Several years ago while on a road trip, I got to connect with a dear friend for lunch. Over salad and sandwiches she made a statement that caught my attention: “Pastors’ wives have trust issues.” It wasn’t an accusation. Simply an observation from a wise woman who has had several close pastor’s wife friends.
At the time I was taken aback. I thought to myself, “I am a pastor’s wife and I don’t have trust issues.” At the time my statement was true.
Fast forward many years.
I, the pastor’s wife, have trust issues.
I don’t always feel safe in my own congregation.
I don’t always know with whom I can let my guard down.
I’m often hesitant to share my secret thoughts, my joys and struggles, my life with others—especially others in the church. I simply don’t know what they will do with my heart. Will they protect it? Ignore it? Attack it?
I’ve come to agree that my sweet friend was right. Us pastors’ wives do indeed have trust issues. Or, at least, this one does. And in case you are wondering why it seems that your pastor’s wife seems a bit distant and/or disconnected, there are a few things you can do to help provide a safe environment for her to come out of her emotional shell.
Give her time.
She (her husband, too) has probably been burned a time or two when it comes to friendships within the church. And not only is there the personal pain of a betrayal, there are the implications of how that rift might affect her husband’s ability to pastor his congregation effectively. It might take her much longer to be comfortable in her congregation than you think. (Side note: Even after much time, it is also very unlikely that she will be good friends with everyone in the church. So be sure to manage the expectation that she will be good friends with everyone.)
Give her freedom to be herself.
Treat her like you would any other church member. Don’t lay expectations on her to lead a team or be super-involved with a certain area of the church that you think is “typical.” And please, please, please don’t compare her to your previous pastor’s wife. She, like you, is a work in progress. She, like you, is uniquely created by God to serve in ways particular to her gifting, her season of life, and God’s call on her life. Give her space to figure out what and where that is within your particular congregation. And once she does, cheer her on like crazy and encourage her to stay put and not give in to the pressure that leads her to take on more.
Give her decency.
Think before you speak. Remember that she is not on the church payroll for being married to pastor. She is not on every committee and doesn’t know everything that is going on. She is not her husband’s secretary. Don’t expect more from her than you are expecting of yourself. And please don’t expect her to initiate every conversation. Even extroverts have their limits. Try to understand how it feels to live in a “fish bowl.” Recognize how your complaints (to her face and behind her back) about the church, her husband’s decisions, and/or the way her children act affect her. Treat her with the same respect you yourself would want to be treated.
Give her grace.
Don’t make assumptions that just because she is the wife of a pastor she has it all figured out, especially spiritually. She misses her Bible reading. She yells at her family. There are days she wants to stay in bed and not go to church. She makes bad choices. She gets depressed. She sins. But she often feels like she needs to hide all of that from Y. O. U. Your trust issues may look different, but she is human and her natural reaction is to protect herself from harm, just like any other normal human being.
The difference between 30-something I-don’t-have-trust-issues Katie and the woman who is typing these words today? Hurt. Pain. Betrayal. Disappointment. Between our own experiences and the sad stories of my pastor’s wife friends, I’ve seen the worst-case scenarios one too many times. The evil one has attempted to use unhealthy, unstable, and untrustworthy people to tear apart the local body of believers. Again and again.
Ultimately, not one of us is called to a safe life free from risk. Us pastors’ wives need to work through our trust issues. We need to be able to risk pain and loss. We need to learn to love unconditionally and unhindered. We need to find our foundation in God alone—not a perfect friendship or job security. But while we’re on this journey toward trusting the hearts around us with our own, be patient. And pray for us.