I love pastors and pastors’ wives.
I am both of those things and have served in both of these roles for the past 37 years.
I have received the majority of wisdom down through the years from ministers and their spouses. Larry and I leaned most heavily on this when we were a young married couple.Some of my greatest support has come from ministers and spouses, and unfortunately, some of my greatest hurt has too. I haven’t wanted to be critical of a group that I’m a part of that is so dear to me and such an important part of my life. God knows we experience enough criticism in our lives just by virtue of being married to pastors or in the ministry. But truth be told, we (myself included) can do damage, just as much as we can help people.
I’ve become more aware over the years that just as people have experienced healing at my hands, so others have also experienced pain because of me. Sometimes I’ve left people better than I found them, and other times, I have not. I am sorry for that and any time I realize that I need to apologize for something of the past, I try to take the time to do that. Additionally, when I realize that I was wrong about something I once believed, I try to correct it, rather than allow someone to continue to believe something I once told them was true that may not be.
Most of the bad advice I speak of occurred when I was a young pastor’s wife, just finding my way. Some of it was one-on-one and some at events/conferences where leaders or guest speakers share about these type of things. I know many people might think, “If you were hurt by this, then why are you still holding onto it? Aren’t you supposed to let offenses go?” Yes, that is correct. It’s not so much that I’m “holding on” but trying to rid myself of old teachings/culture/things that were rammed down my throat about life, marriage and ministry that just weren’t correct.There are things that have affected me and our marriage to this day that I am trying to discard and it doesn’t come easy. It has been difficult for my husband as well, to shift from misguided advice and teachings he received over the years. Change doesn’t come easy when you have been told repeatedly that something is supposed to be one way, and…it’s not.
I know that none of these leaders who gave bad advice set out to hurt me, or anyone. I believe all of them were and are pure hearted. I also believe they are just repeating what they have been taught over the years — what they were conditioned to believe, and accepted without question from their forefathers and foremothers.
It’s impossible to chronicle all the bad advice I’ve received on a blog post. If I wrote about it, it might be as long as the book, War and Peace. So I am just selecting a few today that have been particularly problematic in my own life and marriage. And then, I’m going to share a few things that are helping me through the deconstruction from these false teachings, to a healthy place spiritually, physically and emotionally.
Bad advice: Your husband is #1 in the relationship. He’s the man and thus, he will always be first, with everything in your marriage, home and ministry.
Truth: Jesus is #1 in the relationship. He’s God. He will always be first in everything with our marriage, home and ministry.”
I don’t know how many times it was shared with me that Larry had to be number one and I would always be secondary in everything in our lives. My desires, my goals, my feelings, would always have to submit to whatever he wanted because he was “the one” and I was “his helpmate.” My role in life was simply to follow him to the ends of the earth. I have heard twice as many messages on following my husband than I have on following JESUS. Am I the only one who finds that odd?
Bad advice: Men have always been and will always be freer during the season when your children are younger. You will not have a lot, or even any time to yourself during this season of your life because of the responsibilities of mothering. This is a sacrifice all Godly moms make. At the same time, it’s important that you not only set your husband free to go with the guys whenever he has opportunity or to have time to himself, but you must encourage and even push him to go, because of the leadership weight that he carries as a pastor. He is different from you and he neeeeeds that time. Your opportunity will come, as the children get older. Just be patient and concentrate right now on your home and children.
Truth: A mother carries just as much “weight” as a father, and maybe more in some instances, when the children are younger. A man should not be freer to go off on his own or with the guys because he is a pastor or because he has the weight of pastoral responsibilities. A woman must have time set aside for self care and soul care, just as a man. We all need this as human beings no matter what role we carry in life.
One day when I had young babies, I was angry about the inequity of this situation and I vented to a seasoned pastor’s wife about holding down the home front all the time while Larry did everything from go play basketball with a group of pastors on Tuesday nights, to go out with our lead pastor for social things as much as he wanted, while I had no time to myself. Looking back now, I can’t remember too many instances of going out with a girlfriend or group of girls or going somewhere for quiet time by myself. My relationships weren’t even very strongly cultivated in that season because they just weren’t the priority. I was informed by an older pastors’ wife that I respected and sought counsel from that this was the norm — even God’s design, and something I needed to live out with a “happy heart.” (Sigh.)
One of the most painful aspects of this advice for me, is that I was working just as hard as Larry in ministry and we both always bore a tremendous weight in leadership. On any given day, he may have carried more responsibility and on another day of the week, I carried more. But, neither of us was that different when it came to the weight of ministerial responsibility. And yet I was continually expected to defer to him.
This almost broke me…broke us. I wish I could have a do-over and go back and stand up to those who gave me this advice and structure my life/our life differently. In my early years of ministry I knew absolutely nothing about things like soul care, or the importance of Sabbath, and my life — our lives — reflected it.
Bad advice: It’s important that you never appear smarter or more anointed than your husband. This will cause people to have less respect for him. You have to always point people to him.
Truth: God calls no woman to dumb herself down for anyone, including her husband. And, she is to always point people to JESUS.
One time when we were candidating for a church as lead pastor, an older pastor friend who was a mentor to Larry and I advised that I needed to be sure I did not “upstage” my husband during the candidation weekend. I remember him saying, “Remember Deanna, he’s the showpiece.” I didn’t argue back because at that point I was conditioned not to, but I wanted to scream, “I’m sorry, I thought Jesus was supposed to be the showpiece!!”
It is one of the hardest things to suppress your voice and your gifts all the time because people believe they might make someone else appear weak.
Years of this type of suppression is why so many women my age and beyond have many of the responses we do, of every kind. Your body never forgets this suppression and there are physical, emotional and spiritual ramifications that need to be dealt with in your fifties for what you suppressed in your twenties. I’m telling you, it’s a real thing.
Bad advice: No matter what the quality of the sermon is that your husband just preached, you need to say, “That was an amazing message! You did a great job!”
Truth: I value honest feedback so I can get better at everything I do including sermon preparation and delivery. But many have the notion that men in ministry are ultra sensitive beings that can’t ever hear anything except how amazing they are and what a great job they did. Are men really this weak? I don’t think so. And if they are, they need a series of counseling sessions, not a regurgitation every week of how incredible they are, no matter what they do. In what other sphere of life do we hear that men need to be told they are doing an amazing, even if they have an off day? Wives don’t seem to be given this advice for their husbands who are a grocery manager, construction worker, marketing manager, lawyer or school teacher. But pastors? They evidently need propping every single day or they’re gonna fall apart. It’s a little craaaaaazy. when you think about it.
Bad advice: Don’t question your husband or challenge what he says unless you do it very carefully! This includes making sure he’s in the perfect mood for it, and perhaps creating his favorite meal, after all, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! Be sure to talk softly. Use the sandwich method of telling him how great he is first, then gently make your suggestion, then follow up again with telling him how amazing he is. It also helps to plan to have sex with him the day or night you talk about this because everyone knows, he will hear everything differently if you just do that.
Truth: Sigh. There isn’t enough time for me to unpack this one in a blog post but the fact that anyone is still giving this advice is just unfathomable to me. All this does it perpetuate the notion that men are fragile, need to be propped up all the time and can’t handle hearing the truth or anything they don’t agree with. And, you have to go to extraordinary lengths to bring them to a place of being ready to hear something they don’t want to hear. Again, if that’s the case at all — they need therapy, not these things.
Bad advice: Whatever you’re going through in your marriage, if you’re at a rough place, you just need to get away at least for a night. Make sure you have some lingerie. Have lots of sex. Make it all about focusing on him and making him happy. This will work wonders in moving your marriage forward. You will get back on track and be able to be the husband, wife and pastors God has called you to be.
Truth: This is only a 24 hour bandaid. You need counseling, not a one-night-stand for married couples.
Bad advice: You are responsible if your husband fails in some way.
Truth: No. My husband is responsible if my husband fails in some way.
Bad advice: You are his helpmate and and therefore called to “save the day” when things need to be done in the church. You are called to handle anything that might slip through the cracks.
Truth: I am called to operate within my gifting and do what God has called me to do, not to “save the day” or “save the church.” One man died for the church. JESUS! I don’t have to! I am not called to over function to make up for what my husband or the church may lack. I am not the pastor of “lack and slack.”
I’ve shared a few of the things that bother me most that I was given as wise counsel that proved not to be . Now I’m going to share some of the things that are helping me shed these false beliefs.
The resource Bare Marriage and Sheila Wray Gregoire. Seriously, it’s the best stuff out there. Go read and listen to everything Sheila is putting out there. I believe this is the best Christian-based marriage resource today. One of the things Sheila and her husband spend a significant amount of time doing is researching and providing not only biblical wisdom but evidence-based research about marriage, and Christian marriage, specifically. They also expose some of the harmful teaching and resources that have been so plentiful in evangelical spaces for so long. I am grateful for this personally as well as professionally as it gives me healthy resources to point people toward as they navigate their marriage.
Resources from Drs. John and Julie Gottman and the Gottman Institute. While these are not Christian based resources, they are great. I recommend them any day over the type of “Christian” resources that are espousing bad advice like the kind above.
The book Seven Transforming Gifts of Menopause: An Unexpected Spiritual Journey, by Dr. Cheryl Bridges Johns. She is a respected Pentecostal theologian, however don’t expect a theology book here. Although it’s a book that is well grounded theologically and spiritually, it’s a practical read. The one sentence that got my attention most when I first started reading it was this:
“The problem that needs to be addressed is not our hormone levels. It is our anger levels.”
I have shed many cleansing tears as I have read this book.
What can women become angry about in menopause? A plethora of things including but not limited to things we repressed and the falsehoods many of us were force-fed in our younger years. At some point it can’t stay under anymore and it explodes. Hopefully we can get to a safe place where we can release the pressure valve in a safe way. But one thing is for sure, it doesn’t stay down forever. It beckons to be dealt with at midlife.
These are three resources I have leaned heavily on (and continue to) and I talk a lot with friends who are walking the journey of the same. It helps.
I want to be free, not only of the false beliefs, but of the pain that comes from them. I’ll process as long as it takes. And, I am continually coming to realizations about things I longed believed that were simply not true.
What about you?
What are some of the false beliefs you are shedding?
How is your process going?