A couple of weeks ago I started feeling a little bit discouraged. A combination of factors related to our church were piling on in an unusually burdensome way, and I just felt like there was a huge weight on my shoulders. My husband Chad is pastor, a calling in both of our lives that we are passionately committed to. We are sounding boards and burden-bearers for many in our community, and Chad says that he has learned to embrace the melancholy that sometimes comes with being a spiritual shepherd, a counselor and secret-keeper. At times it is a weary load that a pastor, and often his wife, carries. It can be difficult to deal with people in all of their human glory, their faults and failures and their ever-pressing expectations.
A few days ago we drove out of town to attend a funeral, and afterward we stood and talked with the hospice chaplain. He, too, has pastored churches, and as we talked he turned to focus on me. He told me that during his years of shepherding a church someone offered his wife a wonderful piece of advice.
Now, I often read or hear advice for pastors’ wives. Generally it is something with a bit of a worldly spin on it, something like, Tell that church that they hired your husband, not you or Your one job is to love your husband and take care of him–the church shouldn’t expect more from you than that. I braced myself for yet another mediocre idea of what a pastor’s wife is meant to be. But he surprised me.
He said, “Just love the people.”
At those words I felt the weight in my spirit shift. The burden didn’t disappear–the heaviness that comes with being intimately intertwined in the lives of others. The sense of melancholy that Chad talks about was still present. But in that moment I remembered that I am not a pack mule struggling to shoulder everyone’s problems. This calling is so much more than that. It’s an opportunity to love sacrificially (though imperfectly) and, even more amazingly, to receive sacrificial love in return from the (imperfect) people who make up our church family. I was reminded that I am a follower of Christ first and a pastor’s wife second. Jesus told us all to love the Lord and love our neighbors, and I certainly shouldn’t expect to do anything less than that as I minister alongside my husband.
Sometimes loving others looks like absorbing wounds inflicted by the very people you are called to love. Sometimes it looks like mourning in unison. Sometimes it looks like laughing, eating good church food, watching our kids play together, marveling at the many ways God is working in the lives all around us.
I stood and nodded at the chaplain and wondered if my heaviness of heart feels extra burdensome because I have tried to complicate this calling with too much problem-solving, too much time spent trying to figure things out that have no real solutions. I think I forgot that loving people, although not always easy, is fairly simple.
This heavy load that Chad and I sometimes bear is not ours alone. Ultimately, it belongs to Christ, and He is more than strong enough to carry it. So when I feel myself starting to stoop under the weight of it all, I pray that I will remember the advice that gave me pause on an especially wearisome day, that I will lay these burdens at the foot of the cross and open my arms wide to those whom God has given us.