~ William Orville Douglas
On Thursday the mail came at the church office, and there was a very heartfelt two page letter for me from a blog friend, Aaron, from Iron Sharpens Iron. (Some of you read his blog too. What a blessing he is.) Upon opening the envelope two gift cards fell out onto my desk. I was so touched when I saw what they were . They were Carrabbas gift cards so that Larry and I could go on a date. Anyone who has read my blog for long knows that is my favorite place to eat. I was so blown away by this special gift and more than the gift - the precious letter that accompanied it. He was giving appreciation for some things I had written on this blog and how they had blessed him. (I'm writing this with his permission by the way.)
I have something I want to share with you about Aaron's letter. He said, "Thank you for your blog and sharing with us EVERYTHING. (Well...almost everything.) Pastor's wives are usually concerned more with image than honesty. By sharing your real feelings and struggles, I was able to identify with you and receive hope -- new hope...a hope that stems from example."
Why am I sharing this with you? No, I'm not on an ego trip. First, I wanted to thank Aaron publicly as I have already done privately . Second, immediately upon reading his letter I thought of a message I want to get out there to anybody who will listen.
First let me say, I'm blessed as far as how I am treated by my church people. I want everyone to know, I am not saying any of the following to complain about my church. I think by this time everyone in my church understands this and if they didn't like it nor understand it, they aren't still in our church. They have evidently left to find a church where the pastor or spouse will never admit their struggles.
I decided long ago to say what I have to say, be me, and let the chips fall where they may. Sometimes the chips have fallen on the wrong side, a hurtful side in the past, and yes I've had criticism, and yes I've had people leave me over it and to be honest there have been times I've left them. And you know what? I'm perfectly fine with that. Anybody I have to be a fake for to stay in relationship isn't really meant to be in relationship with me anyway. I love people and I accept them however I'm not willing to be a fake for anybody. For three months from mid July until mid October I wrote every day about my pain and frustration here on my blog and hard things I was working through, some with the church. I poured my soul out. Did EVEN ONE of my church people complain? No. Absolutely not. They stood with me. They lifted me up. They had nothing to pour out upon me but their love and encouragement. They prayed for me until I had a breakthrough, and until our church had a breakthrough. They "get it."
There's a reason a lot of pastor's wives out there don't feel they can be honest. There is a reason many of them wear a mask to church every week, and why many of them don't write anything but pollyanna sounding stuff on their blogs despite the fact that some of them feel like they are being eaten alive. Don't blame them...there is usually too high a price to pay for their complete honesty and it can threaten their family's very security if they do!
It's a shame that because of the way many people treat their pastor's wife, they feel they have to hide who they truly are. If they are having a bad day, you'd never know it. If they are breaking inside, they cover it. If the church is abusing them, they take the blows silently. They don't feel comfortable enough to tell you they are hurting. Some of you out there from Peoria, IL to Singapore who regularly read my blog need somebody to enlighten you as to how to treat your pastor or pastor's wife! So, here I am. I am not afraid to speak my mind on this blog. Yes, I have gotten some hate mail in times past like any opinionated writer gets. But anybody making a difference in the world and speaking their mind is going to get criticized. Everybody who ever changed the world has had somebody hate them for what they have said. I want to change the world, so I won't shut up.
Right now I have two pastor's wife friends in different locations who have recently gone through hell. I will not share the identifying details here because it's not my place to. Recently both friends wrote on their blogs concerning some of their frustrations. It wasn't anything inappropriate --nor did it name anyone or personally slander them. They were just being honest about some challenges in their lives and ministry. They asked for prayer. Some of the church people could not handle that and even called meetings for the purpose of "calling them on the carpet." Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous??!! For a while, one of these ladies considered giving up her blog but I'm proud of her that she hasn't. Because she is making a difference She is "real" and she has a lot to share that the world needs to hear.
What truly amazes me about the whole thing is that it was the people who had exhibited unGodly behavior, yet they were angry that the pastor's wives had not kept completely silent about the frustrations. Did they ever think that THEY are the source of their pastor's wife's frustration? No, obviously not. They just think it's their pastor's wife that needs to change.
People in the church who mistreat their pastors and spouses thrive on the fact that they believe it will be kept secret. They capitalize on the fact that we in ministry are supposed to keep many things "confidential" and they think their ill treatment will be no different. Therefore they believe they can continue their bad behavior undetected while those in the ministry suck it up and go on.
By these pastor's wives sharing simply that their lives in ministry were difficult at the present time, it basically let the world know that they were in a less than the best situation, in fact rather unhealthy situations. They both have a large readership on their blogs, so this was probably what was most threatening to the church people. They were exposed as far as having a pastor's wife who was in pain at the hands of the church or someone in the church and so therefore they were more than likely embarrassed. My thought: instead of being embarrassed, why don't you just CHANGE? Why don't you just REPENT of your PITIFUL BEHAVIOR instead of blaming your pastor's wife for your RIDICULOUS actions?
So you think, "Oh no! People will now think our pastor and pastor's wife aren't happy!" Well, shock people...THEY AREN'T!" So start treating them right and maybe they will be happy and they will stop sharing their pain on their blog with their readers who actually CARE! (Yes, there's a lot of caring out there in blog world and some pw's get more prayer and care from their blogging friends than from their church people. Sad!) If you are mistreating your minister or spouse, they obviously can't share it with you because of your unfair expectations that they be a silent verbal whipping post. Many churches also expect this behavior our of the pastor's kids. God forbid these kids express pain they have endured in the church. Do you want to know how much pain some of these kids are in? Ask anyone who has been to a "pastor's kids retreat" and they will tell you. My kids have attended them annually for years and this year Dustin was a counselor. Each year the altars are filled nightly with weeping children who are letting out the pain they have endured at the hands of the church people. Last year in his first year of college Dustin even wrote an essay about this for one of his classes. My own son was emotionally healed years ago at a summer church camp, of pain he endured years ago at the hands of church people.
Right now there are many families in ministry all across our nation going through craziness at church member's hands and really need our prayers. I believe the vast majority of them are kind hearted, purely motivated people who just want to lead their people into the fullness of God. Why else would they stay in ministry? If you didn't truly feel called, what you have to go through would not be worth it. Despite being called, did you know that 1500 of them are leaving the ministry yearly because of this kind of stuff? People talk about a ministerial shortage...well, this is why. If you don't believe this statistic, start surfing the web to see many others that are even worse along the same lines. Go here and here and here just for starters. For some of you this will be a much needed eye-opener.
If you are a church person reading this, please let me say to you that it would be great if you would just let your pastor and pastor's wife be honest about their feelings. Don't trap them into having to fake it all the time to keep them job. Yes, it's ministry first and foremost (they are not a hireling) but let's be honest, it is also their livelihood in the majority of cases. Also don't trap them into faking it by putting them through tribulation if they don't. It does your church absolutely no favors to mistreat the pastor or their spouse. If you want your church to be stymied and never grow...just keep giving them hell. I guarantee it will never grow because instead of seeking God and being led by His spirit into the getting a vision for the next level of the church, they will more than likely just be consumed with licking their wounds and surviving. Let their kids be kids. Don't expect them to fake it either. Don't expect out of these kids what you wouldn't expect out of any other child in the church.
I am very thankful for my church in that I am free to be me. Honestly if I wasn't, they'd be the ones having a hard time because I decided long ago to just be me and not turn back. I told the people of Northside when I first came (and have repeated it several times since)... "there are plenty of pastors and pastor's wives at the gazillion churches here in this city who will never admit to you that they've had a problem...never admit to you that at one time or another their lives have been falling apart...never admit to you that they have been to counseling... and if you want to have a pastor/pastor's wife like that, I encourage you to go seek one. But if you want someone who will just be real with you...stick around."
Pastor's wives out there...be true to who you are. It's not worth it to be someone you're not just to hold on to a church or it's people. Don't let them put you in a box, or shut up your voice!! You have something important to say. Is any of this really worth it if you have to be a complete fake, at least until retirement? My Lord,not only is that going to be really boring but it will also end up making you sick. I'd rather work at McDonalds the rest of my life than put up with that. Many of those who are "old school" will tell you to live in that box for the sake of the ministry. One time when I was first starting out in ministry a person near retirement who was in my denomination's leadership told me that women in ministry just have to learn to supress themselves for however long they are in this thing. No! I'm not going to. I refuse. Let's be honest, a lot of the previous generation had heart attacks or burned out, or lost their families. Was it really worth it? I do understand many people's anxiety over being "real"...I lived it myself for so long when wondering which route to go -- fake or honest, and I have lived in both worlds. But then one day I decided Fakeland wasn't worth it.
People ~ let your pastor's wives be who they are. Pastor's wives ~ take the risk...speak...be who you are...let your voice be heard ~ locally and to the millions on your blog. As Harry Belafonte once said, "You can cage the singer, but not the song." Your voice cannot be caged, my friend. The first thing the enemy wants to silence is your voice -- there is power in what you say. So keep saying it. I want to hear what you have to say and so do many others. Keep the words of the heart flowing. Don't feel that you have to be perfect or on cloud nine all the time. People who are worthy of being in relationship with you will listen and accept you for who you are.
p.s. thanks again Aaron...I am going to enjoy my house salad, SpeidinoDiMare, rigatoni with tomato cream sauce, and chocolate cake. And Teeby will enjoy his chicken soup, chicken parmesan and mashed potatoes! Mmmmmmm.