Often, there is pressure to live up to the expectations others have of what a pastor’s wife should be. Learning to be vulnerable is at times, a scary thing to do. But learning to model appropriate vulnerability as a lifestyle can bring so much freedom, both for the pastor’s wife and for those watching her.
I am well acquainted with anxiety. It is part of the fabric from which I am woven. In God’s mercy, anxiety has taught me much about vulnerability. At times, my anxiety is mental torture. Other times it is just annoying; lurking. There are moments of great relief, and there are seasons of manageable struggle. It ebbs and flows with no real rhythm. I know not when it will come or when it will go.
In the early years of my faith, I went through a season of great doubt, questioning whether or not I was actually one of God’s children. I felt shame about this and wrestled through it alone. In spite of Jesus’ command to not be anxious, I was anxious. I wrestled with the questions of, is God who he says he is? Am I truly his child? If I have the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead, why can’t I seem to overcome my anxiety? Why did God make me this way?
In the early years as a pastor’s wife, I found that I was seeking a formula to manage my anxiety. If I prayed enough, fasted enough, memorized enough scripture, asked people to pray with me, over me, for me, then the elusive “peace that passes understanding” would be mine. But it never came. I lived with a guarded willingness to admit my discouragement and struggle. In my pride, I felt like it was a poor reflection on me. Anxiety continued to march on.
In 2009, we moved to plant The Town Church in Fort Collins, Colorado, a city where we did not know a soul. Six months after we moved, our infant son, Solomon, began having seizures and was quickly diagnosed with a rare and severe seizure disorder—and we were alone. As I look back at this season, God kept my anxiety at bay. While the stresses of life were high, my anxiety remained low.
Over the next several years our son continued to struggle. His diagnosis was grim. If he survived, he had a 90% chance of being disabled. This coupled with the stresses of planting a church and the loss of ministry partners/friends that we thought would be lifelong, led me down a road of deep depression and continued anxiety. My anxiety became all encompassing. I was being crushed, yet I held it in.
For a season, I struggled in silence. In pride, I wanted to live up to my self-imposed expectations of being a pastor’s wife. I wanted to be an example. I was trying to present myself as one of great faith, steadfast in trials, trusting Jesus. But in my heart, I was angry with God, angry about my son’s illness. I felt abandoned by the God who did this. I was wrestling deeply with my faith. My anxiety was crushing me. The hypocrisy with which I was living began to weigh heavily on me.
I went to church for months awkwardly crying my way through the service. I could no longer carry the weight of it all, and my self-built wall of protection was crumbling. Beginning to let my guard down, I allowed others into my struggle not just with anxiety, but with my doubt and the anger I felt toward God. My faith felt wrecked, weak and worthless, but God, who is rich in mercy, held me fast. I began to learn that being weak and vulnerable with the body brought freedom and healing. There was no pretense. I learned that it’s okay not being okay. My own brokenness and vulnerability modeled what it means to truly struggle and yet remain steadfast, not because of my efforts, but because of God’s faithfulness. I saw God use that to encourage more vulnerability among the body.
In God’s kindness, I am coming out of this season of darkness. As I consider the anxiety with which I have struggled for so long, I believe God has used it in many ways. He has used it greatly to humble me. It has left me broken, yet more dependent on Christ. As the waves of anxiety move in and out, I am learning to thank God for the seasons of rest, and in the seasons of pain, press more deeply into Christ. I have learned there is no formula, and that it is in fact sin, not God, who made me this way.
As a pastor’s wife, there is certainly discernment involved with how open to be and with whom to be open. However, in the appropriate context, there is also great freedom in being vulnerable. By learning to be vulnerable with people, I have found freedom. Even as a pastor’s wife, there is freedom in not having everything figured out. Even as a pastor’s wife, there is freedom in living in such a way that reveals my need for a Savior. Especially as a pastor’s wife, being honest about my brokenness invites others to see our common need, and that without the grace of God, we are all a mess.
God continues to show His love. He is bringing beauty from the ashes of my anxiety and doubt. It has been a journey, but as a church, we are growing in our willingness to talk more openly about our fears, doubts, and anxieties. If given the opportunity, I would trade my anxiety in a heartbeat and never look back, yet God’s power is being made perfect in my weakness. So I will boast all the more gladly in my weakness until he returns, calls me home, or heals me.