Others’ Expectations

All Mine and All Yours, Too

The day had been long and demanding, but it was almost over. I was kneading dough for supper biscuits, cranky toddler on a hip, when the kitchen phone rang. I lifted the receiver with a flour-covered hand and tucked the receiver under my chin.

‘Claudia, help me! I don’t know what to cook, and my husband will be home any minute. What am I going to do?’

I recognized the voice of my friend, since I had answered dozens of her calls for help.

‘My washer is making that weird noise again. What is wrong?’
‘Why do I feel fat?’
‘My kids are driving me crazy. Why won’t they listen?’
‘Our dog won’t stop barking and the neighbor is calling the police. What should I do?’

I was her pastor’s wife. I wanted to help. But most of her problems had no simple solution, and her calls came at inconvenient times. As I took a deep breath, struggling to overcome my annoyance, I heard her exclaim, ‘Oh, I just get so frustrated with you! You never have any problems. Why don’t YOU ever have any problems?’

Just at that moment my two little girls burst through the back door with tangled hair and dirty faces, one with a noisy tale about some neighborhood ruckus and the other begging for cookies. The toddler in my arms lunged for the biscuit dough, crammed a floury handful into his mouth and spit it on the floor. A pot of rice on the stove boiled over. The front doorbell buzzed. The back door swung open. My exhausted, hungry husband had arrived after a long day to a scene of domestic bedlam.  And then I did what every pastor’s wife tries very hard not to do–I said exactly what I was thinking. ‘No problems?’ I asked. ‘I have all of mine and all of yours, too!’

The long pause on the phone was even louder than the din in my kitchen. ‘Oh,’ she finally responded, very quietly. ‘I guess you do.’ And then, to my enormous relief, she began to laugh. So did I. We laughed and laughed and laughed.

We are still friends. But never again, after that day, was I on her ‘pastor’s wife pedestal.’ I was so glad. I hadn’t intended to climb up there in the first place. I never meant to portray myself as Mrs. Perfect, whose children always behaved and whose furniture never gathered dust; whose speech was always ‘with grace, seasoned with salt;’ whose devotional life and daily discipline were models for all womankind. But she must have assumed that troubles wouldn’t dare tiptoe through a parsonage door, or that marrying a pastor somehow morphed an ordinary woman into a super saint who lived above the mundane miseries of life.

I’m sure that, in her own mind, she was honoring me by placing me on a pedestal. That is, after all, where we install statues of those we admire. But it’s not a comfortable place to live. It’s lonely up there. Others think that you are looking down on them. There are pigeons. And if you stumble just once, you’ll fall off. Many church-pew-sitters share my friend’s ‘pedestal of perfection’ notion, however. That’s why they are genuinely shocked when they discover that the pastor’s wife has a flaw or two. Or why more-misguided folks delight in seeing her take a tumble down to where the ‘real people’ live.

A pastor’s wife can’t keep church folks from lifting her onto their imaginary pedestal. But she can avoid climbing up there herself. She can stop expecting perfection from herself or pretending it to others. She can, as Romans 12:3 says, not think of herself ‘more highly than (s)he ought to think; but to think soberly . . . .’

To ‘think soberly’ means to be realistic about yourself. You will not always be perfect. The Lord doesn’t expect that, and neither should you. He only asks you to be the very best, most Christlike lady that you that you can be. When you ‘think soberly,’ you will humbly praise the Lord for your strengths, candidly acknowledge your weaknesses, and promptly ask others’ forgiveness for your failures.

You will face the fact that in yourself you are nothing. ‘I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing’ (Romans 7:18). But you will also grasp that, despite your flaws, when He asked you to be a ministry wife, He furnished you with all the supernatural power, and every spiritual gift, that you need to do the task well. ‘Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God’ (II Corinthians 3:5).

Maybe you’ll perform so capably that there will someday be a statue honoring you! But until then, remember–you are not made of marble. You are a very human, fallible lady who has been given the significant assignment of ‘wife-ing’ a man in the ministry. It is a remarkable and glorious responsibility, but despite what others may think, it does not require living on a pedestal.

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries


Haircuts and Expectations

I was a very young pastor’s wife and feeling nervous as I walked through the church door for the Wednesday night service. I had a new haircut, dramatically different, and I knew that people would notice. One of the first comments came from a middle-aged leader in the church, a man whose approval I thought I needed. ‘Nice haircut,’ he said. ‘Now you look like a pastor’s wife.’ I recognized the backhanded compliment, but I resisted the temptation to ask him what I had looked like before. And actually I was pleased. Hooray for me, I thought. I got it right!

The next Sunday morning, I introduced myself to a lady visitor. ‘You’re the pastor’s wife?’ she asked. ‘I looked all around during the service and didn’t see anybody I thought looked like a pastor’s wife.’ Oh dear, maybe I didn’t get it right. I managed a smile and again withstood the urge to ask her to tell me what it was I looked like. Two people’two different images of some mythical creature called ‘The Pastor’s Wife.’ Obviously, I couldn’t please them both.

As I thought (and laughed) about it later, I realized that expectations for a pastor’s wife go far beyond haircuts. Each person in the church has a job description for me. It is unwritten and (usually) unspoken. Two people’two job descriptions. 200 people’200 notions of how I should look and what I should do. Obviously I can’t please them all.

So, I decided, I’ll just please the Lord! I searched the New Testament for His job description for me. I found there a list of qualifications for deacons’ wives. But the only requirement for a pastor’s wife is that there is to be only one of me! Did the Holy Spirit forget my list? Did He run out of space before He got to it? Of course not. The message from the omission is clear, and it both encourages and liberates me.

The Lord’s job description for me is simple: I am my husband’s wife. Just like any godly wife, I am his helpmeet’a helper suitable to him. I simply ask my pastor-husband: what can I do to help you? What roles can I play in this church that will make your ministry easier and more effective? And I allow him to write my job description. He’s the perfect one to do it, because he knows my skills, my energy level, and my season of life. And he loves me! He’s the one human I need to please. When I please him, I please the Lord.

Now, if I get a new hair style, I just ask my husband if he likes it. If he does–hooray for me! I got it right!

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries
 
Only One Boss


It was an ordinary job, requiring little skill and few brains, so I was well qualified. Dan was my boss, and after he had explained my duties, I went to work on my own, doing just what he said to do. Before long, however, things got complicated.

People I didn’t know began coming by with instructions that were different from Dan’s. They seemed confident in their authority and certain I would be glad to comply. I did make some adjustments, trying to please my self-appointed supervisors, but I quickly realized it was impossible, for they contradicted each other and Dan, too. There was no way to obey my boss and make everybody else happy, too. So the next time a would-be-boss came by, I responded to his demands in an assertive voice rare to me, ‘Sorry. Dan is my boss. I’m going to do exactly what he says and nothing else.’

In a huff, he stomped off–in the direction of Dan’s office. I wasn’t surprised when at the end of the day, Dan spoke to me.  ‘I heard that you said you’re going to do just what I say and nothing else.’  I nodded, wondering where I could find another job. ‘Good for you,’ he said. ‘That’s just fine with me.’

I was relieved, and as pleased as if I had heard him say, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant!’ After that day, I relaxed and enjoyed my work, confident that I was pleasing the only one who mattered. I want to hear those extraordinary words of praise from my Master in heaven someday. I know you do, too. The only way for us to have that joy is to listen carefully to His voice every moment and then do exactly, and only, what He says.

That will please Him. But it may not please everybody else. People in your ministry, though just trying to be helpful, may express desires for you that contradict each other and exceed His expectations. If you struggle to satisfy people–all of them, all the time’you will quickly become confused and frustrated. Your ministry will be motivated not by love and joy, but by guilt and fear.

Relax. Remember that like Paul, you are the bondslave of Jesus Christ, called and commissioned by Him as an instrument to bear His name in a specific place. He Who once willingly made Himself a servant is not a demanding, unreasonable, or capricious Master. His commands are not grievous; His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Fear Him–but fear only Him.

If at the end of each day, you can stand serenely before your Master’s face, confident that you have followed His instructions, then you are a success. You have no need to fear any others, for He is pleased with you. You will have a joyful ministry life and can look forward to someday hearing these words: ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant!’

 Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

 
Perfection

But I have struggled much too long for perfection–in ministry, marriage, mothering, housekeeping, hospitality, looks, and relationships’believing that with enough effort, I could reach that impossible goal. When I’ve detected my defects, I’ve poured buckets of self-reproach on my poor head, drenching myself with guilt. This is not a fun way to live, and it’s not God’s way. It’s true that 1 John 2:1 says, ‘My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not,’ but then (hooray!) the verse continues, ‘and if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ Knowing that there would be people like me, the Lord says, ‘Don’t sin. But since of course you will, here’s a Savior for you.’

I give up. I can’t do it.  No matter how hard I try, I can’t be perfect. I really can’t imagine why I ever thought I could, since I know Romans 7:18,’For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing, for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.’

What a relief! I can do my best without expecting to be The Best. I can calmly confess my faults to the Lord and to others (as though they didn’t know them already). I can easily acknowledge blemishes and admit the flaws of that woman in the mirror. I look forward to having some good laughs at myself.

The people in my little world are going to be relieved. Not just because I’ve finally come to my senses, but because now I’ll no longer expect them to be perfect, either. Criticism is such an easy job that once a critic finishes with herself, she has plenty of time to move right on to everybody else. But when she stops taking herself so seriously, she becomes generous with the imperfections of others.

Oh, someday I’ll be perfect, on the day when He presents me ‘faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy’ (Jude 1:24). You won’t recognize me then, because I’m finally going to be as flawless as I long to be–exactly like Him! Until then, I’m going to be content with my not-so-perfect but always-trying-to-please-Him self: ‘Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 3:12).

Do you have a backache from carrying around your own burden of perfection? I’m not surprised. It’s a ministry malady. Dump it! It’s much too heavy a load to carry, and the Lord isn’t the One Who laid it on you. Let awareness of your own sin send you scurrying to the cross, not sinking into the Slough of Despond. The faithful and just One is waiting there for you, and He will be glad to see you coming.

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

The High Wire

I sat in a grandstand, neck craned, watching a famous circus family perform on the high wire. They all executed extraordinary feats of balance, but I (who find it difficult to walk and talk simultaneously) was especially impressed with one female member of the troupe.

It was her name, not her acrobatics, that caught my attention. The rest of the family had exotic European names, but she was just plain ‘Debbie.’ She looked different from the others, too, but had the same strength, grace, and poise. I decided that she must have been born into another circus family and married into this one. With inherited circus genes and inbred talent, I thought, she probably took her first steps on a high wire.

I was right about the married-into part, but wrong about the rest. Debbie, I discovered, was once an earthbound mortal like me–a journalist who had interviewed one of the family sons, fallen in love and married him and his circus life. Motivated by love, she had conquered her fears and learned to be an acrobat. Now she performed confidently on the high wire, with long years of practice disguised as talent.

The top of a circus tent is not God’s place for me. I am very sure He wants me on the ground! But I’ve often felt like a Debbie on a high wire, called to perform tasks for which I have no natural ability simply because I married my husband. I’ve quivered at my public duties and trembled at more private ones. I know my innate fears and natural weaknesses. I acknowledge my imperfections. How easily I could fall–and how much is at stake if I do!

The Lord has rarely given me a ministry task for which I have inherent aptitude. Maybe it’s the same for you. If so, remember this–His strength lies precisely at the point of your weakness (2 Corinthians 12:10). Climb up on your own high wire and do His will. There you’ll find yourself supplied with His abundant grace, disguised as talent. He doesn’t ask you to do what’s easy, but only what He enables. The Lord specializes in using ordinary Debbies, for then He is the One Who receives the glory–especially from the scared lady up on the high wire.

Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

The Invisible Woman
by Stephanie Barba Shaw

Are you being followed around by ‘The Invisible Woman’? You know who I’m talking about.  She’s Supermom, Superwife, and Superfriend all rolled into one neat superhero package.  She’s a conglomeration of all the women you know (or have conjured up in your imagination) who seem to have it all together.

She’s the grandma who starches and irons her sheets, the mother-in-law who scrubs and disinfects her refrigerator weekly, the sister who homeschools all twelve children and still finds time to grind her own wheat and sew her preacher-husband’s Sunday suits.  She’s the shining-example pastor’s wife who always knows what’s going on in the lives of every church family and never fails to send a note, a casserole, and a hand-crocheted doily.  She is always patient with her children, always loving and attentive to her husband, always well-groomed and smiling and thoroughly delighted with the privilege of serving the Lord and others. She never doubts God’s Word, never fails to pray with faith, and rejoices always in all things.

As if all that weren’t enough to keep her busy, she won’t leave you alone.  She hangs over your shoulder as you go about your day, whispering jabs of doubt, guilt, and insecurity into your mind. To her, nothing you do is ever good enough and never will be, because you cannot possibly measure up to her level of perfection.

Funny thing is, she doesn’t really exist. Yes, there are women who excel in certain areas, but no one woman actually does it ALL, and WELL. Those who appear to, probably shed plenty of private tears in the process, suffering in their bodies and souls in ways we mere mortals do not know.

As a woman, as a wife and mother, you carry enough heavy burdens without piling on the weight of false guilt. God made you with the personality, talents, and energy level He wants you to have. You are amazing and special to Him”accepted in the beloved’–and nothing you do or don’t do can change that. He is delighted when you simply obey, rising to meet your calling and your challenges in His strength, with the ability He gives daily.

Why not tell ‘The Invisible Woman’ to take a vacation (or a hike) the next time she starts to lean over your shoulder?  Accept your limitations, placed on you by your present responsibilities, and go on with your life. As a mere mortal myself, I personally give you permission to relax. Let His strength be made perfect in your weakness, and His power will rest on you (II Corinthians 12:9).

So–clean that toilet every few weeks whether it needs it or not. Share a simple, quiet word of encouragement with a hurting lady when you don’t have time to bake a cake or the money to buy a dozen roses. Take your kids to McDonald’s when you don’t have the energy to prepare a beautiful, balanced meal (mine never complain).  You and your family will be much happier for it.

 Copyright 2010 ‘ Press On! Ministries

Impossible Job

Most jobs call for a specific set of skills, but for ministry, a man needs them all. He needs to be . . .

A student of ancient languages, eschatology, hermeneutics, ecclesiology, soteriology, and apologetics who can communicate what he knows to a 6-year old.

The CEO of a corporation with a totally volunteer labor force.

A man of vision who can also manage details.

A father whose children recognize him in the pulpit, since he doesn’t put on a different face along with his Sunday suit.

A man who gives himself for his wife as Christ gave Himself for His church. Their two smiles are the only ones that matter.

An adult with several degrees content with the salary of a teenager with none.

Willing to sacrifice anything–except his family’for his people.

Quick to run to comfort another’s broken heart; content to run to God alone with his own.

Able to carry weighty burdens without allowing them to crush his spirit.

A man who can both live above reproach and be a true friend to those who don’t.

A prophet who rebukes sin and a priest who dries the sinner’s tears.

One who walks in the light so he can help those wandering in the dark.

Able to serve meat and milk from the same spoon at the same time.

A servant who knows he has only one Master–and how to deal with those who think they’re Him.

Truthful but tactful, tough but tender, calm but fervent, firm but flexible, dignified but relaxed.

Shepherd, preacher, evangelist, administrator, counselor, financial manager, writer, referee, recruiter, organizer, motivator, and educator. Frequent chauffeur, proofreader, and song leader. Occasional gardener, janitor, and emcee.  May also be expected to be a mindreader.

This job is not just hard; it’s impossible! These men have rejected the notion of career for a calling–one that requires them to walk on water. And they make it look not only doable, but enjoyable. I give heartfelt thanks for these men– and for you, too, my friend, who more than anyone but God will ever know, help make this impossible job possible.

Copyright 2011 – Press On! Ministries

Expectations

Jesus told them exactly what was coming: ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man will be accomplished. For He will be delivered to the Gentiles and will be mocked and insulted and spit upon. They will scourge Him and kill Him. And the third day He will rise again’ (Luke 18:31-33).

The disciples listened to His words, but they didn’t think He could have meant what they thought they had heard Him say. Maybe it was a parable or some sort of riddle. Jesus–imprisoned, jeered, abused, flogged, and murdered? He was the miracle working Messiah come to redeem His people, and He wouldn’t let such awful things happen to Him. Would He?

They were sure they knew His plans, and this prophecy didn’t fit, not one little bit. Of course they had read the old scriptures about the sufferings of the coming Redeemer, but they remembered the ones about His glories much better. A mighty King allowing Himself to be tortured? It wasn’t reasonable. The eternal Son Who did His Father’s will perfectly, allowed to suffer? It wasn’t fair. Or logical: if the King died, what would happen to His kingdom? Jesus’ predictions ran so contrary to the disciples’ expectations that even though they loved and trusted Him, they just couldn’t believe any of this would happen.

But it did. They watched as He was bound, taunted, spit on, scourged, and crucified. Their grief at His execution was intensified by the pain of crushed hopes. I wonder at what point some brave one among them dared to say out loud that they should have known, that He had warned them to expect this, that He had told them so.

The problem for those all-too-human disciples was that their reality did not live up to their dreams. We lady disciples understand that, for we each have our own set of unmet expectations. Most of the time, for most of us, ministry life is comfortable, fulfilling, and predictable: we sow and He gives a harvest; we work for Him and watch as He works for us’just as we planned. There’s joy in serving Jesus!

But sometimes life delivers bushels of lemons, and no matter how hard we try, we can’t make them into lemonade. Sometimes no matter how fervently we love people, they just won’t love us back. Sometimes the doors we expected to swing wide, slam shut instead. We understand fruitless efforts and closed doors when they are the reapings of bad seed or the rewards of disobedience. But when we know we have done our best at doing His will and bad things still happen, we’re confused and unhappy. God wouldn’t do that to His children. Would He?

Only if He wants us to experience the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings (Philippians 3:10). Only if He wants to prove this promise true: ‘In the world you will have tribulation’ (John 16:33). Only if He wants others to see Jesus in us (2 Corinthians 4:11). Only if He wants us to remember in heaven with ‘exceeding joy’ the cup He shared with us on earth (1 Peter 4:13).

Ministry disappointments, after all, are only a tiny taste of His sorrows. Have you ever been mocked and insulted for what you believe? Maybe. Imprisoned, spit on, and scourged? Probably not. Martyred for your faith? Not yet! But those things did happen to Jesus, and as you work your way down that list of sufferings, you become more and more like Him.

Only on the third day, when the disciples saw the fulfillment of the ‘He will rise again’ part of the prophecy, did the rest of it make sense. Your disappointments and distresses are steps toward the day you will rise to sit with Jesus in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). There the path of your life will no longer seem like a riddle. Instead, you’ll see then that it all worked itself out just fine–exactly the way He said it would.

Fish Fry

Our friends had invited us to what they called a ‘Friday night fish fry,’ so I dressed the way any good Southern girl would dress for catfish, hushpuppies, and sweet tea. But we weren’t in the South anymore. When we arrived at the address we had been given and were offered valet parking for our Volkswagen bug, I knew I was in trouble.

Fish fry? It was a gourmet seafood buffet in an elegant setting–china, crystal, string quartet, and all–and everyone but me had known to dress up. Way up. Our friends quickly forgave my fashion faux pas. At least they seemed to get over it much faster than I did, and it did give us all something to laugh about. But a very young pastor’s wife living in a new city wants to do everything just right, and I still wince when I remember being so badly dressed.

After that, I learned to ask more questions and so far have managed not to repeat that exact mistake. But more often than I’d like to admit, I’ve been a poorly-dressed ministry wife, clothed in garments entirely unsuitable to my calling.

That’s not the Lord’s fault. The day He took me as His own, I gave Him my filthy rags and put on Christ instead. Since He’s faultless, I ought to be always perfectly turned out. But sometimes, without planning to, I slip back into my wretched, stinky rags. Temper, resentment, envy, fear, egotism, and deceit slink out of some secret closet in my heart and slither onto me before I even notice. Yikes, those clothes are ugly–and sometimes I even wear them to church! Others may not notice (hypocrisy’s a handy cloak), but I know without doubt that I’m badly dressed, and that it’s certainly nothing to laugh about. The Lord’s not impressed with my ensemble, either. It’s not just unsuitable; it’s hideous. And prickly and uncomfortable.

I can’t wait to change, and I don’t have to. Even in the middle of the church lobby, I can turn to my Savior and by His grace swap those ill-fitting works of darkness for the armor of light. Suddenly I’m dressed just right’in the tender mercy, kindness, humility, meekness, and long suffering that are always in style for a ministry wife, entirely appropriate for every occasion.

What did you wear to church yesterday? If the answer makes you cringe, don’t despair. The Giver of all good gifts will gladly provide perfect garments. Whether it’s to church or to a ‘fish fry,’ you and I can always be dressed just exactly right.

Isaiah 64:6 Galatians 3:26-27 Romans 13:12 Colossians 3:12

Copyright 2014 – Press On! Ministries