What's a girl to do? Short answer: NOT what I did.
What did I do? I listened to teaching because it was coming from people of note, people of great education. But I failed to double-check it for myself. These were folks that had thriving ministries, were holders of high offices, had endured much in the ministry to which I believed we were called. So I soaked in every bit of advice, every stricture on my personality, every social lesson in "how to support your man by being the kind of wife every church wants to see in it's staff." And I didn't realize the chains that were growing tighter and tighter. I didn't see the lie I was buying. Because I trusted too much in people and not enough in the Holy Spirit that says that he will teach *me*. That if *I* seek Him in His Word, He will reveal Himself directly to *me.* Not once did I question that what I was soaking in was truth. And I was busily squashing down my inherent penchant for debate, practicing keeping my mouth shut in *every* situation rather than using discernment and prayer, increasingly relinquishing my status as full partner in my marriage and becoming the "submissive wife."
(Does this strike anyone else as disturbingly similar to the "grooming", the learning to hide their true selves, that our political figures go through to make themselves and their message more palatable to a constituency? Hmmmm...just a side thought there.)
Where did it get me? Or better yet, where did it get my husband who was counting on me? Well, it left him alone, too. He saw who I was becoming, that I was adhering to the "rules of staffdom" and assumed that I wanted the kind of pastor-husband who would be all of those stereotypical things, too. You know, the guy who gets up at 3am to do Bible study, who holds lengthy theological teaching sessions with his wife to instruct her in godliness, who gathers the kids around after dinner for solemn prayer and edification. He tried. Bless his heart, I was just like Eve handing the fruit of the tree to Adam. And he loves me so much that he ate the fruit, too. He desired to be what he perceived I wanted and expected of him. Just as much as I desired to be the kind of wife that I believed he needed on his arm to uphold him and bring him "honor in the gates."
The problem? We gave up who we were. He *isn't* that guy. He's the guy who reads Scripture, meditates on it, and is so full of vision, so discerning of the Spirit that he finds application all throughout the day. It pops up in the most mundane conversations (and sometimes in some of the most intimate ones, too). He reads when he finds time to, prays without ceasing, and seeks to honor God with his WHOLE day, not some rigidly prescribed time period of it that becomes less relationship and more obligation. He's hilarious, slightly irreverent, not one to stand on ceremony or tradition, speaks truth boldly irrespective of his audience (truly a gifted prophet), has the most random access mind that makes the most amazing connections between things, is highly creative, believes in doing everything with excellence, loves more than he lets on, is almost scary in how accurate his discernment always turns out to be, and has fun with life. But he was so frustrated and feeling like a failure because he wasn't "the pastor guy" that he thought I wanted. And, to be honest, being a person who enjoys a formulaic approach (tell me how to do it right, and I'll do it!), I *wasn't* satisfied that he wasn't being those things. I became more and more critical of him (even as I became more critical of myself) because I saw how he was falling short of the picture painted by those renowned men and women of faith.
Oh, and let's not leave me out. I'm not that demure wallflower person, either. You criticize my husband, the words of defensive anger have to be bit back, and even then I'm no success at hiding my thoughts in my facial expression. You try controlling my life or my kids and I rebel in a heartbeat (once heard it accurately described as "Mama Bear Syndrome"). I see injustice or untruth and I am loathe to leave it unchallenged. I am passionate, opinionated, active, intelligent, capable, organized, and willing to dirty my hands to accomplish something I believe is worthwhile. I also am an introvert who enjoys people but can't handle the intensity of being socially around them for long periods of time. I need my alone time. Part of that is because I do care so deeply about the folks around me; it's one of the reasons I *do* make a good minister's wife. But those traits didn't fit the ever-ready hostess, smiling, cheerful, Good Housekeeping picture of a pastor's wife that *other pastor's wives* painted, either. *sigh*
So, we bought the lies. We believed that how God had created us was something less than "fearfully and wonderfully." That if we were to take on this position in the church we not only needed the burden of the call and a close relationship with our Savior, but we also needed a personality overhaul. We needed to be something other than we were. Now, I'm not talking about continuing to grow in grace and increasing in the fruits of the Spirit - that's totally a Biblical concept with which I have no dispute; I'm talking about denying that the personality God gave to you was a GIFT and seeking to become a cookie cutter image created by man in order to hold some office. And, sadly, the more we were involved in church positions, the more this was reinforced by those for whom we served. That cookie cutter image is expected more often than not and when it's not met folks can be downright cruel.
What did all of this do in our marriage? Well, he was busily hiding his failings from me, I was busily hiding mine from him, he was trying to "help" me be the happy homemaker he believed I wanted to be (cutting me out of any partnership in his ministry partly to better hide himself and partly to allow me time to be at home - resulting in my feeling rejected), and I was trying to encourage him to be the superspiritual guy I thought he wanted to be (um, ladies, make sure that your hubby WANTS suggestions on how/when/where to fit in family/personal/couple devotional times before you bulldoze your way into leadership there...). We were both growing more resentful of the inability to be ourselves and the endless criticism from others as to where we were falling short (as if we didn't already know...). We both were enduring deep hurts that we couldn't admit; that would be failing to trust God. We both were growing in anger and resentment at these false rules that we couldn't escape; it was our livlihood and we *were* called by God to minister (notice that we were called to minister...not to BE A VOCATIONAL minister; we've learned that it's a vital distinction). We knew for sure that just as we really couldn't admit dissatisfaction to one another, we also couldn't seek counsel. In the staff environment, seeking marriage counselling is the same as broadcasting that you don't meet the qualification of "having your house in order" and results in loss of a job even as you're trying to salvage your marriage. So we both wandered off into our loneliness, hiding it from one another (not really, but we thought so), and kept pulling up our bootstraps each day to face the next failure.
Sounds like "life and life more abundant" to me, no?
No. So what now? You finally wake up and realize you've been buying into a horrifically destructive lie. It's not what God has for your life. How do you get out of it? When you've all but given up on thinking for yourself (there are committees who do that for you and who oppose you when you try it), and you don't know the last time you really felt the rush of the Spirit as you read the Word; when you've been angry and despondent so long that just having enough energy to feed, bathe, and clothe everyone is a good day; when you can't remember the last time you had a truly honest discussion with your spouse, how do you begin the long road back? How do you sort out the truth from the lies? How do you have confidence you'll even be able to do that?
It is about time for an update!
5 years ago