It was one week before commencement. I already had my teaching appointment to a two-teacher country school 500 miles away. And in two years I would marry a ministerial graduate.
The division president was addressing the future teachers. "Teaching is not just a job," he said. "It's not just a way to fill in the time before you get married, either, girls. It is a special ministry to which you are called to dedicate yourself."
The speech left me uneasy. Wasn't I planning to do just what he said that I shouldn't do—teach for two years and then quit to get married? I was sure I was going to be a dedicated teacher. But was I doing the right thing—taking it on for just two years, then intending to quit?
After two dedicated and hardworking years of teaching, I felt exhausted. Personally, I was emerging from a broken engagement that shattered my little world. Professionally, I needed additional training to cope with the extended responsibilities of my job.
I resigned my job to take the further training. The second year of that study period was almost "wasted" in mere recuperative sleep and dropped subjects. Then a cousin challenged me to take up nursing. But was I not called to teaching?
I was not sure, but one thing I was sure of was that I needed a break. So I took up nursing as a much-needed and useful holiday from teaching.
Called for what?
Nursing gave me a new lease of life and time to gain an insightful perspective on what I am called to do. A realization that persists even to this day suddenly dawned on me. No, I am not called to dedicate my life to teaching—or nursing, for that matter. I am called to dedicate my life to God and to whatever He calls me to do. I am called to do the work that lies nearest unless given special indication otherwise. His word to me is "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Eccl. 9:10).
Now I am a minister's wife of 15 years' experience and mother of two boys aged 10 and 13. My husband's pastoral work has included being the shepherd of one or two churches and/or working on an evangelistic team. But no, I have not thereby automatically become the local shepherdess.
Yes, I preach a sermon occasionally; of ten teach the Sabbath school lesson; fill in for absent children's Sabbath school teachers; accompany my husband on Bible studies and pastoral visits; at times lecture and demonstrate in nutrition/cooking schools and Five-Day Plans; try to make sure no one at church leaves for home not spoken to or without provision for Sabbath lunch; take my turn on the church cleaning roster and the organ; pray for the individual church members and community members in our sphere of influence and/or knowledge; try to answer the telephone and the front door in a caring Christian manner; endeavor to provide a home atmosphere conducive to supporting my husband and nurturing my children spiritually, mentally, socially, and physically; and try to cater to the special needs of callers and guests.
But doing all these doesn't make me a shepherdess. After all, shouldn't every Christian woman do what she can to help nurture those in her sphere of influence in a spiritual way, and use her other talents in areas of specificability?
I have to admit that as a minister's wife I have a special talent that wives of men of other callings do not have: the talent of influence as a minister's wife. I have not asked for it, but it's mine because of the man I married. Because of this, people's expectations of me are usually higher than of others, whether justified or not. Because of this I am asked to help in ways that other women equally qualified may not be. And I am grateful that I can ask God to use this special aspect of my influence to help someone.
However, by virtue of marriage I am no more the shepherdess than a doctor's wife is a doctoress, or a plumber's wife a plumberess. I believe that church-elected elders, deacons, and deaconesses are the official shepherding colleagues of my shepherd-husband in the shepherding ministry. And I am not always elected as deaconess.
Called to be responsible
I believe all members have the responsibility of contributing toward this nurturing/shepherding ministry, whether or not they are specialist shepherds or shepherdesses. No doubt the effectiveness of their roles will be influenced by their social situation.
When I became a nurse, 1 discovered that people had vastly different expectations of me in spiritual and church responsibilities than when I was a teacher. When I married a seminary student, people's expectations of me again changed. Yet I have been the same person.
Such expectations, though often unjustified, have provided me with unique opportunities for sharing. Should I resent these expectations, my opportunities might be lost. So I try to prioritize such opportunities and turn them into privileges of witness and ministry. I do this not because of some unique talent or office placed upon me by marriage to a minister, but because as a Christian I sense an urge of my own responsibility to those around.
I believe I am called to serve God in my present sphere of influence; and to day it is as a shepherd's wife, as the mother of our children, and as a member of our local church and community. It is my privilege and opportunity to support my husband as he shepherds his various flocks. But no, I am not a shepherdess.