I have written this post for too long. I’ve struggled over what to say and how to say it for months. It seems so important and so unimportant all at the same time. I could have said it a million different ways and never said what I really want to say – that is the struggle of a writer it seems. The other day, we had a new family from church over for lunch. As they shared their stories, recounting some of the same struggles of transition we’ve experienced, I was challenged to put my imperfect, incomplete thoughts out here in this space for you. Not because I have it all figured out, but because silence and fear are what prevent us from stepping forward into the light of God’s good purposes for us. Mostly, I want to say, You are not alone. I believe it with all my heart, no matter how difficult the day, or how dark the circumstances, or how alone you feel. God is there, and He is good.
There was a day, pre-engagement, when Jonathan laid out the future before me. “If you marry me, you should know you’ll be a pastor’s wife. Are you sure you’re okay with that?”
I’d always admired my pastor’s wife and her hard-working, gracious ways. Though my understanding as to what exactly she did, and how she carried the burden of her role was rather ignorant, I was sure I’d love to be just like her and walk a mile in her lovely shoes.
Almost without hesitation, I decided THAT (whatever THAT was) is what I wanted to be for the rest of my life. Shortly after marriage, titles were added to my name: first, “Youth pastor’s wife”, then “Pastor’s wife”, “First lady of the church”, “Mrs. Pastor”, and my least favorite, “the Minister’s wife” (so stuffy!). Those titles alone brought me attention, earned or not. They also made me an on-call participant to Jonathan’s daily work. It was our work, no matter how you cut it. Relationships came. Responsibilities, schedules, conversations – my every day was dedicated to living out this pastoral life.
I, and eventually our kids too, ate and drank and slept church. Our daily life was intentional, lived with care and love for the people God saw fit to cross our path, knowing we had a unique and special opportunity to influence and share the abundant life with them. We were a stigma, sought out in moments of dire distress, emotional upheaval, or spiritual searching. Like an emergency worker on call, our family was always waiting for the next thing to fall, or flourish, or come back to life. Not living our own life so much as living for other’s lives. Though we failed on occasion, and often wrestled over what this life of sacrifice and commitment required, we felt privileged to serve in that capacity, giving up “normal” for the upside down life of following Christ, in leadership roles.
In all honesty though, as much as we gave our life away, we gained something from our titles. I carried an identity that I became dependent on. Without realizing it, “doing” church became part of what I associated with my worth. It became MY role, MY life, MY gain.
The titles I wore became WHO I was in my every interaction. Positive or negative. Every introduction, every conversation, every call for anything… I was the pastor’s wife, whatever that meant in the moment.
With our move, the titles fell off.
The honors, the leadership, the weekly schedule, the family relationship of a much-loved church. Everything we had worked for, prayed without end for, sacrificed for, wept many tears over, loved tirelessly…now just a part of our history.
We became unknown and unneeded.
Which has been a really great thing in so many respects. It’s freed us to focus on other things, like getting settled and helping our kids with the changes this year has brought. We’ve been able to get to know our surroundings and the needs in our new part of the world, with no expectation for a particular response. Mostly we’ve been able to really connect as a family. This has been an encouraging and healing thing for all of us, especially a couple of our kiddos who need extra attention.
In all honesty though, there’s also been an emptiness that has left me wondering…who am I, really? If I’m not doing “pastor’s wife”, if people aren’t seeking me out in that capacity anymore, if no one needs my two-cents, or leadership, than what purpose do I serve? And what does this mean for me, for our family, for our present situation? It’s something I’ve never really had to ask before.
I feel as if the fishbowl cracked, and I’ve been released to swim free. The open, unknown waters are scary (yet beautiful) and sometimes lonely. Every turn or rock along the way presents new obstacles and new possibilities. The memories of the bowl pull strong, while the freedom of open waters allows for new dreams and new purposes to become known.
I’m getting to re-discover what God has for me, outside that pastoral role I picked up at the alter. Where this stream leads, I do not know. The awkwardness, unsureness, and alone-ness are very real and very awakening of my human “need” to be needed and known. Yet, I’m learning to appreciate being, and learning the, unknown.
We are not out changing the world so much as we are being changed. And as we are changed, we get to share God’s faithfulness even in the removing of what we have held dear as our earthly identity. This mid-life girl’s heart is being reduced to who I simply am.
Loved…His child…treasured…known completely…planned with purpose…held
With the passage of this last year, one thing has become evident. God isn’t finished with me yet. I thought I knew my role in life. But there was more to be known. This complexity of a human being that I am is getting a lesson in trust, a peeling away of pride, and a good massage as the Potter continues to mold and remold this lump of clay.