God is Bigger Than This

             I never dreamed of being a pastor’s wife.  Never did a thought enter my mind that it would be a possibility for me.  In fact, when a friend wanted to introduce me to my future husband, I told her no because the thought of dating a pastor was so odd to me.  

Well, here I am 14 years later. 

 My husband, having grown up a pastor’s kid, tried to warn me about the life of a pastor’s wife, which included the basic hardships of:  

Frequently moving 

Low income potential

Competing for your husband’s time

and more…

But, because, I had fallen in love with this man, and he happened to be a pastor, I told him I’d follow him wherever he felt led. 

And so we went!  When we first met, my husband was a youth pastor on staff at an amazing church.  The people were loving. The community was great.  The leadership was strong and supportive.  Soon after we were married, we transitioned to another church where my husband became the College and Young Adult Pastor.  It was another great church with wonderful, loving people in a great community where we really saw ministry grow.  Therefore, my experience as a pastor’s wife wasn’t too bad.

After leaving his second staff position for seminary, we took our first Lead Pastor position.  It wasn’t long before we realized it was a different ball game having our “own” church.  There was no one above us making decisions or giving guidance.  No else taking care of the “hard” things.  We quickly learned that the buck stopped with us, and, at the end of the day, it all fell on our shoulders.  So, we started growing, adapting, and doing ministry according to our gifts, seeking the Lord’s guidance every step of the way. 

And then… the hard stuff came.  The decisions, the lack of help, the people who’d vanish in the night and not explain why, the friends you thought you had that really weren’t your friends, the isolation from not having people who know what you’re going through, the issues with hiring/firing staff, the finances, the complaints, and on and on and on.  And now having been a lead pastor’s wife for 10 years, I’m well versed in the hardship that ministry can bring.  We’ve had our fair share of ups and downs.  Some truly high highs, and some really low lows. And by low lows, I really mean really low lows.  And in the low-lows, I’ve realized more recently, that you can get yourself into a really dangerous place.

The dangerous place comes when we are hurt, or maybe we are angry, or maybe we are seeking justice for the wrongs done against us, and before long we can let those feelings lead to bitterness.  And when we find ourselves in a place of bitterness- now that’s when the enemy starts to win.  Because if we aren’t careful that bitterness really takes root and grows down deep, and starts to bleed into other areas of our hearts.  And I’ve been here.  And honestly, in some ways I find justice in that- in feeling those things because I think I deserve to feel that way.  And really it’s easier to let it fester than to do something about it.  But I’ve realized that if we don’t stay alert and aware of these feelings in the lows, that they can easily destroy us.  And so I’ve searched for ways to get from the lows to the highs, and I’ve learned how I need to take responsibility in these times for myself.  And there’s a couple of things that I’ve had to realize.

One is to choose to go to battle.  In these seasons of hurt, pain, and hard stuff, I have a choice to makeI either succumb to my feelings and let them change who I am- or I fight.  I fight because I know who my God is and I know what truth is.

Ephesians 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  

And so we are told that a battle is being waged- for our souls.  And because we have the Holy Spirit, we can suit up and get in the fight.  The hard thing is that the battle isn’t a one time thing.  It’s not like we can battle one day and then our problems are gone. The battle is on-going.  I can’t tell you how many times I made up my mind to find joy, or to forgive someone even though they haven’t asked for my forgiveness, or I commit to surrendering my thoughts to the Lord- when I set my mind to these things, it isn’t long before I’m knocked right back down.  And so, I can get up and claim victory by using God’s word, or I can lay there in the fetal position and wallow in my sorrows. (the latter is usually what feels most appealing.) I’m learning more and more that forgiveness, or walking through pain, is often a moment by moment thing.  It’s constantly bringing our thoughts and feelings, even words, to the Lord over and over again.  And laying them down.  When you pick them up- because you will, lay them down again…and again.. and keep surrendering those hard things to the Lord.  When we do this, we are constantly reminding the enemy who has already won! I promise that the second you start to battle, you’ll get knocked down.  But I also know that Jesus will help you win the battle and you’ll find peace and joy along the way!

The other thing I have to remember is to keep my eyes on Him.  In the lows, it’s easy to keep our eyes on ourselves.  How hurt we are, how bad things are, how life isn’t fair, and so on.  We can get really bogged down in our humanness with the yuck of what we are going through.  And it’s not until I truly look up and get my eyes off myself that I find freedom from those feelings.  I love the new Lauren Daigle song, “Look Up Child.” It reminds me of how often I shoulder things or get caught up in my stuff that I simply don’t look up. I love this portion of the lyrics where she’s declaring who God is and what He desires from us. 

You’re not threatened by the war
You’re not shaken by the storm
I know You’re in control
Even in our suffering
Even when it can’t be seen
I know You’re in control

Oh I hear you say

Oh I hear you say

Look up child.

Jesus tells us to come to Him.  

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 

We can come to Him in prayer, in whatever state we find ourselves.  

In life’s hard places, it’s easy to wrestle with God, blame him, and question His sovereignty.  And believe me, He can take those thoughts and questions.  He simply tells us He’s there and that He will give us rest.  And when we worship- when we truly worship- we look up.  Worship is about shifting our gaze from our circumstances to our Creator.  On how mighty, awesome, powerful, and loving our God is.  

            When we hurt, He hurts.  And I have to remind myself that it wasn’t supposed to be this way. People are messy not because God created them that way, but because sin has made us imperfect.  And I’m just as messy as everyone else.  I have to be thankful to Jesus for giving us the opportunity to get un-messy.  To find peace.  To extend forgiveness.  To love the unlovable.  To show grace.  And to see clearly that He is so much bigger than our present circumstances.  

Friends, if you’re in a season of hurting- let me join you in praying that you’ll let Him lead you through. That you’ll choose to fight, and that you’ll keep your eyes on Him.  He’s shaping you along the way.

Shannon Bradford is the new Director of Pastor’s Spouse Connection.  She currently lives in Wheaton, IL where her husband, Brian ,is the Senior Pastor at One Line Church.  She has 3 kids and works in the Admissions Office at Wheaton College.  She loves pizza, football, and shopping.  Feel free to reach out to Shannon at pastorsspouse@wesleyan.org

God Seeker, Peacemaker

peace-3

 

Peace…it’s a word we hear and see often this time of year. Chances are you’ve seen it elegantly printed on a Christmas card, heard it captured in the tune of a favorite Christmas carol, or spoken in a memorable line of a holiday movie. When I reflect on this word, images from my childhood Christmas plays come to mind where a boy or girl clad in a repurposed white sheet, cardboard wings, and a gold tinsel garland halo stepped forward to loudly proclaim, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

At that point a host of small gold tinseled angels joined in saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth PEACE, good will toward men.” The recipients of these words were the bath-robed, towel-headed shepherds struggling to sit still and attempting to look afraid. I don’t recall the atmosphere that surrounded our little church plays as very peaceful. God bless our Sunday School teachers who had the job of corralling and directing a bunch of squirrelly munchkins, but somehow in it all, I heard that word and seeds were planted that brought a yearning to more fully understand this peace that was so much a part of what Jesus, the babe in the manger, came to bring.

Desiring Peace

I would venture to say that peace is something we all long for in life. That calm tranquility that moves us through each day, that allows us to smile even in pain, that puts anxious thoughts to rest. It is a peace filled heart that can love those who have wronged us and forgive despite never being asked. Peace helps us capture the beauty of each moment, see significance in the ordinary, and make the most of every opportunity. A life of peace – we desire it and seek to attain it, but why does it seem so elusive?

I have struggled with the idea of peace in my own journey. It became clear to me some years back that I didn’t fully understand the meaning of peace. I thought of it primarily as the absence of conflict or trouble. Although that definition is not completely inaccurate from a dictionary standpoint, it fell short when played out in my daily life. Conflict and trouble were always lurking around. Sometimes it was due to internal struggles and at other times it was external. From the actions of those closest to me to world events filled with pain, strife, and uncertainty, there were so many things I couldn’t control.

I must be honest and confess that when facing these realities, I have often been a wee bit of a worrier. Well, that’s not exactly true. Sometimes I have been a big, fat, chronic worrier consumed with anxious thoughts. There’s nothing like a little worry to steal your sense of peace. When I was a young pastor’s wife, I recall worrying about feelings of inadequacy. During our church planting years, it was uncertain finances that occupied my mind. Adding children to the mix took this to a whole new level as I worried about transitioning them to new communities when we felt God calling us to pack up and move. It was difficult for me to watch them endure the heartbreak of leaving friends and family behind and struggle to acclimate to new areas. Experiencing a sense of peace when facing these realities was hard, and based on my understanding of peace – the absence of conflict and trouble – it left me feeling incapable of ever truly experiencing what I so deeply desired because I could not create an existence absent of those things.

This was an important but difficult realization for me. I felt frustrated and even a little ashamed. I had followed Jesus most of my life. I was married to a pastor for goodness sake. I should get this, right? But I didn’t. I felt like a fake. I certainly desired peace. I much preferred to feel my soul at rest beside quiet waters rather than crippled by a tumultuous storm of worry and anxiety. Yet, living with a peace filled heart can feel impossible when the struggles within ourselves and the world around us are so real. As I became increasingly aware of my inadequate understanding of peace, I found myself having to humbly walk back to the drawing board to figure out what this all meant.

God Seeker

I prayerfully began looking for answers, turned to Scripture, and sought counsel from those who were further in their journey. One thing that became clear early on was that true peace can only come from God. He is the source. You might think, “Well, of course! Every Christian knows that.” I know it seems overly simple, but it is so important. We can easily lose sight of this without realizing it. Our human nature and tendency towards self-reliance pulls us toward thinking that if we say and do the right things or if we have the right thoughts, we can experience peace. We subtly move from seeing God as the source of peace to relying on ourselves. We can also make our circumstances the source of our peace. When things are good, we feel great, but when things get difficult, we fall apart. I know I allowed myself to get caught in that trap, but when we fully see God as the source of peace, our God who is constant and faithful, we have a source that is reliable day in and out.

The next logical discovery for me was that to experience peace, one must seek the source – God. Again, mind blowing, I know, but sometimes the profound is in the simple. This means we are to seek God alone and not peace itself. At some point in my journey I came across a quote that said, “The Bible nowhere calls upon men to go out in search of peace of mind. It does call upon men to go out in search of God and the things of God.” (Abba Silver) When we seek God and live in relationship with him, peace is a result of his transformative work in our lives. He is the source of the inner peace we desire, and we find that in earnestly seeking him.

Peacemaker

As I walked further in this journey, I began to see another interesting truth. When we seek God and grow in him, he fills us with peace that results in both a state of “being” and “doing”. This peace allows us to “be” calm, less anxious, and less distracted. Our circumstances don’t change this reality. In John 16:33, Jesus said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Did you catch that? In this life we WILL have trouble. True peace is not the absence of trouble, but the result of the hope we have in a victorious savior who overcame the world.

The “doing” side of peace is the real turn. It is not enough to live in our own little bubble of peace, separated from everyone else and the troubles of this world.  Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”  The word “peacemaker” suggests someone who is spreading peace to the world around them.  As we seek God and allow him to live and be at work inside of us, we will experience his peace, a peace which our attitudes, actions, and reactions will begin to spread to others. This allows us to become active participants in God’s plan to bring peace to this world.

So, if you find yourself like me, desiring peace in a world that might seem chaotic, upside down, hurtful, or disappointing at times, remember this: Seek God, allow him to shape and transform you from the inside out. God-given peace will flow from that, and as God fills you with his peace, let it pervade the very essence of your soul and spill out to the world around you.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” – Francis of Assisi

mariettaMarietta Williams is a mom, pastor’s wife, and random hobby enthusiast. She married her college sweetheart, Chris, and has spent the past 18 years serving alongside of him in a variety of ministry contexts ranging from church planting to pastoring in both small and large churches to district leadership in their denomination. She has a heart for pastors’ spouses and desires to see them flourishing as they live out their God-given callings. She currently serves as the director of Pastor’s Spouse Connection and lives in Marion, IN with her husband and 3 children.

Welcome to Pastor’s Spouse Connection

We are elated to bring you the Pastor’s Spouse Connection Blog! It has been on the heart of our leadership team for some time and we are praying that what is posted here will encourage you, the pastor’s spouse, in the unique calling God has placed on your life. We will have a diverse group of writers, most of whom are also pastors’ spouses. We may serve in many different places and contexts, yet there is so much we hold in common.

Our PSC team is thankful for each pastor’s spouse out there and the way you faithfully love, support, and serve alongside of your husband or wife. We want you to know that we get this ministry life. It can be amazing, exciting, humbling, heartbreaking, challenging, overwhelming and sometimes all of that at the same time. In the midst of this, you are building marriages, raising families, managing careers, establishing priorities, and balancing responsibilities. You are often the wearers of many hats. As you navigate this ministry life, it is our desire to come alongside of you and offer inspiration, encouragement, and opportunities where you can connect with others who understand this journey.

The Bakery Experience

I recently attended a conference with my husband in south Florida. I did not have sessions in the morning but my husband did so while he was gone I ventured across the street from our hotel in search of breakfast. The second morning I found myself at a delightful little bakery with heaping displays of fresh baked goods. I ordered my coffee and a vanilla crème croissant and sat down in a quiet corner.

Granier Bakery, Sunny Isles Beach, FL
Granier Bakery, Sunny Isles Beach, FL

It wasn’t long before my quiet corner became a hub of activity. I noticed a couple of older, French speaking gentlemen scoping out the area and then returning to start rearranging tables and chairs. Soon they were joined by several men and women. All were speaking French and carrying baskets full of croissants and toasted baguettes. Their conversation was loud and jovial. It had me wishing I could speak French and join in on the fun.

At first I thought they might be tourists but as they sat there, a few more trickled in and were greeted with enthusiastic welcomes and hugs from the group. By the time I left, there must have been at least a dozen in the group and additional tables had to be added. This seemed to be a regular gathering, a place where their commonalities of language, traditions, and current context brought them together. In this place they were free to be who they were, to be understood in their native language, and to be at ease in the company of others who shared similar life journeys.

Why Connect?

As I sat observing this interaction, I was reminded of the power of community and having moments in life to connect with people who get us, where we can let our guards down, and we can speak in a way that is easily understood. As human beings, we seem to be built with a longing for this kind of connection, and as followers of Christ, the idea of community goes a step further and becomes essential to our becoming the people God wants us to be. We need each other if we are to be and do all he has called us to in this life. Community with members of the Body of Christ is a gift God has given us. The Bible is full of verses that reflect this truth.

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt. 18:20)

“Two are better than one…If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.” (Eccl. 4:9-10)

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)

“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (I Peter 4:8-10)

I could go on listing passages, but these let us capture a glimpse of the many ways we grow and benefit from connecting with one another in community.

So what does this mean for us as pastors’ spouses? We will certainly have many circles of people we interact and connect with in the areas and contexts where we serve. We will love and give of ourselves in those environments, but along with those connections, we believe there is also value in having connection with other pastors’ spouses. Just like the type of community I observed at the bakery, we need a place where we can go and speak in a way that is easily understood, where our guards can come down, and where we can find encouragement as we live out the calling God has placed on our lives. This kind of connection is at the heart of why Pastor’s Spouse Connection exists. We believe we are better together, encouraging one another, spurring each other on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25). So we invite you to join us! Pull up a chair at our table. There’s always room for one more!

Table