30 July 2009

Troth and its plight

It is normal for me to go through a whole day interacting with no adult other than my husband. On those days when I do personally interact with another adult, it is often only in passing. The non-home events in my week are church, church stuff, and a frantic shopping trip. It's gotten to the point that a conversation with an adult can make me feel genuinely anxious, like I'm going to forget my lines. I almost never interact with men.

This is a not inconsiderable source of not un-tense relations between not-at-home moms and not-un-at-home moms. Those not-at-home moms are the faces and bodies our husbands see all day. They laugh at our husbands' jokes, congratulate him on his successes, know why he's in the foul mood he never explains to us. They're more familiar with his daily life than we are because he's too much of a man to bring his problems home. And that's without even considering how their existence negates the validity of ours.

Small church pastors' wives don't have this too bad. Most of the women with whom my husband interacts most regularly and personally are honorably crowned in white. But I think almost every woman is at least somewhat afraid of Jolene. I won't spell out potentials, because no matter how unlikely your situation, you've probably got at least one like this, or this, or [shudder] that. If we were at a ministry hive swarming with chirpy DCEs and Worship Conceptualizresses and Ministrices of Hot Chick Ministry, I'd be dark about his invisible days spent in human commerce while I sat home getting saggy and puked on, making suppers no one likes as the un-held baby yowls, and having no earnings or tales of my genius with which to charm him. Their familiarity breeds her contempt.

Waving one's husband off every morning as he goes out into a world packed with Other Women is uncool. There's an appeal to joining that world yourself just for the appearance of leverage: How's about if we're neither of us too friendly, see? This is not to say that I don't trust him (if I didn't, I obviously wouldn't be writing this). It's just an objection to current social norms, which I do my best not to practice even though I'm stuck breathing the corrosive fallout.

One of the hardest person-types for me to be civil to or about is a known Jolene.


Reb. Mary said...

Thank you for articulating this.

D. said...

Yes, and women w/ "Crave" written on their chest.

Anonymous said...

The hardest person to forgive is a Jolene.

JenniferH said...

"If we were at a ministry hive swarming with chirpy DCEs and Worship Conceptualizresses and Ministrices of Hot Chick Ministry..."

Perhaps part of why churches of yesteryear actually paid for the spouse and family to tag along with said pastor for larger gatherings involving hotels. Instead of enjoying this subsidized mini-vacation (oh my! A Holiday Inn Express with a small pool and red delicious apples for continental breakfast!), the spouse of today's multi-staff church worker stays at home for several days contemplating all the higher thinking going on in her (or his in the case of other called positions) absence. We've probably seen less of our husband alone in a restaurant than these people, not to mention those fun late-night Lutheran BEvERages we most certainly aren't enjoying. All the while the world assuming that if we *only* had a degree we could find a job "good enough" to make it worth working.

Cuz obviously we don't work.

Melrose said...

I'm in a very small country church but already had a nervous flicker or two that my gracious husband-Pastor took very seriously. I can only imagine if we were in a mega something or other.

Anonymous said...

When I first read your post, I didn't get it. I really couldn't think of any Jolenes in his primary job.

After reading JenniferH's comments, it was clearer. My husband works a second job teaching a hobby. His assistants are mostly men, but there are a few women, especially OtherGirl. She calls and emails a lot. She even came and helped him paint our house, which I couldn't do b/c I was watching the children and freezing 72 cups of corn from the garden.

Now don't get me wrong. She is a very nice married woman. She doesn't hold a candle to me physically even with my two pregnancies to her one. Infidelity has *never* been a worry of mine in ten years of marriage.

I am jealous of the time she spends with him, even though it's almost never alone together. I can't tell you the last time I had a meal with my husband without children. I can't tell you when I did anything with my husband without my attention being pulling in a million directions.

I'm jealous of her flexibility. She has her son in daycare and her parents watch him much of the time (allowing her to come paint our house).

We were recently at a birthday party for her son, and as the three of us were chatting my husband said, "OtherGirl is letting her husband get [big expensive man toy]." I snapped. Right in front of her I said, "Yeah, and OtherGirl works and OtherGirl's son is in daycare full time+"

In other words: I get it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I'm supremely jealous that I *never* get to join him in his beloved hobby because, you guessed it, "somebody has to watch the kids" and it would just be to expensive to hire a baby-sitter.

And just to be extra clear, I find no fault with my husband. I don't think he enjoys her company any more than anyone else he works with. But I'm still jealous. :( I pity her child though.

Rebekah said...

Girls, sigh. :( Anon 1, your comment has the tragic ring of experience. I am so sorry.

Jen and Anon 2, nice work getting out that there's more to this Department of Ick than sleeping around. I don't think it's insanely possessive to be uncomfortable with and angry about a certain closeness from which we are excluded.

Marie said...

"You shall not covet your neighbor's wife (or husband, obviously)..." Seems to be a difficult temptation to turn down (and I don't mean solely sexually, but also emotionally) when males and females in the workforce spend more time with each other than with their own spouses. It's a shame the cottage industry has all but gone under. In theory, the lady who is my husband's secretary sure is his helpmeet a whole lot more than her own husband's.

lisa said...

Being on the other side of this issue...a husband and pastor...not a Jolene, I must affirm the feelings that Rebekah and the other posters have shared. I get it. I really do. I spend significant time with people who are not my wife and share with them both personally and professionally.

At the same time I must assert that most of the people with whom I interact, be they colleagues, Jolenes, or laity are not that appealing. I discovered quite quickly in ministry that the people who gravitate to me and my office are not the cool, popular, educated ones that you would want to hang out with at the coffee shop and discuss the latest and greatest in preaching, politics, or pediatrics. Instead they are mentally ill, highly dysfunctional, and don't really have an interest in God's truth or your insight, they just want your time...because you are free, seemingly available, and have to be nice to them-because you are a pastor...and those are just your fellow staff members! That doesn't include all the people who come to you for counseling. (smile)

After having presented God's Word, offered confession/absolution, put boundaries and accountability in place, and offered prayer they either don't come back at all...or do come back and have accomplished nothing; they only want to complain some more. What joy!

Now I'll be the first to admit that going to work is easier than staying home with the children all day, but it's not Grey's Anatomy or Private Practice either (or whatever soft porn you girls are watching these days), wherein you talk with sexy cohorts all day and then occassionally do your job.

So please don't snub your hub for doing his jub (job), and please don't be mean to Jolene for being a drama queen. Imagine if you were reduced to going to your pastor because your spouse, family, friends, and colleagues won't listen to you, have no respect for you, downright despise you, or simply could care less about you.

It's easy to cast stones at Jolene and sit in judgment against her. It's harder to show the grace of God to her and befriend her. I'm convinced half of the people who come to see me just need a good Christian friend in their life, not necessarily a pastor's time.

It's not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick...And its not the healthy your hubby is hanging out with at church either.

Brad writing from Lisa's account.

Disclaimer: Lisa did not read this before I posted, therefore, please direct all hate mail to me.

Rebekah said...

Roger all that, Father Brad. I know better than to romanticize what goes on in a pastor's day based on what Dad does have to say when he comes home. I am using "Jolene" not to designate any old female who turns up in a pastor's study, but as a technical term for those flirtygirls who most definitely exist--like the one whose interaction with seminary professors absolutely nauseated me, or the one who turned up in my own father's study once and informed him that she always had a crush on pastors. (And clearly this doesn't just happen to pastors, either.)

Rosie said...

Rebekah - Right on with the clarification of a Jolene. A woman isn't a Jolene by virtue of her existence. A woman is a Jolene by virtue of her lack of virtue (and respect and modesty and etc.).

Sarah D said...

Rosie and Rebekah - Amen.

lisa said...

Pr. Brad (no disrespect, just don't know the last name) - I think you're right. A lot of folks really do need Christian friends with lots of patience. However, I learned this lesson the hard way dating a guy in seminary. If you KNOW a woman is as Rosie described - lacking in modesty and respect for herself and/or boundaries - then I would suggest praying for her, being polite to her (really polite, not in a condescending way) and guardig your marriage by NOT being friends with her. Women who are *too familiar* do not belong in your home near your husband. Period. They get close enough at church. Pointing her out to an older Christian woman who is virtuous and not a gossip is prob one of the best things you can do (in my opinion). Let her befriend and mentor her. But, letting her closer to your husband by you forming a more than polite/cordial relationship with her is kind of like inviting the vampire into your home.

My duty is to my husband and children. I can serve Jolene in so far as it does not put my marital relationship at risk. Some women are risks - and it's sad and there's room for pity - but they don't need a foothold in your door. And honestly, as much as your husband may pity her, strive to be unaffected by her flirtatiousness and stay strong - he is a man. Just like I wouldn't give my 6 month old a knife to hold, I wouldn't give my husband a dangerous woman to be familiar with as my friend.

Gauntlets said...

I think it's the women who demand my husband's attention for the fulfillment of their emotional needs that give me the most trouble. There are those who seek pastoral counsel, and those are well met. But there are those who want to manipulate his time and attention so that they might have needs met in the church office that really ought to be met at home. These are pitiful, sure, but dangerous nonetheless.

Affairs are seldom about physical needs, neither are they always manifestly physical. They are not always insidiously planned and executed. There are a lot of miserable people in the world who know only that they're miserable and know naught of clinging to Christ in hope.

I do not fear my husband wandering from home, neither do I worry about him misplacing his affections. I'm just too darn wonderful for something like that to happen. ;P But his fidelity does little to stop those sad, sorry women from forgetting themselves when alone with him. He has to be very careful.

Likewise, that guy who drives around the block to talk to me when I'm hanging out the laundry? Who wants to tell me his good news a little too often? That guy is looking for something his wife isn't supplying. And it's really sad, because he's a good guy. But it's not my job to take care of him.

Life is hard. Kyrie eleison.

Anonymous said...

A long time ago I was a lost and very confused young women. I reached out to a Pastor for help, as a last resort. HE crossed lines and I followed, thinking that he was a Pastor and would not do anything like that was bad or sinful. I was not in need of a friend, I was in need of forgivness, and instead I was led farther astray then I had ever been, and I will be a Jolene for the rest of my life and he's a good man who made one tiny mistake, and who could blame him, with her being so slutty and evil to begin with and him wiht his huge, servant heart and good intentions, trying to help her only to get caught in her web.
I guess what I really want to say is sometimes its the "dh" who starts things, but when, oh when, is he going to take the fall?

Gauntlets said...

Anonymous: That false shepherd will answer for his crime against you and against his Office on judgment day.

lisa said...

"and I will be a Jolene for the rest of my life and he's a good man who made one tiny mistake"

"If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
1 John 1:9

No, you won't always be a Jolene. Christ's forgiveness is real. It is so horrible when Pastors betray the trust of their flock. A friend's dad used to investigate these cases for his church body. It's really sobering to see how often Pastors abuse their authority in this way. And, as if doing it once wasn't enough, many continue down this course until they are caught.

Anonymous said...

Lisa, thanks for the kind words. It is true that Christ's forgivness is real, but it doesn't mean that there won't be a consequence here on earth. I'm as guilty as him. I could of said no, walked away, etc... The small-town placement of blame for the crime came down hard on me and light, if at all, on him. But, my reputation prior to all this was earned and I think I got what I deserved. He didn't, though, and that has killed me for the last several years.
I like your blog because your writing is witty and entertaining, but what do all of you know about carrying a huge amount of real guilt? How can you judge when you've never fallen so far? It seems like, at least from what is written here, you all struggle most with things like brownies and slacking on laundry. F***ing brownies. I'd live on them if I could trade histories with you. (History, not husband, I don't want your man) If I ever have a daughter I'd feed her every type of whipped dairy topping under the sun if it would help her make your choices and not mine.
Maybe that "sad, sorry women is really, literally, sad and sorry and you should give her a break.

Reb. Mary said...

Anon: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." (Phil. 3). Lisa's words to you about Confession & Absolution are true (they're God's words--and I hope that you find healing enough to attend a church with an honorable pastor, and to hear those words as spoken directly to you by God, because they are indeed God's hard-won words to you, personally).

But I've lived in a small town just long enough to have an inkling of how difficult it is for you to leave what is behind--because most every person you run into at the grocery store is willing to remind you of it, by whisper or glance. May God give you the grace and strength to continue in your resolve to make different choices for your future, so that you may better know His joy.

Re: brownies: Yes, we do often blog the minutiae of our lives. Sometimes, we blog our darker struggles as well (and I'm not talking about our struggles with dark chocolate :) ).

You may or may not believe this, but the crushing realization of "I, a poor miserable sinner," is a burden that I bear every day, sometimes to the point of near despair. When I come to confession and to the Sacrament, it is as a broken, worthless worm. One doesn't have to be a "repentant Jolene" to be humbled by the realization of one's own sin--we all of us have our favorite transgressions, past and present.

I think you'll find that many Christians will gladly give a former known Jolene (as any sinner) a break, welcoming her back into the fold as they see her repentance in her life. I hope that you can also learn to give yourself a break--more accurately, to accept by faith the ultimate break of grace offered to you in Christ.

Gauntlets said...

Oh, Anon . . . I'm so sorry. I didn't mean my words quite that way. I understand that most of the sheep are repentant, and in need of counsel. But sometimes, they forget what kind of counsel they need, and the shepherd needs to guide them back to Christ . . . Some shepherds are, clearly, really, shamefully bad at doing that.

What do we know about carrying a huge load of real guilt? More than you might think. Don't despair; if Christ forgives me, he forgives you. There is no weight too heavy for Him to bear, and He really, truly is coming any day now. This is our greatest hope, for when He gets here, our flesh will be finally, ultimately, and thoroughly cleaned. No more dark thoughts in the night, no more dark nights of the soul. All that you find repugnant about you--His blood boils it away. Your fear and shame will be washed from you forever in the moment of renewal, as it indeed already has been washed away in time and unto life everlasting.

In the meantime, we carry our crosses, and cry to the Lord for strength. We are not alone; He hears us; and He has already shouldered the deadly part of our burden.

Do you have a pastor now whom you trust? Tell him you want him to hear your confession and be Absolved. From experience, I can tell you that kneeling before the altar in repentance and faith, saying with your own mouth all that haunts you in the dark, and hearing a voice utter that, finally, it is Done, makes a very big difference.

Peace to you.

Anonymous said...

The truth is I like your baked-goods guilt trips. It makes me smile to think that there are people out there whos biggest problem is eating two pieces of cake in a row. I know that probably isn't true, but I like to pretend it is. I also really like that lots of little kids get to grow up in a family like that.
I do have a Pastor, but I don't think I'll be going to private confession anytime soon. Even though my jolene experience was
10+ years ago and in a town far, far away from where I am now, it just doesn't seem like a good idea. Actually, I've never talked to him except in a public setting and with at least 2 other people there. He does not know about my past.
But, happily, I do have a great husband who does know, and loves me anyway. I still haven't figured out why but I'm gladly taking it.
You probably didn't know that a "known Jolene" reads your blog. I have for about 2 years. I've never felt compeled to comment before, but when I read that post I wanted to stick up for myself and for all the little tramps out there. We can change. And, it is possible (it was in my case) that we just wanted someone to dump what felt like a lifetime of guilt and regret on, only to end up getting taken advantage of, yet again.
The next time you see a trashy girl sizing up your husband she might be wondering if he really can help her, or if he is just going to laugh at her, or if he might tell (which is funny, because its not like everybody doesn't already know) or something like that, not trying to get with him.

Gauntlets said...

>>"but when I read that post I wanted to stick up for myself and for all the little tramps out there."

You just made me snort Coke out my nose. :D

Dear Anon, I like you. And unless you're covered in glitter and creepy tiger tattoos, I'm sure you wouldn't raise my eyebrows. Even if you are, I like you. Besides, I'm too busy working my eyebrows into furrows, you know. Because my life is so hard.

Now if you please, my brownies are burning. ;)

Rebekah said...

Anon, as I've mentioned before, this blog is not even close to being the whole story of my life. There are some episodes which even in the confessional have not been spoken as plainly as my conscience pleads for them to be. I'm working on it, but in the meantime, rest assured that foodsin is far from my most grievous fault.

And I also know that repentance is real, and that memory is torture, and that a broken and contrite heart is not despised by God and therefore cannot be despised by anyone.

I am so sorry for what happened to you and that no one was your Nathan; that your pastor did not go out to war in the spring as he should have. I hope you find a pastor you can trust soon.

Luzia said...

Well, hmmm, ladies, first I'll say that every wife whose husband works away from home has potential "Jolene" trouble. I remember a couple of classics in my husband's office. Second, it is very true that it is "Joe", not "Jolene" very often.... I remember a "Joe" in my former world of employment. They seem to think "eveybody does it". Third, Anon, so terribly sorry that a "Joe" hurt you, and that it was a pastor you took your pain to, hoping for the help a pastor should have given, not abuse. Fourth, the pastor... "Brad", who posted above really saddened me with some of his remarks. There was 100% more Christian compassion in the responses from the dear ladies on here. Some of what the pastor said makes me recoil from going to a pastor for spiritual guidance. Sixth, one point that I would make is that Christians need help learning more about being "family in Christ"... that we are INDEED each others' family, and for some, the ONLY family, and it is devastating when fellow Christians fail to understand this, and how much their caring and concern is needed in this era, when people no longer stay where they grew up, and are SOOOO alone.
And Rebekah, I send you a long hug, and sister love. When memory tortures you, set your mind on God's love for you in Christ. Do it every single time.
Thanks for this site ladies... for the serious, and the seriously nutty stuff!