Thursday, February 13, 2014

What to Get Your Pastor's Wife for Valentine's Day

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, when more money will be spent on cheap, plastic, red and pink junk than on any other day of the year.  For our family, it will include an evening out together, and my boys will give their mom and their sister gifts. (Rainey men don't receive gifts on Valentine's Day, because we use it as a time to teach them that men give first)  And yes, some of it will be plastic, red and pink, because I must do my share to keep our consumer-oriented economy going.

But as this day approaches, I've been thinking about Pastor's wives, mostly because I'm married to one, and have seen first hand the uniqueness of her experiences compared to other women.  Those experiences, coupled with stories I've heard from other women who also happen to be married to pastors in this Association of churches, have motivated me to write this post in the hopes that followers of Jesus will be encouraged to use this holiday to say "thank you" to the woman standing beside their pastor.

So, what makes her life different, and why should you take some time, and possibly even spend a little money, to recognize that fact?

1. Every Sunday, she becomes a single mom.  For most pastors' wives, while you and your family are getting ready for church together, she has long-since kissed her husband goodbye, and every Sunday is in the process of getting herself and the kids ready to take them to church on her own.  Sunday afternoons likewise are often spent without her husband.  Often, unexpected emergencies and acute needs will suddenly take him away in the evening.  But he is nearly always away on Sunday afternoon.

2. She and her children live in a fish bowl.  I spend a good deal of time challenging our pastors to allow their wives and children to be themselves.  Most honor their families in this way, yet this often will not keep criticism from coming their way because, after all "she is the pastors wife" or "he is the pastors kid" and as such, is often held to a higher, and more often an unspoken standard..  Women who marry ministers of the Gospel choose their men, and to an extent, they are also choosing a particular kind of lifestyle.  But they are not, and should not be, choosing a mold.  Yet much of her life is spent resisting the pressure to fit that mold, and protecting her children from it as well. I always rejoice with women who have escaped that squeeze and are living in the freedom of their own identity, but for every one of them, that path was long, hard, and full of a lot of unnecessary guilt.

3. She is often a spectator to conflict she can't control. Most wives realize that, in times of church conflict, you actually do more harm than good if you open your mouth in the attempt to "defend" your husband.  Amy has often taught younger wives of pastors that "the most supportive thing you can do is to keep your mouth shut and just make sure he comes home to a supportive, peaceful environment."  Still, too many wives have to watch as their husbands deal with unspeakable conflict, harsh judgement, and spiritual warfare.  If her husband is the leader he should be, he won't dump these problems on his wife, and will instead rely on the Holy Spirit, and  fellow elders to endure for the sake of the bride of Christ.  But any wife who is sensitive to her husband will know when his mind is occupied and his spirit is troubled, and this will affect her as well. She can't control most of the conflict that erupts in a church, yet she and her children are often profoundly affected by it nonetheless.

4. Like any woman, she needs relationships, and they are sparse in the church. Most women need deep, meaningful relationships.  Yet most pastor's wives can't get those in their own church!  Even if the church environment is such that she feels she can open herself up, to do so is to take an enormous risk that may cost her entire family later on, and she knows this.  Some can find those relationships outside of the church--and are regrettably judged sometimes for not spending enough time with the people of the church as a result.  But for many women, the result is simply loneliness.

5. She has the power to make or break her husband.  Danny Akin said it best.  "A great pastor's wife can take a mediocre pastor and make him great.  But an un-supportive wife can take a great man, and reduce him to the level of mediocrity."  I've often joked that Amy may be the only reason I still have a job.  But the serious reality is that if you have a great pastor, and he is married, much of his greatness is due to that woman you see him with every Sunday.  Pastor's wives understand this, and will often carry this responsibility in a burdensome way.

Now, I'm not suggesting that pastors' wives should be pitied.  Hardship and conflict are realities for women everywhere.  But as I have been married to one for nearly 20 years, I happen to know that the burdens and circumstances of these women are quite unique--and are certainly worthy of attention by those who have been blessed, ministered to, equipped and encouraged by her husband.  So this Valentine's Day, consider a restaurant gift card, the provision of free babysitting, or even a weekend away at a bed and breakfast.

If you have a good pastor and he is married, then it is largely due to his wife.  Find a tangible way to thank her for all she does for her husband so that he can serve you well.  She is worth the investment.

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