27 April 2012

Super secrety secrets

There are three areas of the pastor's life which often occasion some level of confidence. The first is what he has going on with the circuit, region, district, and Synod, and all the people associated with those entities (circuit counselors, district presidents, various bureaucrats). The second is what he discusses with his pastor friends and colleagues, ie, the guys to whom he takes his troubles instead of all those clowns at Winkel who don't do things his way. The third is what is happening in the parish he serves. These areas overlap a lot, but they almost always start in the parish, which is where the pastor's wife goes to church every week, which is why things get complicated.

Some couples share pretty much everything (obviously anything heard in the confessional must be excluded from "pretty much everything"). There is an argument to be made for the safety of this approach. Things shared between husbands and wives are whatever is one step down from sacred. It can be done that way.

The danger of the "sharing pretty much everything" approach is that pastors necessarily get tangled up in some yucky things. It is often easier for the wife simply not to know about them, whether it involves a DP or a senior pastor or an elder or a choir director or any old parishioner. If the wife knows much about a personal conflict in which her husband is involved, she's probably either going to get mad and have trouble remaining civil to someone[s], or get scared or depressed and end up avoiding church. There is usually not a thing she can do to change the situation. Her involvement only ends up meaning sadness for her and no help to anyone else. So sometimes it is to the benefit of everyone for her not to know what's going on. Where then is nosiness? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of tyranny? No, but by a law of common sense. That is something a pastor's wife should know and be OK with so that she does not make her husband's life any harder.

But no one likes the mushroom treatment except mushrooms, which wives aren't. One of my older wisers advised me that she and her husband resolved this struggle with the conclusion that anything that wasn't actually a Secret was something that he could and often should tell her simply as a social courtesy (especially true for the at-home wife with limited social inlets). That is something a  pastor husband should know and be OK with so that his wife does not feel disrespected and left out.

Mehr Licht!

The parish is always personal for the pastor's family, and often the greater ecclesia is too. Sometimes a wife needs to know everything, either because everyone else does or because it affects her personally. Sometimes it's more helpful to give her a general heads up about topics or people needing gentle handling. Sometimes it's best for her to know absolutely nothing other than not to bother waiting up for him tonight.

There are times when the pastor's wife is the last person to know something everyone else knows (whether in the parish or among pastor-family peers). There are times when she accidentally learns something she  wishes she hadn't (this also happened to me as a PK, so we need to help our kids through this question some too). Neither of those scenarios feels good, but it's only a big deal if the Frau Pastor makes it one. The pastor and his wife have to muddle through it with mutual trust, consideration, and respect. If I've learned anything, it's that being mad at anyone never pays off, and keeping my mouth shut when I'm mad always does.

Perspective and good humor go a long way, too. Once I was with a pastor-wife-friend when the husbands blundered into a super-secret conversation in our presence and had to hussle off to bewail the hour's catastrophe away from our virgin ears. My friend whispered politely as she wiped a pot dry, "They all think they're in the CIA, and they're just pastors." So they are, the dears. But they love their CIA, and there is nothing to be gained by begrudging them the joy it brings them. We would do well to remember that nothing makes a secret less intriguing than learning it how boring it actually is. I also know that when my husband walks through the room while a  friend and I are discussing a sister-in-law's sister-in-law's retained placenta, we put the conversation on hold. Isn't it nice of them to return the favor?


Cathy said...

Rebekah, Thank you very much for this. I'm not a Pastor's wife, but this contains a wealth of wise counsel for any woman. Every conversation is not meant for my ears, and there is great contentment in accepting that. I'm so thankful for my Pastors and their wives. They have to hear so much about other people, and, like you said, with mutual trust, consideration, and respect, figure out how much is expedient to share with each other. I don't envy their calling. I love your line about a sister-in-law's sister-in-law's retained placenta. Very funny/so typical. Thank you again.

Kaylee Hicks said...

This is very true. I also am not a pastor's wife. In fact I'm a fairly young wife/mother but one piece of wisdom my husband has received from his father who is a pastor is not to tell everything to your wife not matter how much she tries to get it out of you. It really has saved me a lot of unnecessary worrying, thinking, comparing, judging, etc. I do enough of that without looking for more! I'm very thankful to receive help and wisdom from parents & friends. So thanks for your post!

The Mama said...

I go through seasons of involvement. Sometimes I don't want to know and he respects that. Sometimes I do.

Often we discuss things happening out of the parish together so he can gauge my comfort level, not wanting to touch things potentially ruinous to us as a family without at least warning me. And I think that is only polite.

Perhaps that's less of a concern for other pastor's wives?

Anonymous said...

After decades in the ministry I can share that our compromise on sharing of info has evolved over the years. In our early days, when there were few or no kids, I was thirstier for news of husband's daily interactions. It's lonely in a new town away from familiar anchors. I didn't so much want the newsy tidbits, but I needed some sense of what was happening in my husband's world. As we got older, my world expanded in our town and childrens' lives and my interest in the tidbits decreased.

Our general rule mirrors Dr. Dobson's statements about pornography - you can't "unsee" what you've already seen. In general, when my husband needs to work through something and it involves information that I do not want "burned on my brain" he will take that to his confident and fellow pastor friend. This makes it a lot easier to sit in church, look ahead and act dumb - I am dumb when it comes to our members' personal issues - and I want it that way. He is their called Shepherd and I am not.

William Weedon said...

We solved the issue by Cindi making known to any and all that anything they wanted her to know, they needed to tell her. In general, my assumption was that if you told me you were telling me, not my wife. It caused a few awkward moments over the years, but overall it worked. FWIW.

DestinyP said...

Thank you for this post! My husband will be ordained sometime in the next few months and I found this most helpful.

Gauntlets said...

Case study: You have no idea what horrible thing the Ladies' Aid is talking about (in heavily veiled terms). So you sit and smile bewilderedly while everyone else is wringing her hands about whatever it is. And then they see that you don't know. And then they know that your husband isn't one of THOSE husbands, and that they really are safe in his hands. And then they aren't afraid of you anymore.

I have been in an awkward sitch because I didn't know, but I was able to clear things up by offering a simple apology and giving the person some time. She forgave me and understood, because everyone knows that my husband doesn't talk about work at home. I think it would be more lonely for me if he did talk to me about the people. As it is, they can hold their heads up around me because I'm just me. I'm not a dark closet full of dirty laundry. You know?

Melrose said...

Gauntlets, I like what you said about not being a dark closet full of dirty laundry. How very Gospel-y and nice of our husbands to not turn us into such a terrible thing and instead to keep our ears "virgin" indeed. I want to be robed in white, not ugly from years of knowing everyone else's business.

That being said, like everyone else my husband too does me the courtesy of letting me know that he had a blast reading to the 4 yr olds that day and what hilarious thing Johnny said or that in a planning meeting they chose such and such a hymn for whatever reason. I like talking to my husband and just like he's polite enough to listen while I share about dirty diapers and who threw a shoe at who's head, so I enjoy hearing him talk about his day. :)

Pr. Weedon, I love that idea. I will remember to tell people that.

Untamed Shrew said...

>>If the wife knows much about a personal conflict in which her husband is involved, she's probably either going to get mad and have trouble remaining civil to someone[s], or get scared or depressed and end up avoiding church. There is usually not a thing she can do to change the situation.<<

AND HOW. Now that I know who drives what, I find myself noticing that car AGAIN, and coming back to the window every 10 minutes to see if it's gone. And when it's not gone, I find myself thinking, "Three months? Sure. Six months? Fine. But you two have been wasting my husband's time for two years. Enough already! Don't you ever think he might like to spend time with HIS wife? Don't you ever wonder what this congregation would be like if everyone demanded as much of his time as you jerks do? Here's your counseling session for this week: If everything is a big deal, then nothing is."

And then, as you alluded, I'm sad, because I know I'm the jerk and I should be grateful that my marriage isn't such a mess.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm, but I've seen my father break from the inside out because he refused to let one drop of information leak out to my mother. So he'd come back from "some appointment" really distressed, even teary-eyed and when mom said, "Honey, what happened?" he'd snap on this creepy grin and say, "fine! fine! Everything's fine!!"
Same thing with midnight phone calls with people bawling him out over the phone or him having to call the police to stop someone from doing "something" to "someone." As far as we were concerned, it didn't exist.
I don't think my mother was grateful for "virgin ears" at the price of intimacy and comfort with her husband.