Replanter Wife: When you let others down

By Jena Marie O'Brien

It’s Sunday morning, my husband has been out of the house since 6am, working through the sermon and making sure everything runs smoothly for the day. I have been home, which is only next door, getting myself and our 3 little girls ready for church. I try to prepare ahead of time for Sundays. They can be stressful and a little chaotic. I try and make sure to leave plenty of time to get out of the door and over to church. I do not want my children growing up resenting Sunday mornings because their mom hit a new level of crazy. We are ready, walk out the door, most mornings we are smiling and excited for the day. I walk into our beautiful 100 year old church so thankful that God has given us to chance to serve in this church, in this city we love. I try to prepare my heart for worship. I try to prepare my heart for loving the people of our congregation. But I know that some Sundays I cannot prepare ahead of time. I cannot be ready for the questions that may come. Over the years I have learned that I should never be shocked about some of the questions and comments: “There’s no toilet paper in the bathroom, can you make sure it’s refilled?.” “The coffee doesn’t taste right, are you going to fix it?” “I can’t find a parking spot, can you tell me where I should park?” “Are you organizing meals for Ms. X?” “Did you make arrangements for childcare for the meeting?” The comments: “Ooooohhhhh, thats a nice shirt (said with hesitation) , I’ve never had a pastor’s wife wear something like thaaaaat.” “Our last pastors wife never missed a prayer night.” “Have you checked in on Ms Y, she was sick.” “I really wish we had more opportunities to get together as: families, ladies, moms, etc., do you think that’s possible?” “Make sure you tell Pastor about…” I have heard each of these at some point in our replanting journey. Some of these are funny and some a little extreme, but the reality behind all of it is that people come with expectations of us.

Four years ago, we started as a church plant then after a year in the city God ordained the merger of our church plant and a 158 year old church that was dying. One of the differences that I experienced was the various levels of expectations. As a new church plant, we were all in this together. We were navigating the newness together. We all didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t feel the weight of the expectations maybe because we weren’t established yet. But one thing that I do know, is that with a replant, there are people in the church that have expectations of you because of past pastor’s wives and a lot of deeply held traditions. I have offended many people in our church without even knowing it because they had expectations of me that I didn’t know about. I mentioned in our last time together that in December I had a week where I was continually letting people down.

  • First I had someone ask to meet (which is always a little nerve-wrecking when someone says “can we meet to talk?”) In so many words, she tells me that my 4yo was not living up to the expectations that she had for her.
  • The next day a new mom in the church tells me that I didn’t meet her expectations she had of me when she had her baby.
  • And then the following day I hear that I offended someone because I gave her a Christmas card addressed to her and her boyfriend. They are in their 80s and she thought it was inappropriate. This was totally an oversight on my part as I know they aren’t cohabitating but it just slipped my mind in the rush of addressing dozens of cards.

It was one of those weeks that I just couldn’t do it right. And these are just a few of all the times I have failed people because of their expectations. I am by nature, a people pleaser, therefore; when my heart is not in the right place, I am crushed when I fail people or don’t meet their expectations.

As I mentioned in my last post, all these failures led to a season of deep discouragement. So obviously, my heart was not in a good place. Now, through God’s grace, I have learned and am continuing to learn how to process other people’s expectations.

  • First and foremost, our identity needs to be in Christ. When we waver from that and our identity is found in what we are doing or who we are pleasing, we will always fall short. We will always fail someone! We fail other church members, we fail our husbands, kids and we even fail to meet our own expectations. So we need to make sure that we are so solid in our identity being rooted in Christ. We get that from spending time with Jesus. My issues we talked about in the first post wouldn’t have been so difficult if I was rooted in God’s righteousness and love. Remember the Gospel tells us that, “In Christ there is nothing I can do to make God love me more and nothing that I have done to make God love me less.” (I think it was Tim Keller that said it that way and I love it!) We need to remind ourselves of that EVERY DAY!
  • We need to know our gifts. We need to know what God has gifted us in and what He is calling us to do. Y’all I am not one who teaches Sunday school. If you are looking for me to bake, you will not get what you are looking for. My cookies are always flat. (I try to blame it on the ingredients, but everything I bake turns out different than it is supposed to.) But do you know what I am gifted in? Hospitality. I love people in my home. I love making meals for people. Letting people know that we see them and are here for them. I love women that are eager to be discipled. I love to talk to women about Jesus. I love being around lost women.
  • We need to have our priorities. There are 2 ways that I try to live this out practically.

A wise mentor once told me that I need to know the 4 things that God is calling me to right now. For me it usually looks like this

  • Relationship with Jesus.
  • Relationship with my husband
  • Kids and home
  • Fourth one is the one that changes from season to season for me. This season, it is my discipleship group. But next season it could be our foster kids or something else.

Another way that I try to live this out practically is an idea I heard from Lauren Chandler and Christy Nockels on one of their podcasts. They talk about concentric circles. There are all these rings, but our focus is the bull’s-eye. The bull’s-eye is our relationship with Jesus. Abiding in Him. Resting in Him. Our job is to hit that bull’s-eye every day. All those outer rings are God’s to take care of. The next circle is your husband, then family, etc. They say we need to surrender those outer rings for Him to dictate. Not for us to dictate and especially not for those in our congregation to dictate on our behalf.

  • We need to know that we will always fail people. We need to learn how to hear them, love them and move on. It is hard to hear all the ways we fail people. We are called to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. (James 1:19) We need to listen to people humbly. Hear what they have to say in how we have failed them or didn’t meet their expectations. We don’t need to defend ourselves.
  • We must lead in preserving the unity of the church by working through these failed expectations. But know that we are not accountable to everyone’s expectations- we are accountable to God. Take what they say. Process it with God. Is this something that I failed you in God? If yes, repent and receive God’s forgiveness. If no, then you know how to love people better and know how to care of each other better.

As I type these, a sense of freedom washes over me. It redirects my thought process. When God called us to be a wife of a pastor, never did that entail living in fear and under the weight of other people’s expectations of us.


Gospel Prayer:

Published July 11, 2017

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Jena Marie O'Brien

Jena-Marie is the wife of Brad O'Brien, a replant Pastor in Baltimore City. She is a stay at home mom of 3 little girls, ages 6, 4, 2. Jena-Marie grew up in Richmond, VA before moving to Durham, NC where she met and married Brad. Brad has worked as a Pastor in a Megachurch, as a Church Planter and a Replant Pastor, therefore Jena-Marie has experienced the joys and the trials in each context. She recognizes that being a Replant Pastor's wife has its unique challenges and has a passion to share what God has taught her to encourage other wives.