The role of the minister's wife is different from that of any other wife. Whether it should be so different is another question. But the minister's wife is expected to be her husband's helper in the most exacting details. She is probably one of the deaconesses, if indeed she is not the first deaconess; she is expected to teach in the Sabbath school, if not to take charge of a division; she will be asked to lead out in the Dorcas Society, and perhaps to act as an officer in the Parent-Teacher Association. She must never miss a Sabbath morning service nor a prayer meeting, and any failure to appear at other services will be speedily observed.
If these were not enough, there is her own household to manage on a meager income; her own children to bring up with fear and trembling, constantly remembering the thoughtless shrug of a shoulder and the sting of the remark, "Oh, well—a minister's son, you know!"
Lastly, there is her own spiritual life, which must be nourished and sustained. Who is sufficient for these things? Verily, the demands uttered or unexpressed are often excessive and unreasonable. How shall she meet them? What are the characteristics she must pray for and cultivate?
First of all, that she may have good health and quiet nerves. If a vast store of good health has been denied her, may she early learn the limits of her own endurance so that she may not overdo. Few trials work so much hardship for all concerned as ill health in the minister's family.
I do not believe it is an arbitrary judgment of God that brings such a large number of ministers' wives to long years of semi-invalidism or to early graves. We require too much of them. In the early days of our church it was often necessary for the minister's wife to play the organ to open the evening meeting, and then rush home to finish the family washing and quiet the fretful baby before she must rush back to play the closing song and stand beside her husband as he bids his hearers good night. She probably had to hurry through her work next morning in order to go with her husband to give Bible readings during the afternoon, or to walk weary miles distributing announcements of the next evening's meeting. These faithful women led lives of self-effacement that shame our ease-loving hearts. A similar sacrifice is not required of the minister's wife today, but may God give her the same spirit and desire to serve. It is not required that it be manifested in the same way. Musicians and Bible workers are the minister's helpers, and they do a valuable service. Fortunate indeed is the minister who in an emergency may safely call on his wife to fill the place of some of these temporarily, but it should not be the rule.
As to the other offices, those of deaconess, Sabbath school teacher, Parent-Teacher Association officer, or Young People's leader,—no one woman can be expected or needed to fill them all. Our church organization has grown in size and complexity. It will be the stronger if no one person, however able and willing, tries to fill several offices. Other members grow in capacity under responsibility, and the Master is pleased if less-experienced members learn to bear their part.
Once she decides how much she can do aside from her own home duties, the minister's wife must exercise the courage of her convictions, and refuse to be overloaded, however pressing the demands. God does not ask her to perform two duties in two different places at the same time. If they clash and one is a duty to husband or children, that is the call of God.
We might continue indefinitely to enumerate virtues to be emulated by the minister's wife. There is that of refusing to be a party to any disagreement between church members. She must keep herself absolutely free from favoritism. For this she may indeed have to pay the price of loneliness, having no intimate friends; but better such loneliness than the misery that grows from bitter church feuds in which the minister's wife has "taken sides."
There is the gift of making friends—and keeping them—which is priceless. There is a great degree of difference in the power with which people attract others to them. It is a power that can be increased or diminished. The greatest means of acquiring and increasing this power is an interest in other people and consideration of their needs and comforts. Pray for the ability to understand other people and to be to them that for which they long. Probably the most common silent cry of the human heart is, "Not understood!" Every time we recognize that cry and strive to answer it, our own heart grows in its effort to meet another's need. So we grow into the likeness of Him who lived to bless others.
Lastly, the minister's wife's greatest duty is that of maintaining her connection with Christ. No amount of "busyness" or helpfulness or friendliness can take the place of that.
I know a minister's wife who has been singularly self-effacing in her relation to her husband's work. He began as a colporteur of meager educational opportunities. She helped him form his habits of good speech. As time went on, the man grew in ability and in the responsibilities which his fellow workers placed upon him. He is now a division president. I have often heard people speak of his wife's piety and her blameless life, and of the strength she must be to her husband. An insight into her prayer habits explains this. Over and over, as the two of us have prayed together, I have heard her pour out her soul to God for her husband. One petition she never fails to employ is, "0 God, make him meek and lowly, like Jesus!" Verily, this wife is not failing in her duty. Delicate to the point of frailty, shy to the extent that all contact with strangers is torture to her, simple in tastes and habits, unassuming and quick to depreciate herself and her own efforts, she is still a tower of strength to all who know her, because she is such a Christian.
God grant that her sisters may follow her example and share in her reward, for it is sure to be that of the pure in heart, whose joy it will be "to see God!"