Tonight is the 23rd of December. In another week a new year will be upon us. It, naturally, is a time for reflection and a time to count our blessings. We are blessed because we live in America and are free to worship God in the way He commanded us; we are blessed because we have plenty to eat and warm houses in which to live while people in other parts of the world are starving. But there is one blessing that I share with a relative few in this world. It is a blessing that I prize very highly and one that I am thankful God gave me the freedom and opportunity to choose I am blessed in that I chose to become a preacher’s wife.
I can almost hear some now saying: “That’s a strange thing to say. She must be off her rocker in some way. A preacher’s wife can’t be thankful or call that a blessing. Why, she is often criticized and put on the spot. Her husband is often gone for days at a time and she is alone. Her children are in the spotlight and their actions minutely inspected. Preachers never make much money or have fine houses. They must move ever so often. How can she call that a blessing?”
Yes, I can hear all these comments, even though unspoken. And I grant that most of them are true. But I still count it a blessing. Until recently, I never gave it much thought. I just went along from day to day doing what had to be done. However, some recent events have prompted me to reflect on this blessing. Perhaps my reflections can help a few others to appreciate their lot in life a little more and also cause others to choose this way, if the choice presents itself.
Recently, I have heard some voice the opinion that they did not want to be a preacher’s wife or that they did not want their girl to become a preacher’s wife. I have heard of boys who want to give up preaching because their sweethearts did not want to be preacher’s wives. You know, I never gave that a whole lot of thought. Maybe my mother wishes I had; but if so, she never spoke that thought. She did tell me that she wanted me to help make my husband a good one. Those of you who know him can judge how well I succeeded!
What is the life of a preacher’s wife really like? There are others who have been “at it” far longer than I and who could tell far more about it, I am sure; but tonight let me give you some of my thoughts.
It will soon be twenty-three years since I decided to take that “giant step” and I never have been sorry for one minute. It has not always been smooth sailing or an easy course to follow. I have made a lot of mistakes-for these, I am truly sorry-but God forgives a preacher’s wife on the same basis He forgives anyone else. The brethren where we have lived have “put up with,” encouraged, laughed, and even cried with us on various occasions. For this, I am grateful. Without their help, I never could have “made it,” I suppose.
I do not believe that I was consciously trained to become a preacher’s wife. However, I never was discouraged. It just never really concerned me too much one way or another. We had preachers in our family (though all are either dead or liberal now), and when we could all get together, it was a wonderful time. I am sure that when I left to go to Florida College in 1949 the thought must have occurred to my parents that I might marry a preacher, since that institution was (and is) well known for the marriages that are created there. I am an “only child” and when I left for college it was for good, except for short, infrequent visits. That is not the way I would like for it to be. However, because of our work it has had to be like that. So, being an only child is no excuse for not becoming a preacher’s wife.
Next week is the fifteenth birthday of our older son. Some of you will remember where he was born. Not in some comfortable American hospital in my hometown, to be sure. No, he was born in a university hospital in Bergen, Norway, thousands of miles from either of our homes and parents, with a doctor who was a Communist and nurses and attendants who did not speak or understand English. It was not an easy time. We had few friends there then, having been in Norway only four months. At the time, I came as close to not caring about anything as I ever have. But I thank God that I did not entirely give in. Even then, I did not regret being a preacher’s wife. What I am saying is this: There may be times when you, as a preacher’s wife, will have to leave this country. It is almost a certainty that you will have to leave your hometown and parents. But as Jesus said in Luke 14:26, “If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
This is a time of protest and discontent. The younger generation is critics of the older generation. They say we are materialistic. But I just wonder what it is when a boy decides not to preach because the girl he wants to marry just does not want to move around ever so often, or does not want to leave her parents or her hometown. She wants the security of a job and a house in one locality all her life. Is this materialism? What else?
Preachers’ wives are not a special breed. Why, God did not even give us special admonitions as he did wives of elders and deacons. We have only the same admonitions as all other women. However, there are a few commands which certainly pertain to a preacher’s wife.
As with other Christians, we are not to gossip or bear tales. No Christian should do this. And certainly not a preacher’s wife. She is in a position to know things about other Christians which do not need to be made public. Things are said to her and her husband in confidence and she needs to be able to keep such knowledge to herself, lest it hurt the person, her husband, and even the congregation. In fact, some things her husband should not even tell her. If I had any one piece of advice to give any girl who is about to become a preacher’s wife, it would be, “Keep your mouth shut!” Neither is it her business to advertise decisions that the elders make or, for that matter, to try to tell the elders or her husband which decisions to make.
And which of us has not at some time engaged in a little self-pity? Some are more prone to this than others. But a Christian has no right or need to do this. We are called to serve God wherever and whenever we can. The preacher’s wife cannot afford self-pity. There will often be times when her husband will be called away to the hospital to sit with a family during an operation; or to a funeral home after a sudden death; or to a person’s home during a trying time when a marriage is on the brink of failure; or even to the local jail to help somebody in trouble. She must wait at home with a supper pushed to the back of the stove or in the oven. Or, he may be gone for several days at a time in a gospel meeting clear across the country, or to a lectureship, or to a debate. Maybe he will even he involved in his work halfway around the world.
I have never asked my husband not to go where he thought he was needed for God’s work. Yet, I must confess that I came close in 1971 when he and J.T. Smith decided to go to the Philippine Islands. I knew there would be physical danger involved in such a trip; it would mean that the children and I would be alone for an entire month. What if one of the children got seriously ill? Or what if I became sick? However, I agreed that he should go. In fact, I knew he would go before he had even finished telling me of the need. For some reason, I have always believed that it was up to me to let him go and that it was up to God to take care of him. So far, it has worked out that way. How glad I am now that he and Brother Smith went. Because of their efforts and the efforts of others who have gone, the brethren there have been helped immensely. By mail, I have come to know many of those people. They have had many difficulties and troubles, which many of us would find unbearable. Would I be willing for him to go again? You bet I would!
Congregations often expect too much of the preacher’s wife. They seem to think that for some reason they “own” her and should be able to tell her what to do and how to do it. This attitude can cause problems. Let me hurriedly and thankfully say that I have never really faced this problem. The congregations where we have worked have been very considerate along this line; but I do know that such things have happened. Just because the church owns the house in which the preacher lives or pays the rent for him, does not give the members the right to tell the wife how to run her house. This is their home for the time that they live there.
Neither does the congregation “hire” the preacher’s wife. For the first twenty years we were married, I did a lot of secretarial work for my husband and the church. I knew how to do such work and was glad to do it. With but one exception, I have never been paid for such work. However, a congregation has no right to expect more from a preacher’s wife along this line than from any other woman in the congregation.
A preacher is not always as well paid as some in this life. He does not have many fringe benefits which workers in plants or offices have. Few churches pay social security, health insurance premiums, or pension plans. Yet, I do not know of many churches that will deny a preacher an extra day off at a holiday season or fail to continue his salary during a long, drawn out illness. Though your daughter may not always have the “most” in this life, you can rest assured that there are fringe benefits which few others will ever have.
What am I talking about? For one thing: friends. Yes, our friends . . . from Maine to California; Washington to Florida; in Canada, Norway and the Philippines. We would not trade these acquaintances for any amount of money on earth. These are people with whom we have worked through the years and who now have scattered around the country and the world. They include preachers, and, yes, their wives. They include sons and daughters of preachers who have grown up and married in the past twenty years. Whole congregations are included. These are all brothers and sisters in Christ, and all of them are (or should be) striving toward the same goal-an eternal home in heaven. These friends are the finest people on earth.
These “Preacher-wife” years have meant a broader education for my children and me than would have been possible had we always lived in the same place. How else could we have seen the midnight sun of Norway; the snow of northeast Ohio; the blast-off of a rocket at Cape Kennedy; the rock-bound coast of Maine; the lakes of Ontario; the cathedral of Worms, Germany where Martin Luther took his stand? I do not mean for this to sound as if we have been to these places just for the fun of traveling. That is not it at all. The work came first and that is what took us to these places, but I would be foolish to let you think that it did not benefit our lives. It has even helped our children in their schoolwork.
One of the greatest fringe benefits is being the constant recipients of the prayers of the congregation. Who else has God’s blessing invoked upon them in public prayers as much as the preacher and his family?
Most of all, a preacher’s wife develops a better understanding of people and a desire to have a part in the saving of their souls. Who could describe the frame of mind a preacher is in after someone has obeyed the gospel, or a wayward church member has repented, or some evidence is seen of good resulting from your husband’s efforts? Could it just be that I did have some part in making that possible? If so, then it has been worth it after all.
Wife of a Preacher for 23 years
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 20, pp. 8-10
March 22, 1973