By Angela Sanders
I am a minister’s wife. I have the scars to prove it, but my children don’t. Not because they didn’t see. Not because they didn’t hear. Not because we lied to them. We didn’t.
Hunter and Hope came through an enemy attack on their family by church members with their optimism, faith, and desire to serve the body intact. This was possible only because a few who had successfully waded through the murky waters of vocational ministry ahead of us were selfless enough to take us by the hand and teach us to survive and thrive—and maintain our integrity—in spite of the challenges inherent in our calling
Following are the words of wisdom we found to be the most valuable.
The first few have to do with seeing your circumstances for what they are (and are not) and for keeping your head on straight.
Expect trials—Whether you are serving God well in humble obedience or have misused the authority given you and/or wronged others, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you will face difficulties in your life and challenges in your ministry. Jesus warned about this, so don’t be surprised when it actually happens.
Whether the trials you experience are the loving discipline of your heavenly Father prompted by your own misdeeds and poor choices or the unearned consequences of someone else’s actions allowed by God for your refinement, face your trials head-on with sincere appreciation for the opportunity they afford you to grow closer to God.
Seek to emerge from these trials a more mature believer, with wisdom to impart, trusting God to work all things together for your good and his glory.
Identify the real enemy—When human eyes throw you daggers and human lips express words that burn you to the core, it’s easy to forget the real enemy is Satan. He wears people like gloves. He employs them like suicide bombers. He uses people until there is nothing left and then he casts them aside to deal with the consequences of their actions.
Work to keep this perspective when dealing with those who try to make life difficult for you. Remember, as long as you remain in the center of God’s will, you are not the victim; those who oppose you are. Don’t become a victim by responding in kind. Remain above reproach.
Don’t show favoritism—It’s tempting to huddle up with a trusted few when you are hurting and don’t know who will fire the next arrow. Resist that temptation and show equal love, grace, and mercy to everyone, even those who oppose you—especially to those who oppose you. It’s very difficult for a person to make a case against you or draft an army to fight you when all that anyone sees from you, all that they experience when with you, is unconditional, unbiased love.
Forgive—Forgiveness is really not as difficult as we sometimes make it. It is a conscious choice to forgive a debt that has nothing to do with emotion. It is acting as if, and actually believing, that the person who hurt you no longer owes you anything for what they’ve done, even if they never ask for your forgiveness, and no matter whether they know or care that they have received it. Spare yourself the pain of a grudge.
Free yourself by forgiving immediately—even before you are asked—and give God room to work on your behalf.
Helping the Children
The rest of the advice we received has to do with coaching our children through the trials we face as a family.
Be honest—If you are hurting, say so. Your children know anyway. Lying about it will just make them worry and feel left out. Don’t name any names unless absolutely necessary, and speak in euphemisms that are age-appropriate, if you must.
Tell your children what is going on and how you feel about it, when you are able to do so without losing your cool, but don’t leave it there. Tell them the whole truth so they can learn from your experience. Talk to them about trials, their inevitability, and what we can learn from them. Explain the difference between people who hurt us and the real enemy. Talk them through the meaning of genuine love and forgiveness, and demonstrate it without showing favoritism.
Not only will your children learn valuable lessons, but the accountability derived from discussing these things openly with your children will help you stay focused as you deal with unpleasant circumstances. Own up to your own mistakes, and let your children know when you have moved past a particular circumstance so they aren’t left behind.
Be careful—It’s a good thing to keep your children informed, but it’s a bad thing to overload them with your problems. Avoid giving your children a play-by-play of every interaction, every word spoken, and every bit of gossip spread. Instead, keep your children informed on a need-to-know basis.
Before you share information, make sure it is pertinent to the lessons they are learning from your experience. If you sense they are becoming preoccupied with your circumstances, back off a little.
End every conversation about your situation on a high note by reminding them that God is faithful even when people are not, and that nothing is too big for God to handle. Share your personal victories, even if it’s only that God is helping you keep your mouth shut.
Avoid discussing your problems on church days so that your children don’t begin to associate church with negative feelings.
Be responsible—Stay focused on the horizon. These present troubles are just that, unless you allow them to become something bigger, something crippling.
As you navigate the present, imagine the future. What do you want your children to know when they are grown? On whom do you want them to lean when they face trials? How do you want them to carry themselves in the midst of those trials? What do you want them to believe about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible? How do you want them to feel about the church? How do you want them to serve?
Keep these questions before you and model right now what you hope to see in your children someday, when everything you are experiencing blows over. Don’t make excuses or blame on others your failure to rise to the occasion. Be a good steward with this chance to prove to your children that circumstances don’t control or define them, God does.
Be confident—If you truly believe Jesus has overcome the world, act like it. Let the truth of it take root in your heart, sprout, and grow until it lifts your head high before those who want to see you brought low. No matter what happens, remember you are a child of the King with a rich inheritance waiting for you in Heaven—along with a crown if you endure faithfully. Don’t cower before the enemy, but become the kind of fearless leader whose very presence inspires confidence in the God you serve, calms the hearts of your children, and gives them someone to emulate.
No one wants to be challenged, opposed, hurt, or betrayed by those they serve, but such occurrences provide parents in vocational ministry with a unique opportunity to demonstrate authentic faith and Christlikeness before their children, a chance to prove what they say they believe about God and the Bible is not only true, but relevant and useful. Don’t let embarrassment, wounded pride, anger, confusion, or disillusionment rob you of this precious opportunity should it arise.
For the first time in 20 years, my husband and I are members of a church for which he does not work. If my children bore the church a grudge or harbored bitterness in their hearts over what their parents experienced, this would be the perfect opportunity for them to bail, call time out, or rebel against the church and the God who called their family into service, but that hasn’t happened.
Instead, our 15-year-old daughter is a leader in her youth group, a friend to the outsider, and a dauntless supporter of her youth minister and his team. Our 19-year-old son is a freshman at a Christian university where he is studying to become a pastor and future church planter. We do not take credit for these things, but rather praise God for his faithfulness in sending ministry veterans to guide our steps during the darkest days of an otherwise happy and rewarding ministry career.
If we’ve learned one thing, it’s this: When we are weak, he is strong.
Angela Sanders is a freelance writer, inspirational speaker, and Christian curriculum developer living in Edmond, Oklahoma.