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3 IMPORTANT BEHAVIORS OF A PASTOR’S WIFE

Today we welcome a fresh voice to the Converge Coaching blog… Jamie Hlavin. Jaime is a wife, mother, and a friend of mine. Hope you enjoy her contribution ~ John

When I was 15, I met a guy with perfectly straight teeth and a beautiful head of gorgeously styled hair.  We were young and we fell hard.  Much to my disappointment, he never let me run my fingers through his hair because he spent hours making sure every lock was perfectly shellacked into place with Rave hairspray.

While I was busy falling in love with him, God was orchestrating a plan that neither one of us was aware of until much later.

Over the course of the next 6 years, we dated and broke up. And dated and broke up. And dated and broke up.

During our longest break up, I had managed to make a pretty significant mess of my life.  I rededicated my life to Jesus and began healing from the aftermath of my poor decisions as God worked His redemptive processes in me. Then finally, after all the stops and starts (if your formative years were the 80s, you’re singing the Peter Cetera and Cher duet right now…and if you were a Christian child of the 80s, you shouldn’t know that song because it was a sin! I’m kidding), we finally got our respective acts together and started dating as actual, responsible adults.

Imagine my surprise as I realized that during our time apart the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with was on the path to becoming a pastor. I was not prepared for that, to say the least. But I had committed myself completely to Jesus and He wanted me to commit my life to this man—whatever that ended up looking like.

I know that’s probably really horrifying to some. Later in ministry, my peers would ask me when I knew I was called into ministry. I never had a definitive answer other than “when I said yes to the 23-year-old kid down on one knee holding a diamond ring toward me.” That drew some rather tight-lipped facial responses from other pastor’s wives. But, I wasn’t called into ministry the way others had been. I was called to be his wife. And that meant wholeheartedly walking this calling out with him.

I’ve seen so much written by or about the “pastor’s wife” that comes from a negative vantage point that laments how nobody truly understands what it’s like to be us. I don’t want to do that. So, I really want to navigate this carefully without seeming condescending or trivializing any hurts or tough situations each woman has been through. Your experiences are just that: yours. And no one understands them better than you.

But I do want to offer a little solidarity. Perhaps you’ve been doing this gig for as long as I have (almost 19 years)—or longer. Maybe you’re a newlywed or considering marrying a man who is going into ministry. It’s my hope that some of my mistakes and successes can help you navigate this journey and that you’ll see it as the honor and privilege that it truly is.

In my humble opinion, here are three important things to function in as a pastor’s wife:

Understand that there is no “typical” pastor’s wife

Over the course of these nearly two decades, I have heard this sentence countless times: “Well, I’m not your typical pastor’s wife.” At first I embraced this sentence out of what I now realize was my own insecurity due to the comparison trap I put myself into. Many of my mentors and peers fell into a very specific formulaic equation:

Get Called into Ministry on Thursday Night at Teen Church Camp + Attend Bible College and Meet the Man of Your Ministry Dreams + Marry Him = Pastor’s Wife

I didn’t fall into that equation at all. For a long time, I felt deficient and unworthy. But after several years in full time vocational ministry with my husband, I realized that there really isn’t a “typical pastor’s wife.” If there ever was, that was long ago. And times have changed.

I was delighted to discover that there were more women like me than I realized.  And there were so many others whose stories were even more “atypical” than mine! It was liberating! It was no longer a club that I didn’t fit into but rather a mosaic sisterhood that celebrated our differences; a network of friends willing to offer advice in areas that I felt I lacked wisdom and knowledge. I continue to glean from it and hope you do, too.

Cultivate realistic expectations

Some people are “glass half full” people. They are the optimists.

Others are “glass half empty” people. Of course, those are the pessimists.

Then there are the “everyone needs to stop waxing philosophical about that glass and just empty it, wash it, and put it away” people. Those are the realists.
In this Pinterest and Instagram world in which we live, it’s very easy to develop unrealistic expectations of what ministry/marriage/family looks like. Her kids look adorable every Sunday morning. Wow, look at their Women’s Ministry. Their church looks amazing. Her coffee and devotions are so perfect.
Stop. Delete the app off your phone.

It is crucial to have a realistic outlook. Ministry is a roller coaster: Sometimes it’s exciting and thrilling; sometimes it scares you to death; sometimes it makes you throw up; sometimes it’s that super slow “tick tick tick” to the top of the hill.  You love it and you hate it—sometimes within the same half hour.

Again, I think a good way to balance your expectations is to connect with that mosaic sisterhood that I mentioned in my first point.  We’ll be honest with you.

I’ll be honest with you. I love my church—it is filled with the most compassionate, kind, thoughtful Jesus-loving people I have ever had the privilege of serving alongside of. But this past Wednesday night, I wanted nothing more than to stay home from church and binge watch Netflix. (I didn’t…I went to church. And I’m glad I did.)

We’re in this for better or for worse

Sometimes, when the roller coaster makes us feel like we’re going to throw up, we dig our heels in and exclaim, “This is not what I signed up for!” This is especially true in situations where a ministry call comes well into an already established marriage. And I think sometimes we believe that no one else outside of vocational ministry goes through this type of pressure—where your husband’s job has so much control over your life.  And we feel really sorry for ourselves.  I’ve been guilty of this.

I’m currently being extremely humbled as I watch the story of a family at my church unfold. They are a family of 5. The couple is in their mid 30s. They have completely uprooted their family and moved from a warm, southern state to Michigan so he, a doctor, can work on his residency. She taught junior high school for over a decade but is now a stay-at-home mom of three young children in a city where she has no family and knows no one. She navigates a preschooler, a toddler and a baby through the church parking lot in the slushy snow by herself while her husband works long, unconventional hours at the hospital. She’s intentionally made new friends and found a place for herself and her family in an unfamiliar community and climate.  Sometimes she’s frazzled. But she’s always pleasant, friendly and positive—looking for ways to give back and minister to others. I asked her how she feels about this transition in her life. She said sweetly in her charming southern drawl, “When I said ‘I do,’ that meant I signed up for whatever the Lord had for us.” (Mic drop.)

So in this “for better or for worse” life of ministry, it’s crucial to be in constant communication with your husband about how you’re going to live out whatever the Lord has for you. Boundaries are vital. Talk about how you will handle situations before they ever happen. Set up guardrails for your life. If you’re frustrated because you feel like he’s spending more time at the church than with the family, have a conversation—not a tantrum.

In our house we have “rules” about how many nights a week we eat dinner as a family (that’ll be different for everyone depending on life stages). We also regularly go over our calendars together.  I know every appointment he has. He knows all of mine. When the calendar starts to get too full, we intentionally pick a day and literally write (that’s me…I’m old school…he taps it into his phone) the word “SOMETHING” as an all day event so that if someone wants to schedule something with us on that day, we can honestly say, “We have something on the calendar.”

Whatever this life looks like for you, your husband and your family, know that you’re not alone. I encourage you to connect on deep level with other ministry families, whether those you’re on staff with or in your community or denominational fellowship. (Our fellowship hosts and annual Women in Ministry Breakaway. It. Is. Amazing.) Find those connections and cultivate them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, my husband will be home from his board meeting soon and he’ll probably want me to run my fingers over his perfectly bald head (nearly two decades definitely changes some things. But we sure save a lot of money on hair product now).

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

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  • Sheree says:

    Beautifully said. An inspiration for any wife, even if not a Pastor’s wife. Thanks for sharing honestly from the heart.

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