Dear Pastor’s Wife,
So it’s a new year and I’m sure that deep down we are all wondering the same thing: What will the year hold for us personally, for our families, for our churches?
I don’t know how you measure time in ministry, but it does seem that suffering and smooth times come in waves, just like deaths/funerals come in threes (we’ve had them come in fours!), and hospitalizations come in pairs…and busy seasons don’t really keep to their seasons like we wish they would. 😉 It’s funny how, in pastoral ministry, we can look back in terms of years and declare a certain year to be “good” or “rough.” Ministry matters aren’t typically solved quickly, and we all know how the drama and uncertainty can drag on for months and even years.
Some of us will suffer greatly this year, while others will have a reprieve. It comes at different times for all of us, so we needn’t compare ministries or long for greener grass.
Instead, we need to prepare. Preparing doesn’t mean we will have no shock factor or that we will not suffer greatly or have our hearts broken as much as if we hadn’t prepared. No- pain is pain. It comes and likes to stay awhile. But we CAN prepare our hearts to trust God and be spiritually strong.
I stumbled on this possibility one year in ministry- one of those tough years (which seem to come fairly frequently, eh?!) We were heading into potentially ugly meetings and facing a rather large number of accusations. Yet we were not allowed to know what they were ahead of time. We had a ten day window between finding out that such was the case, and the actual meetings themselves. I remember going home from the church that day and wondering how I was going to survive those long days of suspense. I hate suspense. Especially when the future hangs in the balance, and our reputations with it.
I had a strong sense at that time that I needed to prepare my heart for what was coming, that there HAD to be something I could do to help me beforehand. I wanted it to be something that would keep my head lifted above what was happening before, during, and after the meetings took place.
With my husband’s approval, I packed a few bags for myself and our children, and headed to the island where my husband had pastored previously. We had (and still have) good friends there where we can always crash at a moment’s notice. And we descended upon them so as to pass the time of suspense.
We were there a full week, but I only remember one day of it. It’s the day I went to the beach alone, with only a blanket, my Bible, a notebook, and a pen. I didn’t even know where to read, but I was being strongly drawn by God to get into His Word for the specific purpose of preparing to suffer.
While watching the waves and feeling the sun on my skin and talking to God, I got the idea to peek into Matthew- to see what went on in the days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. As I read, I wrote. I journaled my way through His conversations, His interactions with family and townspeople, His spoken Words (which are few), and His reactions. I wanted to know- What did He say to others? What did they say to Him? With whom did He interact? How must He have felt during those days of trial and betrayal? How did it all affect him mentally, spiritually, physically in the garden?
I was so moved and impacted by what I read that I decided to go into Mark, then Luke, then John- to ask the same questions and journal what I found. In the span of an afternoon, I journaled my way through all four Gospels, documenting Jesus’ heart during the specific time period before the cross. To my surprise, I discovered that God gave us a LOT of information about that time in His life! (In each Gospel, I stopped reading/studying at His crucifixion, because it wasn’t part of my purpose at the time.)
You know….years later, I cannot even put into words how that exercise impacted me. I saw things I had never seen before, realized things I had never realized, and I left the beach knowing without a doubt in my heart that God KNEW what I was facing. He had been there, He had walked this same road, and He handled it in such a way that I wanted to imitate.
Most of all, I was gifted with a profound sense of how much God loved me in my trial. It meant so much to me particularly because Christ’s trial was one of false accusation and punishment for a crime He never committed, and suffering for the sins of another. The parallels to ministry are striking. God’s heart is SO tender for His suffering pastors and pastors’ wives!
You’re probably wondering how the meeting went. Well, it went like many of those meetings go. It was long and big and ugly and left deep scars. The accusations held nothing concrete (they often don’t) and was no doubt the intent of Satan was to “lay blame” on a pastor and his wife who are commanded to be blameless. We took a “no attack, no defense” position,” knowing that God defends His children well. We had a lot of healing to do afterwards, and although we were as prepared as one could be when one knows nothing ahead of time, we didn’t get out unscathed. (That’s because we’re human.)
BUT I prepared my heart to focus on Christ, and that’s the absolute best thing I could have done! The impact of that preparation has stuck with me for years, going far beyond that meeting. I think of that exercise all the time, and I know for a fact that it lifted me high above my human perspective and literally carried my heart through that time.
It was the fellowship of His sufferings in action, soothed by His Word and the Person of Christ Himself.
Whether or not you know of any impending suffering, I invite you- I challenge you- to do this exercise! Suffering is coming to all of us at some point, so why not have our hearts in the Word, asking God to lend us His eye and His heart. When the suffering comes, we will suffer in a Christlike way, even bringing Him glory in the ugliness of it.
My friend, I surely hope that this year will be a “good” and not a “rough.” But if it’s a “rough,” know that your God was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He really does understand, and He wants you to really know and believe that He does! So grab your Bible, a notebook, and a pen….and prepare to have your heart challenged and comforted- and even awed- in an unforgettable way.
A Kindred Spirit