There should be a rulebook on how to support a pastor’s wife when she suddenly is no longer one, because being in this position is extremely painful.
When my husband resigned, I could barely talk coherently on most days, let alone respond gracefully to the many people who asked, “Is there anything I can do to help?”’
So, on behalf of all of the former pastor’s wives who don’t know how to answer that question, here are 10 ways to help a hurting pastor’s wife:
1. Pray for her. A lot! And let her know that you are praying for her. Has God laid her heavily on your heart? There’s a reason. She’s facing pressures from every direction, and I can assure you that she deeply appreciates every prayer offered on her behalf.
2. Serve her. If you are a close enough friend to walk into her home, grab a mop and get to work, do it! After my husband resigned, we decided to go through with our previously planned trip to Disneyland after cancelling, rescheduling and cancelling again. Our family desperately needed to get away. When we came home we discovered some anonymous cleaning fairies had scrubbed my house from top to bottom. We’re talking sparkling blinds, light fixtures and appliances. I was a little bit embarrassed that they had found out how little I actually do those sorts of things, but was totally blessed by this act of kindness. So if you aren’t close enough friends to scrub her floors, consider weeding her yard. Plant flowers. Lay bark dust. Wash windows. Wash her car. Bring her a meal. Whatever way you can serve her will be so very appreciated. It’s priceless to know that people care enough to take action.
3. Offer a service. Are you a mechanic, a real-estate agent, a handy-man, a masseuse, a hair stylist, a photographer, an amazing cook, a gifted ________________? While some cleaning fairies were attacking the inside of my house, a fix-it crew fixed the dry rot under our sliding glass door. Another friend replaced our car stereo which broke when I accidently shoved two CD’s in there. These acts spoke volumes to us about their desire to support us. From fixing a car to writing a resume to babysitting and other tasks, providing a service can greatly bless the family.
4. Give her a gift. The second the “winds began to change” at our church, we immediately went into survival mode. We spent only what we needed to spend, only when we needed to spend it. There were no luxuries to be had because we had no idea how long we’d be unemployed (I was also employed at the church part-time as the children’s ministry director). A friend of mine paid for me to take a cooking class with her and another friend offered to pay for me to go to Women’s Camp. A previous pastor and his wife who know the pains of leaving a church all too well gave me two bouquets of flowers, one for mourning and one for new beginnings. Friends treated me to lunch or coffee. Our kids got well-timed hand-me-downs. One of my favorite gifts was when another pastor’s family took a walk in the snow to bring us some fresh baked chocolate chip cookies. Gifts don’t have to be expensive. Anything given from the heart is priceless. What we received filled very real, very practical needs for our family during a time of grief, trials and unknowns. And most of all, these gifts were reminders that people still cared about us and that our God is a God who provides.
5. Write her a note of appreciation. Being a pastor’s wife is tough. An article I came across recently states that she’s the most vulnerable person in the church. Watching her husband either crumble or suffer great wounds at the hands of others, that vulnerability is multiplied tenfold. Whether their departure was “his fault” or “their fault” or “everybody’s fault,” she must not only deal with her grief, but also try to hold her family together. Your encouragement lets her know that the last ______ years of her ministry to the church were not wasted. She needs to be able to cling to the good to have any hope of looking past the bad. But she won’t know what you don’t tell her. So please, please, please, let her know you care by writing her a note of appreciation, specifically one that tells of how she (or she and her husband) have impacted your life in a positive way.
6. Give her money. Churches can’t always pay their pastors well, and most pastors aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits. Many pastors feel they have no marketable skills to provide for their family outside of a church setting, and frankly, most aren’t ready to head straight back into a new ministry after leaving a church. Severance packages, if any, often come with conditions like not talking about what happened, and sometimes comes long after the pastor’s departure. Often, the severance pay, if offered at all, is simply not enough to carry them for very long. If you can help fill in the gap, please consider doing so. Cash is lovely, but so are gift cards, groceries, or anonymously paid bills (electricity, water, garbage and such). If you have a cabin or can donate hotel points, help the pastor’s family with a much-needed get-away. If God has laid this family on your heart, consider how He may be able to use you, alone or with others, to answer their prayers for provision in their time of need.
7. Don’t talk about why she left. This one’s a little tricky. Of course, you want to know details about their leaving, but don’t ask and don’t pry. Sometimes the reason she left is quite personal and frankly, none of your business. But if she wants to talk, listen attentively. Pastors, pastor’s wives and pastor’s kids have struggles and failures, too, but theirs are often scrutinized and affect every aspect of their lives. There are many reasons pastors leave churches: misunderstandings, personality conflicts, power struggles, moral failures, or even outright deceit and malice. Perhaps they are just burned out, or maybe God has clearly called them elsewhere. Being a pastor is a demanding job, often with very little tangible rewards. You can be the hands, the feet and the arms of Christ to a woman who is devastated above and beyond what any of us could begin to imagine.
8. Don’t gossip. Whatever you do, don’t repeat anything she tells you in confidence – to anyone, ever. Ask her if it’s OK to share, especially with prayer groups. Direct others who have questions to her or her husband. We were willing to answer people’s questions, but, not wanting to stir up strife, we just quietly retreated. Rumors that flew about since our leaving, especially those untrue and off-base, hurt us deeply, but we determined early on that God would be our defender. Don’t hesitate to ask for clarity, but don’t pry if the pastor or his wife doesn’t want to talk.
9. Be a good friend and don’t let her wallow. Have you ever just felt numb? Two events in my adult life left me numb: when I lost a much wanted baby, and when we resigned from the church we loved. I don’t know how to accurately describe how I felt in the days, weeks and months to follow. I felt weak. I struggled to put my thoughts together, let alone express them productively. I almost felt paralyzed. My saving grace was friends who helped me process my grief. One still regularly checks in every Sunday, or the day after, because she knows how hard Sundays have been for me. When trying to care for a hurting Pastor’s wife who has just left a church, let her grieve, but don’t let her wallow. She might not be a great deal of fun to be around, but friendship perseveres through sickness and in health. She doesn’t have much to give right now, so I encourage you to be her friend selflessly through this season. Don’t give up on her. Drag her out of the house if you need to. Help her see the hope on the horizon. Point her back to the arms of Jesus. Be there for her, always.
10. Acknowledge her pain. Very few jobs that a man can have automatically obligate his wife to a certain role. Pastors are one of them. Although she’s not typically employed by the church, she fills a uniquely important role. Good, bad, or otherwise, being a pastor’s wife defines much about who she is. And just like that, it’s over. She is no longer the pastor’s wife. Her husband is deeply wounded. Her church family hurts. Her kids are devastated. She’s flooded with emotions and her friends don’t know how to respond. Her support system crumbles from underneath her just when she needs it most. It’s okay to not know what to say, but say something, anything. Saying nothing implies that you don’t notice her pain, or worse yet, that you notice but don’t care. She needs to know that you do!