Recently Lori Wilhite wrote an article called, The Typical Pastor’s Wife is Dead. She talks about the ideal of the perfect pastor’s wife. The one who always has it together, never seems to struggle, plays the piano, attends every event, and meets everyone’s expectations. She goes on to describe how she doesn’t measure up to that standard. This image seems outdated in much of today’s Christian world. In fact, there seems to be a new typical.
Of course my thoughts jumped to PWs (as we call them in these letters). It’s my shorthand title for those of us who live and serve outside our home culture.
I remember well our first field, more than 33 years ago. There were two veteran PWs who lived in our apartment building on the grounds of the ministry we served. Now, they were typical PWs in my mind. They cooked only with local ingredients, they were as involved in the work as their husbands, one homeschooled her children, and the other one delivered her baby in a local hospital. In my newbie mind, they seemed like real PWs- whatever that was. I tried hard to come up to their standard, but with two small kids, homeschooling for the first time, never having lived in a developing nation, and fighting shyness, I constantly fell short of my expectations for myself.
Then came the day that changed all my assumptions- the day when my perfect idea of a PW was shattered. While preparing dinner late one afternoon, I jumped and trembled when I heard blood curdling screams from a downstairs apartment. My husband and I rushed down, not knowing what horrible emergency had incited such terror. We were shocked to see this veteran PW stomping around on top of her dining room table screaming, “A mouse! A mouse!”
After stifling my giggles, I began to relax. And, I realized that we each have our own fears and inadequacies. A mouse? It would take a lot more than a little mouse to make me jump on a table and scream.
There was nowhere, and I mean nowhere, on our compound to exercise. If I walked or jogged, a student or two would come chasing after me, sure that there must be some crisis. So our veteran staff encouraged us to join the old British club. A pool (that changed color in alarming ways from day to day), squash courts, shade trees, and a small café provided a welcome break from the fishbowl of our compound. We were afraid our supporters would think we were spendthrifts if they knew we belonged to a club. But after some time we realized the cost was less than belonging to the YMCA at home. Besides, it really refreshed us and helped us maintain our vitality for long-term work in that country.
Then we moved to another continent, to another developing nation. This time we were the only PWs from our sending organization. We were serving works led by locals in a city. There was no one to model ourselves after, so it seemed we didn’t have expectations to fulfill. But I still had the internal images of those PWs serving unreached tribes, hacking their way through jungles with machetes. I realized slowly that being a PW in an urban setting required different skills and responsibilities.
Like Lori, I came to realize that, “God knew exactly what He was doing and exactly who He was calling. He knows my shortcomings and my struggles, and He has extended His call to leadership and ministry anyway.”
I’ve discovered abilities and even passions while pursuing His calling that I never could have dreamed of before. He knew the plan He had for me and over time has fashioned me for His purpose.
Sometimes I’ve just had to do what needed to be done. I didn’t feel ready or able. But I was willing and He has provided for me and helped me.
After meeting many other PWs, I see there really is not a ‘typical’ PW.
Generations ago, there may have been. But I suspect that many of those ladies didn’t feel typical in their day, either. Yes, there are still some sturdy pioneer souls who work in very challenging places. But there are a great variety of callings, abilities and expectations. We may not be the same, but we all serve the same loving Master. He has a place for each of us that gives us the maximum opportunity to grow in grace and develop every facet of our lives to His glory.
Lori said it well. “I’m going to embrace the knowledge that maybe I am typical . . . a woman wanting to know Jesus, support my husband, love my children, care for our work, wrestle with my own shortcomings, grow in love and grace, keep my head up during the tough times, acknowledge that I won’t be all things to all people, but available to fellow strugglers, and embrace who God made me to be.
“I am not perfect. But I may well be typical . . .and that is fine by me.”