My father-in-law was an amateur boxer. For a long time we had his old punching bag hanging in our garage. It really came in handy during times when one of our kids needed to release some anger or frustration and just chill out. So often as a pastor’s spouse there is a range of negative emotions needing to be released or boxed out: betrayal when you are gossiped about by someone in the church, pain when someone leaves the church, discouragement, apathy, frustration, depression, and loneliness–one of the top feelings consistently reported by pastors’ spouses. How do we combat (or box) some of these challenging emotions in ministry? I have three suggestions that have helped me over the years:
Abide is a word I have been mulling over the past couple years. I have John 15:5 displayed in a couple different places: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a person remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” It is a reminder to keep abiding, to keep praying. I have especially needed this reminder when feeling lonely, distant, and upset with God.
Recently I was taking a walk and talking to God about an extreme burden I had. For days I felt like there was a rock on my chest. I was having trouble breathing and sleeping. Every time I prayed, I felt no different. I pressed on with abiding and had it out with him one night. I boxed with God. I lay out all my raw emotions and told him I either needed to get on sleeping/anxiety pills or he had to do what I could not do. I prayed, “God, take this burden from me.” I reminded him that he told us to give him our burdens and that he would give us rest (Matthew 11:28-30). I demanded rest physically and emotionally. I told him he needed to respond by taking my burdens when I brought them to him because I felt like giving up. It wasn’t immediate, but I realized the next day that I slept better that night. The rock was gone. I felt lighter. Every time that the burden returned (sometimes ten times a day) I gave it to him and he has been faithful to keep the rock off me.
I have been thanking and praising him for this answered prayer. Had I not persisted in abiding, despite the silence I was feeling from him, I would not have experienced the joy of finally hearing him. And it is so good. When these feelings of discouragement, worry, fear, frustration and loneliness enter your thoughts, immediately take those thoughts and release them to God in prayer. He will meet your deepest needs. Have a heart-to heart, a boxing match, with God. Thank God in faith for what he is going to do. Then, release it. Box with God. He can take it. When was the last time you boxed with God and laid out all your raw emotions before him?
There is something to say about the endorphins being released, and the relationship of exercise to emotional health. I wish I could boast consistency with exercise, but alas, I can’t. And since I can’t, I can only attest to the difference I feel emotionally when exercising versus not exercising. One of my favorite things to do is speed walk, either by myself or with a friend. Exercise is something I long to make a lifetime habit. My husband has developed this habit over the years and has been inspiring me with his dedication. He recently participated in his first triathlon on Father’s Day. The kids and I couldn’t wait to cheer him on.
I see play as synonymous with rest. It is easy for us to forget to play in ministry, but it’s so important to don our boxing gloves and make room for this. The list is endless: travel, a retreat, book club, supper club, have a neighbor or someone over for lemonade (Len and I have a list of those we want to invite over this summer for lemonade on the porch or for ice cream sundaes on Sunday), connect and socialize with other pastors’ spouses who may also be feeling lonely, jump on the trampoline with your kids, take a day trip or a longer trip with your spouse or some friends or a sibling. My mom, sister and I are going to plan a trip together (inspired by my husband who went with his dad and sister to the Grand Canyon). Sometimes it just simply helps to get away from your ministry work and come back with a renewed perspective. It’s like when I get away from my kids. I come back a better mom because of the break.
You might also develop or foster a new hobby. My husband and I have reached our midlife years. I turned 40 this year (gulp). Just yesterday on a lunch date we talked about the importance of continuing to try new things to combat staleness and help break up the grind of normal life routines. My husband talked about taking a cooking class, I talked of learning to rock climb. We talked about taking a ballroom dance class together. I am rhythmically challenged, and I think this will provide lots of laughs between us. Perhaps if I state my plans to you this will ensure I will follow my own advice! Sometimes our role is to help our spouse to play by planning something fun. Maybe we need to take the lead in adding spice to our lives.
Amy Luchetti met her husband, Lenny, at Houghton College where he was studying to be a preacher and she a teacher. They have been in many ministry positions together ranging from a small rural church to larger multi-staff churches. Lenny has served as youth pastor, assistant pastor, and lead pastor. He now invests in pastors as he teaches at Wesley Seminary on the campus of Indiana Wesleyan University. Amy has served alongside Lenny as a partner in ministry. She also loves her work as an academic specialist at a local elementary school. Amy’s greatest blessings are her husband and three children.