“What do you do with a general when he stops being a general?” “White Christmas” is a favorite movie in our family. This song lyric shares one of the storylines of the film. The plot concerns a highly decorated, retired WWII general who currently owns an unsuccessful ski lodge, into which he sunk his life savings. He longs to return to active duty in the army, where he understood his role and felt significant. A letter is sent to a highly placed friend to see what can be done. The reply painfully states that this general, who sacrificed much of his youth and best energies for the war effort, is obsolete, no longer needed. He should quietly recede into the background.
I’ve met several former pastor’s wives, forced to experience divorce, and now living single. They spent their youth and best energies supporting their husband’s ministries. Now they are uncertain what their role is and where they fit in a church. Through a series of posts, I’d like to share their stories and then explore ideas on improving the church’s response to these painful situations. Here’s part one of “Bridgette’s” story.
Living Black and White in a Gray World
“Honey, are the kids dressed and ready to go?” “Yes,” I reply as I nervously attach a bow to my daughter’s hair, “Almost done.” We are off to candidate at another church. Our three charmingly adorable children can only help our chances. I am a nervous wreck. What if they don’t like me? What if my kids act up in church? What if they want me to play the piano? What if my dress is too frumpy, or worse yet too sexy? You have just entered the inner world of a (insert ominous music here) Pastor’s Wife.
We sit silently while our husbands are critiqued on their sermons, clothing, shut-in visitation frequency, or singing too loudly into the microphone. Although we aren’t part of the official interview, believe me, we make or break our husband’s chances in ways we can’t imagine.
Sometimes, I overhear comments about former pastors. The most interesting (and hurtful) ones concern their wives. They include criticisms about not teaching a Bible Study or Sunday School class or leading a craft time during VBS. Homemaking skills are evaluated too.
“Did she really take Kentucky Fried Chicken to the church potluck?”
“I heard they went out to eat on Sunday after church, (gasp)!”
“I can’t believe she doesn’t know how to sew.”
It’s amazing these husbands kept their jobs given the “poor behavior” of the wife! These women are doing what they are supposed to do, being a wife, possibly a mother, a partner, and a helpmate…. not the church’s spouse.
Now throw some conflict into the mix. My husband landed that job. My children behaved angelically. I dressed appropriately and spoke with confidence to everyone with whom I came in contact. Friendships formed that day and I behaved as the “perfect” wife. We felt at home immediately in our awesome new church.
Fast forward several years, and due to some very unfortunate circumstances, my husband, THE PASTOR and I, divorced. Some things don’t change. My children are still angels. I still dress appropriately, (haven’t learned to play the piano yet) and most importantly, I am a child of God. However, I am no longer the pastor’s wife, the role that I enjoyed for many years.
The greater church is not schooled well on handling divorce amongst pastoral couples. I heard comments like:
“Did you hear the PASTOR is getting divorced?”
“It must be her fault; it can’t be his.”
“She must be trying to ruin his ministry.”
“She needs to go to another church.”
These are hardly the kinds of comments I was accustomed to hearing. I wondered, where did the love and support go, I felt my whole married life? What is my value in this body that promised to love and support me along with their pastor?
Next post, part two of Bridgette’s story. I think you’ll appreciate her insights. I ask you to reflect on your response should this situation occur in your church. How would you treat Bridgette and her husband if they were your pastor?