By Angela Sanders
Nothing sets up a person for failure more effectively than an intense desire to do a good job when the definition of that “good job” is vague, subjective, and a matter of public interest.
I ought to know. I am a minister’s wife.
For my husband, my church, and myself, I’ve wanted few things more than to wear well the title “minister’s wife.”
Now, before you start tsk-tsk-ing me and pointing out problems with that statement, let me save you the trouble and admit that some of my thinking early on—and intermittently over the years—has been skewed.
Truthfully, it wasn’t until my husband stepped out of the local church and into another ministry, an arena in which I play a smaller role in the daily workings, that I was able to gain some perspective on the years I spent in the trenches. Looking back with fresh—and rested—eyes, I see now that much of the struggle I thought was inherent to my position could have been avoided and that much of the heartache I experienced was self-inflicted and unnecessary.
Although I’m told God was faithful to work through my husband and me, and we share wonderful memories of our ministry together when he was on local church staff, I would change a few things if I were to do it over again.
For the benefit of my sisters in the trenches now, here is a short list of things I did wrong:
I tried to groom my husband.
Prune, shape, mold, manipulate . . . call it what you will. I was trying to do God’s job, not because I didn’t think he was capable, but because I honestly thought I could help.
It started the Sunday my husband assumed the interim youth minister position in my home church. I wanted so badly to see him succeed. Standing at the back of the room with adults who had been my Sunday school teachers, public school teachers, and mentors, I listened to Todd lead his first youth worker meeting. I wanted desperately for them to see in him what I saw and to love him just as much.
I was so proud of him I felt I might pop—I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Then, unaware of my proximity, a man near me, one I had admired for many years, muttered a scathing criticism of my husband to the person on the other side of him. My stomach flipped. My face went hot. Trying desperately to hold the smile that had been involuntary just moments before, I blinked and blinked again, fighting desperately to hold back the hot tears that threatened.
Overwhelmed with love and a sense of duty to my husband, I determined then and there that I could help. After all, my husband didn’t know these people like I did. He hadn’t been raised in the church from day one as I had. He wasn’t familiar with how things worked behind the scenes.
My husband would tell you I did help, but I know in my heart that a potentially destructive pattern of snipping and tweaking began to develop that day, one that would, at times, temporarily draw my husband’s focus from the Lord to me, squelch his creativity, and stir doubt and insecurity in his mind.
Over time, as my husband gained experience, he grew more confident and consulted me less, but I still found it difficult not to meddle beyond what was appropriate, even as the Holy Spirit told me not to. Eventually, with the Lord’s help and my husband’s growing awareness, I broke the habit completely.
Today, I very seldom feel the urge to “help” the way I once did, and we function much more effectively as a team. When I do feel the urge to snip here or tweak there, I resist, it passes, and I’m always glad I gave God room to work in his timing.
I tried to please church members.
This is a futile endeavor if ever there was one, as Scripture tells us that trying to please men renders us ineffective servants of Christ (Galatians 1:10). You simply cannot please everyone all the time.
Still, I tried.
Not only did it wear me out physically, as I’m sure I often took on much more than God had intended for me, but it exhausted me emotionally, breeding in my heart a certain level of distrust of my brothers and sisters in Christ.
To protect myself and my family, I held at arm’s length even those who truly loved me unconditionally—I see now there were many—so as not to give them opportunity to hurt me or alter my good opinion of them. Looking back, my heart aches to think of the friendships I could have enjoyed and the memories I could have made had I focused on pleasing God alone and trusted him to use the fallout of that obedience for my good and his glory (Romans 8:28).
I played the church game.
To win at any game, players must strategically score points and defeat their opponents. By this definition, the church is no place for games!
For one thing, as followers of Christ indwelt by the same Holy Spirit, we are all on the same team and share a common goal to reach lost souls with the gospel for God’s ultimate glory. To compete with one another, spiritually, socially, or in any other way, is to destroy from the inside out the body we together form.
Strategy? Points? Truthfully, none of us should even understand what makes these terms relevant and applicable within the construct of this metaphor, but we do.
While I never played the church game to defeat anyone—at least I don’t think I did—I did play it to defend myself from time to time, and that angers me. Too weak in my faith to rely on God alone to be my defender, I postured and positioned to keep the advantage when I felt threatened.
As a result, I grew fearful, skeptical, and cynical, my walk more closely resembling the cautious sidestep of a soldier dodging land mines than the graceful stride of a daughter of the King of kings. Mentally, emotionally, and spiritually weary, for a time, I isolated myself and taught my children by example to be on their guard, focusing more on their behavior than their spiritual condition, something that took quite a bit of effort and time to undo.
Thankfully, God is faithful and has healed the wounds I caused by putting myself in a game that shouldn’t exist, a game I wish with all my heart I’d never played.
They say that hindsight is twenty-twenty, and I believe it.
Back when the struggle was real, I thought my heart and desires were pure. I wanted to see his kingdom expand. What could possibly be wrong with that?
I was concerned about looking good.
I did want to see God move, but not always for his glory. Deep down, I wanted my husband to look good. I wanted my church to look good. Let’s be real! I wanted to look good, and that’s where the trouble began.
My dear, sweet trench-mate, please don’t follow in my footsteps. Remember, before you are a minister’s wife, you are the Father’s child, called to worship him through obedience to his Word for his glory, not your husband’s, not your church’s, not your own, but his!
When you make his glory your goal—more than doing a “good job”—the pressure to perform dissipates. The fact that he alone is capable of bringing about his glory makes it easier to submit, obey, and leave the results up to him, regardless of what’s going on around you. The fact that he will bring it about, with or in spite of you, brings peace (Ephesians 1:11), curbing the desire or perceived need to do any of the things listed above.
These days, I’m making a conscious effort to focus on God’s glory in and above all things. The results, so far, have been a driving sense of purpose that surpasses anything I have ever known and a freedom I never knew existed. I do slip into old habits sometimes—more often than I want to admit—but he is always faithful to forgive and redirect.
Am I doing a “good job”? I really couldn’t say, but I know HE is!
Angela Sanders, a freelance writer, Christian curriculum developer, and inspirational speaker, resides in Edmond, Oklahoma.