Saturday, July 13, 2013

Confessions of a Pastor's Wife, Part One

I never set out to become a pastor's wife. I didn't even go to Bible school or the local christian university, which is where most pastor's wives meet their future spouses. I am just a girl who fell in love with a boy after a chance meeting on a soccer field. He became a pastor and I became his wife, which makes me...a pastor's wife. While I don't feel like I'm defined by my husband's profession, it has shaped my life in the past decade in various ways, and sparked the creation of the following unsolicited collection of confessions.

1. My husband doesn't tell me everything. Pastors come into a boatload of confidential, sensitive information. We aren't Catholic, but all pastors hear confessions, along with worries, stories of grief and abuse, and counsel people who are in conflict. I fear that people assume that all of their vulnerable moments are discussed at the pastor's home with his wife and kids in the evening over dinner. Pork-chops and divorces, spaghetti and wayward teenagers - it doesn't happen. If he wants to share something with me, he always asks the permission of the person who shared the information. My husband takes the responsibility of confidentiality seriously, and for this I am thankful. When I get to know people at church, it is without knowledge of things I really shouldn't know about when I haven't even connected a face to a name. "Your name is Petunia? Oh, you are the one whose husband cheated on you with the nanny" [Just for the record, this is a totally fictitious example]. I'm glad to be a listening ear for those who want a friend, but you have the freedom of getting to know me on your own terms. Frankly, I'm also just glad not to have to carry the full burden of all the knowledge of difficult circumstances and events in our church. Some people are better equipped to process and deal with a high volume of difficult information than others; I am not one of those people.

2. At one of the sessions on our recent Pastor & Spouse retreat at Harrison Hot Springs (hello, perks!), I sat behind a woman with her hair in super-long dread locks. I'm so fascinated with dread locks that I had trouble focusing on the session at some points. It looks like yarn. I wonder if you could crochet with it. But what would you make with it? Maybe if you decided to cut it off someday, you would crochet a basket to keep your remote controls or coasters in. How do you wash dread locks? You get the idea. I also thought about how the fact that she had dread locks lead me to a set of fleeting conclusions about her: she eats vegan and organic, recycles everything, attachment parents her children, and dances like nobody is watching. Silly, right? Hair style tells you everything style. Someone being married to a pastor tells you...someone is married to a pastor.

I don't fit the mold of the "typical" pastor's wife, nor do most spouses of pastors. I think that the caricature of the pastor's wife's role came about because of weighty expectations placed on these women, and not because these women desired to be one half of a couple that does absolutely everything in the church. I don't enjoy public speaking, which is definitely understating the issue, I've never taught children's Sunday school, and I don't really play the piano, unless you count "The Entertainer" and the first twelve bars of "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera. I've been working on those two scores for almost a couple of decades now.  I'm involved and volunteer with church happenings inasmuch as any other attendee might be. I'm thankful that my church gives me, and all who attend, the freedom to be involved according to his or her own interests. The days of being hired as a duo with one paycheque are largely a bygone, but I have still seen on a couple of occasions job descriptions for pastors that include an description for the (unpaid) responsibilities of the pastor's wife. I also have my husband to thank for helping to ensure that I don't face unrealistic expectations; he never volunteers me for things without my knowledge and consent.

3. I am afraid of heights. Church leaders and their spouses don't belong on pedestals. Those of you who know me well, with all my foibles and failings are saying "Well of course you don't belong on a pedestal!" You might even be chuckling at that suggestion. Or guffawing. Or laughing so hard that you have tears running down your face.

I sometimes purposely delay mentioning the fact that my husband is a minister until I've gotten to know somebody, because it is often brings about an awkward end to the conversation. With some people, when I talk about my husband's job for the first time, I can almost see the inner clench, the wheels struggling to rewind in his or her mind: "Did I say anything offensive? Irreverent? Admit to any flaws of character?" The conversation grinds to a polite halt, until I think of some way to assure the person that I am, in fact, a real girl, with a real life, and real struggles.

Church leaders are regular people, and so are their spouses and children. I have disagreements with my husband, sometimes about difficult things, and sometimes about silly things. He will be reminding me to squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube until I have dentures, and I will be convincing him of the aesthetic appeal of cuckoo clocks until we live in a nursing home some day, surrounded by pastel floral and fruit still-life paintings bolted to the wall. I lose my patience with my kids, choose the wrong battles with them, and love them so much that I never want them to grow up and leave me. Is that normal? I have dirty laundry, figuratively and literally. I love Jesus, but I'm not any closer to being a saint than anyone else. I'm not "super-spiritual" and, here's a secret -  neither is anyone else. I think we are all just making sense of new things that we learn in light of what we already know. The thing that scares me the most about the potential for people to view me differently than anyone else in the church is that I'm just as capable as offending or hurting people's feelings as anyone else in the church, but I fear that people will feel "hurt by the church" instead of just being hurt by a girl who happens to be married to the pastor. To extend that thought a little further, we are real people in our capacity to be hurt as well. Sometimes I think that ministers should unionize, but that is a discussion for another day. I sometimes worry about the scrutiny my children will become aware of as the pastors' kids when they are older.
We compromised on two small cuckoo clocks in O's room. Seriously, what's not to like about them?
Stay tuned for Part Two!

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