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Topics: Spirituality | Opinion

I’m married to a pastor, but also to his church. I’m exhausted.

I thought that being a pastor's wife would strengthen my faith. Instead, it’s done the opposite.

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Every single Sunday starts out the same. I hear the front door slam and my eyes fly open. The sun hasn’t risen yet, but my pastor husband is already on his way to the church. When he arrives, he’ll practise his sermon, play a few riffs on his guitar and greet volunteers who also arrive early. Pretty soon my kids are jumping on my bed — like their father, they love Sundays too.

I spend a chaotic morning making breakfast, helping my kids get dressed and breaking up sibling squabbles. Eventually, we’ll make our way to the car and I drive to the church with my kids buckled in the back. Every Sunday morning is the same, but also different. My husband is unable to help me wrangle our kids, who like to bounce off of pews and play hide and seek around the church. During worship, I attempt to sing, to feel connected to God — but I’m so exhausted from my morning, so distracted by my kids, that I don’t normally feel present. My husband is usually playing guitar on stage; his voice sounds like an angel. When I see him in his element, my heart softens.

There’s also the unexpected: we serve a high-needs community. Sometimes people show up who are drunk or abusing drugs, and my husband goes into crisis mode. He sweeps the bathrooms for leftover needles, calls the police if things get violent. Other times, someone urgently needs to talk to him. He prays over people, counsels others or fixes broken sound systems. It’s a small church and he’s the pastor of all trades.

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By the time we get home, everyone is hungry and exhausted. My husband slumps on the couch; he has nothing left to give. I make sandwiches and we all eat quietly. My shoulders sag in relief. We have another week until we have to do it all over again.

When I married my husband, we were straight out of college, fresh-faced and hope-filled. I was the one that urged him to become a pastor, and I was so excited to become a pastor’s wife. In those early years, life was difficult, but we were both on board and united as one. We had our children in quick succession, and soon, I was too overwhelmed to help him, too burned out to encourage him in his ministry. I stopped looking at church as a family affair, and started noticing all the ways it divided us instead. While he attended elders meetings and visited the sick in the hospital, I stayed home alone with our children. I’ve spent more nights than I can count rocking restless babies, soothing sore tummies and then collapsing on the couch in defeat.

Over the years, I’ve missed him — and I’ve resented the church for monopolizing his time. There’s been entire years in our marriage when I’ve longed to walk away from it all. I’ve begged him, hot tears spilling down my cheeks — Can’t you get a different job? But it’s not a job, it’s a calling, he has responded. Sometimes I’ve responded in anger. Then I’ll leave, I shoot back. Other times, I’m resigned. OK, I say.

I thought that becoming a pastor’s wife would strengthen my faith. Instead, it’s done the opposite. There have been times when I’ve wondered if I even believe at all, times when I’ve so badly wanted to feel God, to feel the Spirit moving inside of me, but instead I just feel numb and cold. Mostly, I feel wrung out. Used, but also useless. Within our congregation, I feel mostly invisible. I don’t feel pressure to be different, because I feel like I’ve already disappointed the congregants. I’m not vibrant, or fun, or any of the things you’d expect a pastor’s wife to be. Because of that, I shrink into myself even more. I cannot offer you what you are looking for, I think to myself. They don’t expect much from me, but what they don’t know is that when they latch onto my husband, a part of me drains too.

When I married my husband, I vowed to love him, cherish him, and walk through the good and the bad with him. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was also making those vows to the church.

I’ve talked to my husband ad nauseam about how I feel. We’ve gone to therapy. He’s prayed over me, held me and sobbed with me. I can’t expect him to walk away from his calling, but how can he expect me to continue like this? When I married my husband, I vowed to love him, cherish him and walk through the good and the bad with him. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was also making those vows to the church. I cannot separate him from the church, but that means that I’m married to both him and his vocation. For better or worse.

The problem is, it often feels worse.

So why do I stay? Being married to a pastor isn’t what I expected, but being with my husband is still more than anything I could have imagined. I love our family and the life that we have created together. Our home brims with love, light and happiness. Yes, there is often darkness, rooted in the pain of being married to a member of the clergy. But there’s also joy in every single day, in the meals we share together, in the bedtime stories and cuddles we enjoy every night as a family. Some days, I feel a little flutter in my chest, and I think that’s the Holy Spirit. I do still believe in Jesus, and I want to continue to believe that life in the church is going to get easier.

Regardless, there’s a feeling of completeness when I’m with my husband. Have I sacrificed pieces of myself to be with him? Yes. But I can’t imagine it any other way.

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  • says:

    Your marriage is in trouble - just based on the number of times you used the words "I" and "me". Those words indicate selfishness and pride. (BTW - it's obvious that your husband has married his job - not God, Christ or the Church, he's substituting words and confusing the two)
    You both need to be reminded that marriage needs commitment and lots of work. It's a covenant between two people to provide companionship and intimacy.
    I've yet to meet a couple who does this without issues, it's how they handle the various conflicts that the relationship grows or collapses

  • says:

    I sympathize with you. The way my wife and I handled it is that I was the minister. I am the one the pastoral charge hired, not her. She edits my sermons, visits with me when she can and supports me emotionally. She clearly tells the church board that she does not make cold plates; she does not attend UCW meetings and she does not play the organ or grow flowers. If you let folks take advantage of you they will. It takes courage to let people know that you are not unpaid help. One of the things that helped us, that may not be of help to you but here it is anyway; we had no children and we were financially secure which meant if we offended people by not living up to their expectations, we could simply find another pastoral charge. You are not being selfish. Maybe some prayer seeking a new direction in both your lives would help, however, in my case, my wife comes first. God led me to her and I was quite prepared to give up my ministry for her. Fortunately God found a way for us to have a relationship and do ministry. It may be tough but there may come a time when you have to choose ministry or peace and quiet. Good luck and talk to God. She listens.

    Replies

    • says:

      The use of the plural pronouns in your marriage explains its longevity.
      You supported my discussion.

    • says:

      WELL SAID.

  • says:

    Well done!

    You have managed to find some peace in incredibly difficult (and at times dehumanizing) experiences. I admire you greatly....

  • says:

    I'm a pastor's wife too and read this with interest, knowing that we would share many of the same obstacles. Because I come from a different, and important to me, faith tradition, I attend my husband's church about 1/2 the time, and mine the other 1/2. Likewise, my 2 kids go where I go. I also have a busy, very busy, career and to top it all off, the introverted personality that makes me just not interested in being a part of the ministry team. So, I know I've been a disappointment to his churches and I do grapple weekly with guilt over what I assume his churches see as a lack of support. But, having my own boundaries, space and spiritual outlet are more critical to our family's wellness than being the "right kind of wife" and being guilt-free in that respect. I don't know that that balance will always be the same, but it's what I'm working with right now. I'm so glad my husband and I don't feel I have to choose between him and the role.

  • says:

    What painful memories this article stirred up. I am married to a pastor who finally retired after 53 years of ministry. He always ministered in “challenging pastoral
    charges” with too many toxic people and nasty power struggles. His life was all about work. When his adult son died (from his first family) he barely took one week off. He was dedicated to his work. Families in crisis dealing with serious illnesses, deaths and tragedies spoke often of the amazing compassionate support he provided. All I can say is that phrase “gave at the office” applies to him. He did manage to do some of the driving to activities when the girls were younger. But there was no time or energy for us as a couple. The very limited energy we had went into being parents.
    He trained for ministry in a different era where the church came first no matter what.
    I adapted my life around that. As we approach the end of his days - there is great sadness in thinking about our marriage and a rich memory bank of his service in the church I would hope our scenario is no longer being repeated as this is not the way for life to be

  • says:

    My wife and I are both in ministry, have been well over 30 years. We both extend our heartfelt sympathies and prayers. We know how hard the life of pastors is for the pastor and their families.
    You are not alone...

  • says:

    I was a pastor turned teacher- early in life. The load was not so different IF I LET IT CONTROL MY TIME TO THE SACRIFICE OF MY FAMILY. We choose where we'll spend our time. ANY social work, people centered in service can be a horror for partner & family. We had SIX children, our choice. I was fortunate in learning from my dad who was a pastor & I can't count the times that I have said, " DAMN you Dad; YOU brought us into the world & then abandoned us to love other people; DAMN you. My sisters paid a horrible price for that abandonment. Thus I vowed NEVER to so abandon my children under the excuse of a "higher calling". As a pastor following in my father's footsteps, I signed a contract for a 40-hour week; it was always a 60-hour week, but there was that control base & that gave me support to say to the elders-" DO YOUR PART; I am just another person with theological training we are all people who can support the church in our LOVE.

    Second fatal mistake. He supported me in therapy. Your situation created the problem & he fundamentally created the problem in his need to abandon his family. BOTH of you should have been in together at ALL times as HE was the key problem. Damn my dad for abandoning the family. How does one truly love another if you've abandoned your family ??

  • says:

    This is whining and unproductive. Your expectations are unrealistic: some research and talking to others who were in this role would have allowed you go into it with your eyes wide open. It's not just 'the church', all occupations have these strains and demands when a person is committed to a job with an endless scope of work. Putting the needs of others first is the most important part of love, you're focused on 'You', common these days. Sacrifice is essential, but being happy to make that sacrifice is the key. You're bound up in resentment. You and your husband need to find a work/life balance that is healthy and you to find joy in what YOU chose, nobody forced you. Whining about it in a publication isn't going to fix anything. Put that energy into working together.

  • says:

    To the anonymous pastor's wife. So in the midst of your family/church life, what do you do to nurture yourself? It sounds like you expect your husband to do that. He is a big part, but not the only part. Work outside the home is an outlet, even part time. Your marriage is headed for disaster if it continues on the same path. God and Sunday mornings will stay much the same, so expect that. Your husband does get a day off, and if he isn't taking his time off, then that is a concern for him and the church. When you take a holiday (away from phone calls text messages, etc,) plan it well, so you as wife and mother can enjoy it with your family. All the best.

  • says:

    Your husband is being exploited by his church. He has a right to a home life and a family. He has a right to turn off his phone at 5 pm except, perhaps, one evening a week when he’s on call. If volunteers or other staff can’t fill in the rest of the time, he doesn’t have to step in. He doesn’t have to quit his job, but he has a duty to set boundaries, and limit his on-call time.

  • says:

    As an atheist, might I suggest that a resolution to these psychological and spiritual conflicts might be found in deciding to serve the community, rather than the deity and the church organisation? You shouldn't have to feel an obligation to be "on" all the time, especially on Sundays. Just do good work and be a good person, and stop pinning it all on a belief in Jesus and the Holy Spirit fluttering in your chest. With love.

  • says:

    "Anonymous's" situation is one I've heard from a number of ministers' wives over the years. It is not my situation, but I can sympathise.

    The author might want to read Michelle Obama's autobiography, "Becoming", for a discussion of a similar situation when Barak Obama was a state senator in Springfield Illinois and Michelle was practising law in Chicago and raising their two preschool children. He was away for part of each week and when he was expected home, she tried very hard to have a family meal prepared, the house in order and the children awake to see him. Often this was an exercise in frustration as he often ran late or something came up.

    A counsellor told them that instead of Michelle trying so hard to fit into her husband's erratic schedule, she should arrange life to suit her and the girls, with the onus on him to fit in and be a part of things. This system worked out better.

    Like "Anonymous" and her husband, it's apparent that the Obamas love each other.

  • says:

    Maybe the Roman Catholics have it right. priest do not marry. They just have to add female priests.

    Replies

    • says:

      No. they are often lonely and wish they could have a wife. They have told me so.