The average pastor's wife moves every three to four years. How do you cope when you're the guest of honor at nearly every fare well party and waving goodbye depresses you?
When I indulge in childhood memories, family traditions come to mind. Leisurely Sunday dinners around a table with aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. Christmas Eve services in the Methodist church, after which we received huge bags of candy and fruit. Summer picnics, family reunions and visits to our grandparents' farm.
I was blessed by a large, caring family who became an integral part of my daily existence. Becoming an Adventist pastor's wife changed all that, as my husband and I joined the literal Advent movement. Two years in this district, four years in another and if we were extremely fortunate, five years in one district. Suddenly I found myself miles away from my parents, with no family rituals to speak of. Sabbath dinners frequently transpired in the homes of complete strangers or at church potlucks. My husband had several congregations to pastor, so my children didn't even have the pleasure of forming attachments to one Sabbath school class.
Sometimes I felt a void in my heart. For months or even a year I might hardly feel it. But then it would suddenly come and nearly overwhelm me. I was suffering from severed roots. It's not that I had a problem making friends or living the role of a pastor's wife. Many church members became as close as natural relatives. In fact, that's where some of the problem came in. I made such good friends and then became rooted in their lives, never wanting to leave them. I wanted life to take on a familiar pattern. I wanted one house with trees that would grow with my children. I wanted at least one best friend who would one day reminisce with me about all the things we did together.
I gazed in envy at my neighbors, whose husbands worked a nine-to-five job. As we drove off to evening visitation or prayer meetings, I would look out the car window and see them barbecuing in their yards or sitting on their porches. We never had time for that!
Others feel the same way
At first I believed the problem to be uniquely mine because of my non- Adventist upbringing. Somehow I thought that most Adventist workers didn't mind being born with a suit case in hand. But I had to be sure, so I phoned several pastors' wives. One young mother burst into tears.
"We live so far away from my parents," she lamented. "And my mother couldn't be with me when the baby was born. She was 2 months old before they could come and see us. My boy doesn't even know his own cousins! That hurts."
A career-minded mother felt the inconvenience in another way. "I find a job I like. My kids are happy with the church school. Then boom the conference rearranges the districts."
A third wife only commented, "It bothers me when I hear preachers' kids declaring that they will never marry a pastor."
History of God's people
It helped me when I realized that I wasn't alone and the problem isn't isolated with the clergy. On average, most Americans move every four years.
We can all take comfort in knowing we are playing an important role in earth's drama before the universe. Most of those who preceded us were nomads, travelers, or wanderers. Mrs. Noah's home became a floating ark. Abraham and Sarah lived as itinerants in a tent. Zipporah followed her husband around in the burning desert with an ungrateful bunch of rebels. David spent time hiding in a cave. And the Creator of the universe confessed that He didn't have a place to lay His head on. All these could truly sing with conviction: '"This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing thru.'"
In case you've been suffering from severed roots or moving blues, here are some ideas that have helped me and countless others.
1. Think positively. In my bouts of depression I do the glad game that Pollyanna made famous. Psychologists call it positive thinking. I count my blessings, listing all the positives. I can travel and see more of the world than my parents dreamed of visiting. Experiencing many cultures has broadened my horizons. I've been a part of many people's lives, helping make an eternal difference for them.
2. Accept your role. Paul wrote: "I have learned to be content what ever the circumstances" (Phil. 4:11, NIV). And "godliness with contentment is great gain" (1 Tim. 6:6, NIV). There is healing in acceptance of our situation. We can roll up our sleeves and say, "OK, this is the path that God in His wisdom has given me. I must thank Him and do the best I can."
Remember that helping others is a proven method of working out one's own problems. Somebody in every district needs you. So find those hurting persons and make them your mission. When you get ready to move on, you'll feel a sense of achievement.
3. Establish family traditions. In her book Journal of a Happy Woman, June Strong wrote that she and her family join hands and repeat the fourth commandment together each Friday evening as the sun sinks in the west. Afterward they enjoy a favorite soup and homemade bread. She knows this little tradition will never be forgotten.
Family night is an indispensable tradition. It may be the most important ritual that your children will remember. Select one evening each week to spend quality time together.
4. Adopt grandparents, aunts, and uncles. Maybe Grandma isn't a part of your children's everyday lives. They can't be with her long enough to love her as you do, but you can fill in gaps with a local elderly person who needs someone to love and care for them. Invite them over on a regular basis, especially for holidays.
Don't forget your own needs for a friend or a sister. Being the pastor's wife might make it difficult to form close friendships with church members, but God can give wisdom in choosing a friend.
5. Focus on the larger picture. You belong to a large family, one much bigger and better than the one you were born into. Your Father owns the whole world, and one day you'll be able to settle down and enjoy your inheritance. The next time you see a family picture, try to visualize the worldwide family of God with you right there too.
6. Be rooted in God's Word. The Bible can sustain you through any trial. Paul the apostle learned this in his own experience. From a lonely prison cell he wrote: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ" (Eph. 3:16-18, NIV).