The keynote speaker asked the audience of pastors and their wives a question that made me want to jump up out of my chair: What is the most difficult aspect of ministry? Oh, I knew the answer to that question! I wanted to shout it out. The most difficult aspect of ministry was learning to live with his "mistress."
I remember well the day we arrived in San Antonio eager to begin ministry at a small church on the southside. Quickly our private life as husband and wife was invaded by an invisible intruder that was burrowing its way into our newly established home. Norb was involved in the work he was called to do and preoccupied with ministry responsibilities and he was unaware of what I was discovering about our life together.
I could not pinpoint what was happening. I only knew Norb was no longer all mine. He would leave early in the morning all showered and fresh—dressed with a clean shirt and pressed slacks, smoothly shaven face—and with the alluring aroma of aftershave. With a quick kiss he was out the door yelling over his shoulder something about looking forward to being home for dinner but that he had a meeting at seven.
What could I say? Pastors were supposed to be busy. They were often needed at a moment's notice. His life was not his own. Of course, he was excited about finally doing the work the seminary had trained him to do. As for me—well, I considered these early days a necessary phase—all part of adjusting to my new role as "the pastor's wife."
It did not take long for me to discover what this "mistress" was like. She was extremely presumptuous. She demanded his time and his energy which meant that he would come home late at night tired and exhausted. She monopolized his thoughts so when I would ask him to share what he was thinking, he usually responded with something pertaining to her. In bed at night his final comments reflected his concern for her health and well-being. She seemed to have his permission to invade our privacy any time—day or night. She took him out of town for conventions and speaking engagements. Life in a parsonage meant that she dictated the home in which we lived and even determined when the repairs would be completed. She ran our home and our relationship. Because of her we found ourselves giving each other the leftovers of our lives.
What did this do to me? I was a jealous woman. Ibecame resentful and bitter toward them and their relationship. I could not get rid of her and I was not about to compete with her. I found myself closing off my feelings. I wasn't going to let the intimacy they were sharing continue to hurt me. I felt I was being robbed of something that was mine. It was painful to realize that Norb chose to nurture this relationship and encouraged it to continue. He seemed to stand for her, justifying her position within our marriage.
By turning my anger inward I allowed waves of depression to invade my life. I was struggling to cope with what was happening. Divorce was out of the question and yet the loneliness and separation seemed unbearable. Another big problem was guilt. How could I possibly resent the fact that Norb was spending his time and energy doing "the Lord's work."
The relationship persisted. She continually encouraged him by giving him strokes of love and gratitude for all that he had done for her by ministering to her at such critical times. She would tell him how meaningful sermons and Bible studies had been which caused him to strive to do better and to do more. He would be encouraged as she grew in size and burdened by her as she grew in needs.
My guilt intensified as church members would share with me how fortunate I was to be married to such a "man of God." They would insist on sharing with me how loving, caring and considerate he was, how knowledgeable he was of Scripture and how eager he was to visit with them in their home. Their compliments compounded my guilt and provided fuel for my anger. My depression continued. How was I ever to compete with God?
After eight and a half years in San Antonio we accepted a call to a growing congregation in Bakersfield, California. Our family with two children soon grew to a family of four. Life as a mother was demanding. The children consumed my time and energy and I found myself directing my feelings into constructive time with them. They became my friends. We understood and accepted each other. We enjoyed one another's company. I wanted to spend time with them. My periods of depression became less frequent. I allowed the children to fill the intense void I felt as a result of Norb's preoccupation with the demands of pastoral ministry.
About ten years into our marriage Norb decided to begin his doctoral program. I became involved in the program as a member of his required advisory board. I found the discussions regarding ministry challenging and stimulating. However, the assignment that brought about the biggest revelation for me was the question: What is your ministry? As I wrestled with this question I was forced to identify those in my life whom the Lord had called me to serve, those to whom by meeting their needs God enabled me to bring the Gospel, namely Jesus Christ. I began to recognize that both Norb and I had specific and unique ministries. I was called to identify and accept not only my ministry, but Norb's also. God was busy teaching me many things during this period of my life. I began to understand the concept of ministry. I had been reacting to his ministry as his "mistress" until I realized that I also was in ministry! No longer did I find myself competing with a "mistress" but rather participating in a ministry with Norb. By changing my attitude the Lord brought me from resentment of a "mistress" to the love and excitement of a ministry. Together we would be able to reach out to serve.
I began to understand that Norb was part of the ministry God had given me. I looked for ways of caring for his needs in order that he might better function in his ministry. I realized that by feeding and caring for him, by being attentive to him and loving him I was developing a sense of satisfaction a nd fulfillment which came from knowing that I was doing ministry specifically designed by God for me. I was beginning to understand the same to be true regarding our children, the women who gathered with me for Wednesday morning Bible study, and for members of the congregation with their countless needs.
Today life is exciting. Saying "yes" or "no" to opportunities is determined by the specific ministry which is mine, ministry enables me to be Jesus to the world around me, the ministry of bringing the good news of the Gospel to those I am called to serve.*