At the beginning of the world, God gave man a helpmeet for him. (Gen. 2:18.) In order to be a helper, one must ac quire certain qualities and must have a spirit of adaptability. The poetic description contained in the last verses of Proverbs 31 indicates the role of the wife and mother in the midst of the family, as well as her influence in society.
Two young people establish a home and launch out into life together. However sturdy the little ship, the oars and sails must be so handled that it will not bump against the reefs too often, and it is chiefly the wife who must see to this if she wants her home to radiate joy.
Let us consider a few aspects of this often obscure task that the minister's wife must accomplish in order to share her husband's work. Personally, I always enjoy reading the Bible story of Mary and Martha, and I must admit that Martha has my particular sympathy possibly because she was a practical woman and may have been as little gifted with eloquence as I!
The task of a minister's wife, although important and beautiful, is often self-effacing and modest. In order for her to be a help to her husband, it is not enough that she have a gift for public speaking, rare and precious as that is. That phase of the work will not be discussed, for most of us play an altogether different role.
According to our text, the minister's wife is to be a helpmeet for her husband which implies that she may be a hindrance. Her husband's vocation is part and parcel of her life. By her marriage she has agreed in advance to share the joys and sorrows of the ministry, as well as the life of self-denial it involves, which requires a true spirit of sacrifice. When there are children the wife cannot accompany her husband as often as she would like, nor can she always attend the annual meetings at his side. Is she to indulge in self-pity, or leave her children in the care of others? No, this is all a part of her sacrifice in the service of the Master, to whom her life has been dedicated.
The minister's wife must be friendly and hospitable. Her house must be well kept as well as tastefully furnished; nevertheless, she must avoid the never-ending pursuit of comfort, as being out of harmony with the simplicity Christ has enjoined upon us. Simplicity must likewise characterize her dress, but this does not mean negligence or lack of taste. A knowledge of sewing is extremely helpful in balancing the family budget.
Another virtue the minister's wife must possess is thrift. She must know how to eliminate all needless expenditures. She must keep a close watch on her wardrobe as well as that of her husband and children. It will help a great deal if she has formed the habit of "a place for everything and everything in its place."
It is the wife who must see to it that her husband's suit is clean and pressed, that his collar is immaculate. It is she who must straighten his necktie before he leaves the house. This re quires a certain amount of taste, attention to appearance, and a rapid last-minute inspection. There must be no missing buttons, soiled collar, or frayed cuffs; above all, no grease spots! Attending to all these details may sometimes mean going without sufficient sleep, but God will grant the needed strength. It must be re membered that the impression made by the minister's outward appearance is often extremely important in his contacts with people.
Another important question is that of food. The husband likes one dish, the wife another; or perhaps one or the other must follow a diet. How is the wife to reconcile the differences in taste, especially with a budget that will not cover very many extras? Many difficulties may be solved by an intelligent practice of health reform, and the whole family will benefit. With a little understanding on both sides, each will be satisfied. If possible, plan to have a surprise for the Sabbath. The homemaker, however tired, will feel well repaid by the happy faces of her family.
The minister's wife is never at a loss for something to do. There are always visits to be made to the sick, to church members, and to neighbors, without making a nuisance of herself or wasting her time in idle gossip. Then the Dorcas Society absorbs quite a portion of her time if she is to accomplish anything worthwhile. And so it goes. For all this it is not absolutely essential to have the gift of tongues. It will be quite enough if the minister's wife has initiative, courage, a spirit of kindness and charity toward all; if she can listen to good ad vice and remember it, and also be able to give it on occasion without, however, having too many illusions about its being put into practice. The minister's wife must be especially careful not to indulge in criticism or malicious gossip, in talking with church members as well as with her husband. It often happens that a minister is unduly influenced by the partisan spirit of his wife. It is natural to be drawn to one person more than to another, but the wife should know how to exercise a moderating influence in certain relations with church members or others with whom she comes in contact.
When the husband returns home, tired and often worried, after several hours of visiting or of committee meetings, what is the wife to do? Bombard him with questions so as to find out at once just what was said or decided? Let her rather have supper ready, the table set, and an atmosphere of serenity in the home. The cares weighing on the husband's mind will be lightened by the peaceful surroundings, and later, when the tension is relaxed, they will be able to talk quietly. Patience and tact are needed.
However, there can be no doubt that it is in the training of the children that the role of minister's wife takes on its full importance. When my children were small we knew nothing about the fine theories on child training that are current today. Children were taught to be courteous, helpful, and industrious. They were no more backward than today's children, but perhaps more disciplined. On rare occasions the rod was resorted to, according to King Solomon's precept, and a kiss from mother ended the conflict. In our day it is held that the child should grow up in an atmosphere of liberty, without strict discipline; no punishments, only example which, alas, is rarely perfect.
To a great extent the mother must carry the responsibility of training the children, because of the husband's frequent absences. It is certainly no easy task to bring up children without making mistakes. Each child has different tendencies, and the mother must make a separate study of each, so as to be able to understand and guide her children. Worries and cares will fall to her lot, but her reward is to see her sons and daughters walking in the truth and honoring God and their parents. I know one young man who, on his wedding day, said to his mother, "All that I am today, I owe to you." That does the heart good, and one forgets the pains and trouble that have gone with the twenty-year training period in the family circle.
The part played by the mother in the realm of education is so important that the Bible, when it mentions the kings of Israel, never fails to give the name of the mother along with that of the father. Why do so many of our boys and girls too often even in the families of our workers leave the church? No doubt the causes are varied and complex. Often, without meaning any harm, we may criticize the sermon to which we have just listened; some church member may be examined under the microscope before the children; the conduct of another comes up for family discussion. The young minds naturally come to the conclusion that Adventists are no better than other people, and why should they belong to a church where no more charity is manifested than among worldly people? This question deserves careful attention in the families of our ministers. Has the wife and mother always had a clear understanding of her duty?
In the training of children one must be firm without being harsh, and gentle without being weak. To be sure, this is not always easy. The mother is alone, tired, overburdened, trying to make sure that everyone has what he needs for the Sabbath; or else she is tempted to yield to discouragement when day after day she must repeat the same admonitions, and each day brings the same tasks and the same anxieties. The spirit of the world also finds an echo in the hearts of our children. While they are small we can keep up with them, but when they start to school there is a part of them that escapes us; and these outside influences, which may later include undesirable companions, call for redoubled patience to correct what may be amiss, without infringing on the child's personality. And let us remember that children, even our own, are not perfect. We must also set an example for them, lest in the day of judgment we hear the reproach, "What hast thou done with the children that God hath given thee?" The highest reward for parents is not for their children to have a brilliant career or a thorough intellectual training. There is in finitely more satisfaction in seeing that they are kind, courteous, and obliging, that they have sturdy Christian character, and that they are capable of carrying out their assigned duties in the fear of God and the love of Christ. To bring up her children with such an end in view, the minister's wife needs special grace from God to maintain a deep and constant religious experience.
Besides all this there are many domestic duties. Yet the wife must not let them monopolize her time, and no matter what plans she may have made for the day, she must be able to drop everything and accompany her husband on some visit that he would rather not make alone. It is good for the minister's wife to be acquainted with her husband's cares and to understand the problems of others, especially the battles that some must fight for their faith. She can better pray with her husband and support him in his difficulties.
Then there are the never-ending "why's" of the children, which must be answered without impatience, instructing the little ones in the way they should later walk. And when the mother thinks her day's work is finished, she must perhaps help to solve a particularly stub born problem and see whether tomorrow's lessons have been properly prepared. If possible, reserve a few minutes for worth-while reading; it is a relaxation after a busy day.
In spite of her daily worries, the wife can never forget that her husband has the care of souls. She should be his strongest moral and spiritual support, praying every day with him and for him. The burden is lighter when there are two to share it.
Even though the wife's task is often obscure and modest, her influence on the character of the husband and children is nonetheless preponderant through her good humor, tact, ability, and initiative, and above all through her deep piety, free from misplaced rigorism.
On the other hand, the husband should manifest an understanding spirit in the home. He should not be afraid to help in the household tasks, thus lightening the load of the wife and mother.
May every minister's family realize this high ideal of harmony and perfect joy in the Master's service. The times demand young men and women who are courageous, strong, upright, and pure. The reward comes when we see our children giving their hearts to God and consecrating their lives to His service, as we ourselves have done, in order to hasten the coming of our Lord Jesus.