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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.