Loneliness is a very real feeling we all have experienced at some time in our lives. It can be easy to feel isolated and alone as a pastor’s wife, especially if you feel your husband’s congregation compares you to the previous pastor’s wife. It can be very disheartening if your husband’s flock thinks of you only as “the pastor’s wife,” someone outside of their circle, someone not part of the congregation.
I have experienced such situations. At the age of 42, I married my husband; I was not prepared to take on the role of the “pastor’s wife.” There were no classes I could attend on how to become a “pastor’s wife.” I had no mentor. No one explained to me I would be living in a fishbowl.
I soon realized I could no longer be just a member of my new church home, for I was now “the pastor’s wife.”
My new husband informed me he did not want me to hold church offices. He said it would weaken the church because when it came time to transfer to another district, the church would have to fill my offices. He said I would have to do as “the pastor’s wife.”
I resisted his request for I had always held church offices. I enjoy working in the church. So I held many church offices, and I did leave the church looking for members to fill my offices. I was also tired from all my church work, substitute teaching, caring for three of our five children still at home, housework, yard work, being “the pastor’s wife.” Yet, though I stayed busy and tired, I remained lonely.
I wanted to be just a regular member, but the congregation wanted me to be “the pastor’s wife.” I felt displaced. I wanted to belong, to attend church and be one of “them” as I had been in my former church. I longed for a few close friends. My life as a “pastor’s wife” certainly differed from my old life.
Gradually I began to realize that my life would never be the same. How was I to deal with this new situation? I felt so inadequate. I was friendly on the outside, but inside I felt so alone. I tried to guess what my husband’s congregation wanted from me. I did not know. I finally decided God wanted me to be myself, not a composite of other pastors’ wives I had known, but my unique self.
Of course every church congregation is different. But I have learned that every congregation needs the pastor’s wife to be “the pastor’s wife,” not a “regular member.” I have also discovered that titles are only titles because I am still the person I was before I married my husband. I have needs, talents, hopes, and dreams. And the members of our church are as I am. They too are needy, talented, hopeful, and dreamers. I have the privilege to reach out to them, touch their lives, and love them.
Gradually I came to realize that I really do hold an office—the office of “pastor’s wife.” It is the only office I can fill that will not leave the church weakened when I have to say goodbye, for another will automatically take my place. Hopefully she will not be compared to me for good or bad but be accepted for who she is.
I am no longer lonely. The loneliness disappeared without notice. I think it was when I stopped thinking about myself and started concentrating on how to show the members of my churches I accept them just as they are.
I began to make phone calls just to say hello; phone calls to check on my brothers and sisters who are sick, hurting, or lonely; phone calls of encouragement, sympathy, sharing, and prayer.
Another member and I sent birthday cards to every man, woman, and child in our church family, no matter if they attended church or not. We sent anniversary cards to all the husbands and wives, get-well cards, sympathy cards, and wedding cards. We sent cards to our shut-ins and our boarding students once a month. Not one person on our church books was forgotten.
All through the year I made calls to our members to keep our membership directory updated. I even included the ones who lived out of our area. I wanted them to know they were on my mind. This directly led to transfers, renewed church attendance, and better communication.
Visitation is so important. Visits to shut-ins and people in the hospital and nursing homes bring untold pleasure. A simple “I love you and am thinking about you” will brighten many people’s lives.
Several years ago I began giving a hug to each woman after church, perhaps so I could receive the hugs I needed. There are many lonely women in your churches; I know there are in mine. They have told me how much our hugs mean to them. Share their joys and hopes and dreams. Share their tears and hurt and pain. Share their disappointment and frustrations. Share God’s answers to your prayers. Share meals together. Study the Bible together. Pray together. Be ready for any emergency. Be ready to have fun. Be ready to do what you can.
No one could have prepared me for this office. I would have been ready to say, “I am not cut out to be a pastor’s wife.” Maybe you have said that yourself. Perhaps you feel overwhelmed by the ministry, discouraged, and frustrated by your husband’s work schedule, inadequate to fill everyone’s expectations. We are not above such human feelings. Jesus knows what life on this earth is like. Talk to Him. Pour out your heart to Him. Ask Him to meet your needs.
Be yourself. Use the talents you have, the gifts God has given you. No one can expect more. And most of all be friendly, honestly friendly. People know the difference between put-on friendliness and genuine interest.
We are not made from a cookie cutter. We are different because God wants us that way. He has a plan and a work for each one of us. You will have your own unique ministry, and when you do, you will not feel lonely. You will experience contentment.
“Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed. Delight thyself also in the Lord; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart. Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass” (Ps. 37:3-5, KJV). Hold these promises close.
By putting others first, we lose sight of ourselves, and loneliness is gone, replaced by contentment and peace. Every person, young and old, in your congregation is special. Look for the inner beauty in each one. Many are buds just needing a little sunshine to bloom
The ministry is not all roses. There are problems. Satan would have us concentrate on the thorns and forget the roses. I urge you to treat everyone with the same respect and interest and make friends of all. Some people are harder to love, but the Holy Spirit will give you the grace and patience you will need.
Don’t be afraid to love with all your heart. Sure it hurts when you have to say goodbye and move to another district, but you can’t truly love without being vulnerable.
Being “the pastor’s wife” is a growing experience for me—a definite opportunity for character growth and blessings without end.
This article appeared in Perspectives, second quarter 1994, Central California Conference. Used with permission.