Loneliness has two technical definitions. One is to feel sadness because one does not have friends or company. Another one is the quality of being unfrequented and remote; isolation. However, if you ask the wife of a pastor to define it, you’d have to pull up a chair and request another cup of coffee. Her definition would expand upon more than you bargained for. It’s the weirdest thing to have a church full of “friends” and yet spend holidays in a vast expanse of loneliness. It’s mind-boggling to many outside of the church to comprehend how their perception of the joyful, bubbly pastor’s wife who meets and greets with ease is actually longing for a true friend of her own. But the fact of the matter is, it’s a lonely place to be in as the Pastor of the church, and sometimes even more so as his wife.
I recently took Lysa TerKeurst’s book “Uninvited” to a child’s sporting event. One of the other mothers from town saw the book and read the subtitle out loud, “Living loved when you feel less than, left out, and lonely”. She stated her surprise that I’d need to read such a book. Ya know with all those people around me all the time, she was just sure I didn’t understand loneliness. “I’m sure you get invited to every event, do you have to turn many down?” I wanted to ask her back “When have YOU invited me to anything?” but knew it would serve no real purpose. The truth is, everyone assumes you’ve been invited to everything and so in turn, no one invites you to anything. And what hurts even worse is when they don’t care if you’ve been left out, they just simply don’t want to hang out with the pastor and his wife.
This kind of hurt from rejection does a number on anyone. Add in the heart that a pastor’s wife has to wear on her shirt sleeve and it expands the realm of hurt to the nth degree. You may think I’m writing this to the church member, and as helpful as that article would be to teach how one can love on their pastor and his wife… my heart feels tugged in the other direction.
I’d like to, instead, encourage the pastor’s wife to build a bridge and be very careful not to burn one.
There is a cycle that presents itself here. The pastor’s wife ventures out, becomes vulnerable, and reaches out to every person that comes in her church. She desires for that person to feel the love of Christ and she wears that responsibility of showing it heavy on her shoulders. So she’s inviting, encouraging, and ultimately drained. What does she need when she’s drained? Outside of Jesus himself, she needs a friend. And logically we’d assume she’d find a friend among all those she’s been pouring herself out to. However, she’s not met with an invite to Girls Night Out, or a cup of coffee… or even included in simple conversations. In turn, her heart breaks. That broken heart begins to build a callous. That callous tells her to withdraw. The more she withdraws the less she reaches out. She guards herself and what she may do with those she reaches out to. The vulnerability is gone. She then puts on the act of reaching out. So the motions are still moving ahead at full speed. The smile is plastered on, and can even appear real, but the heart is hard. She still welcomes, prays over, and stands in the circles, but she feels so far outside of it that it only solidifies the lonely feeling.
The cycle doesn’t stop there. Because the act is not the REAL “her”, people begin to notice. And so what little inclusion did happen becomes less and less. The church members stop seeing her as approachable and wedge her out more and more. This cycle is devastating. It hinders the ministry God intended for us to have, and it makes a very REAL ministry turn fake and counterfeit.
Pastor wife, I’m praying so hard as I type these words that you’ll break that cycle. I can’t promise that breaking it will not add you to girls night out invites. It may not prompt someone to pick up the phone just to gab about girl stuff. It probably won’t take the intimidation out of the minds of others, but it will bring you so much joy if you can build a bridge with those in your church and break the cycle of burning them.
I’d imagine that no one was more lonely than Paul in the midst of his very successful ministry. Sitting in solitary confinement for doing the ministry he was called to do may feel very similar to what we feel we go through at times. But look at what Paul did in 2 Timothy 4. He states that everyone has abandoned him but the LORD stays with him. He is never alone with God. And because of that closeness with God, Paul was able to continue preaching the gospel in his loneliest moments. He ends saying “All Glory to God…” (verse 18). He praises God for the ministry set before him even as he faces such suffering.
No one is saying that the loneliness isn’t hurtful, that it’s easy, or that it won’t bother us. But God says in His Word that He will never leave us nor forsake us. He will never uninvite us to His table. With that knowledge, we can build a bridge to the hurting in our churches. We can reach out and build a bridge into the lives of those needing a friend, even if we don’t have many ourselves.
It is so easy to assume they don’t want to be our friends as we look through our isolation. But when we build a wall we shut down the ministry and push ourselves (and them) further from the friendships we so eagerly desire.
Paul’s desire is not far from ours, “That I might preach the Good news in all its fullness for all the Gentiles to hear.” (2 Tim 4:17b). Even while he was facing the biggest abandonment of his life Paul was thinking of those God loved and chose him to minister to.
Choose to reach out, choose to be vulnerable, choose to invite all you can in to feel the love of God in that personal way that you have. Worship in the midst, let God fill that void, and keep on serving, ladies!
Become active on the Pastors’ Wives pages through Facebook [start with The Pastor Wife Facebook Group!], find a like-minded wife that you can chat with privately… and if things persist, don’t hesitate to find a Christian counselor to talk things over. But most importantly, lean on God, the one who gave you this lonely ministry and be encouraged to know that He will never leave you nor forsake you. You were the exact person for the ministry set before you. Reach out, love on, and encourage throughout. You are strong and courageous and are taken care of by the Great Caregiver.
I imagine my scene is not unlike many other pastors’ wives. I come to church early with my crew of children and set into work mode. Whether my work is coffee maker, running a quick vacuum or even setting up for my turn in kids church, the work mode has clicked on and is immediately going full speed ahead. My kids, who feel as if church is now just an extension of home, have abandoned their shoes somewhere, their coats somewhere else (of course nowhere near each other, nor where they belong), and they are now running laps through the sanctuary, up the stairs, down the hall and into secret hiding places.
Then mid task I look at my watch to realize I should already be at my post greeting people. My “work-mode” is immediately unplugged and my “pastor-wife-mode” switches into gear, all while I plaster a smile on my face and whisper scream each of my children’s names and a quick “WHERE ARE YOUR SHOES AND SOCKS!!!??”
For most of us our true desire is to be 100% present and focused on each soul that walks in our church and it’s unfortunate that our smile has become an act and our mind is really all on that we didn’t get done, still need to get done, and of course we wonder where the missing sock is to the sockless wonder-child. All of this before church even starts. That’s not even taking into consideration the grand task of getting children ready at home! Don’t get me started with itchy sweaters, outgrown favorite dresses, and meltdowns over cereal choices before you even leave your house!
Service starts and suddenly you’re thrust into the worship scene without notice. And if I ask for a raise of hands for those of us who feel “work-mode”, “greeter-mode”, and “pastor-wife-mode” are all still on, even with eyes closed, hands raised, and mouth singing, my bet would be many of you would be sitting there right now with your hands waving around in the air.
After one particular Sunday, where “Mom-mode” was the dominant mode, I walked into service on the last worship song. My strong-willed child, who had required all of my pre-service time, sat beside me and I cried. Hard! I begged God for a better routine, a better plan, better service . . . For me.
I no longer want to be absent in my worship to my king. I no longer want to be so easily distracted by every sound or movement. I no longer want to participate as a worker but rather as a true worshipper. Are you with me? So after prayer and searching and upping my organization game I’ve settled on a few things to aid in my ongoing goal of a worshipper.
Prepare before Sunday
Lay clothing out the night before (have kids try it on!). Even the mismatched socks! Stick to what is laid out. Make it a rule that you can not change your mind in the morning.
Prepare the church before Sunday. Have the lesson plans laid out and ready. Vacuum if you need to. Get all the materials you need to make the coffee right at your fingertips for an easy task Sunday morning. Basically, walk through the chaotic Sunday morning routine sometime BEFORE Sunday and line things up to be easier.
Prepare your heart and mind for a time of worship. Whether you are the worship leader, the kids church leader, the nursery worker or the greeter, or all of the above, ask God to penetrate through the hats you wear on Sundays and reach into your inner soul… BEFORE Sunday service. This way you can be prepared to fully worship keeping your focus on the Lord who desires our worship.
Get plenty of rest
Block off Saturday nights for prep, relaxation, and SLEEP!
Go to bed at a decent hour on Saturday night. It’s amazing how hard things are when we are physically and mentally tired. Sleep is your friend.
Discipline yourself to focus on God during worship and not the million of other things vying for your attention. The clock does not have to be glanced at when late-comers arrive… as tempting as that is! Once worship starts, discipline yourself to give God that time. We do not teach our congregation to worship God by allowing them to interrupt us with chit chat, questions, concerns, or a demand to be greeted. Once worship starts, tell others you’ll talk to them after service. This isn’t easy when people are so demanding (and chit-chatty, and “concerned”) so often. But, protect your time and choose worship.
With your husband’s (or the pastor’s) consent, decide on a specified time where greeters can stop greeting and join worship. Don’t miss all of that intimate time with God (15-20) greeting those who choose not to come in time for worship. That only sends the message that coming late, and missing worship is no big deal.
Train your children to enter into worship as well. If they are with you in the worship portion of service teach them to worship, too. Do not allow them to tug at your skirt, or dig in your purse for snacks, or any other disruptive acts. Use quiet bags if need be, but do not let your children steal your worship time.
Ultimately, discipline yourself to tune out others and tune in to God.
Worship is important. And although we all know it’s not always possible for the pastor’s wife to be carefree during this time, if we make it a top priority we’ll get to participate rather than work. This is not an easy job, but worship is our reprieve. Without it, we can easily fall under the pressure. Take the steps necessary to protect your worship time. Even if it means that sockless wonder child of yours remains sockless for another hour!
As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:38-42
Mary and Martha were sisters. Jesus had come to stay with them. Martha was busy getting everything prepared while Mary sat and listened to Jesus. This really irked Martha because she was left with all of the work! She complained to Jesus and asked him to tell Mary to go help her. Jesus’s response was for Martha not to get all worked up about the things that needed to get done but to invest in personal time with him!
Sometimes we get too busy in life. Okay, a lot of times we get too busy in life! We then focus on what isn’t as important and we change our priorities. Jesus was reminding Martha that the things she was doing (busy everyday work) would always be there and that spending time with him was more important. Mary “got it!” She was spending time with Jesus. I have a confession to make, up until I was older, I always kind of sided with Martha. It had to be frustrating for her! Here she is “stuck with all of the work” while “sweet little Mary” sits and visits with Jesus. lol Does that sound about right? But now I get it! Jesus wanted to spend time with Martha and Mary! They could have sandwiches and grapes instead of a gourmet meal. The dishes could wait!
How does that apply to my life? I need to take time to spend time with Jesus, the dishes can wait. I need to make time with Him a priority. There will always be busy work to do but I will be better equipped to handle life when I make time for that one on one with Jesus. Time with Jesus is an investment that will last a lifetime and will have a meaningful impact on my life versus time spent with social media or doing the dishes. I can still do those things but I need to put them in order after my time with Jesus!
Jesus, help me to be diligent in my time management. Help me keep my eyes focused on You!