By Barney Self
Pastoral Counseling Minister, Forest Hills Baptist Church, Nashville
A minister’s wife lives in a fishbowl. She is viewed from every angle and in every way. Pressures are brought to bear on her that others can barely imagine. The daily life struggle is to maintain an appearance that is acceptable including make-up, clothing, and hair style. Next, the children have to be presentable and dressed “appropriately” as well and their actions must conform to a standard that is above the rest of the population. Her house must be ready for House and Garden inspection at any point. She must relate to everyone as her best friend even if others are hurtful to her or her husband. She must be willing to pick up any task in the church when there is a need even if it is not in her gifting because she is considered part of the paid staff because her husband is the pastor. If these stressors and pressures were not enough, the Holidays arrive. With the Holiday Season come gatherings, mission opportunities and worship events. All will require her presence, again, in proper attire and demeanor. On a personal level there will also be the need to support her husband in the “race to the manger” and care for her family’s needs for the celebration at hand. If there are extended family connections, those will have to be managed as well. All of the usual pressures of the season will fall to her including cooking, cleaning, decorating, purchasing gifts and planning parties. All of the activities and actions in her world will have glitches. Those can come from her own difficulties and frailties, those of her husband and children or those of the church members. Each of the glitches will promote greater stress and discomfort. In many cases this is why ministry wives dread the Holiday Season.
Obviously, this is an extreme rendition of the possible negative aspects of life of the minister’s wife. At the same time, many of these issues may become factors and be present in each ministry situation to some degree. So, how does a minister’s wife handle this demanding set of factors? In part, her husband is a key player in the battle. Ministers can define the role of the wife in ministry life to exclude all of those aspects that are not in her gifting. Even within the realm of her gifting, there is a need to define and set boundaries around time and activity to promote health, vitality and sanity. Ministers and wives need to discuss what is livable in their world and communicate that in the most respectful and loving way to the church. Maintaining good boundaries, protecting the marriage relationship and the sanctity of the home environment is critical in maintaining health and finding joy in the Holidays. The schedule is often the most critical component of the battle. That is where healthy boundaries are often set and maintained. For the minister’s wife, setting boundaries within the family is as essential as with the church family. Carving out time for reading, resting or exercise is important in order to manage the marathon that is ministry life and certainly the sprint that is the Holiday Season. Couple time, praying together, encountering Scripture, connection with other healthy couples and family time are all reparative and promote joy in life for the minister’s wife. I pray that ministers’ wives might find that life-balance that will allow them to experience the Advent season with a renewed sense of joy and hope for the coming year.