When the pastor's wife rebels

Do pastors' wives ever rebel? The author says most do at some time during their pastoral pilgrimage. She identifies six causes for this rebellion and suggests how each may be handled.

Cathy McBride writes from Moultrie, Georgia.
Entering the empty house, she flings her worn Bible onto the unmade bed. With arms outstretched to God, but tense with rage, she cries out, "I'm sick of it all, God. I'm sick of this insane trap of being a minister's wife. If I force one more sweet smile or conjure up one more helpful, artificial word I'll scream. I want a normal life for a change, instead of one bursting with church demands. I'm sick of everything. And, God," she adds, her anger exploding like detonated dyna mite, "I'm even sick of You." Images suddenly flash into her mind of the woman down the street who got up as usual one morning, dressed, and strolled casually out of the lives of her husband and three children forever. She envies that woman. She wants that freedom. She wants to run. She's a minister's wife, and she's rebelling.

Rebellion. It somehow tastes of slap ping God in the face. Weak people rebel. People who are restless and immature. Their backbones, once strong with faith, appear to have collapsed into a sea of mush. We rarely even speak of such insurrection.

It's bad enough when someone else commits mutiny against God, but when it's the pastor's wife it is unforgivable. You can almost hear the church elders shouting, "Brand her with a scarlet R and display her in the town square for all to see!" It's equated with the pastor himself rebelling--possibly considered even worse. For isn't she supposed to be the spiritual rock of support for her hard working husband? When he comes home tired and exhausted from a self-sacrific ing day, shouldn't she provide him with a needed dose of faith along with his slippers and the evening paper? Never should she utter anything that would distress his work-worn spirit.

But it must be admitted that even though it may be only inwardly, most ministers' wives do rebel sometime dur ing their pastoral pilgrimage. And for them the guilt is often overwhelming. Paradoxically, their greatest danger is that this guilt will hinder their recovery from rebellion. But is this terrible, destructive guilt really necessary? Is the rebellion ministers' wives experience really an unpardonable sin? Fortunately, when God judges insubordination He sees more than the outward storm of words or unprecedented acts. His vision penetrates inward, piercing through the foggy atmosphere of our pain and discov ering the real wound. If our truest wish is to be God's woman, He realizes this--regardless of our inability to harmonize our thoughts and actions with this wish. Our purpose should be the same as God's--to uncover the real reason behind the defiance. This proper focus will enable us to see that God's grace is also for the rebellious.

There are at least two distinct types of rebels. One type's reason for mutiny against God is concise and clear. Such a person wants to be free to revel in some earthly wickedness, to experience a little carnal excitement. In contrast, a pastor's wife would probably feel her reasons for abandoning God are unclear. She might be heard to admit, "I just feel so confused and frustrated. 1 don't know what's happening to me." Precisely. Peel off the outer layers of rebellion, and you'll very often find frustration, inflamed and tormenting. If we place rebellion and frustration under the microscope, we can more clearly determine their causes. And seeing the causes, we can find the cures.

Causes of rebellion

The causes of rebellion and frustration range from the simple, easily alleviated to the complex and deeply entrenched. Six common causes are fatigue, bore dom, overbooking, self-imposed guilt, anger, and a false concept of God. When we examine these, hope blossoms forth like a rose in a winter snowstorm unexpected, yet refreshingly beautiful.

One simple but often ignored cause of rebellion is fatigue. (Remember poor Elijah?) Physical exhaustion almost always paints reality a distorted color. If thoughts of rebellion are tempting you because you're simply worn out, you're in luck! The prescription is a long, lush day and night of self-indulgence! Pamper yourself! Spend an evening meditating, listen to some relaxing music, take a hot bath, and get a good night's rest. Think only of soaking and soothing your overstretched body and soul. You might even consider a good cry to release some of the pent-up tension. These simple remedies may be all it takes to free you from rebellion's grip. Feel guilty if you don't take advantage of them!

Boredom has much the same effect. Each of us receives her share of the routine; we must add to it the spices of excitement and variety. Otherwise, life becomes as stale and humdrum as a week-old biscuit. Determine to do some thing a little bold, or at least something you've never done before. Take cross country skiing or Chinese cooking les sons; register for a class in interpretive poetry. Even going shopping or dining at an unusual ethnic restaurant with your husband or a friend can be enough to break the depressing spell of the mun dane.

"As you suggested, we assigned you to nineteen of the twenty church commit tees for the coming year. And, oh yes, Mrs. Harris can't lead the women's Bible study tonight. I told her I was sure you wouldn't mind taking over. Since you're the pastor's wife, I know it won't take any time at all for you to whip up an exciting study on the book of Leviticus. You are always so eager to accept new challenges. And, oh, a couple more things ..." When we allow ourselves to be overbooked we roll out the red carpet for frustration and rebellion, and they walk right in. Let's face it, we have not yet been translated and still possess a few human limitations. Among them is the inability to perform the impossible--even though we often make a valiant effort! If we continue an artificial love affair with unrealistic or unwanted responsibilities, we become frustrated, then angry, and finally rebellious. We must ask ourselves the questions "Why can't I admit my imperfections? Why am I trying so hard to please others and secure their respect? Could it be I feel God does not accept me until I perform perfectly?" Rest in God's unconditional love, then resign from eighteen of those nineteen committees, and choose a few duties that you can be most creative with. Now is not the time to cling to the martyr syndrome--or you'll end up a rebellious heroine!

Self-imposed guilt

We may also use rebellion to free ourselves from self-imposed guilt. Perhaps a congregation has certain expectations of the minister's wife. "Mrs. Terrific, our last pastor's wife, was so socially minded. Why, she single-handedly organized the town's food bank." Or, just as agonizing, Mrs. Terrific may have been stuffy and proper while you are innovative and open-minded. Either way, you feel you are being stretched and twisted to fit into her abandoned skin--her old wine-skins--but it is definitely not what God has asked you to be. If you assume Mrs. Terrific's hand-me-down personality, you will feel miserable and frustrated, but if you do not take on the role you feel extremely guilty. You fear disappointing your new congregation or hindering your husband's success in the church. How do you reach a compromise? Too often, to escape the badgering of the destructive guilt feelings, you may outwardly con form to the role while inwardly rebelling. You relish the captivating idea of send ing the gifted Mrs. Terrific on a one-way trip to Mars! Instead, politely (practice your most angelic smile in the mirror before you go) tell everyone, including your husband, that although you're not Mrs. Terrific, you'll be happy to serve the church with your own uniqueness. (Who knows? Our dear Mrs. Terrific may have been inwardly rebellious herself!)

If unconfronted, anger can cause defiant feelings to multiply like hyperac tive rabbits. We often find it hard to confess our hostility and even harder to give it up. So strong is the desire to continue embracing our anger that we often subconsciously repress God's voice rather than confront our resentment.

We should never be afraid to admit anger. We should be afraid not to. Force yourself to face your negative emotions, get them under control, and then zero in on their real cause. But keep in mind that the well of hostility is often deeper than the first trip down indicates. The true reason for your anger is usually not the surface reason. For instance, you may think you're upset with your husband because he's been home only fifteen minutes in the past five years (reason enough!), but your real concern may be that your own creative energies are stifled. You feel cheated and envious when you see him so engrossed and stimulated. Take responsibility for your anger. No one makes you angry; you allow yourself to become angry. Clothing your frustration with restraint and then voic ing it to significant others is God's plan for dealing with anger. It will bring healing to yourself, your relationship with God, and your relationship with those you have ceased to love.

"This is my tenth chocolate-chip cookie, and they're supposed to be for tonight's church social. God must think I'm a fat slob. He'll punish me for sure. Oh, well, if He's already mad, I might as well have one more. What's the use of trying?" A faulty concept of God affects our personality and emotional health more than we imagine. If we view God as critical and demanding, we may rebel much as an adolescent rebels against an unfair parent. To release ourselves from this "monster god" we have created may take some time, but it is necessary if we are to be whole, healthy Christians. Begin by devouring a variety of positive literature on God's personality. Romans, the Gospel of John, and the Psalms are excellent starting places. These along with such Christian classics as The Singer, by Calvin Miller, and Basic Christianity, by John Stott, enable us to paint an image of a vibrant God, pulsating with warmth, creativity, and flexibility. .Don't be concerned if others envision God differently. Remember that God is God. He is really beyond personality as we know it and therefore always "adjusting" according to what His creatures need. If your concept of God works for you, is Biblical, and is Christcentered, then it is appropriate. Cling to it, drawing strength from its encouraging image.

Much pain lies buried under the mask of rebellion. Encountering it does not make us weak or worthless or unaccept able to God. It does make us frustrated, confused, and in need of help. Indeed, rebellion is a serious matter. But, when confronted, it can become a challenging adventure brimming with growth and self-discovery.

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Cathy McBride writes from Moultrie, Georgia.

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