Pastors' Wives and Burdens
The following article is a guest post by Rebecca VanDoodewaard, author of Uprooted: A Guide for Homesick Christians, Your Future ‘Other Half’: It Matters Whom You Marry, and Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity's Rebirth.
Some of the most valuable advice I’ve received came from an elderly pastor’s wife. We ran into each other at a wedding. She asked how I was doing, and I unloaded about a pedophilia case that was exploding the church that my husband had planted. After listening, she said, “Don’t take on things you shouldn’t—let the session and the presbytery deal with this.” She could see that the situation was crushing me, partly because I had taken on burdens that were too heavy for me. And a crushed wife and mother can’t really help anyone else. A crushed person isn’t a functional one.
There are burdens that all Christian women are meant to bear, and carrying them makes us stronger. These include weeping with those who weep; carrying within us the death of the Lord; washing the feet of the saints; teaching younger women; and being in prayer. We know that these burdens are designed to grow and strengthen us because Scripture calls us to bear them.
But there are burdens that we’re not meant to bear, and they will weaken and damage us. These sorts of burdens include worry; fear; unconfessed sin; and work that we are not called to. Again, Scripture tells us this. These sorts of burdens will weaken and deplete us, making it hard or impossible to truly love and support those around us.
All of those burdens are common to Christians. In a pastor’s home, there are particular burdens of both kinds—good and bad—that we need to be aware of. These come from being in public ministry, married to the man who is in the pulpit every week, and helping him deal with the joys and sorrows that come with this calling. When we are aware of the burdens that come with this position, we can avoid burdens that would crush us, only taking on things that God has designed for our good and the good of those around us. What sorts of burdens should pastors’ wives watch out for?
Well, there are good ones often connected to our husband’s calling: encouraging our husband when he’s discouraged or depleted; standing by him when there is conflict; being a “first responder” as we are often the first to hear of deaths, births, or other life-changing events. While these burdens can be heavy, there is a joy that comes with them, and they often bring relational closeness even as we grow in carrying them. These burdens mature us, making us stronger.
What burdens can crush a pastor’s wife? Things like inserting ourselves into session matters or counseling situations that we have not been invited into; being busy with presbytery decisions; previewing and/or editing sermon manuscripts; or stretching ourselves chronically thin with service that is beyond our limitations. All of these drag unnecessary work and clutter into our lives, making it harder to support and encourage our husbands in their roles and be happy ourselves.
This doesn’t mean that we are never partnering to help people in the congregation, never hearing anything about tensions in the congregation, or never giving an opinion to someone who has the right to ask for it. It does mean that we are not inserting ourselves into work that is not ours, not asking about things that aren’t our business, not trying to manage situations that aren’t ours, not manipulating outcomes, but being quietly busy with our own calling, not busybodies.
Knowing which burdens are healthy and which aren’t gives great freedom: freedom to say no; freedom from guilt; freedom from fear of missing out; and freedom to grow stronger, not weaker; to be busy at home and having the full trust of a husband whose calling places unique demands not only on him, but also on the woman joined with him.