Dear Shepherdess: Jane Taylor Howell, who wrote this month's column, "The Prayer of a Minister's Wife," not only is the wife of a minister, she is also a minister's daughter and a minister's daughter-in-law! Thus it comes as no surprise when she says that the parson age is the only life she has known. She is the mother of girls aged 9 and 11, and her husband pastors the Buck Run Baptist church in Frankfort, Kentucky.
Mrs. Howell wrote this article during a soul-searching period in her life in which she came to realize the Lord wanted her to be herself, as well as to use her talents to glorify Him. As the saying goes, "What you are is God's gift to you. What you make of yourself is your gift to God. "Let us all by God's grace make of ourselves what He would have us to be as Shepherdesses. With love, Kay.
Dear Lord, I have come to You, for there's no one else I can talk to, open up to, and cry with. Being a pastor's wife, I have no pastor. And I'm afraid I would make my husband's situation appear less than perfect to his peers if I went to talk with another pastor. So here I am again.
Forgive me, Lord, if I don't begin by counting my blessings. I'm just too heavy now; maybe I can after I've shared some of this burden with You.
You would have thought I'd have known about being a minister's wife—after all, I've observed my mother all my life. But there must have been a lot she didn't let me see for fear I'd be turned against the one You had chosen for me.
Others too seemed to think I'd under stand. "She's the daughter of a minister," they said. "She knows the role."
Oh, if only I had known some of it, I could have programmed myself to fit the mold our ministered-to souls seem to have for me! They claim I'm not a paid staff member (more like an unpaid servant), but why am I expected to fill every vacancy no one wants? Why am I expected to sing or play the piano when no one else feels up to it? Why am I expected to open the doors, turn on the heat, and . . . O Lord, I know You've heard it all before!
My husband—is he really my own? Why must I wait until the late news before I can see him? Why must they feel I have to share him fourteen hours a day? If he plans a day off, why must they see to it that a meeting or "unexpected emergency" arises? Weeks go by before he can find a full twenty-four hours to re-create his body and free his mind for a few needs of his own. Don't they realize he would work better if he were rested and rejuvenated, not stagnant, stale mated, and saturated with the many details of his work?
My children, Lord, what about them? I've tried, like my mother, not to let them know I hurt. I've tried to appear contented and satisfied, but it's becoming harder. They're expected to be little angels, and You know they're far from it! I'd like to be with them during church services, train them, teach them, and win them to Your way. But why as a single parent (father's always in the pulpit) must I sing in the choir, play the piano, or keep the nursery? No one else will volunteer to rear my youngsters in church worship for fear of having to take the responsibility if they turned out less than perfect. Lord, You gave them to me, please let me do it.
I know You expect me to use my talents, Lord. I thank You for giving them to me—my love for music, my baking, sewing, decorating, leading, nursing. It seems each time I develop one talent You open another bud for me. And I appreciate Your showing me the meaning of Matthew 25:29—"The man who uses well what he is given shall be given more, and he shall have abundance" (T.L.B.).* But why, Lord, do these talents seem to get in the way of my being me?
If I used my talents only in my expected role, so many would go wasted. I happen to like emergency-room work, which requires taking weekend calls. And that means sometimes being away from worship. But they don't seem to understand. I'm not hired by the church; why do I have to be there every time the key turns? Can't I sometimes be me and work at what I feel is a special calling from You? Am I wrong not to feel like worshiping sometimes? If so, forgive me.
If I have a talent, Lord, and use it, I'm "too smart." If I hide it, I'm "pretty dumb." Can't they let me be me, even if I don't fit their mold? And, Lord, forgive the saint who said the other day, "I can't imagine you being a minister's wife!" Where did I get off the track?
Lord, it's come up again. I'm having trouble coping with my deep loneliness. These days made dreary with sick children haven't helped much. They'll soon be over, I know, but why can't someone care enough to call and ask how we're doing? Can't someone see that when the children are well and in school, I'd love to be asked to share a shopping spree or have a leisurely lunch or just a chat. Why do they think I'm too busy to be a person like anyone else? I can be a neighbor; I could be someone's best friend; I feel, and have needs. Do they think I am supposed to be immune to living?
This loneliness seems more than I can bear alone. With no relatives close by, our family has no one with whom to share holidays and time off. Couldn't someone occasionally include us as a part of their larger family? I know You felt terrible loneliness, too. Why else would You have said, " 'But I, the Messiah, have no home of my own—no place to lay my head' " (Matt. 8:20, T.L.B.)? You knew; You knew well.
You didn't even have a roof over Your head. We do, but it's their roof! I'm almost afraid to breathe for fear some thing will crack and ruin their possession. O for my own house, Lord! I could let it be dirty if I found I had to. I could wait on the yard and attend that seminar or I could decorate it with green and purple if I wanted and not experience frowns. My husband and I could labor and save and have something we could call our own to retire in. We labor, Lord, but save? No. You'll have to be preparing for our retirement someday.
It's true we're better off materially now, Lord, than we have been, and I thank You for it. We've had our struggles. If I couldn't have gardened, canned and frozen, sewed, knitted, crocheted and made over, made do and graciously worn hand-me-downs we would still be below the poverty level. We have a fairly new car now, and I'm thankful it isn't giving us backtalk in repair bills. We find it just as difficult as others to tithe, but being consistent about it has shown us You do take care of Your own.
Lord, forgive me for being so selfish. You have given me so many joys as a pastor's wife. I forget too easily; I'm just human. Thank You for the friends we've made who have served with us in ministry. We have many around the globe now. And some in each pastorate re member us after we've gone. Let me not forget the inspirational peaks we've had in seeing someone come to You and in watching young people whom we taught years ago pursue a Christian career. There is joy, too, in being a friend in need, and in giving away a part of our selves through ministry, nursing, music, speaking, poetry, and living.
We have many gifts given to us by congregations, individuals, and groups that remind us of our association with them. Some gifts have helped us through hard times—a mysterious set of tires, fuel for the furnace, food, medicine, clothes, fabric. Lord, others who haven't had these experiences to teach them how You provide can never really understand. Thank You, Lord. You know it is in my heart, even though I forget to mention it.
And thank You for a listening ear, for caring, for letting me share with You. I'm simple enough to believe Your promise, "Let Me have all your worries and cares, for I am always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you" (see 1 Peter 5:7, T.L.B.).
Thank You, Lord.
Prayers from the parsonage
by Cherry Habenicht
I'm worried about my husband, Lord.
Dick is pushing himself too hard, not from ambition, but from a sense of all that waits to be done. Of course, I'm proud that he takes his responsibilities so seriously, but must he choose between the extremes of "wearing" or "rusting" out?
How long can he continue this demanding pace? He's up at 5:00 A.M. to pray and study in undisturbed quiet. After breakfast he's off to the church, calling as he leaves, "I won't be back for dinner, there's a committee at noon."
People's needs—counseling sessions, hospital visits, pastoral calls—fill his day. Interrupted by the telephone, intercepted by those whose business "will only take a minute," he sandwiches administrative details between appointments.
We may see him for an hour at supper before he hurries to a Bible study or meeting. Returning late, he ekes out a few minutes for reading and writing be fore he comes to bed exhausted.
Familiar with his amazing energy, I know he's really tired when he admits that he'd like to rest. He's losing weight (those skipped meals) and is unconsciously knitting his brow in tension. This morning I found him on his knees, his hands folded in prayer, but he was sound asleep.
What should I do? Keep silent, making sure our family provides a haven? Coax him to spend regular time at home? Block off a morning in his appointment book? Confront him with a desperate, "You can't go on like this!"?
"And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone" (Ex. 18:17, 18).
Father, make me wise in counsel like Jethro of old. I want to help, not hinder, Dick's ministry. May I approach him with loving concern rather than nagging complaint. Help us to plan a schedule that includes the most important duties without neglecting habits that promote health and satisfaction.
*Texts credited to T.L.B. are from The Living Bible, copyright 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, 111. Used by permission.