Loose Lips or Tongue-Tied

Years ago, Ken and I hung out with another young couple we truly enjoyed. The wife was a high school acquaintance of Ken’s, and we found each other in another town where we both lived for a few years.  The four of us enjoyed goofing off, playing cards and eating out together in those days. Ken and I also appreciated the touch of home we found in that relationship.

 

After we moved back to West Michigan we lost touch with them. Some years later we heard the couple experienced divorce.  We spent wonderful time together, yet Ken and I made no effort to contact either one of them when we heard about the break-up.  Why? Our inexperience with divorce and its aftermath left us tongue-tied by distance and time that had passed without words; and so we did nothing. Shame on us. I’m appalled now that we didn’t even send cards to say we were praying for them both.

 

It seems that some church folk range between awkward and critical when it comes to the divorce of fellow believers.  Although Ken and I both handle these situations with more grace these days, I am still far from mastering that winsome, life-giving demeanor Jesus demonstrated in his conversations with struggling people.

 

In part two of my friend, “Bridgette’s” story (part one in previous post) she shares more of her thoughts on divorce and being a former pastor’s wife.

 

Living Black and White in a Gray World-Part II

 

There are no rules for how to treat the black and white issue of divorce in the gray world in which we live.  God doesn’t like divorce.  God believes in marriage.  God also hates sin, which creeps into even the best marriages, causing pain and loss.  In a perfect world, this wouldn’t have happened.  I would still be able to trust my pastor/husband and feel as though he loved me.  I would still attend that church with my children and hold my head high.  I would still feel connected to the body in which I found comfort my whole life. Now in this imperfect world, I have to trust God in a very different way than I have in the past.

 

I “candidate” to new churches alone these days.  My three adorable children are not with me to make a good impression. There is no husband who makes adoring comments about me in his sermons.  I am a “normal” churchgoer who must find my way. The road is lonely, but it taught me to look at things in a new way.

 

I see the woman in the back of the church who slides into a pew after the music starts so she can go unnoticed.  I see the woman struggle with self-confidence as she creates her own identity. I see the woman exhausted because of the financial stress she now endures.   I continually search to find my value as a woman, period, not based on my husband or his career.   I feel God’s arms around me telling me that it will be alright.  I hear God telling me to forgive people who don’t know how it feels to hurt this way.  I know God has a plan that is bigger than me….

 

I picture myself grabbing a crayon box, picking out the black and white crayons, and scribbling with them until I’m out of energy. I understand how it feels to be gray.

 

Thank you for sharing your story my friend.

 

Divorce is excruciating under any circumstance but when a pastoral couple is torn apart, life in the fish bowl of ministry can become unbearable. Now, the people choosing sides, responding awkwardly and criticizing are all wrestling together inside the same church.  As Bridgette shared, one or both of the pastoral couple will most likely feel the rejection and judgement of people who previously supported them.  As if they don’t already feel enough rejection from their marriage situation, this adds to the pile.

 

May I refer back to my post “Six Little Wisdom Tales Part Two?”  “Heavenly wisdom doesn’t respond to any conflict by simply acting on information from the person they know best in the situation.”   Please use the wisdom qualities James describes in Chapter 3 if you encounter this scenario and please DO NOT listen to gossip concerning these types of matters in another church.  It is none of your business.

 

In the next post, a story from another former pastor’s wife, also a divorce survivor and thriver.    

Gray Matters

 

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?

 

I Won the Battle but Lost the War

 

The tension in my classroom felt brittle, electrified.  My desk formed the final barrier, the only defense saving me from a pop in the mouth by a student’s parents. They argued, then went verbally Rambo on me, for 20 minutes.  Other parents fidgeted in the hall, restlessly whispering about the cage fight my parent teacher conference had turned into.

This particular student regularly displayed nuclear behavior, tossing desks and music accompanied by vile language, whenever I moved him to a time out spot.  He consistently disrupted and taunted other choir students and terrified some of them.  At my recommendation, and with administration’s hearty approval, the student would be transferred from the choir into a study hall/detention at the semester change. Sadly, he possessed a beautiful tenor voice but behaved in a dangerous, predatory fashion towards younger students demonstrated minute amounts of self- control.

His parents fixated on one goal: say anything that would keep their “poor misunderstood Billy” in my choir.  All my superiors advocated for transfer, out of concern for the other students. Billy’s bloated school file bulged with disciplinary reports, including periodic suspensions.  Part of my arsenal, the file was neatly stacked on my desk as I calmly explained, repeatedly, that Billy’s choir career was over, at least for this year.   My resolute, unsmiling stance generated an increasing level of anger in his parents.  When they finally stalked out of my room they filled the air in the parent-lined hallway with numerous, colorful opinions about my teaching skills.

I definitely won that battle but years later, thanks to the wisdom of a man who became my favorite principal, I understood that I lost the war. My relationship with those parents shattered that day and remains so.  I expect they have quite an unpleasant memory of me.

My next principal taught me the art of turning adversaries into advocates.  Communicating with parents of misbehaving students is not simply a matter of presenting your evidence, he shared.  It’s observing and responding to the hurt and pain that is usually lurking right behind the façade of unruly classroom behavior and argumentative parents who try to justify it.

I wonder what the response might have been if my greeting to “Billy’s” parents had been something like “I am so disappointed to lose Billy’s tenor voice out of my choir.”  When I met with other parents, down the road, using a similar opening, most of the time, this disarmed them. We became partners with a problem to solve together.

In James 2:12-13 he warns believers about the dire consequences of erring on the side of judgement instead of mercy.  We can be 100% correct in our opinion about a fellow believer’s sinful behavior yet be totally wrong in handling that information.  I don’t think we do such a bang up job in the judgement with mercy department, in the church.

I’ve met too many people, like me, that are bold about speaking the truth but don’t always speak it with love. On the other hand, just as many people confuse mercy with license and allow sinful behavior in others to go unchecked and unmentioned.  How does a mature believer behave? How do we deal with sin and inappropriate behavior in others without burying our heads in the sand or blowing up relationships and crushing spirits?

2 Timothy 2:25 says, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

This excellent advice from Paul prioritizes confrontation and gentleness.  Our goal is not to “set things right.”  We are in the redemption business.   It’s like the difference between dragging a dog on a choke collar instead of teaching them, with rewards, that you are the Alpha Dog and it’s going to be better to walk together in agreement.

Matthew tells us, in Chapter 18, that if something is akimbo between you and someone else, talk to them privately, first.  Here’s the thing; if we talk to two or three or ten other people about this situation before we speak to the person actually involved, by the time we get to the original person, we’ve built up a pretty good head of steam from rehearsing the details of this wrong repeatedly.  The more we share with others the more convinced we become of our victim or judge status in the situation.  That makes it tough to approach our offender, or someone caught in sin, with a gentle spirit.

Romans 16:17, I Timothy 5:20 and Titus 3:10-11 stridently warn us away from someone who refuses correction or reconciliation, but this is our last resort.    How many broken or damaged relationships litter our lives?  Did we do all we could to gently, lovingly speak truth and correction with pure motives aimed towards restoration?  I’ve got a few damaged and lost relationships littering the landscape of my past.  Some have been redeemed, by God’s grace working in both of us.

If you are erring on either side of judgement or mercy, you’ve probably got some folks you need to connect with.  Ask God to show relationships you’ve damaged due to ignoring a problem or pounding on it mercilessly with your truth hammer. Commit to humble authenticity with others that makes room for truth spoken with love.

 

 

 

Six Little Wisdom Tales Part Two

  1. Does not use appropriate language.    Wears inappropriate clothing.  3. Hair is messy.  4. Does not respect older members.  5.  Laughs too much.

This list is only part of a longer one (15 criticisms in all) presented to my husband one day by some “concerned,” church folk, early in his ministry.  I know we both exhibited some rough edges, as most young people do, but this approach showed a true lack of grace. These vague, yet very personal criticisms, crushed my husband’s spirit.  Without any specifics, he simply felt as if these fellow believers scrutinized him, mercilessly, then made a list of his faults.

The 4th trait of heavenly wisdom, James explains in chapter three, verse 18, is that it is full of mercy. Mature believers confront others about their failings with kindness. Our goal is to help each other gain self-awareness and an understanding of how our behavior and attitudes affect the greater body.  Fault-finding and nit-picking simply don’t fit into a mercy paradigm

Impartiality is the 5th trait James lists for heavenly wisdom.  Too many times words from a student carried so much weight at home. I was tried and condemned before parents ever initiated a conversation with me.  Hearing only one side of a situation, they determined my guilt as a certainty.  To be sure, if I actually did and said some of the crazy things students claimed I did, a firing squad would be appropriate.

I can also remember a time when some church folk simply invented stories about my husband and I that received a fair amount of traction in our community.  For the better part of a year, when we went to restaurants, school functions and community events, we observed people pointing at and whispering about us, when they thought we didn’t notice.  We did.

Wise believers guard carefully against judging a situation without hearing from both sides.  This is part of why the Bible warns us not to listen to negative reports, those times when someone tries to speak to you about a situation in which you do not have authority or influence and usually no opportunity to hear the other side of the story.  In Numbers 14, the destiny of an entire nation became altered due to evil reports.  Ten spies and their fearful story of what lurked in the promised land, overcame Joshua and Caleb who both said, “Hey, we can do this!” Their positive perspectives were lost in the fear mongering that overcame the Israelites.

Heavenly wisdom doesn’t respond to any conflict by simply acting on information from the person they know best in the situation.  Words are so incredibly powerful.  I remember times people lied about me outright and yet others believed them simply because they knew the tale bearer better than they knew me.

Sincerity concludes Jame’s list of descriptives concerning heavenly wisdom.  A pastor friend of mine recounts his experience at his church concerning insincerity.  A particular couple generously showered he and his family with homemade baked goods for every holiday.  Each time they’d drop off a plate off goodies they’d gush things like, “Well, we just love all our pastors and support all of you.”  When he discovered, a couple years into his ministry, that they were part of a group secretly trying to run him off and replace him with an associate, those plates of cookies started getting dumped in the trash.  See, the couple wasn’t entirely sure who would come out on top in the struggle and wanted to make sure all their bases were covered with whomever was left standing.

A sad and somewhat extreme case, it still challenges us to consider what we say and how we say it to people we believe might be of benefit to us in some way.  Are we buttering some folks up because it might advance our cause? That is a lack of sincerity and is unwise.  Being false in one area can bleed over into other regions of our life, like our relationship with our Father.  Jesus’ most stern words were for insincere Pharisees, who pretended to be lovers of God when truthfully they loved themselves a whole lot more.

The next time you ask God for wisdom in a matter, be specific.  Ask him to enable you to be pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy, impartial and sincere.  If you are filled with these godly qualities, you will possess the mind of Christ and know what to do in any given situation.

 

 

Six Little Wisdom Tales

“My church designed their own shirts.  We don’t like those.”  Our planning meeting, comprised of music ministers from various churches, halted abruptly.  Working out details for a multi-church, city-wide, national worship event created a full agenda.  Decisions about music, clothing styles had already been decided by national leadership.  Our job was merely to execute the local level.  Unfortunately, no one confronted this inappropriate attitude that day.  This church showed up for the event in shirts utterly different from the other two thousand believers gathered to celebrate.  Worse yet, their church logo eclipsed the event logo on the shirts, by a lot.  By my observation, many people from that church felt embarrassed and even took the shirts off.  This minister of music did not use what James 3:17 calls “heavenly wisdom.”

Heavenly wisdom is “pure,” with no hidden or private agendas. It makes decisions with the larger picture in mind. The unfortunate minister of music put greater priority on exalting his own church over unity with others.

James uses seven qualities to describe wisdom. Let me share six more tales to demonstrate the opposites of those qualities.

Peace-loving

A church I knew needed a sanctuary and parking lot remodel to accommodate more people. The plan involved moving a particular stained glass window.  Some members worked themselves into a frenzy over this, even so far as to take the matter out of the church to the city council, claiming the church and window were historical landmarks.  To “keep the peace,” no remodeling occurred at that time. New visitors eventually dwindled. They found different churches who provided adequate parking and seating space.

Do not confuse capitulation with peace-making.  Making peace between individuals or groups can be a messy process, seldom easy and is not characterized by one side receiving everything they desire.   A different church had almost the same problem and resolved it by moving the stained glass window to a different place of honor in a reception area.  It was placed lower to the ground and enjoyed far more than it had been when positioned in its original 3 story high location.

Considerate

As a teacher I strived to attain our state’s education standards.  Sometimes, unintentionally, I rode right over the top of struggling students.  One student frequently came to class with unfinished reading assignments.  I cringe now when I think of how many times I gently railed on them about it, until the day their mother called and explained that the student suffered from a reading disability.  I set them up with audio textbooks and reading assignments.  Simple consideration could have asked in September, “Is there some reason you aren’t able to do the reading assignments?”    Goals are important but you can’t leave kindness and courtesy in the dust to achieve them.

Submissive

My husband’s I.Q. is significantly higher than mine. I am astonished at how faithfully he listens to my opinions and then we work solutions together. His problem solving skills are superior to mine yet he values ME and my input.  In contrast, I recall a school curriculum team I served on that made me want to chew my arm off.  After a few meetings I realized that the only “right” answers for curriculum choices were those which agreed with the administrator, who chaired the meetings.  Did they possess the authority to do this?  Yes.  Was this a productive committee? No.  We were a front enabling the administrator to do exactly what they desired while telling the school board the decisions were made by a committee.  I wonder if this person understands yet how much they damaged their relationship with each of us on the committee?

In the next post, I’ll talk about the last three qualities of wisdom, mercy, impartiality and sincerity.  As you consider the dozens of large and small decisions you make within a day, what type of wisdom are you using? Earthly wisdom is respected in our culture but a number of its qualities are opposed to God’s kingdom.  I’ve known leaders who know how to get goals accomplished and jobs done but they leave behind them a wake of frustrated, hurt and angry people.  What kind of leader do you want to be?