Finding time to make a friend and be a friend is always a challenge. But for ministry wives, the issue is far more complicated. For some the role of pastor's wife negatively shapes and stifles the development of personal friendships. You may be among the 45 percent of ministry wives who do not have a close friend. How can you overcome all the potential obstacles?
1. Pray for discernment and wisdom. "I need a Jonathan," confides one veteran pastor's wife. Similarly, we all long for someone with whom, like King David's friend, we can become "one spirit" (Samuel 18:1).
Look before you leap, however. "Be careful about the first people to contact you," one ministry wife cautions. "In four churches over the past 20 years, we've found these people are usually trying to get in good with the new pastor for a power play of some sort." Ask God for a friend and then be patient.
2. Present yourself as a person, not a job description. Some congregations make this easier to say than they do. One Michigan ministry wife said, "When friends introduce me, they always say, 'This is my pastor's wife.' That is the kiss of death."
After more than 25 years as a pastor's wife, I know some people will never see me as a person. I can't change that, so I seek friends among people who relate to me as Mary, not as Hank's wife.
3. Search for friends outside your church. Other ministers' wives in your community, parents of your children's peers or women who share similar activities (i.e., craft classes, local fitness center) may offer great friendship, as well as an environment for non-church related conversation and fun. Friends you make here will not face the obstacle of knowing you as their pastor's wife.
4. Be realistic about friendships. "So much depends on what you are looking for in friends," another pastor's wife said. "I've never looked for a tell-all confidante. I have close friends in every congregation my husband served in from 1956 to 1994. We share recipes, household hints, church work and recreation — but never gossip. I've always had a lot of close friends, yet there were things we didn't discuss." Don't expect that all your friendship needs will be met in one person.
The level on which we can relate to friends may have to change with the congregation. In some places, God and our husbands may be our only confidants. During those seasons, we must accept the tight limits on friendships. Staying in touch with long-distance friends via phone or e-mail can help. You may have to look beyond your situation by remembering, as one ministry wife says, "I have one standard, provided by Scripture — not someone else's preconceived notions. Being Christlike is my goal."
As Christian women, we can help, encourage, laugh with and enjoy each other. We can offer or accept support when things are tough. None of these great characteristics of friendships need to be compromised by a ministry wife. In the lean times, we can be assured that when we sense a slight pressure on our shoulder, God is reaching out to give us a hug.
Need a guaranteed good listener? Try the Pastoral Care Line at Focus on the Family (yes, it's available to ministry wives!). Call toll-free: (877) 233-4455. Available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Mountain Time).
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