Christmas Confessions of a Pastor's Wife
Christmas Confessions of a Pastor's Wife
by Jess McIntyre
Sparkly lights on evergreen trees flood my social media feeds even before Turkey Day. My community is so anticipatory of the Christmas Magic that they post gleefully about listening to holiday albums and watching Christmas movies before December even arrives. They are ready. They are jubilant! I am hesitant. I am weary.
I am not a scrooge; I put up the tree the day after Thanksgiving with great pomp and tradition. I set out my collection of nativities with great reverence; we rock the Christmas albums with great revelry. The holiday season is definitely fun and festive around our house, but also stressful because it is just plain full of stress: stress of finances, expectations, and calendaring. Many people deal with these same worries at the holidays, but in our home another variable is added to the mix: ministry life for this ministry wife.
I definitely consider it a gift, and have made an intentional choice to live alongside my amazing man of God and pastor husband. He is an Arts and Local Outreach pastor at a large church in Southern California, so that definitely keeps us busy. He lives authentically at home and at church, and truly loves going to work most days. He gets to tell the story of Christ through his creative job tasks. He desires to connect with and empower volunteers. He loves to lift the downtrodden, look them in the eye, and provide them with hope and dignity. I am so glad we get the blessing of a job, and lifestyle, with such purpose.
BUT, when I as a pastor’s wife develop friendships, I can (often necessarily) be guarded. I homeschool my 15 and 11 year old daughters, as well as work professionally for that same charter school. The expectation and judgement level overlaid on my life and choices goes up with that leadership in schooling choices and ministry, as it should. The bible even says that those in leadership should live beyond reproach, wisely, maintaining a good reputation and self-control. Though, because of this higher standard, being honest with struggles in marriage and family life, or just wanting to let my hair down in safety is hard. Our family life can feel like we live in a fishbowl; others noticing highly when any of us are having an emotional day or disagreement. I sit alone at many services, events, and weddings while he works, and my girls and I attend most festive church gatherings without Dad at our side, especially at the Christmas holidays.
For so many years, there has been no travel to family at the holidays, and many large family gatherings have been missed on days like Christmas Eve or Easter. My husband often says “those holidays are like our Superbowl” — everything shuts down and revolves around the pertinent church event. We always joke that our Christmas Season really begins after the church Christmas production and outreach ministries which close late in December. That is when we can finally focus on our own season of celebration of Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection. That is when we can do the fun festivities like cuddle with a Christmas movie, or wrap a package, or look at the Christmas lights. That is when we truly get Dad’s focus and attention back.
Now because of the high family values my husband has deep within him, and as he moved into leadership more and more, he has made decisions that have protected our family time as much as possible. But truly we all know there is a bigger purpose, a greater story to tell this season. We all participate where we can. But, there have been many years when I was standing behind him raising our children, instead of beside him shining the light of God’s story through events and productions. I remind myself that I have no higher calling than to raise up my daughters as well adjusted, peaceful girls that love God and each other, that we do not need to be at church every time the doors are open, that God has instilled others with gifts and placed them at his side to accomplish the story telling; but it is hard to watch him do all the great things with his other staff and volunteers at his side, and not always me. I live in a mamma cocoon, and just now as my children are aging, am I emerging as a transformed and different creation that can serve with him in new ways. I am excited at the prospect, but even outside motherhood, my participation is not always my ideal picture of a ministry wife, my priorities sometimes have to be balanced with other hats I wear at work, and my calendar gets squished.
Christmas calendars are always full, and multiple ministry events add to the cram-packed weeks leading up to the 25th. To combat the calendar crazies I often end up calendaring like a anxiety-riddled secretary just so we can maintain some semblance of traditions. We both want to have memories of seeing Christmas lights with our children, of reading advent devotionals as a family, of experiencing holiday events together; so we are very intentional to foster communication on calendaring. We use an electronic calendar system so we can all see our plans from multiple devices, but there is inevitably a breaking point for this ministry wife, and then our ministry life lies in peril. Once I hit this emotional response point, I don’t respond well to his many hours away, or his distraction when he is with us. I set expectations he can’t meet while balancing the demands of whatever ministry event is pulling at him. I cry at him unnecessarily at the end of a long day when are both tired and need rest in each other’s company, our times with the Lord, and frankly by letting our head hit the pillow.
We sarcastically joke at our house about Dad’s PMS, ”Production Ministry Syndrome”, and this is a very hard reality for us, that is just buried in a funny pun. When the production is in full swing, Dad’s mental focus is on the tasks of ministry and not on family matters. He is distracted, and tired, and stressed during those weeks. Big conversations have to wait. Big outings must not be scheduled. Big calendar events are often missed. We know that his ultimate life priority is us, but in this season he is working to tell the ultimate story, so he is pulled in many directions. Philosophically we’re all on board, but, in the day to day when my social media feed is full of festive family outings, and conversations with friends are based on all the holiday happiness, that philosophical rubber hits the road, and it is hard. That rubber stinks.
Unrealistic expectations don’t as often come from our congregation, but more from myself. I am a unique pastor’s wife as I am not running a ministry with my husband or super involved in his ministry year round, but I just partner in vision and support the efforts or productions where I can. I have my own calling and career, as well as other priorities in my day like homeschooling our children, so I am living in the middle ground of wanting to be a part of all the productions and holiday events, and balancing my own commitments. This often brings turmoil in my own heart, and I have to check myself that I can’t do it all.
My sweet, creative, husband can’t do it all either. I shouldn’t expect him to, consciously or unconsciously. I need to help protect his heart, his calendar, his self-care in busy moments, his creative angst as he processes through trials in productions, our marriage by using kind words and less tears, our children by providing peace, and his ministry with heartfelt support and involvement. Even through the hard moments, I need to focus on the good and grow through the hard.
That is true of all of us. Not one of us can do it all in this season. We shouldn't expect it of ourselves, or our loved ones. We need to protect our hearts, and fill our time with telling the best story ever-Christ’s story. I struggle with this every year, but I have begun to simply cut things out and say no to things that aren’t truly necessary in our season. If someone is disappointed that we didn’t come to their party, oh well. I try to convince my people-pleasing self of this every year (and the trusted voice of my husband helps). We also have begun to actually put things like “see in-town lights”, or “make a gingerbread house”, or “wrap presents”, or “bake cookies”, or even “read advent devotional’ on the calendar; so nothing gets scheduled over those activities we hold dear. And inevitably all the American traditions like Christmas movies and tree decorating will fall into place...or maybe they won’t every single year. But, our holiday will be happy just the same if we can focus on the joy of ministry life, whether we are married to or working in ministry, or just a volunteer who gives of our precious holiday time. I find this joy by intentionally paying attention to lives that are affected by the ministry events, or the responses of church members to events that have impacted their holiday for good, or the eternal purpose of this season. We CAN have a happy holiday season, if we choose JOY, so I will do just that. Will you join me? JOY!