Shortly after settling into our apartment on the campus of a seminary as newlyweds, I was asked, “Do you feel called to be a pastor’s wife?” It was a reasonable question but one I had not anticipated.
Prior to marriage, acquaintances and friends would ask about my then fiancé. I would respond with the usual descriptors including his preparation for pastoral ministry. Reactions ranged from “more power to you to” or “do whatever makes you happy” to, “you’ll make a great pastor’s wife.” Oddly, both types of responses were unsettling in different ways. The former comment was expressed by those indifferent to the Christian faith. It sounded polite given that my choice had little to no significance on their life. The latter was intended to be a compliment, I think, but I felt ambivalent. What did that mean, a “great pastor’s wife”?
The language of calling is often used to refer to a position, title, action or behavior. We feel called to be at a certain place at a certain time. We feel called to do something. This is preceded by a distinct moment of conviction. I didn’t have that. I didn’t have a clarifying moment to validate or help me feel confident of my newly adopted role.
When we were dating, I did experience a moment of decision where my feelings crossed over from uncertainty and doubt to security about the relationship. But there was minimal consideration for what it meant to marry someone in ministry, let alone the category of calling that the question posed.
Admittedly, I struggled to answer. I struggled with guilt and shame. I felt guilt for my hesitation and shame because I felt judged as one who did not take the position seriously. What I heard in the question was the assumption that there was a difference between those called and not called. It was only the first month of marriage and already, it was marked with failure and feelings of less than … less spiritual … less worthy.
I don’t remember my exact verbiage but the feeling of being caught is familiar. I did what I normally do when here; I froze. A comment about the question bought me some time to thaw before I uttered an inconclusive, non-answer.
My experience is in no way intended to minimize, discount or discredit others whose stories differ. In fact, I’m so grateful for the array of experiences because it allows for the complexity and the richness of each journey. I’ve heard various iterations similar to mine and other that vary vastly. Of the later, they talk of their yes with certainty. I’m drawn to them and all the more curious to know how it became so.
Since the initial encounter, I have gained more words to name the uneasiness of that day. There were no intentional conversations explaining what it meant to step into the role of pastor wife. There were also mixed messages such as, there are no expectations for pastor’s wife but there are. A pastor’s wife is everyone’s friend but no one’s friend. She’s to be quiet but not too quiet, be visible but not too visible, and be involved but not too involved. Then there are ethnic, regional, denominational and cultural nuances specific to each church. Knowingly and unknowingly, these can typecast the role.
I’ve also come to value the journey and be open to the lifestyle with its unique (but not so unique) challenges and perks. For example, when we married, my husband promised me the world … one retreat center at a time. He’s been true to his word. Then, there were periods in our marriage when I have been jealous over sharing my husband with the congregation so much so that I wished he was just my pastor, not my spouse. Moreover, few positions entail taking your family to your place of employment on a weekly basis and where the lines between public and private life are being negotiated constantly. And the title pastor’s wife includes a sphere of influence whether you asked for it or not.
In Luke 22, the setting is an upstairs room during the Passover Feast, a commemorative time that marked God’s final plague and judgment against Egyptians as well as the mercy and grace of God toward the Israelites. His disciples surround Jesus. Soon, Jesus would face his fate with death but not before partaking in the meal and imparting some final words. He says, “and I assign to you, as my Father assigned to me, a kingdom” (verse 29 ESV). The disciples inherit a kingdom, a sphere of influence.
I can’t pinpoint a moment when I felt called but as I’ve come to embrace my journey, I can say with more confidence that being a pastor’s wife is one of my kingdoms. I influence it as I live out my calling to bear witness, lean in and listen, see and name the stories embodied in a person. And the culmination of this is worship – worship the one who knew our calling long before we uttered our first wail.
You made all the delicate inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous – how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalms 139: 13-16 NLT
What are you called to? How has your journey shaped your calling? Where is your sphere of influence?