To the Pastors’ Wives Whose Marriages are Quietly Falling Apart

I’m a pastor’s wife.

And sister, I know how it is. You smile for the family pictures. You corral your children Sunday after Sunday; just getting out the door in time for church feels like you’ve already run a marathon. Maybe you, like me, can feel resentment for this life bubble up now and again. And so you tell yourself: you’re supposed to be in this together. You’re supposed to be his biggest fan, everyone else loves him. But you? You just want a break, or a date night or a full night of sleep by yourself in a hotel room. So you sit in the front row, supportive, yearning for gospel relief, and yet you might just feel caged by the expectations. The expectations that your marriage has to be perfect. That you’re somehow supposed to embody Ephesians 5.

And it is just too much to bear. So let’s let it go, shall we?

Marriage to a pastor was never meant to be a higher calling. Yes, your life might look different from other women in your congregation, but you are not called to perfection. You’re called to Jesus—even in the broken parts of our lives, including your marriage to the guy up on stage.

Maybe I’m just speaking for myself here, but my marriage is hard. Maybe your marriage is all roses and trips to Jamaica with umbrella drinks. But mine: It’s work. It’s the hardest work I’ve ever done (along with parenting). Because marriage is a day-in, day-out, relentless giving of oneself in a “warrior dance” where you both give and submit to the other (thank you Sarah Bessey for that image). It hurts. And honestly, it sometimes feels like death. But like a good sweaty workout, there’s growth that comes through the pain.

So ministry wives: let’s put down the act. Sometimes I don’t want to be married; sometimes I think I’d be happier without a spouse. Sometimes I wonder, with bliss and gratitude, how have we made it this far and this long? How have we survived intact in the midst of the chaos and the noise of little children who leave us flat, hands outstretched, always needing more?

Because when we keep looking to another to fulfill us, we become an inward, self-absorbed duo and we lose our ability to reach beyond our couplehood. We’ve so elevated a starry-eyed sense of love that we forget the practical love of self-sacrifice, not just in marriage, but for each other, for a family and for the world.

Let’s just breathe for a minute. No one’s got it together. No one’s marriage is perfect. And as a ministry spouse, you do not need to prove your worth or the worth of your marriage to your congregation or your ministry. How your marriage looks is not a gold star on a “good Christian woman” chart. Friend, this is not your job.

You don’t need to shine up your marriage in its Sunday best, and show your veneered smile, when you know that you’re both hurting inside. It’s inevitable in this dance of marriage, that there is a lack of connection, or growing bitterness and resentment lurking behind your dress and heels. Yet, we’re tempted to keep thinking that by controlling our outward appearance we can change the heart. That if we do better, if our kids behave and succeed, if we start Bible studies or bring snacks or invite people over for dinner, that then we’ll have this pastor’s wife thing figured out.

But that is not your job. Your job is to point to Jesus—in and through your brokenness.

Let me tell you: this provides immense relief to my perfectionist self. Guess what? Perfection was never the goal. Jesus is the goal. Jesus is your hero, not some fictional knight in shining armor meant to carry you to a castle of good ministry reputation.

So, pastor’s wives, let’s show our scars. Let’s be real about the hard. The women in your congregation need to see you the real you without your perfectionism makeup on. Let’s tell each other when marriage doesn’t feel like it’s worth it and yet, you know, you know, that it is. Not because of your spouse, but because of Jesus. You know that that’s where Christ meets you, in your broken and hurting places when you still choose to love boldly and to dare greatly to show all of who you are to another person. He takes dead things—even marriages—and brings them back to life.

Let’s not empty the cross of its power and the empty tomb of its glory, by patching over our dying relationships with band-aids. Let’s expose our wounds to the light so they can scab and heal and grow stronger.

Because friend, it was never him, or his vocation, that was meant to satisfy you. It was and is and always shall be only Jesus.

Originally published on June 8, 2015 at The Mudroom. 

Ashley Hales

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