Pastors' wives lead a great life...

... if they can establish their personal identity while serving the Lord.

Wilma Kirk-Lee, of Little Rock, Arkansas, is chairwoman of the Behavioral Sciences Department of Shorter College and cohost of the weekly telecast Table Talk.

It's hard to believe that more than a quarter century has passed since I be came a pastor's wife. It's really been a great life, despite a few difficulties along the way.

The role of a pastor's wife has experienced quite a metamorphosis in my time. Today' s economic, social, and educational environment challenges her every day. The commitment required is not just to her husband, but to a conference and a congregation whose expectations are so high and sometimes so unrealistic that seeking to cope is difficult— in fact, seemingly impossible. The responsibility for developing one's unique talents is often stretched to the limit when each element of life clamors for its due.

Back when I was a new pastor's wife, I was uncertain about what my role should be. Everyone had suggestions. The conference said to do whatever my husband needed to be successful. Church members said do whatever we tell you to do. Family and friends had their input as well. I really wasn't certain who and what I was. Without a clear concept of my gifts, I didn't know what my ministry was. One thing I did know—I didn't fit the stereotype of the quiet, plainly dressed, subservient wife.

The situation today can be even more confusing and demanding for a pastor's wife than it was 25 years ago. For one thing, a pastor's salary used to cover the basic cost of living. With prayerful planning I could remain home and be the consummate hostess, housewife, and parent, even though we did not always drive the latest car, have the newest clothes, or take glamorous vacations. And it was a privilege to remain with my children until the youngest began school. Today, a young woman marrying a pastor realizes that a second income may be a necessity. Two paychecks are necessary to maintain solvency and provide the children with a Christian education.

Besides that, many a pastor's wife has completed an education and feels called to develop the career she trained for. This is actually a matter of Christian stewardship. It would be inappropriate and wasteful not to use the education acquired through the investment of time and money.

Maintaining dual careers in a pastoral family is challenging yet possible. It requires attention to the needs of both spouses. As pastor and wife work out how they will effectively minister, out side parties may not be happy with their decision. The congregation and the conference usually have traditional expectations that they are not of a mind-set to renegotiate for the individual needs and differences of pastoral couples. For ex ample, the conference may expect the wife of a pastor to move at a moment's notice. Some administrators presuppose that she is a silent partner who can be ordered about without benefit of hearing her input. Her needs tend to go unrecognized and unfulfilled. Her personal identity is ignored.

Need for a personal identity

I believe a pastor's wife has a basic spiritual responsibility to establish a personal identity. I find no exemption in Scripture given to the pastor's wife for not developing the gifts God entrusted to her. Rather, the admonishment is "What soever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might" (Eccl. 9:10). The apostle Paul states: "We possess this precious treasure [the divine Light of the Gospel] in [frail, human] vessels of earth, that the grandeur and exceeding greatness of the power may be shown to be of God and not from ourselves" (2 Cor. 4:7, Amplified).* Mining this treasure that God entrusted to us involves becoming all we can possibly be.

Ellen White states: "You should also have an aim, a purpose, in life. . . . Talents are entrusted to your care, to be doubled. You are responsible for their proper use or their abuse. . . . Improve your talents, even though they are few, and let a sense of your responsibility to God for their right use rest upon you."'

Evidently, a pastor's wife is fulfilling an obligation to God in knowing who she is and what He wants to accomplish through her life. For her own sake she also needs to establish a personal identity—and her husband will benefit as well. The pastoral marriage is strengthened and enhanced when the pastor lives not with his clone, but with an interesting, dynamic person who has a life and purpose of her own.

Children of a pastoral family are also blessed when their mother has found her personal identity. She models by her example that life is not defined by the parsonage fishbowl. Children also realize that their own lives are not summed up in who their father is or what he does. Their mother helps establish this through her joy in who she is and what she does. Her children develop as individuals even as she is growing as an individual in the Lord.

Problems arise when others mandate what the gifts of the pastor's wife should be. The depth of her relationship with the Lord determines how secure she is in safeguarding her identity. It also deter mines how she chooses to share her unique gifts, leaving her free to say no when something is not within her area of ministry.

Finding a personal identity

How does a pastor's wife establish her own identity? The simplest way is to develop at least one facet of life unique and special to her. It might be an educational pursuit, perhaps that degree, certification, or advanced training she has always longed for. Perhaps it's vocational—a promotion or a project that she's been longing to tackle. And then there's always a hobby, what people think of when they say, "When I get the time, I'm going to . . ."

When I was a full-time homemaker, I used my hobby, crocheting, as a personal identity developer. I was fortunate to have a mother-in-law who, during a summer evangelistic crusade, taught me to crochet, in the evenings after the meetings. It was calming, even therapeutic, to see something develop right before my eyes. I learned to create afghans and shawls that were unique in their color coordinations and patterns. Friends still tell me how much they appreciate and treasure my personal creation for them.

Beyond pursuing my hobby, I developed my personal identity in advancing my faculties through education. I felt propelled to acquire both an undergraduate and graduate degree in social work. This involved work and sacrifice, yet I found joy in both the journey and the arrival at my destination.

Blessings of a personal identity

In broadening my personal identity through education, I've had opportunities for interaction with individuals that I never dreamed would be possible—for example, the semester I spent working as an intern in the district office of a California state senator. Beyond every thing else, I feel I've been a "good and faithful servant" in developing the talents that the Lord gave me.

My sense of contentment derived from reaching personal goals is immeasurable. I realize there are some areas where complete accomplishment is not possible because of being a pastor's wife. Thus it is important that those goals that can be accomplished are attained, to smooth the way when other goals are thwarted.

The comfort of having a personal identity has helped me see the rainbow in the mundane experiences of parson age life. The constant tension of "being on call" has been relieved in having a relationship with the Lord and an identity that isn't wrapped up in being a clone of my husband.

A unique, intimate relationship with the Lord has been the most wonderful benefit of establishing my own identity. I have seen Him work in so many ways in my life. He has performed so many miracles for me that I often stop and praise Him for His goodness, and simply because I am His child. He has comforted me, strengthened me, chastened me, exhorted me; He is my Friend. I have claimed this text as my personal promise: "Now to Him Who, by (in consequence of) the [action of His] power that is at work within us, is able to [carry out His purpose and] do super abundantly, far over and above all that we [dare] ask or think—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes, or dreams—to Him be glory" (Eph. 3:20, 21, Amplified). I have appropriated this promise in strengthening my relation ship with the Lord as well as in establishing my personal identity. I shudder to think what I would have missed other wise.

A wonderful life!

Some of what I've shared could possibly make the experience of being a pastor's wife appear tedious. This is not my perception of how my life has been for the past quarter of a century. The years have brought incredible growth and privileges. For example, moving around hasn't been easy, but when I consider the advantages gained, I am amazed. I've lived in the northeast, south, west, and southwest sections of the United States. I have traversed the country by land and air, even traveling over seas. When hearing of certain places through the media or in conversation, I remember my experiences and relation ships with people there who are now my friends.

Regarding my experience with the congregations my husband has led, an important element of my life has been my own ministry to those churches. Yet I believe a pastor's wife should do what ever she does, not because someone requires it, but because she loves the Lord and loves her husband. In this context, I have received great delight in sharing with the churches my God-given talents.

There were times through the years when I was weak emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But my overall experience has brought me contentment, joy, and even delight. God has given me His love and a personal identity, a husband and children, plus friends and a church family. Yes, mine has truly been a great life.

* Texts credited to Amplified are from The
Amplified Bible. Copyright © 1965 by The
Lochman Foundation. Used by permission of
Zondervan Pub. House, Grand Rapids, MI. 49506.

1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church
(Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn.,
1948), vol. 2, p. 429.

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Wilma Kirk-Lee, of Little Rock, Arkansas, is chairwoman of the Behavioral Sciences Department of Shorter College and cohost of the weekly telecast Table Talk.

September 1993

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