One of our readers recently emailed to ask if we would include a post specific to the trials faced by pastors’ wives. While we are neither in the habit of taking requests nor experts of anything, this particular topic has been on my mind much of late and I was planning to hold forth on it anyway. I find myself in need of much discipline and many pep talks when pregnant. PS- This post is really, really long. So. You know.
Some ladies of my acquaintance have a game they love to play:
“My husband is such a baby when he’s sick. A little snuffle and he won’t lift a finger to help himself.”
“My husband broke his foot last week and insisted on trying to cook for himself. I said, ‘Oh sure, you think you can cook; but how will you carry the food to the table on those crutches?’ He got the picture after that!”
“After all these years, my husband can’t change the videos in the player and he can’t even figure out how to operate the remote!”
“I try and give my husband projects—‘cause he likes helping out, you know—but it takes him so long in the end I just as well do it myself. He can’t even load the dishwasher!”
And a good time is had by all. Please note the clever non sequitors, compliments of the only rule: each lady must make clear to the others that her husband is perhaps the laziest, meanest, most incompetent man ever hatched on God’s green earth. The game brings such joy to these good women I’m really hard pressed to criticize. On the contrary, I enjoy it, for it regularly reminds me just how sinister and bleak the heart of woman can be. Mea culpa. My heart is the most barren of all.
Behold, should I choose to play the game with those unsuspecting women I would win. Your husband can’t load the dishwasher? My husband is never home. In the unlikely event that he is home, he is reading a book. He doesn’t wash the dishes. He doesn’t bathe the children. He doesn’t hear the children killing each other in the next room. He doesn’t see that I’m tired, petty, and terrible at this motherhood thing. If he were to notice he would jump right up and save the entire bloody day.
In his Table of Duties, Luther kindly sums up the burden wives bear by culling from Scripture two simple verses: “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” Eph. 5:22, and “They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear” 1 Peter 3:5-6.
Of course I agree. Of course I know to submit, to do my work with joy, to speak peace in rainbow colored words all over my pristine house to my well-behaved children. But knowing isn’t half the battle once the kids start screaming and the inner dialogue starts in . . .
I didn’t intend to marry a pastor. I didn’t intend to marry, period. I certainly didn’t intend to spend my productive years producing babies. When I allow myself to think about all I did intend to do I get pretty angry. When I allow myself to remember that no one thinks all that much of what I am doing I get pretty sad. When I then look around and notice that my husband is an hour late for supper I get pretty crazy. The ingredients for a perfect Molotov cocktail—drink it down, sister; everyone’s doing it.
Let’s try this instead: God’s own child I gladly say it, “Self, shut up.”
Pastor’s wife, consider that the man God gave you is your husband but he is Christ’s slave. Do not, with cheap, repetitive rhetoric, distract him from his Master. The boiling pot of anger you so meticulously stir throughout your lonely day has very little to do with the real, flesh and blood man who bears the onslaught of your wrath. That inner dialogue that plagues you, that fills your brain pan with the sizzling fats of disappointment, revenge, and self pity, is born of lies. It is the serpent whispering, “Did God really say . . .” His whispers ape reality, but they do not reveal it. Close your ears and open your eyes of faith. You and your husband are both of you saints in the Kingdom of God, are both of you sinners carrying your crosses until the day of His coming. And your crosses are not entirely unequal:
You wash grime from the dimpled bodies of your children; your husband labors to scrub decades of poor catechesis from the minds of his people.
You endure the unending prattle of your little ones; he endures the unending prattle of his secretary, his catechism class, his shut ins.
You change the baby's diaper, maneuvering your swollen belly out of her leg's reach; he carefully labors to change the heterodox practices of his parish--the individual cups, etc.-- all the while maneuvering around the ego and pride of the people.
You kiss bruises and bandage scrapes; he holds the dying as they depart this earth and soothes the grief of those left behind. This and other tasks far beyond your calling and expertise he performs day after day, and he performs them alone. Who are you to snarl when he doesn’t help with the dishes? Though you may not always see it for the blinders, you and your husband wear the same yoke and plow the same field.
Be still. Stop being afraid and know that Christ is God. By His blood you have been made pure and holy, a worthy bride. Like Sarah before you, you have a master who worships Him. Like His mother before you, you are both humbled in childbirth and promised exultation in the time to come. And like Mary, quietly sitting at the feet of the Master of All, He gives you His good, restorative, eternal gifts out of unfettered love and concern for your well being. Do what is right and do not give way to fear. Rather, fix your eyes on Christ, the perfect Bridegroom, the author and perfecter of your faith, and recall with daily prayer and repentance that it was ultimately out of submission to Him, love and devotion to the One who gave His life for you, that you gave up your sovereignty, your body, and your heart. Your work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light, and you will receive your reward.
Thus, when your Christ fearing husband fails, do not hold it against him. By the grace of God, he just as often succeeds. When you fail, do not hold it against him. God redeems your filthy rags and makes you a fruitful vine, a blessing in your husband’s house. The dishes may get done one day, the next day they may not. The dishes aren’t important. Do what is right: Bear one another’s burdens in love, for the Day is very near indeed.
That said, I have additional thoughts on those lovely inner dialogues that plague the lonely wife and mother. I’ll get out a post on the Burden of Sheer Crazy one of these days. I’m going to need another talk session before I get too much closer to the birth (DV) of another little person.
The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
The Dark Night of the Soul, by St. John of the Cross
The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands, by Dr. Laura Schlessinger