Are you a lonely pastor’s wife?
Loneliness often tops the list when couples talk about the difficulties and challenges of ministry life. Facebook has warped our definition of friend, and studies show that people in general are struggling with loneliness, even more so since the pandemic. But making friends and building meaningful relationships can work differently when you’re married to the ministry simply because of the nature of our positions in the church family.
Adrian Rogers told us most people want to be “known” by the pastor more than they want to “know” him. Have you found that to be true? I’ve since learned that even fewer people want to know or be known by me! For example, have you ever talked to people at church who couldn’t help but keep one ear and one eye fixed on the conversation your husband was having with someone else nearby? That’s good for your self-esteem, isn’t it? Other people prefer to keep the pastor and wife on a pedestal or at a distance, because they don’t want to know us too well and they don’t want us to know them too closely either. But then there are those who seem to feel a divine calling to be our friends during the season we serve with them, and God raises them up for such a time as this to walk alongside us in friendship.
While I was growing up, I watched my parents lose touch with various friends over the years as families moved and seasons of life changed. I eventually realized that convenience sustains many friendships, but it’s intentionality that creates deep, meaningful relationships. One of the blessings of being called into ministry later in life is that Greg and I still count buddies we made 30 years ago in our young married SS class as our closest friends now. We’ve all moved around over the years, but our hearts are still close even though our houses are not. They have been our prayer partners and our sounding boards in ministry, and I can vent to those girlfriends about “those crazy church people!” without jeopardizing my husband’s job.
But, on a daily, weekly level, pastor wifehood can be lonely because it’s harder to build deep friendships with people in our churches. It can be hard to discern who is trustworthy. It can be tricky to find true connections with others in an environment where church politics and preferences can quickly divide. Even figuring out where to sit on Sunday mornings can be difficult! Do I sit up front by myself or do I sit with the same friend every week? (I’ll answer that question in a few minutes!)
We should also consider that friendship with pastor and wife can also be challenging for church people. Some of them may have been burned or mistreated by staff members in the past, so they might hesitate to befriend another pastor’s family. Others might assume, why bother, when this guy will probably move on to a bigger church in a couple of years. They can feel like you broke up with them when you take another job. So, sometimes church people have good reasons not to be your friend that really has nothing to do with you personally.
What practical steps can we take to deal with loneliness when you’re married to the ministry?
1: Follow Jesus’ example
How did Jesus handle loneliness? Jesus attracted many fans and followers, but He enjoyed true relationship with just a few, and even those friends didn’t truly know Him. Those friends misunderstood Him, abandoned Him, or betrayed Him: Peter, James & John, Mary, Martha & Lazarus, and Judas. But, did Jesus cut these friends out of His life when they weren’t true? Did He hold them at arm’s length? Did He isolate Himself from other people to avoid being hurt? No! And if we follow Christ’s example, neither will we. The risk of betrayal, the fear of being misunderstood, the need to protect our own feelings—Satan uses these excuses to keep us from investing in others like Jesus did. Don’t let the devil trap you with loneliness to cheat you from the mission God wants you to accomplish where you are.
2: Be open to different types of friends
Be friendly to everyone, because you never know where a friendship might develop. In my experience, God handpicks the friends I need when I need them, and raises them up to be my friend. In our first church, older women named Ladoris and Kathy went out of their way to befriend me. In our second church, friends like Mandy and Tina were closer to my age and stage of life. In this church, I’m enjoying friendships with much younger women, like Aleigh, Rebecca, and MacKenzie. We can be close friends with people in different stages or walks of life than us. Are you looking to another ministry wife to be your friend because she’ll understand what you’re going through? Well, maybe she will. But even another pastor’s wife may not understand what being married to the ministry is like for you, because her journey and experience could be vastly different. So don’t think you have to wait for another pastor’s wife to have a good friend.
3: Look outside your church
Don’t restrict yourself to friendships with church members only.
We need to have relationships with non-churched and non-saved people. The more active you are in your community, the more potential friendships you’ll discover outside your church family.
- Invite neighbors to walk.
- Sign up for a committee at your child’s school.
- Start gospel conversations with people at the gym, grocery, or hair salon.
- Volunteer at the local crisis pregnancy center.
Strengthen other ministry connections.
- Reach out to buddies from seminary.
- Join a FB community for ministry wives in your area.
- Contact your local denominational or associational fellowship about any get-togethers or events where you could meet others serving in ministry.
- Call different churches around town and invite their pastors’ wives to lunch. Y’all don’t have to talk specifically about your churches—just pray for each other, share encouragement, and get to know one another.
4: Let your husband off the hook
Maybe he was your soul mate or best friend when you married him, but don’t expect your hubby to act like a BFF forever!
But what if I’m lonely in this marriage?
What if my man is always distracted?
What if my husband gives church problems a higher priority than mine?
God knows that frustrates us, ministry sister, but it doesn’t have to! We need to remember how He set things up in marriage: Creator God made Adam to tend and keep (Gen 2:15). Adam was alone, so God made Eve to be a comparable, suitable helper for Adam, to ease his loneliness (Gen 2:18). So, God wired men with a tough work engine, and he wired women with a softer heart engine. After sin messed up God’s plan, man’s work changed from maintaining a Garden that God planted, to wrestling with the earth to produce what we needed to survive. Work became sweaty labor that yielded thorns as well as crops. Discontentment was Eve’s sin; God “greatly multiplied” her sorrow— now pain would be part of their family dynamics. Generations later, women still battle discontentment and difficult family dynamics. What a perfect example of what Adrian Rogers used to always say: Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. Ladies, God didn’t give you a hunky Hallmark hero to follow you around like a cute puppy dog, engage in romantic dialogue, and surprise you with magical, grand gestures. Men who work fulfill God’s design, so be grateful for a husband who works—plenty of men out there do not! It’s not my husband’s job to fill my emotional tank. God Himself wants to meet that need for us.
5: Be a friend of God
When you’re struggling with loneliness, run to Jesus! He’s the only Person who really cares about every detail of your life. He’s the only Person who always wants to hear about the joys and hurts of your heart. Zephaniah 3:17 says, “The Lord your God is in your midst, The Mighty One will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quit you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” Friend, I don’t know about you—but my friends don’t rejoice over me with singing! But the King of the Universe does! When we are in close fellowship with Jesus, His Spirit dwells in us and His presence overshadows our loneliness. In 1912 a man named Austin Miles wrote a hymn that you probably know well. The story goes that one day while waiting for pictures to develop in his darkroom, Mr. Miles was reading in John 20. He began to imagine being there when Mary Magdalene went early to the tomb after Jesus’ death, only to discover that her Friend was alive! And Mr. Miles wrote these beautiful lines: “And He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
Sweet ministry sister, do you think of Jesus as your friend? Only Jesus can satisfy the lonely place in your heart. Talk with Him, read His Truth, and listen to Him whisper words of love to your heart.
Ready for the answer to Where do we sit in church?
If you’re wondering where to sit on Sunday mornings, why don’t you try this: sit in a different place every service! That’s what I do.
First of all, it breaks the expectation that I have to sit on the front row so everyone knows I’m there.
Second, picking a different seat each time allows me to connect with people I might not usually cross paths with. I especially like to sit by women who came to service alone.
And third, choosing a different place each week sends a message to the church family that I love everyone, not just a preferred few. It’s a good idea to randomly sit next to a disgruntled church member every once in a while, too!
Thanks for considering with me some ways to deal with loneliness when you’re married to the ministry. If you have suggestions for handling loneliness that I didn’t mention, why don’t you share it with us? You can comment below, send me an email, or post it to our Facebook or Instagram page. We will probably revisit this topic again, and I’d love to include reader tips. If you’re enjoying our “conversations,” would you please share this podcast with other ministry wives? You can email the link to a friend, or you can follow MTTM on Instagram or Facebook and hit the share button.