Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Dear Pastor’s Wife Without a Church

Leeann Still Life

I’m getting ready to visit yet another church this morning. In the past 5 months, since my husband resigned, we’ve visited many. A new one nearly every Sunday. Some have been near to our home and some far away. Some with pastors or people we know and some full of entirely new faces.

Some churches have been overwhelmingly friendly and we’ve been to others where we’ve been able to slip inphoto and out without being noticed. Some have great children’s programs and some hardly have any children at all. We’ve visited churches big and small, some ultra-conservative and others a bit more charismatic than we’re used to. We’ve worshipped to hymns accompanied only by a few select instruments and choruses played by full on bands.

We’ve seen services that operate like well-oiled machines and others that looked more like a thrown-together three-ring circus. Mostly, we’ve seen whole lot of everything in between.

Each church has it’s own flavor, it’s own style, it’s own… personality almost.

They all have one thing in common though, without fail they almost all bring me to the brink of tears. Some have left me in a puddle of tears the moment I walked through the door, some in the middle of service and others have brought me to tears before I even walked through their doors.

They’ve all been great to visit, but none of them are my home. I’ve been accustomed to having a church family. A family is so much more than a Sunday morning experience. It’s not about the preaching, it’s not about the music, it’s not about the building. It’s about the people. It’s knowing that once a week, we will all gather together and learn how to love God, love others, grow in Christ and serve the world a little bit better because of each other. The preaching, music and location seem like inconsequential details, really. But loving God, loving others, growing in Christ and serving the world seem harder to do when I’m not surrounded by people I know and have grown to love. I’m convinced God uses community to grow us. We learn to love deeply, care selflessly, give sacrificially, and forgive completely within the context of doing life alongside of others. 

This week my husband is guest-speaking for a local pastor. At least I get to hear my favorite speaker preach this morning—I’m excited about that! I’m looking forward to visiting another church, and meeting new people, but I long for the day that we once again have a church home—a family of our own.

The problem is, we’re currently in a state of unknowns. Will my husband get a non-ministry job locally? Will he be called to pastor another church? Will we spend another 6 months in this place of the the perpetual unknown? God only knows. I don’t say that as a pithy expression, but as an honest, legitimate statement. Clearly, he hasn’t revealed to us what’s next. We just sit and wait.

It’s taking a toll on me. My physical health seems to be dwindling by the day as I deal with nearly constant low-grade tremors that have no obvious cause. The other aspects of my health (emotional, mental, spiritual, etc.) don’t seem to be faring much better on most days. We’re in a frustrating season of life. Most days we just keep on keeping on. Some days, if we’re being “real” here, we’re just barely hanging on.

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I wrote this one morning a few months back, before we headed to church. When it was time to leave I just sat on the couch and burst into tears. The kids came and sat down on either side of me, snuggling in for a hug and looked up at Rob, asking why mommy was crying. “She misses our church,” he said to them, knowing that they too have had similar days. I piped in, “It’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to miss people.”

Rob asked if I wanted to stay home, or go to the church that we’d more-or-less decided we’d probably plug into in the near future. I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t feel like being the “Pastor’s Wife” that day. I wasn’t interested in forced smiles or small talk.

But I decided to go anyway. It was only his second time preaching since the day he resigned, and I really did want to hear him, support him and learn from him.

We pulled up in front of the church where we were met by the Pastor’s wife and her two children. We began talking. Though we just met we all shared a few of our “battle wounds”, the kinds of wounds that only another pastor’s family can truly understand. If you’re a pastor’s wife reading this, and you’ve ever left a ministry, I know you understand what I’m talking about.

I blurted out, “So you know what it’s like to fall into a heaping pile of tears on Sunday mornings?” The empathetic look on her face told me she knew this feeling all-too-well.

We had a surprise visitor from our old church who lived right across the street from where Rob was preaching that day. She’d caught wind that he would be there and showed up to support him. She gave me the kind of hug that told me that it’s okay to be broken.

Then the pastor’s wife came up to me as I stood in the back to grab communion and slipped me a piece of paper with her phone number and email address, as she had to leave before the service would finish. My husband preached about forgiveness, a message that I struggled to hear, but I was so grateful to see him “come alive” as he did what God clearly created him to do.

It was as if God just opened up a window of brightness in the middle of the storm we were in. We left that place encouraged as a family, and I’m so very grateful that I followed my husband and kids to church that day. I was blessed because of it and I realized that even in this season of life where I don’t have a church home, nor a church family of my own, I belong to a greater church body, the body of Christ himself.

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I write many posts I never publish. Some I write, then leave unpublished, only to bring them back up again. This is one of those posts, literally, months in the making.

Recently, we have settled in to our new church. We even joined a small group a little bit reluctantly, but I’m so glad we did. I’m beginning to look forward to Sunday mornings again. I’m beginning to recognize faces and my kids are slowly beginning to make new friends. I’m beginning to let down my guard a little. I’m beginning to breathe a little bit deeper and smile a little more freely. It’s been a long “season” of life for us.

I know this “season” is just beginning for some others, and my heart is heavy for them. In these past few weeks alone I personally know of at least three pastor’s wives just in the Willamette Valley that have said good-bye to their church family for the last time. All of these were under difficult circumstances. My heart breaks for these churches, for these pastor’s and for their families. But I have a special place in my heart for their wives. My heart aches for you, deeply, friend. I wish I could sit down across the table from you over a cup of coffee. I wish I could hear your heart and give you a safe place to just be you—brokenness and all. Please allow me to share just a small glimpse of my heart for you: 

Dear Pastor’s Wife Without a Church,

Any words I can write to you in the middle of your storm are futile. I understand this fully. You are currently in some stage of the grief cycle. Maybe you are in shock and denial, perhaps you are flat-out angry. You might be in the depths of despair battling depression and detachment or perhaps in the dialogue and bargaining stage where you simply want to tell your story and make sense of what just happened. Perhaps you’ve come to a place of acceptance where you are exploring your options and looking to put a new plan in place for your life, even if it looks different than what you were originally anticipating. You might cycle through these emotions and back again in any given week, day, or even hour. It’s been eight months since my husband resigned and I still have times where a whole range of emotions overwhelm me and the denial and bargaining, the shock and depression, or feelings of anger and acceptance wage war in my soul. Sometimes it’s simply impossible to describe how I feel, other than to say that I feel deeply. And some days it feels like it’s too much to bear. Yet other days, I see hope on the horizon and I am reminded of how good my God is and how deeply he cares for me and my family.

Wherever you’re at in this cycle, it is my prayer that you will recognize that it’s okay to grieve over the loss of your church home. You and I know that the church you left behind was more than just your husband’s employer. It was your source of support, encouragement and belonging. It was your home. It was your family. It’s okay to grieve.

Regardless of the reason you left, you cannot deny that you’ve left behind a church full of people that have impacted you greatly. You take with you some great memories and lasting friendships. You also take with you some hurt and some frustrations. Time will either make sense of, or magnify the negative experiences you had. Be mindful to dwell on the good things, and beware of letting bitterness take root in your heart. It’s so easy to let the devil get a foothold into your life through bitterness. Too easy. Give a friend permission to point it out when they see it rear it’s ugly head. Continually give it over to God and let him examine your heart. He’s gifted at redeeming the ugly things in this life. At turning ashes into beauty. At making beautiful things out of dust.

Speaking of… some days I just put the song Beautiful Things on repeat. “You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things out of us…” 

I have created a free playlist on Spotify that I continue to add songs to that speak to my heart about this season of life. Sometimes I will hear a song at church, or on the radio that really tugs at my heart. I add it to my playlist and I let so many of these songs become the cry of my heart when I don’t know what else to say.

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Dear friend, let me encourage you to pour out your heart before God. Whether it’s through song, through scripture, through tears or through the deafening silence.

Photo: My words fall short every time. For those who need hope and refuge today, may you be encouraged by the words of a God who loves you deeply.God is your refuge. He is your rock and your salvation. He is your fortress where you will not be shaken. Your salvation and your honor come from God alone. Safe in his refuge no enemy can reach you. Wait quietly before God, for your hope is in him.

I confess I’ve done more fretting and less waiting quietly before God than I ought over the course of this year. I don’t know where you are right now, but my soul is weary. I feel like a toddler who is so full of emotions that I can’t help but fuss and cry and writhe about in a screaming fit.

This verse that encourages me to wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him—this I will cling to. I feel like I’m winding down. I have no energy left to throw a fit. I am like a small child who has been crying so long over so many things that I no longer even know what I’m crying for. But I want rest. I want rest for my soul. I want my Heavenly Father to scoop me up his arms as a father would to calm his fussy toddler. He wants me to find rest for my soul in his presence alone. He is my rock. He is my fortress.

Draw near to God, sweet sister, and he will draw near to you. He understands your emotions and the depths of your heart and soul like no one else ever will. Rest in that. Rest in his promises. Rest in him.

Love,

Robyn

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For those of you who are Pastor’s Wives, or have walked closely with a woman who is, what advice would you give, or wisdom would you share to a hurting Pastor’s wife who finds herself without a church home? Please share in the comment section below, as it is my deepest prayer that these words will be of comfort to any Pastor’s wives who stumble upon it. Thank you for sharing your heart!

7 comments:

Toby said...

You are an awesome writer, Robyn. What makes it so compelling is your honesty and openness. I'm so sorry you have to walk through this phase of your life. I know what it is like to leave familiar surroundings, and try to plug into a new situation. We've done it twice in the last few years. And it takes a lot of emotional energy. Thank you for your post, and thank you for writing to other pastors wives. I believe it will touch many.

Robyn said...

Thanks for your encouragement, Toby. It's rather "freeing" for me to write, in some ways. It helps me process, and I find no greater joy than knowing that maybe it helps someone else along the way.

It's hard to think about starting over--as you very well know. We'll see what God has in store for us for the long haul. Like I said, God only knows!

God'sGirl said...

After 27 years at our only church, my husband was laid off. That same week I too created a healing playlist entitled 'New Every Morning'. We share some similar songs! (Paul told us in Romans 8 that the Holy Spirit would speak for us when we had no words, and I know worship music is one way He accomplishes that.) I continue to begin each morning by listening to it, as I read scripture, meditate and spend time in solitude. Only God knows the healing that has taken place these past 15 months. The playlist of 100+ songs from various genres continues to grow as I grow through this sad stage of isolation and confusion. Thank you for shining a light and bringing a perspective into a situation that few church people understand. Tomorrow morning my husband and I are visiting a church that gives us hope for the first time in many months. I eagerly wait to be united with the church family God is preparing. My family will celebrate that sweet day and God will get all the credit and glory.

Faye Bryant said...

Share your feelings with your husband. Tell him you know he can't fix them, you just need Him to hear you. Then ask him to right then and there pray over you.

beachbirdie said...

I connected with a woman from Wisconsin, who was in Christian radio for many, many years. She has suffered much, and wrote a lovely story I will link to here. Just a fictional story about a pastor and wife who had to leave their church, and their first Christmas Eve after. It is uplifting, hope you will find something sweet in it. Christmas Light - A Story by Ingrid Schlueter.

Robyn said...

Oh wow. That's a tear-jerker of a read, for sure. Thanks for sharing it!

Tina Richards said...

I just read A Hurting Pastors Wife and Dear Pastors Wife without a church and bawled my way through the second. I'm a fellow ex-PW that has felt so alone through our journey and have not found any resources to help women like us. I created a website with a blog and forum in hopes of reaching to to other women struggling and have only gotten a few women connected and most don't open up. I know for me, trusting is a huge issue. Not sure if that is what has kept them from posting much or just wanting to move on and not deal with the pain. I have partnered with another group trying to support ex-pastors trying to reach more women but haven't heard much from them.
We too have tried several churches. The last one I thought maybe we had found where we could connect but for various reasons, we have stopped going there also. Haven't been to church in months. You hit on many of the things I've felt also.
The worst part is not having anyone to talk to about it that gets it! Two years later and I can be brought to a puddle of tears reading a blog post because I've not had the support of someone that can say, been there, done that now tell me about your experience.
I pray the pain you've felt is easing and the triggers become fewer and fewer. ((((Hugs))))
Thanks for sharing your heart.