Shepherdess: Advantage in Adversity

Troubles and difficulties come to the pastor's family, as well as to others. What an opportunity to demonstrate to the congregation that all the pulpit words about bearing affliction can really prove true!

Alice Taylor is a pastor's wife and author. 

In this world of sickness and sorrow none is immune. When our members experience tragedy we try to understand, comfort, or do anything to help them maintain their faith in God. But have you ever tried consciously to put yourself in a member's place?

A number of years ago I broke my heel bone, and for three days I had to lie in bed, waiting/or the cast to harden. Recovery was quite a process first crutches and later walking with the cast. I shall never forget how the members of our church rallied! We were never without prepared food, and many helped in other necessary ways. Even the conference president's wife (our beloved Kay Dower) came every day for weeks to tidy our house and do what she could to help things run smoothly. The love and concern of our members allowed my husband to stay by for the workers' meeting he was attending (accidents always happen at the worst possible times, don't they?) and carried me through the time he was gone.

We need the love and support of our members. It gives us extra courage to know they care and are sending prayers to Heaven in our behalf. You will enjoy Alice Taylor's personal account of her feelings when church members responded during a time of real need in her life as a pastor's wife. —Marie Spangler.

Let no one suppose that the clergy man's family is freer from the vicissitudes of this life than any other family. In spite of all the jokes about it, the preacher has no hot wire communications with God, nor does he receive, or expect to receive, preferential treatment from the Almighty. He is subject to all the ills and anxieties that his flock have.

Although much of the sickness of this world is brought on by the misuse of one's body, or by ignoring the laws of science, nevertheless the accidents, the unearned sorrow, and the just plain hard experiences cannot be explained away.

We hear a great deal today about the relationship between sickness and sin. God, we are assured, wills for us health, or wholeness of body, mind, and soul. Even though the healing Christ said, "Thy faith hath made thee whole," still there can be danger when one man, be he clergyman, spiritual leader, or who ever, stands in judgment upon another. A fine young mother in our parish, a devout Christian, awoke one morning to find her child stricken with a mysterious incurable malady. She attended a meeting at which a clergyman spoke on spiritual healing. He convinced that earnest, loving mother that some guilt of hers brought on the child's illness. She became so depressed that she herself became emotionally ill.

What a negative approach that speaker had taken. Our concern should be not so much with why we are visited with affliction, but how we bear it.

"He is such a good person. Why did this happen to him?" Just because he is good in no way insures a man against hard times. The saint and the sinner are shown no discrimination. " 'He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust'" (Matt. 5:45, R.S.V.).

Knocks and bruises may be good for us. They may help to build character, changing our foundations from shale to rock. We know that the Lord does not "afflict willingly . . . the children of men," but we are aware, too, that these very afflictions may be used constructively. The other day, a close friend, returning home from the hospital, with a cast on her broken knee, said, "This is the first rest I have ever had in my life—I'm sure there was a purpose in this accident." As she said it, a radiance was upon her face that I had never seen there before.

A short time ago a young boy named Everett Knowles made medical history when his arm that had been completely severed by an accident was attached, and after many operations and ordeals had miraculously become a useful limb once again. His doctor, who noticed the wonderful change in his personality, has been quoted as saying, "Having his arm ripped off and put back on may be the best thing that ever happened to him." Whereas before he was listless and dull, he now has an interest in his future—a yen for education, and purpose in life. "Why, he's actually motivated," said a hospital therapist.

What a perfect chance for the clergy family to demonstrate to their congregation the Christian's behavior and bearing of sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity. The preacher can expound from the pulpit forever about the acceptance of affliction. Only the deed will prove his sincerity. The doctor unable to give up the habit of smoking admonishes his patient, with a twinkle in his eye, "Do as I say, but not as I do," knowing full well that he is unconvincing.

Illness is bound to visit the parson's house at some time or another. Just how the family reacts will have a great impact upon their congregation. What a golden opportunity to preach a living sermon.

Suffering from the intense pains of bursitis, my husband declared, in between "oohs" and "ahs," "Now I know I'll be more sympathetic to the fellow who's in pain. From now on, no one can ever tell me that pain isn't real."

One of the most memorable Sundays in my life came as I sat in my usual pew one Sunday morning, listening to the rector preaching one of his best sermons on prayer and God's healing power. He closed with this sentence, "And now I am going to ask each one of you to offer prayers for my good wife, who enters the hospital tomorrow for heart surgery."

At that moment I realized that there was no turning back. My confidence in the doctors and surgeons was absolute, and a blanket of calm spread over me as a Voice seemed to say, "I won't let you down."

But as I lay looking at the ceiling of that hospital room, the night before the operation, fear did indeed raise its ugly head. Once I had read in the newspaper about a young boy who was sent to the hospital the evening before a tonsillectomy. Late that night he found his clothes, dressed in the dark, and some how sneaked home without detection. I knew exactly how he felt as I glanced longingly at my clothes locker.

What is my faith? I thought. If it is just a code or a philosophy or a set of rules, it won't be of any help to me now when I most need it. I suddenly became aware of the nearness of God, and the companionship of Jesus Christ. By holding His hand, I knew that I could go through any ordeal, no matter how terrifying.

Cards were sent to every woman in the parish, stating the exact hour of the operation. They literally poured out their strength in my behalf. As a result, I became uplifted to heights that I had never known. I felt their love working through faith and prayer.

For the next three days, as life and death played nip and tuck, it would be dishonest to say that my hand remained tightly gripped to the hand of God. Frequently, that grip was broken, and I seemed to descend into Sheol (as the psalmist puts it), the dreary, dark place of nothingness. I know now that my faith was insufficient, and faltered. In spite of all this, He chose to spare me. I quote from a letter from my doctor: "Obviously, it was pleasing to the Lord that you should regain your state of well-being. He must have further work for you to do."

The will to live is a tremendous force in the world. We had a blacktop road in front of our rectory, and once in a while a few tender blades of grass pierced through that hard surface to reach for life, with power that seemed insurmountable.

After a long recuperation, we knew that life would be very different for this preacher's wife. No more would be the busy, active existence, when physical strength was not even questioned. It was to be a newer and perhaps a fuller life, quiet, calm, and meditative.

Energy in one's system can be compared to money in the bank. Checks are drawn on the account, according to the amount that is there. She who overdraws that account is in for trouble. First things must come first, and the little unnecessary, foolish expenses must be foregone.

As I offer daily thanks for the gift of life, I am mindful of the brave and saintly souls who have been far more courageous than I, and yet have lost the battle of life.

A fine couple moved into our community a few years ago. He had decided to retire early while there was yet time to enjoy life. His dream house had been on the drawing board for years, and now it was to become a reality. With only a minimum of professional help, he fashioned it with his own hands. The two of them entered into the life of the parish, endearing themselves to all who knew them.

One day as she and I were sewing she said, "Our house is almost completed now. One thing worries me—when there is nothing more to be done on it, I wonder what Walter will do with him self. He likes to be busy and he most surely will become restless."

Not long after that, a severe pain sent him to the hospital for tests and observation. Results? Diagnosis, cancer. Walter had said to the medical authorities, "Give it to me straight—how long will I live?" And he was told the somber facts. His wife, equally brave, donned her nurse's uniform that had been stored away for many years. Together for the next few months they faced their task, with controlled emotions, with never a thought of self-pity, and a resolute faith in God. As the inevitable death came, the entire congregation was inspired by a glorious acceptance.

In a case very similar, and in the same year, a man in the prime of his life heard the word leukemia from his doctor—the dread disease that is, as yet, incurable. This fine man, with the help of his devoted and devout wife, faced up to reality. He reviewed his worldly goods, and attempted to teach his wife the rudiments of his real-estate business in the remaining few weeks. She was constantly at his side, reading him the Psalms and other passages from the Bible, as his pains and fears intensified. When the end came, her spirit and resignation was a sermon to us all.

This sort of thing, of course, is being repeated all over the world. These two saintly women are only a sample. But when the day of crisis arrives for the minister's wife, she will find no better pattern than the one so carefully and prayerfully drawn by these two courageous souls.

Reprinted from How to Be a Minister's Wife and
Love it, by Alice Taylor. Copyright 1968 by Zondervan

Publishing House. Used by permission.


* From the Revised Standard Version of the
 Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952 1971, 1973.

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Alice Taylor is a pastor's wife and author. 

July 1983

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