. After about a year, Praise God, we are much better. We just got voted in as pastors at an AWESOME church, full of wonderful sweet loving people!!! Prais God!