news came through my email, as much of my news does these days. The
tragic death of a woman. An intentional overdose, her husband reported.
His heart is shattered.
And mine is deeply troubled.
woman and I have far too much in common. We are both wives and mothers
to families who lead incredibly stressful lives. Our husbands are
church planters. We parented churches and children in a similar place,
through similar seasons, during comparable times.
both belong to the same relatively small denomination. But I had never
heard of her before now, and I doubt she had ever heard of me.
share other commonalities: isolation, loneliness, fear of friendships
while at the same time longing for deeper relationships.
Criticism is common, whether of our spouses, of our kids or of us. But
there is another darkness lurking under the surface. The questions that
come, unbidden during lonely nights. Who am I if I’m not the woman
married to the pastor? What difference am I making in the bigger
picture apart from wiping snotty noses and listening to another of my
husband’s dreams for the church? Am I really valuable? Do I have to always be as involved, as busy, as weary as I am now? Can I ever get out? Maybe
if I weren’t in the picture, this ministry could really flourish? Or,
what if this whole Christianity thing is just a big hoax?
Do I blame church planting or ministry for this tragedy?
Absolutely not. This isn’t about blame. Life is far too complicated. My
personal experience in ministry kept me too busy to identify what was
happening to me as depression
. But what
did emerge from my experience was an awakening to the tremendous need
of church-planting and pastor’s spouses. I’m surprised the statistics
As it stands, reliable statistics say 80% of us are depressed.
I wonder, however, if we’ve ignored an issue that is both sociological and theological. Whyare female spouses in ministry wrestling so deeply?
Regardless of denominational backgrounds, the volatile reaction I received in response to research questions on
among women of their views on being created in the imago dei,
how this is fleshed out, and how it intersects or doesn't with their
spouses calling. And when one child or another needs care, and ministry is too demanding for the husband to be involved with daily
family life, who even has time for the discussion?
Even for ministry couples who have purposefully and honorably collaborated on calling
their marriage and individually, women still must negotiate the
mine-field of a boundary-ambiguity epidemic in ministry. Whether she
has a career outside of ministry, is a stay-at-home mom, has a paid or
unpaid position at the church where her husband works, or has some
combination of the above, her community may not look too favorably on
her choices. Women who are gifted and trained may discover that church
leaders prefer she not take a leadership role in the church where her
husband works. She may not have that choice even though she and her
husband believe it's her calling. Other wives who do not take a visible
role in the church are often criticized for their lack of involvement.
Some even find their church community does not seem to care one way or
the other of their involvement. How does one negotiate deep questions,
skepticism, emotional pain, and even bitterness toward the church when
your husband is the pastor? How does a woman married into ministry come
to discover her own calling when she is alone in her search?
wonder we are confused. Is it any wonder that in our frustration we may become
critical, bossy, demanding? No wonder we may emotionally leave the
church or our husbands, while our bodies are still present. No wonder
we may look elsewhere for answers.
have no doubt that the evil one has found an ever-widening crack in
which to reinforce lies. Ones we came to believe in childhood. Ones
which are unknowingly buttressed by the voices of those around us.
yet, our churches can only be as strong as it's leaders. And when half
of that partnership is ignored, we are in trouble. Leadership training
teaches us the quadrants of the tyranny of the urgent but unimportant,
the non-urgent but important, the urgent and important, and the non-urgent and unimportant. When faced with the high demands of ministry
and life, wives will often place themselves on the list of the
non-urgent and unimportant. Most would never say they are unimportant, but in the name of Christian service behave as though they can be
Unknowingly, this gives permission for others to treat them likewise and reinforces their belief that somehow the imago dei is less than that in their male counterpart.
attempt at answering this dilemma in an article would turn into a
20-page thesis. I'll only close with a few questions for discussion.
you have a process to discover your own calling and how it blends with
your spouse? If you are drawn in different directions, unable to come
to agreement, are you able to wait for the other believing that as God
brought you together in marriage, he can bring you together in this? Do
you believe the being
of your marriage is more important than you as individual beings
? Do you believe your desires are God-ordained? Are you willing to yield your desires to God, for the benefit of your marriage?
Some recommended reading to further extend this conversation: Ministering in the Zone of God's Anointing by Don Cousins and Bruce Bugbee; The Call,