I’d like to preface this post with a little poem I wrote about 20 years ago… It goes like this:
The Preacher’s Wife
So fittingly, meekly seated
all proper in her chair
with wide, embroidered collar
and neatly short cropped hair
Appropriate her words are
each smile, direct on cue
she nods and graciously handshakes
and speaks when spoken to
She hosts a tea, and bakes a cake
organizes the church bazaar
occasionally teaches Sunday school
and sings soprano in the choir
She keeps her fishbowl nice and clean
and the life she’s living in it
for parishioners, invited or not
could drop by any minute
Outwardly the perfect wife
clean, well groomed and bred
but inwardly, she dances nude
with a lampshade on her head.
My husband is retired so technically, I’m a former preacher’s wife. But we were in the game for over 25 years if that adds any credibility to this blog post.
Those with a mainstream Christian background know that many church people have a somewhat romanticized view of their pastor and his family. In my experience, pastor’s families are often propped up on pedestals and therefore, separated from everyone else on some imagined higher level of existence.
As a family and as individuals, we were treated as something OTHER. Being a church’s ‘first family’ can be quite lonely and isolating and riddled with fear.
Life on a pedestal equates to an elevated sense of self importance for some. For me though, fear was a larger component because failure at some point was a certainty.
People presumed so much.
They presumed we had it all together. They presumed our family lived in a constant state of peace and harmony. And they presumed that we were closer to God than they were.
If I had a nickel for every time someone elbowed me in the ribs and said, “Hey! Ask your husband to pray for me. After all, he has an in-line to God” I’d be retired on a golden beach sipping Mai Tais with little green umbrellas served by a Cabana Boy.
People asked me to pray for them, too, but more like a second-string backup player. Often they’d preface their request with something like, “Will you pray for me? I know God hears your prayers just as much as your husband”… as if trying to convince themselves that they’d still get a good deal even though I wasn’t him.
And oh the crap my kids endured! They were endlessly hit up for the answers to Sunday School bible questions and picked first for the Bible Trivia competition at youth group. No pressure, preacher’s kids! Their peers assumed they knew all that bible stuff, chapter and verse as if we sat around as a family reading it all day long.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Much to my chagrin, being presumed upon happened absolutely all the time to all of us.
As for me, if there was a ministry within the church that had to do with women or children, people automatically presumed I was the committee chair person.
True story from 20 years ago…
One afternoon I received a phone call from my husband’s admin and office manager. “I just got a call from the guest speaker for the women’s retreat,” she said. “She asked me for your phone number.”
Apparently, she wanted to schedule a meeting with me to go over the retreat schedule and to pray about the line-up of events. She had some suggestions for ice breakers and a laundry list of items she needed including a dry erase board. She was hoping to set up a meeting with me to go over all of it and get acquainted personally before the event.
But I had no idea who this woman was. I’d never heard her name in my life and on top of that, I wasn’t on the retreat committee. In fact, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to attend the women’s retreat that year. Needless to say, I was perplexed. “Why’s she want to talk to me about all this stuff?” I asked. “She needs to talk to the retreat organizers.”
Apparently, the Admin had tried numerous times throughout the conversation to explain to this woman that I was not her contact person. But no matter what she said, the woman simply couldn’t get it through her head that I… the preacher’s wife … was not involved in organization of the women’s retreat.
I know preacher’s wives whose whole lives are wrapped up in their husband’s ministries. They are in every sense, “co- laborers in Christ.” They organize the Fall festivals. They oversee the women’s retreat. They run the children’s ministry. And they love that role and relish the ride.
But filling the role of the pastor’s wife can be isolating even if you love it. It’s so much worse if you don’t love it. And I didn’t, which made being presumed upon even more burdensome.
The poem at the beginning isn’t much of a description of me back then. I wasn’t the ‘wide embroidered collar’ type and naked dancing?! Not even in my ‘fit as a fiddle’ days would this fiddle have played that tune! What it does describe is me as the quintessential square peg in a round hole and a generalized mold that’s cast for minister’s wives. A mold I couldn’t fill adequately.
Life as a preacher’s wife was somewhat manageable for me with a shared belief in Christ. But when my faith unraveled, nothing much was manageable at all. Based on these experiences, I’m especially cautious not to presume upon people.