Anyone familiar with the Old Testament story of Job knows about his wife. While her husband is known for his deep faith in God, she is notorious for her bitter response to suffering when telling her husband to “curse God and die” (Job 2:9). I desire that suffering will cause me to become better rather than bitter, but I feel deep compassion for Job’s wife as I consider her plight.
Job was a man so loved by God that, under God’s loving and powerful hand, the enemy was allowed to wreak havoc on every aspect of his life (Job 1:6–12). He faced tremendous loss and extreme suffering. And every loss Job experienced, his wife experienced, too. She lost her home, her children, her husband’s health, her security. Imagine her confusion and grief. Her husband suffered these attacks because of his faithfulness, yet she was deeply wounded by the shrapnel. I feel compassion for her because I think I understand some of what she must have felt.
The Pain of Secondary Wounds
I don’t claim my pastor husband faces the same attacks from the enemy that Job did, but I feel the ripple effects of his wounds. There are times when fiery arrows, intended to harm my husband, deflect and find their home in my children or myself. Of course, sometimes our sin causes wounds, and the fallout leaves unintended collateral damage to the body we serve. But there’s also spiritual attack. There are times when the sheep bite, when my husband’s character is attacked, and when my children face unfair scrutiny and wrong expectations. I’ve lost close friends many times over when they couldn’t differentiate between my husband as their friend versus the leader of the body they grew to resent. There are times when fiery arrows, intended to harm my husband, deflect and find their home in my children or myself. Click To Tweet
Ministry leaders incur many wounds which, like the pain of Job’s wife, are secondary. Secondary wounds happen when our husbands, children, or even our churches are attacked. People speak words of death and destruction, and their final proverbial “mic drop” is the withdrawal of their membership, ending any opportunity for discussion or reconciliation. I run into them at the grocery store and want to hide or speak sinful words. My husband and I are one, so when he hurts, I hurt.
We’ve been in ministry for more than two decades, and I’m learning two big pieces as I navigate these secondary wounds: the difference between boundaries and walls, and my need to forgive rather than nurture bitterness.
Boundaries Instead of Walls
Boundaries and walls are two separate things. Years ago, after we lost yet another set of close friends, I felt my heart starting to withdraw. I convinced myself that I was putting up boundaries, but, in hindsight, they were walls of self-protection. It’s easy to allow a healthy boundary to morph into a wall if we’re not vigilant to know the difference. The walls I erected gave me permission to withdraw and hide. They gave me the illusion of safety from more shrapnel. As believers, we must be diligent in remembering that our primary goal is never safety. Our primary goal is a call to serve others. Click To Tweet
We see in Scripture that Jesus established boundaries. Jesus did not entrust himself to everyone (John 2:24). He had his circle of disciples, and within that circle, he had a few closer, trusted companions (Mark 14:33). He had boundaries with his own family (Matt. 12:46–50). Boundaries within ministry are healthy, good, and necessary. They must be in place to endure for the long haul. Boundaries are good for both yourself and others.
Walls, however, are intended for self only. They push others out. Walls keep you separated and ultimately, isolated. As believers, we must be diligent in remembering that our primary goal is never safety. Our primary goal is a call to serve others.
Forgiveness over Bitterness
It’s reasonable to feel protective of our families and the church. As a pastor’s wife, I have the immense privilege of seeing behind the curtain; I see how faithfully my husband labors to shepherd the flock entrusted to him. So, it’s difficult to navigate the secondary hurt that occurs when people are unkind and even cruel to my husband, my children, or the church.
I think Job’s wife must have felt similarly. She lost as much as Job, but with her grief, bitterness snuck in. My guess is it didn’t happen all at once, but as she endured more and more, bitterness grew and became the driving force behind her infamous words. If I could insert myself into the story as a friend to Job’s wife, I’d hug her, pray with her, and plead with her to hold fast to the promise. Click To Tweet
Part of enduring ministry for the long haul is being intentional to “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you” (Eph. 4:31), even the secondary hurt and bitterness. It’s praying for those who have wounded your loved ones, asking God to impart every spiritual blessing on them that would cause them to be more like Christ (Eph. 1:3). It’s trusting that the Lord will be a defender. It’s overcoming evil with good (Rom. 12:21). And ultimately, it’s knowing that when bitterness seeps in, the greatest harm ends up happening in my own heart. I must entrust it to the Lord.
If I could insert myself into the story as a friend to Job’s wife, I’d hug her, pray with her, and plead with her to hold fast to the promise. Because in these last days, Jesus gloriously fulfills the promise that Job and his wife saw in the shadows. In Christ, we see God’s forgiveness, love, and victory over Satan. Only as we cling to Jesus in our pain can we resist building walls, oppose bitterness, and endure in ministry.