Pilgrimess' Progress

There is certainly no room for stagnation in the life of a minister's wife. But there can be many detours on her path. Sally Streib examines some of the sidetracks and leads us to God's track.

Sally Streib is married to a pastor and is president of the Oklahoma Conference Shepherdess Organization.

Sally Streib skillfully introduces us to several ministers' wives. As her guide takes her down the path marked "Minister's Wife" she meets Wanda Wonder Woman, Joanie Juggler, Cora Cop-out, Frances Fake It, Nora Natural, and Mildred Most-of-Us. Will you agree with her conclusions? I do and hope you will too.—Marie Spangler.

Warm evening breezes whispered by and the moon cast her silver light on the trees and hills, forming patterns that on any other night would have lured my attention. But not on this night. Myriads of thoughts tumbled one over the other in my mind as they tangled themselves up into ridiculous patterns.

The conversations at the meeting I'd just left kept swirling around inside me. "My husband just accepted a call to the Oklahoma Conference," I remembered saying. "That's terrific!" someone said. "You're no longer a prospective; you're a bona fide minister's wife." The questions and comments flew fast. Each of us seemed- to be wondering just what it would be like.

When I arrived home I was greeted by a note under the edge of a book: "How was your meeting, honey? I ran over to see Bill about some Greek notes. Be back soon. Love, your minister husband (ha!), Bob."

Wow! I thought. Your minister husband! How could one word conjure up so many mental pictures, expectations, and questions? I prepared for bed and was soon snuggling down under the covers. Questions found me even in my sanctuary. "Don't worry, you will cope. You will survive," our speaker had said. "But I don't want to just cope. I want more than survival," I'd blurted out.

My thoughts continued to churn. I thought about all the minister's wives I'd known. I seemed to see a familiar path. In the distance the path forked. I saw that my direction of travel was to change. Soon I stood looking at the new pathway ahead of me. It was marked "Minister's Wife."

"Hello there," a voice said. "You look a bit unsure. May I help you?" The face that belonged to the voice smiled.

"Thank you," I answered, "I guess I could use a little help. It's just that the pathway I've been walking along has been pleasant and I don't know just what to expect on this new road."

"Come," he said. "There are some things I would like to show you that might help."

We'd not gone far when I noticed a lady who was deeply involved in several very large projects. Nothing seemed to distract her.

"Who is this?" I asked.

"This is a type of minister's wife, or should I say, it is a way to cope with the role. Just watch her. You will notice something."

I did. I thought it was great. Didn't it prove right off that one could meet the demands of this role even though they were complicated at times? The lady seemed so organized and able.

"This is great!" I said. I turned to see if he agreed.

"Yes, it is, but—"

"But what?" I interrupted.

"There could be a problem," he suggested.

A problem? I wondered. Then I began to notice something. Wanda Wonder Woman, as my guide called her, did seem to be so involved in doings things that she was too busy for the people in her life. I started to ask my guide if achieving could become a security blanket under which I might be tempted to hide from the people in my life, but he had already gone on.

Down the path a ways he pointed to Joanie Juggler in the midst of a group of women. She was even busier than Wanda, but in a different way. She had so many varied interests that she seemed to be in over her head. She gazed glassy-eyed through a tangled maze of activities and forced a smile. She seemed to be trying to hang on to a vast number of things. I wondered if she hoped that none of her worlds would ever find out that it was not number one.

"But she seems to be juggling every thing so well," I said. I knew my voice sounded defensive.

"That's true, now," my guide said. "But what about later, when she meets up with some unexpected problem? She could end up seated amid her smashed baubles, stunned, wondering what went wrong."

"I suppose you're right," I said. We walked on.

"There's someone I want you to talk with." He led me to a cheerful-looking woman. "This is Cora."

I asked Cora how she liked her role, but she kept talking about this and that, never mentioning anything about her life as a minister's wife.

"How do you like being a minister's wife?" I finally interjected.

"Oh, that," she laughed. "I don't worry about it much."

"No. You see, I'm just not cut out for it. I didn't ask for this role anyway. My husband is the minister. That's his business. But I'm not letting anyone hang expectations around my neck."

"I know your name for her," I said to my guide as we walked down the path. "Cora Cop-out."

"You're right," he said. "Cora represents those who spend their time bricking up walls against possibilities for learning, change, growth, and sharing.

Sometimes they resent their role, or sometimes they are just afraid to get involved." Soon I saw another minister's wife with the name Frances Fake It on her arm. She seemed to say all the right things and smile at all the right times. She showed up for Ingathering and work bees and took several church offices.

But closer examination revealed an aura of artificiality about Frances. I felt an uncertainty as to where her heart really was.

"I wonder how long a person can keep up a front, never being herself."

"Some can last longer than others," my guide replied. "Just how long Frances keeps going depends upon how good she is at doing and saying all the things she isn't feeling or really being. Of course, there is little joy in this approach because real joy comes from facing life on an honest basis, success and failure, joy and pain alike.

"On the other hand," my guide said, "there is Nora Natural." He pointed toward a minister's wife who was talking with a group. She seemed so relaxed. Nora Natural, I thought. What could be wrong with that? If one is to avoid being artificial and seek to be the real person God wants her to be, then to be natural, that's the answer. My guide noticed the perplexity on my face and laughed.

"Just watch awhile and you will notice something."

I watched Nora as she mixed with people. She did seem to be her real self. I heard her say that what she wanted most was to face her role as a minister's wife with unvarnished honesty. Perhaps this is why she acted out her feelings so much. When she felt down, she acted down. When she disagreed, she let people know it. "Let it all hang out" seemed to be her motto.

"You won't see her poring over manuals for the minister's wife," my guide said.

"I think her problem could be that she is afraid to try something new, or experience growth," I said. "That's true. What goal should you really have?"

"I suppose my goal shouldn't be to become my natural self so much as to become like Him."

"And," he added, "couldn't that include retaining your individuality even though you are seeking to become like Him?"

"But how?" I began.

"You haven't met Mildred yet. This is Mildred Most-of-Us," he said.

"Hello," Mildred said. She wore a friendly smile. "Join the ranks. I see that you have been searching for answers. Most of us are. We don't want to play games, become superstars put together with Super Glue, wear masks, or run away from our role. Most of us honestly desire to follow God's plan and become His very real women. And there is help for all of us!"

"That's a relief," I said. "I want more than merely survival. I don't want to try to juggle a thousand demands. I can't envision wearing a mask or trying to please everyone."

"Then you are like most us," she said. "Most ministers' wives at some time or another have struggled to find ways to enjoy their role, to be themselves, and to meet the challenges. Did the guide give you the plan?"

"No, he didn't," I said. "Is there one ? I didn't think there was any pat answer."

"Oh, there is no pat answer, as you say, but there is an answer. ..."

A bright light blinked on. "Hi, you still awake?" my husband's voice said.

"I think so. I've been thinking about all kinds of ministers' wives. I wonder how I'll behave. There are a lot of different ways to cope with this thing, you know."

"Well, you could start just by being yourself, couldn't you?" He looked suddenly worried.

"Of course, but . . . there must be some answers to help new ministers' wives sort out their questions about their role."

"I'm sure there are," he said. "You'll find them." The light blinked out.

Over the years of our internship questions about the ideal way to adjust to the role of the minister's wife popped up everywhere. I found answers in some unexpected places. One place was in nature.

In nature each creature and plant serves in a unique way. A beaver's teeth, constructed for gnawing bark, are useless in picking seeds from a sunflower. A duck's webbed feet allow it maximum paddling power, but on land prove burdensome. Have you ever seen a duck run?

While no one expects a beaver to be dainty or a duck to win a marathon, they often expect the minister's wife to perform a ridiculous gamut of tasks. You may find yourself alternating between an honest desire to fill all the supposed facets of the role and a feeling of utter exhaustion. You finally come to realize that there must be some sensible balance, some plan.

God does have a plan. He institutes it by bestowing spiritual gifts on His children. There are a few facts about spiritual gifts that you should know. Knowing them will make all the differ ence in the way you approach your role.

1. What is a spiritual gift? Ellen White wrote that the gifts of the Spirit include "all gifts and endowments, whether original or acquired, natural or spiritual. All are to be employed in Christ's service."—Christ's Object Lessons, p. 328. We receive many natural talents and gifts at birth. However, special spiritual gifts are given to us as members of the body of Christ.

2. Is a spiritual gift the same as a talent? Not necessarily. We are all born with talents, such as the ability to sing or act, that can be used in either spiritual or secular pursuits. A spiritual gift is given by the Holy Spirit specifically for the purpose of building up the church, the individual, and the ministry. It may be related to a natural talent, but also may be a brand-new ability that God gives to meet a specific need.

3. Who has spiritual gifts? First Peter 4:10 states, "As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another" (N.A.S.B.). First Corinthians 7:7 tells us that each has his own gifts. And 1 Corinthians 12:7 says, "But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (N.A.S.B.).

4. Is a spiritual gift the same as the fruit of the Spirit? No. The fruit of the Spirit in the life is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, et cetera (Gal. 5:22, 23). These are the results of the Holy Spirit's work in the Christian's life. They are character attributes. A spiritual gift, on the other hand, is the ability to minister in a specific way.

5. Does the Bible give any idea as to what some of these gifts are? Look at Romans 12:4-8, 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, and Ephesians 4:11 for partial lists of the gifts. They include pastoral abilities, teaching, evangelism, knowledge, wisdom, faith, healing, prophecy, understanding languages, mercy, and hospitality. There are many more. Each is different, for different use but from the same Holy Spirit.

6. What is the purpose of the gifts? Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us that they are given to the saints to build up the body, for growth of the church, and to equip us for a work of ministry that will lead people to Christ.

7. What determines which gift a believer will receive? The Holy Spirit chooses how to use us and gives according to different needs of the church and of the believer. However, it is not wrong to desire or pray for certain gifts.

8. How can I find out what gifts are mine to use? This will take some effort, time, and prayer. It is good to experiment with different areas, to counsel with others. If someone else can observe a gift in your life, this can help you recognize it. Involve yourself in the needs of others. Study books written on this subject. You will find great joy as you learn to recognize your God-given abilities and begin to formulate ways of using them to God's glory.

9. How do spiritual gifts help solve problems for a minister's wife? Knowing and developing your spiritual gifts enables you to take your place in God's plan for a totally balanced and healthy church. The church needs teachers, preachers, comforters, evangelists, and so on. The minister's wife fills her place. She can also act as an equipper for others, sharing what she has learned. Let me illustrate by sharing an experience that helped me.

We had received the responsibility for a new church, and were looking forward to ministering there. I wondered, though, what expectations these people would have of me. The first Sabbath brought the inevitable question "Can you sing?" When I answered that I only make a joyful noise, I noted the disappointment in certain eyes and also the unspoken question Well, what can you do? I answered with my speech about each minister's wife having different abilities and that everyone makes music with their life in a different way.

The next Sabbath I gave my usual children's story just before the sermon. Pointing the children's minds toward the lovely Saviour through stories is one of the gifts I believe God has given to me. After the service as I stood at the door with my husband to meet the people, a very excited man came up to me. He said something that was a blessing to me and reaffirmed my belief that a spiritual gift will bless others and be recognized by them.

"Now I see, now I see," he said. "I see how you make music with your life."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Didn't you see how you had every person's attention riveted on your story? Drawing all of our hearts closer to God, that's music."

Recognizing your spiritual gifts frees you from guilt for not participating in every facet of the church. You can learn to focus on your own area. It is not a cop-out that keeps you from temporarily filling roles in time of need; indeed, it keeps your life direction focused in the proper area without fragmentation, exhaustion, and futility.

The fact is that no one can really fill all the roles and perform all the needed functions. And God never intended anyone to try to. God's intent is like that displayed in the balance of nature—each part functioning in its own unique way for the good of all. There is no need to develop coping mechanisms like Cora Cop-out, Nora Natural, Joanie Juggler, or Frances Fake It. No need to determine with a stiff upper lip to be a wonder woman. The only real need is to yield the complete self to Christ to be used by Him in the unique way He plans for the betterment of His church. This, I believe, is God's plan. Cora Rever wrote:

"The world is our cathedral.

        We are each a chime

That joins to make life's musical

        A symphony sublime."

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Sally Streib is married to a pastor and is president of the Oklahoma Conference Shepherdess Organization.

April 1985

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