How can someone who is almost never alone be lonely? Unfortunately, no one prepared me for this reality when my husband and I were first starting out in ministry. We are both fairly introverted people. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel isolated or empty from time to time.
Some of this we do to ourselves. Some of it is just the nature of the beast. We find as our churches have grown, many of the typical hurts and disappointment of ministry life have caused us to build figurative, protective walls around our hearts. I guess subconsciously we just retreat from being close to folks, hoping to keep from being falsely accused. We try to avoid having ridiculously impossible standards applied to our lives or suffering those little disappointments and betrayals that hurt more than we will admit. After all, if we keep ourselves hemmed in, no one can second guess our decisions, criticize or question our motives.
But some isolation just comes because we, in ministry, bear a relentless and heavy cross…and though they try to empathize and share that load, no one, not all staff families can completely understand it.
It all, every little detail, every issue in every division of the church,
on every campus, rests on the pastor’s shoulders.
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year Sunday is always coming.
Budgets need to be met, programs need to keep churning, people get sick, die or experience needs. Vacations get interrupted, staff members need to be managed, volunteers to be inspired, taught and nurtured. And the phone never quits ringing. The to-do list is never finished, ever. The Pastor bears the criticism and absorbs the failures of every single move made by anyone under him. And after years of this, silently shouldering the load, no matter how often you fall before God and transfer it to the arms of Jesus, You kind of get used to it, but it never gets easier. And little by little you just go further and further into that protective shell.
The good news is you don’t really have to do it alone, and you don’t have to be an island. Here are some ways my husband and I battle the looming gorilla of loneliness:
1. We fellowship: We try to soak up every opportunity to get with other couples in similar ministry situations as us. We attend our metro conference, I go on retreats with other pastors’ wives, we go to conventions on the state and national level, and we meet up with other ministry couples when we are traveling for work or on vacation to just share a meal. Before you know it, just a day or two of rubbing shoulders with these heroes of ours who truly DO understand, we feel a little less like we are in solitary confinement and more like proud members of a team.
2. We download with each other: We love sharing little nuggets of encouragement over our Friday morning coffee. We glean these jewels all week via blogs, social media, and online articles. And we share it with each other. We use these moments to build intimacy within our own relationship. Although I can’t truly share every burden, I can be a helper in this way. We talk about what we are personally learning in the word of God, and we pray, like really pray, desperate tearful prayers of fresh dependence and surrender. Just knowing that we are a ministry team together in our marriage, keeps us from feeling like there’s no one else who “gets it”.
3. We let friends in: As a direct result of these prayers for true companionship and friendship, God has provided us each with one or two absolutely proven and trustworthy lifetime friends, as well as the support of our extended families. There have been seasons where we were without these and it was really tough. But over time, these relationships have developed into safe refuges. We don’t share everything, we can’t. But we do know that they have our backs, we can be ourselves, and they will listen without trying to fix us. We go deep sometimes. But other times we just go for a walk, or play golf, or share silly YouTube videos and laugh our heads off. Whatever the need of the moment, they are the shock absorbers, or the comic relief, or the wall we can bang our frustrations out on. We ministry folk don’t trust easy. But when God sends someone your way that can be this for you, and they prove themselves safe, lean in to this special haven.
There is a level of sacrifice required for leadership. Being willing to shoulder the lion’s share of the burden and pay the price when it isolates you is the cost. But I believe God rains down extra grace for these moments, if you keep your heart soft and pliable. �Ask Him to show you, who the safe people are in your lives, lean on other ministry families serving in similar positions, be your husband’s teammate and prayer partner. I’m sure Jesus felt lonely too, probably deeper than you or I could ever know. Talk to Him, and watch that lonely cloud just dissolve!
Published August 27, 2014