What I Learned From a Summer of Playing Pastor’s Wife

PW ExpectationsYou have to understand: I was a word nerd who married a computer geek.

We were going to live happily ever after, with him coding or graphic designing or something and me busily English teaching.

Two slightly socially awkward but very happy nerds reading books and writing stuff and getting lots of different degrees and certifications and living out a quirky, peaceful little life.

In 2008, during our grand Life Reassessment, he told me for the first time that he wanted to go to seminary.

Seminary?  Like, become a pastor?

No, not necessarily, he said, I’m just interested in theology, so I’m going to get the training and see where it leads.  Probably a Ph.D. program.  Yeah, almost definitely a Ph.D.

Okay, I was down with that.  I pictured us both as tenured professors at a name university, spending our summers traveling and writing books and speaking at prestigious conferences.  I could do that!   I just didn’t want to hear the *other* dreaded “P” word: “pastor.”

Three and a half years later, after I had tenaciously slogged through my master’s degree, we moved to California so Tim could attend Westminster Seminary.  Immediately, he was immersed in pastor-centered training, surrounded by future pastors, taught by current and former pastors.  Everything became about ministry, and he was soon going to have to start chipping away at the 700 required internship hours, many of which would be spent in very pastoral-smelling roles.  That meant spending a summer in Colorado Springs so that he could intern at the congregation we’d left behind when we moved to California. He’d be working closely with the pastor, and I would be spending a summer playing pastor’s wife.

I was nervous, anxious, fear-filled.  That seems melodramatic, but let me explain.  I’ve attended many churches across the US, and I’ve known some amazing pastor’s wives.  A few of these women could make Susie Homemaker herself feel inadequate.  They somehow manage be perfect mothers of large families, lovely wives, talented interior decorators, gracious hostesses, gifted pianists, well-organized VBS directors–they seemed to have it all together.  That could never be me.  I’m super sarcastic, I look like Lord Cthulhu when I eat spaghetti, I have NO musical talent, and my craft projects come out looking like they were made by drunk monkeys.  I dreaded the pastor’s wife role, because I assumed that every church-goer had these Super Woman-esque expectations of the Pastor’s Wife.  I could never measure up.

My deeper and yes, more irrational fear was that I would lose myself and my dreams in taking up a supporting role.  I feared becoming some sort of Stepford Wife-ish zombie at my husband’s side, staging a smiling Fascist takeover of the Casserole Committee and helping the church’s children make Nativity scenes out of dried pasta and ModPodge (okay, I said irrational, right?).

I was also afraid of having the person I love most in the entire world in the spotlight for people to criticize.  I can take people’s judgments of ME, but say something negative about my handsome, talented, amazing husband and just see if I don’t DUCT TAPE YOU TO THE WALL AND THEN PULL OUT YOUR FINGERNAILS ONE AT A TIME.

Kidding!  Just kidding.

But seriously.

I would have rather Tim said that he wanted to do almost anything else in the entire world except become a pastor.  Garbage collector?  Sure!  Meter Reader?  Behind you 100%!  Lumberjack?  Yeah!  You go get those trees, honey!   But please not a pastor.

Last summer was a chance to try those roles on for size.  For me, it was a chance to see if all my nightmarish worries would come true or not.  I’m certain, dear reader, that you will not be at all surprised to learn that most of my fears had no root in reality.  I did not lose myself.  I got to be exactly who I am.

I led a Bible study and engaged in women’s ministry, spending a lot of time with women over coffee and lunches.  People did not criticize Tim (at least not while I was present) so everyone’s fingernails remained intact.  In fact, the congregation greatly encouraged Tim, and thanked him sincerely and profusely whenever he preached.  I sat under the remarkable mentorship and exhortation of Jim’s wife Pam, whom I would want to emulate exactly if I ever did become a pastor’s wife.

So the things I was worried about didn’t turn out to be hard things at all.  That doesn’t mean that the summer was easy; it was just hard in ways I didn’t expect.

For one thing, I didn’t expect to come smashing into the brick wall of my own inadequacy.  As I threw myself into trying to make deep, real connections with the women of the church, I discovered that many of them were experiencing suffering to a degree that I have never experienced.  I was amazed by the courage they showed in the midst of terrible life situations, and I was ashamed by my own attitudes.  Every week, as I prepared my Bible study lesson, I felt unable to speak into the devastating trauma that some of these women were facing.  Not having any idea what they were going through, I only knew the greatness of the mercy available to them.  And they taught me a LOT–about God, about the world, about ministry, and about myself.

The other unforeseeable hard thing about this summer was the secrecy involved in ministry.  For some people, when they see you in any kind of pastoral role, they feel comfortable telling you every detail about their lives.  It is a difficult yet important thing to keep other people’s secrets and hold their trust.  There were things that I couldn’t tell Tim, things that I knew he couldn’t tell me, and things that we had to keep between ourselves and never talk to other people about.  Secrets get heavy after a while, even just one summer.

Finally, I had no idea what a flood of emotions would overwhelm me each time I heard my husband preach.  The first time, I was on the verge of tears throughout his sermon.  The second time, I felt like I was going to puke all over the hymnals in front of me.  I can’t explain why watching your husband preach is so emotionally intense.  I can only liken it to having your heart ripped out of your chest and paraded in front of hundreds of people.  It is a feeling of intense vulnerability.

I returned from our Colorado internship still unsure of the whole pastoral thing and still needing time to process–notice that it’s 2014, and I’m just now writing this post.  What finally pushed me over the edge was attending an ordination service for our California church’s two new pastors.  That night, the man who gave the ordination sermon said something very simple that cut to my heart.  He said to the two new pastors, “It’s not about you.  It’s about reaching lost people with good news.”

Somehow, in my self-centered fuss and bother, I had lost that simple truth.

It’s not about Tim.

It’s not about me.

It’s certainly not about people’s expectations of us.  Hang the Casserole Committee!

It’s about reaching lost people with Good News.

And however God tells us to go about doing that–as teachers, as database administrators, as garbage collectors, or as pastors–we will listen and we will follow, because it has never, ever been about us.

I got in the car from the ordination service, and everything I’d learned through a summer of ministry, through long talks with Pam, through prayer, through God working on my heart, all fell together in one moment.  I turned to Tim and said, “Okay, I’m ready for you to be a pastor.”

I’m not even slightly exaggerating when I tell you that he turned to me and said, “Really? Because I don’t think I want to be a pastor.  I’m leaning more toward getting a Ph.D.”

The circuitous route God sometimes takes to teach us things…

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2 thoughts on “What I Learned From a Summer of Playing Pastor’s Wife

  1. This is an amazing blog, Emily. Thanks for sharing. I love your conclusion, “It’s not about us”. Truly, that is the starting point for finding God’ next step.

    We SO enjoyed your visit. Vivian

    • Thanks, Vivian! It’s a long way around the mulberry bush, but God has been teaching both us some great things about Him, the world, and ourselves through this process. We enjoyed our time with you!

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