Wednesday, May 31, 2006

THE LONELY LIFE OF A PASTOR'S WIFE

Cindy Evers has been a preacher's wife for 30 years.

As such, she has taught Bible classes and volunteered in the community, and yet if it were up to her, no one would ever know she's the wife of the Rev. Fred Evers.
Not because she doesn't love her husband, but because she hates the pressure of being the pastor's wife.

"When it's good, it's awesome," Evers said. "And when it's bad, it's awful."
Being the spouse of a minister is like being the spouse of anyone in the public eye. It's a pretty lonely existence, experts say, and not immune to the everyday challenges the rest of society faces --- such as keeping a home and raising a family --- to the more extreme problems like alcoholism and infidelity.

"There is a great deal of pain within the household of our clergy,'' said Kim Coffing, an assistant general secretary with the United Methodist Church.
Because they are expected to uphold certain moral standards, the burden can become so heavy it leads to feelings of isolation and depression.
Worse, Coffing said, many spouses are not aware of the resources available. Even those who are often do not seek help because of fear of the effect it will have on their spouse's career.

"When you are a minister, marital problems are inextricably bound together in a way that most other vocations don't enter in," said Tom Fuller, director of Samford University's Beeson Divinity School. "Ministry is not just your job, it's your calling. It's your life.

"I think many idealize, romanticize being a preacher's wife," Fuller said. "It's really only after they are on the inside do they discover what a fishbowl existence it is."
Empathy with suspect
Until the shooting death of the Rev. Matthew Winkler two months ago, glimpses into the sometimes troubled lives of clergy families were rare.
Winkler, 31, was found dead March 22 in a bedroom at the couple's parsonage in Selmer, Tenn. His wife, 32-year-old Mary, has been charged with first-degree murder and is being held without bail. Her case is expected to go to the grand jury in mid-June.
Winkler's attorney, Steve Farese, said he has received dozens of e-mails from ministers' spouses empathizing with her.

Farese said the women "finally have an outlet to say 'let me tell you what it's really like.' It kinda broadsided me to get this."
The lawyer, who visits with Winkler once a week in jail, said, "There are always reasons for things like this to occur and those reasons will be our defense."
Shifting expectations

"The biggest problem is expectations," said Evers, who has counseled ministers' wives and is president of the Georgia Baptist Convention Ministers' Wives Network. "Why should I live up to somebody else's expectations when the only difference between me and another woman in the congregation is I'm married to the pastor?"
Evers said those expectations change from congregation to congregation.
Northside Baptist Church in Tifton, where her husband is senior pastor, has been very supportive, Evers is quick to point out. But she recalled another church her husband pastored that "was an absolute nightmare."
Some congregants once complained because their two sons played football, saying "it was not godly." Others objected when her husband included the baby of a single mother in a Baptist ceremony.

"He and I stood with her on the stage where her husband would've been," Evers remembered.

"They got up and walked out."
Mary Cox echoes Evers' experience.

"It's just the joy of my life," said the wife of the Rev. Frank Cox, pastor of North Metro First Baptist in Lawrenceville.
But as the coordinator for ministers' wives of the Georgia Baptist Convention, she has talked to many wives who complain they don't have anyone to confide in and are frustrated by how little time their husbands spend with their families.
Many clergy spouses have jobs, yet still feel pressured to be heavily involved in the congregation.
Edward Wimberly, professor of pastoral care at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, said parishioners often expect ministers to have a "perfect" family.

"In a world that is constantly changing, the only place they expect stability is in the pastor and his family,'' he said. "They expect them to be available 24 hours, to be nurturing parents, that pastors would perform perfect empathy."
The problem comes when pastors and their wives buy into that and don't take the time to care for themselves or their families, Wimberly said.
Wide range of help
The scope of the issue is underlined by the wide range of help available, from retreats and counseling services to Web sites and blogs.

The Georgia Baptist Convention offers many resources and is working to build a support network, Cox said.

Cathedral Counseling Center can arrange for individual, couple and family counseling for clergy spouses of all denominations. The center is on the campus of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, a satellite office of the Care and Counseling Center of Georgia.
Ministers' wives are gathering online at blogs such as www.withpurpose.com and at www.lifeway.com.

The United Methodist Church is trying to address issues raised in a 2004 survey. Leaders will meet this month to discuss them.
And once a year, Lois Evans, wife of senior pastor Tony Evans of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, hosts a First Lady Conference to provide a "safe place'' for wives to reflect, renew and relax.

Evans started the event several years ago when she needed help and couldn't find any.

"My gifts and skill sets didn't match the traditional role of a pastor's wife, to be ready to teach, be just as fluid in Scripture," Evans said. "I needed someone to teach me."
The First Lady Conference, which draws hundreds of women from across the country, was Evans' answer to helping wives forsake the "cookie cutter image." This year's conference is June 8-10.

"I want to have a conference designed around the needs women say they have," Evans said.

"We'll be dealing with real issues."
Evans said churches should be more sensitive and view clergy spouses as humans who want to be loved unconditionally. At the same time, she said, wives could be "a little more open. A lot of us have built walls of protection around us because we've been hurt."

GETTING HELP: Advice for pastors' wives: Know you have a tough job and you don't have to be perfect. Know your ministry strengths. Know you aren't alone. Allow time to take care of yourself and get your needs met. Don't give up your own identity. Be yourself.> Don't keep everything inside. It will eventually lead to an emotional or physical breakdown.Source: Dwight Bain, nationally certified counselor and certified family law mediator.WIVESBLOGMinisters' wives are gathering online to discuss their thoughts, joys and struggles. Here are excerpts of recent comments posted at Withpurpose.com. Only the bloggers' "screen names" are used:Susan: There have been times when the only thing that has kept me in the situation is my commitment to God, because not even my love for my husband could make me put up with the loneliness and isolation on this scale.Siobham: I have struggled for a few years to stay off any pedestals --- people do want to put the [pastor's wife] there, then enclose it in a glass case where they can look at you, but not really know you.A Small-Church PW: This is too much for one woman, mother, wife, Christian, worship leader, children's church teacher, women's leader, Sunday school teacher & church secretary. And I have a "real" job too!!!Hanna: It feels like the role of pastor's wife is the lowest in social rank because everybody thinks you are there simply to serve serve serve and serve some more and take in all the barrage of criticism while the whole time having a smile on.Julie: I love all the women in our church, but it's hard to have to be guarded in your conversations because you're the pastor's wife. Would someone out there be my PW friend?> Names are those chosen by blog participants for their e-mail accounts.

Friday, May 19, 2006

I’m Running Out Of Cheeks by Aaron Welch, LMHC

One of the most difficult scriptures to apply in our lives is Jesus’ teaching on “turning the other cheek” when somebody attacks us or insults us. For many of us (including yours truly) our first reaction to an attack is to defend ourselves. In fact, when it comes to dealing with a perceived attack upon us, many of us subscribe to the theory that “the best defense is a good offense”!
Yes, Jesus was clearly showing his listeners that the Lord wants us to refrain from indulging our urges for personal vengeance. In fact, he leads up to this teaching by citing the fact that the religious leaders of the day were encouraging the “eye for an eye” principle on dealing with conflict. But, he then tells the people that this is not the way he wants his disciples to handle their relationships. Talk about a hard teaching to swallow!

So, how do we apply this principle to our everyday lives? When our spouse lays into us right where it hurts, how can we refrain from firing back? When our boss lets us have it for something that wasn’t our fault, how can we turn the other cheek without turning into a door mat?

Here’s some quick advice:

1) Realize that most insults or personal attacks have more to do with that person’s own struggles than they do about you. That person may have an anger problem or they may be insecure or their own hurts from the past may have been inadvertently triggered. Don’t always take the insult personally.

2) Remember that retaliation almost always causes the situation to escalate.
-When we retaliate in a harsh way, it also gives that person a reason to blame us for the situation. They often use our retaliation as a way to avoid taking responsibility for their own harsh words.

3) Remember that God says in scripture that vengeance belongs to Him. The Bible teaches that we all “reap what we sow”. A person cannot lash out hurtfully in anger without facing consequences for it eventually. On the flip side, if you respond harshly you may also be sowing seeds that may bring a harvest you don’t like.

4) Do your best to detach yourself from the insult.
-Realize that the attacker’s goal is to hurt you or cause a response from you. Don’t fall into that trap.

5) When attacked; slow yourself down, walk away, and approach that person later.
-You CAN stand up for yourself in a way that is both strong and still godly.

6) Pray for that person:
-They most likely have a lot of pain and hurt below the surface. They need the love of Christ more than we need personal revenge.

Are these steps easy to follow? Ummm…no. However, if we allow Him to, the Holy Spirit will help us to grow and mature in our walk with the Lord. It’s His work of sanctification; a very large word that simply means God will, over time, help us to be more like Jesus. Oh, and speaking of Jesus…was there ever anyone who was a better example of turning the other cheek? Never, and if He can do it in the face of severe pain and persecution, I’m confident that He can help us learn how to deal with relational conflict in a healthier way.

About the Author: Aaron Welch is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor who has devoted his life to reaching out and helping people to grow and mature through difficult life situations. Whether it has been through clinical counseling, pastoral ministry, youth camps and conventions, public speaking, leadership training, educational instruction, athletic coaching or small group ministry, Aaron has over eighteen years of experience in assisting people through life struggles and personal growth. His genuine love for people and his outgoing personality combine to create a safe and caring environment for putting the pieces of life back together.

Monday, May 15, 2006

PASSING ALONG GRACE, Dwight Bain, LMHC

Outquote: No kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.

Have you ever had one of those days where you were reminded of your past? Not the regrets and guilt from past mistakes, rather the blessings of remembering how God used others to share His grace and love with you. That’s the kind of memory that brings comfort from knowing that God was always reaching out to you, even when you didn’t know it was Him. Let me tell you a story about David Hurd, a man who illustrates this type of grace messenger to show you how this spiritual process works.

But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. ~ Jeremiah 17:7

The 1970’s were a calm time in Central Florida and life was good. Orlando was a small town of closely connected families and businesses, so churches tended to reflect that same sense of connection. Brother Dave Hurd was my youth pastor when I was an impressionable teenager under his leadership. To put it bluntly I was just another “nerd” in the crowd. Overweight, shy and afraid of the rejection of my peer group I was not a candidate for anyone’s most successful list... that is, anyone except Brother Dave’s. (Yes, I knew that my family loved and accepted me, but I didn’t count that because they were supposed to! I later found out that my parents were in a conspiracy with Brother Dave to help me come out of my insecure shell to be the young man God designed to be). He always had time to listen to my disappointments or dreams and I knew that he really cared about me. What a difference! Over a two year period, I was able to let go of shyness and fear and begin to join my peers. Brother Dave encouraged me toward speaking contests for teenagers and by God’s grace I did well. He even went with me to the national contest in upstate New York to encourage and cheer me on.

“I am the Lord, the God of all the peoples of the world. Is anything to hard for me?”
~ Jeremiah 32:27

Now over twenty-five years later, I am still speaking to groups about God’s grace and healing power to touch and change lives. God used David Hurd as his messenger to guide a scared teenager into beginning a life of Christian Service and ministry. I will forever be grateful for his love and influence in my life. there are dozens of times that I’m still blessed from the common wisdom from this godly man.

“For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” ~ Isaiah 55:9

Perhaps this would be a good time to call your former youth pastor or Sunday School teacher to express your gratitude for their influence in your life as a messenger of God’s grace. Often people who give up their time and energy to minister through their church feel lonely and forgotten when the fact is they are instruments in God’s hands to touch lives. Brother Dave did that for me and I am holding the ladder up for the next bunch....

“Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.”~ Luke 9:23

What about you? Who was a grace messenger to help you and who are you helping? Good questions, but before you reach out to help others, why not start with seeking out someone from your past to bless them for their leadership and kindness. That way you will be handing back the grace and love that they handed you so long ago, and the grace process will continue to grow on and on.

For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what please him. ~ Philippians 2:13

About the Author: Dwight Bain is an Author and Nationally Certified Counselor at the LifeWorks Group in Winter Park. To access more resources go to www.lifeworksgroup.org.