Over the past few days many in the church world have been consumed talking about the resignation of Pastor Pete Wilson of Crosspoint Church in Nashville, TN. In case you haven’t heard the news, he announced to his church that he was “broken”, “tired” and “needed rest”. Since then people have called it “burnout.” Most have called it a brave move to confess something to thousands at his church and perhaps hundreds of thousands through social media what most of us in ministry are too afraid to admit has or is happening to us.
While I see the bravery, when I watched the video I was also thinking about something a little differently than most people. As he stood on that stage in vulnerability to walk away from something that was once a dream so deep in his heart and now had exceeded his wildest expectations I could only think of one person: his wife.
I have sincerely prayed for Pete Wilson’s wife and children over the past few days. I couldn’t even tell you their names (sadly enough) but we share a common bond. I may not be married to someone who pastors 1000’s but my husband is a pastor. Like her, and like many of you, to some I am the nameless wife of the guy who preaches. I understand the weight and the burden that is carried behind the doors of a pastor’s home and my heart goes out to her. She will probably never read this and may not be experiencing these things right now, but I’m sure she has before…and maybe you have too.
You’ve probably heard the old saying “behind every good man is an even better woman” and though I don’t know if that is entirely true I can speak from the heart of a pastor’s wife to say that for almost every burned out, burdened, tired pastor, there is a wife wrestling with some of these same issues, and others, without as much support. I realize pastor’s wives may not carry the same weight of their husbands, but we do carry a weight, and it’s often overlooked or minimized.
I would never assume to know all the conversations that have taken place over the years and months in the Wilson home. However I know some of the conversations that have taken place in our home. I’ve also talked to enough pastor’s wives that I know some of the conversations that have taken place in those homes as well.
This is not about bad husbands, because I am married to a great man who would never intentionally prioritize things over our family. He’s a devoted husband, a great baseball coach for the boys and takes our daughter out on dates. Many of the women I talk to are married to similar men. However, the demands of ministry and life often throw things out of balance for them and for us. Sometimes wives need to say hard things. Things like
“you’re not giving enough to your family”,
“the kids miss you”,
“you’re mentally and emotionally distant”,
“the things in the home are falling apart because of the time you are giving to the church”,
“your priorities are out of whack”,
“I miss you”,
“the oil hasn’t been changed in months ;-)”,
“should we just sell our beds and sleep at the church?”
These statements may seem harsh to some and even may seem unfair to certain readers but many times they are the cry of “pre-burnout” or full-fledged “burnout” from a pastor’s wife. I’m telling my husband the kids miss him, not too hurt him, but because of the burden I’m carrying for our children and the rhythm of our home and ministry balance as he pursues the calling of God on his life as well.
The church world talks a lot about pastoral burn out, but what about pastor’s wife burn out?
What do you do as a wife who is exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally? What do you do when you don’t want to attend another life group or talk about the church on your date night? What do you do when you don’t have anything else to give to a member who “just needs 5 minutes”?
The job of pastor’s wife is one of the most rewarding things I get to do. I don’t always get it right but I thank the Lord regularly for calling me and for calling our family to this incredible work. This post is not autobiographical, right now. But it’s no less sincere.
I have such a heart for pastor’s wives, so much so that it is hard to explain in words most the time. Whether they stay at home or work outside the home, most pastor’s wives also work hard for their church too (and usually for no pay). Often there are expectations that come with being married to a pastor whether the wife feels called to them or not. Things like women’s ministry, or worship or children’s ministry. Sometimes it’s meals with first time visitors, home or hospital visitation, decorating the church and so much more. At the same time they carry a heavy burden for their families, children, husbands, staff families, church members, etc.
There is a pressure we place on ourselves to make sure we are being enough, doing enough, and reaching enough. We want to make sure we are meeting the expectations of those around us. If we aren’t careful we suffer in suffocating silence.
So what do you do if you are married to someone in ministry and experience any of this?
First, take notice. Learn to be ok with not being ok and admit that you feel like you are about to lose it. I’m a very laid back person, but I always know when I’ve had about enough because I get emotional. Everything becomes a big deal, and I get short-tempered, even over little things. Others may notice mental and physical exhaustion and a desire to sleep all the time. Still others might notice a loss of joy in things you love most.
Second, find someone to talk to. I don’t know who that person is for you but I am so fortunate to be married to my best friend who tries his best to understand what I’m saying and feeling. For us, after 12 years of marriage, 4 kids, and 13 years of doing ministry together, I’ve learned it’s ok to show my humanity and my weaknesses to the person who claims to know/love me more than anyone else. Maybe you don’t want to express these burdens to your husband because of what he’s already carrying, but you have to talk to someone. Maybe it’s a friend, parent or sibling who doesn’t attend your church. Maybe it is a counselor. Whether you would classify yourself as an introvert, like me, or an extrovert like ALMOST EVERYONE AROUND ME, everyone needs someone to talk to.
Third, do some serious soul-searching. Be honest. Evaluate the fundamentals of your faith. Are you reading your Bible enough? Are you praying enough? Are you trying to please others more than you are trying to please God? Remember and ask the Lord to remind you why He called you in the first place.
Lastly, be ok with saying you need a break. Women aren’t usually very good at this because we like to stay busy so people don’t think we can’t juggle all that’s in front of us. That’s not how God intended it to be. Be ok with needing a break. Matthew 11:28-30 (MSG) says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
So I’m praying for you today pastor’s wife. I’m praying that you feel a renewed sense of God’s calling and purpose for you. That today you find joy in Him. I pray that there is a return to the basics and to the goodness of God that at one time was enough to follow Him into this thing we know as ministry. I’m praying for your children and families. I’m praying for your marriages and your homes today.
I’m praying that you find rest for your soul.