Author | Kristen Joy | The Ministry Wife Coach
We discovered Kristen last year and love the work she does with ministry wives. She’s especially good at helping us to offload those rocks in our backpacks that come from ministry paint hat we haven’t healed from but that continues to affect our relationships and our path forward. We’re excited for you to dig into a small piece of what she does here… Enjoy!
Pastors’ wives can, and often do, experience trauma and burnout.
This is one of the biggest “ah-has” I have seen in pastors’ wives in the past two years. Though by no means an exhaustive list, I hope this will help you identify and begin to understand what’s going on inside of you if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.
** Please note: if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is vital that you take the time to reach out for help. You can connect with a safe friend (that can be hard to find if you’re in ministry!) or connect with myself or another mental health supporter.**
Symptom #5- Compassion Fatigue
According to Stress.org, compassion fatigue is, “The emotional residue or strain of exposure to working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. It differs from burn-out, but can co-exist.” As a pastor’s wife, it will result in the inability to connect and care for those you serve as you once did. You will find yourself with less empathy, will be quick to become irritated and upset at others’ shortcomings and failures, and will start to think everyone else has it so much better than you do. As a pastor’s wife, you may think or say things like, “Why can’t they just get their act together?!” or “They’ll never get it right!” or “It must be nice to be able to just not come to church any day you don’t feel like it.” Judging others with an increasingly harsh and critical spirit is a sign that there are some wounds (trauma) inside your own heart that must be attended to so that you can see others with the eyes and heart of Christ.
Symptom #4 – Increasing Anxiety
The phone rings. With the board meeting coming up and the difficult topic you know they’ll be addressing, you don’t feel you dare look down to see who it is. What will they want now? Your stomach drops, your heart races, and your mind immediately goes to all the critical words spoken about yourself or your husband in the past. The firestorm of accusations has begun in your head again and you haven’t even looked to see who it is yet!
Or maybe it’s Friday afternoon and instead of being relieved for the night’s family time activities planned, you are already feeling the pit in your stomach returning from last week this time knowing Sunday is coming closer once again. Couldn’t you just skip Sunday altogether? Will Sherry bring up her disgust at the nursery worker she feels isn’t doing her job again? Will Larry pull your husband aside and give him a talking to before service again? Will your children make an embarrassment of you during the middle of service again-if you can even get them there all on time?! With all their pressure and chaos, Sundays are the worst.
Or maybe you’re waking with a low-laying sense that things are just not right. Your stomach churns a bit or your chest seems tighter than it usually is and physical gut issues seem to be increasing. Sometimes, it even feels like your heart is racing for no reason or it’s difficult to breathe.
Symptom #3 – Depression/Desire to Isolate Yourself
When experiencing all the demands and expectations of ministry life for a prolonged amount of time, it’s common to begin to shut down. Though you’d normally say “yes” to the women’s ministry event this week, you choose to say “no” because it feels like just too much, and the anxiety that creeps in when thinking about being around the women is too much to handle. It feels better to avoid the whole situation. When you’d normally meet with the visitor that attended Sunday School class last week, you opt to send her a nice text and call it “good” instead – or maybe you decide to do nothing at all.
Symptom #2 – Indulgence/Addiction
It can be easy to spot trouble if one starts turning to taboo addictions- drinking or sexual addiction. But what about the more subtle indulgences/addictions that can help us escape from our pain? Don’t excuse or dismiss these actions too quickly – they can be sure signs of needing some support to get to a healthier place.
You normally have chocolate once each week but you’ve been hiding it in the cupboard and sneaking it frequently throughout the day.
You normally spend a little time reading each week, but now you’re ignoring the other responsibilities and reading books front to back without hardly a stop.
You normally enjoy shopping, but have recently found more reasons to place your Amazon orders. (What?! They’re all things you need, I’m sure.)
Symptom #1 – Disconnecting from God
When we are living out of our broken places, from trauma, we have this fleshly response to disconnect from God (and others). Though we mentally assent to “His love, grace, mercy, and power” we live as if we are powerless in our pain responses (see above), and then shame sets in. More often than not, as ministry leaders, we have a desire to return to our “first love,” but have no idea how to get there. We become full of contempt for our own selves and wear our old, condemned selves like a comfortable, but too-small-rain-coat to protect us from the now raging waters.
Not Without Hope!
If any of these symptoms feel familiar because you’ve been experiencing them, that’s okay!
There are real needs in your humanity that you have been pushing aside for too long and your body and mind are saying “ENOUGH!”
Experiencing any of these responses above is completely normal! Allow these symptoms to be like the “check engine” light on your car dashboard. When we see the red light on our dashboard, we don’t judge ourselves for owning a car that needs maintenance – no, we expect to have to care for our care and take it to the shop. The same is true for our human bodies. We need maintenance and attention, too. May these difficult times and experiences be an invitation to reach out for help.
If you don’t know where to start, I’d invite you to set up a time to chat. Completely free and available to serve you, you can schedule a 30-minute call (that’s not selling anything) and I’ll be happy to hear your heart, pray with you, and help you find direction for what further support may best suit your individual needs.
~ Because hope, healing, and joy *are* possible! ~