life on the other side - part 1

>> April 27, 2009

Ever wonder what life would be like if you weren't a PW? We know there are some Clutch readers among us who are reluctant PWs. If we're honest, we've probably all, sometime or another, been resentful of our roles and wondered what life would be like if our husbands had a "normal" job. We invite you to read one woman's story. She's been on both sides of the pulpit, so to speak, and in this interview she generously opens up about the challenges that led her husband to leave the pastorate, what the transition was like and what their lives are like today.

*****
Meet Amy, who blogs at withpurpose.com, formerly (and sometimes still) known as Not Your Typical Pastor's Wife.

First, some background. Amy's husband has pastored in Chicago, San Diego and Upstate, NY. They've been married almost 12 years and, with the exception of a few non-ministry jobs to bridge the gaps between pastoring, she's been a PW all of her married life.

What were your initial feelings about being a PW? What did you think it would be like?

I loved the idea of being a PW. What could be better than getting paid to do stuff for God? :) As a missionary kid I was accustomed to ministry life so it was difficult to imagine life any other way. I had lovely notions about "partnering together in ministry" and "making a difference in the Kingdom" alongside my husband. I thought we made a great team and pridefully, I believed any church would be fortunate to have us. I hate to admit it now, but I especially looked forward to the attention and the automatic respect I thought being a PW would garner.

In general terms, how was it at first and how did your role (and feelings about that role) evolve through the years?

Brian and I struggled profoundly our first few years in marriage so it's difficult to extricate those painful memories with my feelings as a new PW. But speaking solely about the role itself, I thought it was great! Brian was serving as an intern pastor at a church where he was very well-loved...and therefore I guess they were sort of obligated to love me well too! ;) As an intern, he had many of the benefits of being a pastor without a lot of the headaches of being ultimately responsible (as a senior pastor would). It was a very positive experience, which later proved to be both good and bad. It was good because it showed us that it is possible to enjoy & thrive in ministry; it was bad because it was difficult not to compare every other experience to that one and think we were failing miserably.

Things got more challenging when he became an associate pastor, but when he became a senior pastor, I often thought, "Wow! It's great to see good stuff happen, but this is HARD -- harder than I ever imagined!!"

In the beginning, and sadly, most of our nearly 12 years, I've had a "get right there in it with my husband and do ministry together" attitude which bordered on (and too often downright became) meddling in and monitoring his "performance" as a pastor. I see now that this largely comes from my (unfortunate and unwanted) tendencies to worry excessively about what other people think, to avoid upsetting or angering anyone and the desire for others to like me (because if they like him, it's a positive reflection on me, right?). I was not good at stepping back and giving Brian the space and support he needed to do his job well. Instead, I felt compelled to jump in and fix or "help" him do better. Whenever I felt angst in my role as PW over the years, I think this was often the root of my struggle.

My deepest desire now is to recognize and respect that while God intends for Brian and I to walk together down this road, our perspectives are not always the same, our gifts certainly aren't and Christ will be most glorified when we appreciate and make the most of those differences and seek to glorify Him only.

Tell us about the "straw that broke the camel’s back" and led your husband to resign his position as pastor?

I have a bit of a melancholy personality and have always struggled with anxiety, but I had never experienced depression so it took me quite some time before I realized what was happening (I was also newly pregnant at the time and attributed much of many of my bad feelings to that). But after two years of questions and doubts about how the church was functioning (my husband was solo pastor of a struggling church and was spread very thin) and whether or not we were well-suited for the positions of pastor and pastor's wife, I felt myself spiraling downwards in my soul (not sure how else to describe it). By June of 2007 I was having suicidal thoughts (totally new to me) not because I wanted to die but because I longed for relief. I just saw no way out. When my dad (a seasoned counselor) asked me point blank if I was suicidal, I knew something was desperately wrong and that I most likely wasn't going to will myself out of it, repent myself out of it or simply change my attitude and turn around. I knew I needed help -- although I wasn't sure what kind.

Concurrently, the church had been struggling for quite some time. We were losing members by the handfuls, those who stayed seemed largely discouraged and it became apparent that something drastic needed to be done if the church was going to survive. Brian decided to relaunch the church in the hopes of reviving it. We had been part of a church plant before and I was fully aware of the HUGE undertaking a relaunch would be. He had few strong leaders to help (and many of them were tired and weary themselves) and he certainly couldn't do it on his own, so I knew much of the responsibility would be shared by me. The thought of bearing the burden of such an undertaking was completely overwhelming.

Incidentally, relaunching the church was actually my idea and I had spent a lot of time championing the cause before my depression set in. So on one hand, I felt obligated to follow through. On the other hand, I could hardly bear the thought of making it through a single day, let alone the year(s) it would take to establish a new church. This dilemma caused me to flip flop between "OK, let's relaunch!" (on my good days) and "I just can't go on." (on my bad days). Consequently, Brian did not know what to make of it so he just did his best to carry on with what seemed to be God's go ahead for relaunching.

By early fall 2007, I was finally able to admit that I was in a bad situation and I was finally willing to accept that I would be the cause of us leaving (and therefore quite possibly the dissolution of the church itself). Once I reached that point, I could successfully communicate to Brian what was wrong and that I desperately needed help. He resigned a few days later.

(Sidenote: The church did not dissolve, but the founding pastor who served there 40 years until his retirement -- when Brian took over -- was asked to come out of retirement to serve as interim pastor. As far as we know, he is still there and the church is still functioning.)

How was that transition for him? What job did he get instead?

The transition was particularly difficult in the beginning for Brian as he felt like he was giving up his vision and dream. However, a month or so after he resigned, I asked him how he was doing and he said, "I didn't want to leave, but I see now that it was the right thing to do."

We've been amazed at how God smoothed the way for us to leave NY and get reestablished here in Texas; Brian's new job is no exception. He now teaches math at a high school nearby. (Before he became a pastor, he was an aerospace engineer and therefore has sufficient coursework to teach high school. He has since gotten a teaching credential as well.) It's not his dream job and it hasn't been all roses but it has been an indescribable blessing to our family.

How was that transition for you? Did you have feelings of guilt? Did you second-guess, or have regrets?

Throughout the transition my overwhelming feeling was a strange mixture of crushing guilt and euphoric relief. I hated that I was the reason we had to leave (again, "What are people going to think of me, that I couldn't hack it?" and more weighty, "Did I kill the church?") and I felt so sad and sorry that Brian had to get out of ministry and take a teaching job that (at the beginning) he did not enjoy. I had (and still have) many, many regrets about countless things I did, not just in the last few months we were in NY but the entire 5 years we were there.

Even still, I have never second-guessed myself. I have enough background in Marriage & Family Therapy (half of a Master's degree) to know that getting out when we did was essential. I felt like I was slowly losing grip on my ability to cope with everyday life and quite frankly, I feared for my safety. I now know firsthand how one goes from being absolutely unable to fathom suicide to staring at it in the face.

I must say that I am so profoundly grateful to my parents who took us in (we lived with them for the first 6 months) and offered copious amounts of support and encouragement. I am also very grateful to my husband who was willing to let go of so much to take care of me. And above all, I could never adequately express my gratitude to our Savior into whose safe and strong yet pillowy hands I've fallen again and again.

In what ways has your life changed?

Oh my. Well, I'm so pleased with changes in our family life and in the lives of each of our children. I'm also really enjoying this new season in my relationship with God. I feel like I just came out of a hard winter. Winter is important and indispensable in the cycle of life and my winter was important and indispensable in the cycle of my spiritual life, but who doesn't love the coming of spring! I feel like I'm seeing life anew.

Other than that, I often marvel at how "typical" we are these days. Brian goes to work Monday through Friday and is home Saturday and Sunday instead of working 6 days a week with a few nighttime meetings thrown in. It's nice not to be weighted down with the responsibilities of the church and the tough issues that come along with it. I also appreciate the little bit of cushion we have in our budget (and that taxes are a whole lot easier without clergy income to deal with)!

One of the most surprising joys of this season is that Sundays have gone from the worst day of the week for me to the one I most enjoy. I love being able to go to church as a family and leave as a family on Sunday mornings. I really like being able to put our children in an outstanding children's program without having to stay there myself each week! (I love kids, but I so rarely made it into the church service the last few years in NY as I was caring for the kids in the nursery.) It's been wonderful to be given plenty of space and encouragement from our current pastor(s) to keep a low profile and take time to rest, receive & heal.

Don't miss Part 2 of our interview on Tuesday.

7 comments:

Anonymous,  April 27, 2009 at 7:46 AM  

I think it is totally awesome that your husband stepped away to give you relief and healing time. What a great man, sometimes I feel it is all about his position and waht he does. Dont want to make God mad bc I am struggling really bad. There was time at our current church that I too struggled with depression and sucidial thoughts. Even told my husband I did not wnat to go on. He never really would comment, thats hard. My two little girls need a mommy and I really dont want them growing up in daddys ministry alone. I feel I have to protect. I just have had to deal with staff wives making un true accussations, and spreading those among the people of the church. They are caddy, evil, and manipulators. So carnal, and it got the best of me. I now feel I can deal with the issues I am faced with but find I am dealing with it by withdrawing myself from the church, all positions i was in, etc. I know God has a special place in heaven for PWs.

Beth April 27, 2009 at 8:12 AM  

Thank you, Amy for your heartfelt and insightful contribution here!

Indy April 27, 2009 at 11:32 AM  

Amazing!!! I appreciate you so much, Amy. Thank you for being so candid. Being a Pastor's Wife is new to me but I can relate a lot to what you say and learning from you.

You are an indispensable to His kingdom...and am glad you are using your gift through your writing.

joannmski April 27, 2009 at 8:01 PM  

Amy, you're my hero. Thanks for telling your story so honestly and for the benefit of many others, like so much you have done.

Amy Andrews April 27, 2009 at 10:06 PM  

Oh wow. I so appreciate your encouragement. Thank you all.

Anonymous,  May 2, 2009 at 2:25 PM  

I appreciate your candor. As a missionary wife with a winter of my own, I can totally relate to your story. Thank you for being our voice. Thank you for being real.

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