Driving home after Wednesday night church, I turned off the main highway onto the familiar tree-lined road that twisted and turned as it led to our subdivision. From the passenger seat, my fourteen-year-old daughter asked, “Mom, have you ever questioned why God chose us? I mean. If God called Dad to be a pastor, then he chose us to suffer with him.”
In my desire to ease her pain from the present situation, I thought back to happier days. I responded, “That’s a good question. I’m not sure, but I can tell you in our first church you were a breath of fresh air to that aging congregation. There hadn’t been a baby in the parsonage in over twenty years. They loved you, and you loved them. You were so sweet, by the time you were two, you knew everyone’s name and could pair every couple.”
I looked over and saw the silent, pain filled tears flowing over her flushed cheeks as she cried, “I just want to love church like that again.”
In the past two years, we’ve lost twenty-five members, mostly young families. Some relocated for jobs, but most left for many of the same reasons over the church’s thirty-year decline. In the late 1980s the church ran about 800. Sunday mornings, we have about 200. We started our ministry three years ago. Although, the church hired us for change, very little has changed. When the church loses members, some think it must be the pastor’s fault.
When people are upset, they begin to grumble. Instead of asking, “What part of the problem is mine?”, many look for someone to blame. The pastor and his family are easy targets.
In the last church, we faced the opposite problem, church growth. After three years of prayer and work, the church began to grow. We were baptizing and adding new members. Then, a devastating affair came to light, and the whole church was reeling in grief.
My husband and I have discovered that it is easier to apply the truth of scripture during Theology 101 than it is to apply it to broken hearts. We quote, “forgive others as God has forgiven you,” with ease, but applying forgiveness to messy complicated marriages is much harder.
How do we heal when sheep bite, wolves’ words leave their intended scars on our souls, and we carry with us our own insecurities, missteps, and mistakes? We keep our eyes on Jesus the author and finisher of faith. Jesus also faced godly people doing ungodly things. Matthew 16:23, “Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”
Just moments earlier, Peter had declared to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Although he knew who Jesus was, Peter didn’t understand God’s plan to have Jesus die on the cross. His insistence that he would never allow Jesus to die revealed that he was blinded by merely human concerns. If Peter can be, then so can we.
Prepare for Persecution
The first step towards healing is to acknowledge that we have forever been thrown out of the Garden of Eden. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect living. As Reinhold Niebuhr writes in the Serenity Prayer, we must take, “as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it, trusting that You will make all things right.”
I believed that persecution comes from outside the church, and as a pastor’s wife, persecution would come from the unbelievers as I shared my testimony with them. But I naively assumed that persecution would not come from within the Bride of Christ. Instead, the very words of scripture in 2 Timothy 3:12 remind me that “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.” There is no immunity.
When we accept that there will be times of hardship, we understand that there is no way back to the perfection of the Garden of Eden. Our marriages, children, families, friendships and even our churches our subject to sin’s curse. We must go forward in Christ knowing that our citizenship is in heaven. We long for a better home. This present home includes times of slander, gossip, backbiting, and backstabbing. Jesus endured all of this and the cross to secures our redemption, so we should not be surprised when we face these things.
Remember God’s Power
The second step is to remember that the power of Christ lives in us even when we feel we are at our weakest. Often as the pastor’s wife, I felt like I don’t quite measure up to the high standards others may have for me. Paul describes us as jars of clay, saying “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:6-10). We need to remember that God expects us to be weak.
Paul doesn’t write that we will never be hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, or struck down. He writes that all these things will happen so that the light of Christ will shine in our hearts. Do not despair that you are perplexed. When sheep bite and wolves devour, it is perplexing, but it is not unexpected! Rejoice in the fact that when, “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” on that day “each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). In our prayers, we can claim God’s promise that “God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please the flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8). Remember these simple words, God alone knows and He has the power to bring true justice.
Acknowledge our Weakness
The last step is to acknowledge our insecurities. Everyone has them. We all grew up in a broken world, and therefore, we all have weak places. We make mistakes and missteps. Apply the same mercy and grace to yourself as you bestow on others. Seek wise counsel to work through past hurts. If you grew up in a broken home, the hurt from childhood will compound the church wounding. Trauma compounds trauma. Read books, journal, paint, draw, and stay physically fit, because caring for your body and soul will help you endure spiritual challenges.
As we seek healing, we will grieve. Take heart, for Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). We grieve the loss of friendships, and the loss of ministry. Persecution will come. Our hope is in Christ. This world is not our home. Coming is a day, when Jesus Christ will make all things right. In the meantime, Jesus enables us to endure, so that His glory shines through us, in this life and the one to come.
The motto for the pastor’s wife who suffers ought to be that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So, we fix our eyes on not what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). We must bear our hearts with our eyes fixed not on our weakness, but on God’s strength; not on our persecution, but on our Savior.