By Becky Harling
My heart broke when I read the news of Harriet Deison taking her life. I can’t imagine how difficult her tragic death has been for her husband, family, and the church in which she served. When a person in ministry takes his or her own life, those who looked to that person for spiritual counsel are left disillusioned, wondering how to make sense out of such a tragedy. While we can’t always make sense of a tragedy, horror can lead us to hope.
Catherine Marshall wrote, “Behold a God of power who can take any evil and turn it into a door of hope.” In our grief and questioning, I think there are some lessons we can learn that will help open a door of hope to other pastors’ wives.
Though I don’t know the circumstances leading up to Harriet’s decision to end her life, I know and understand pastor’s wives and the unique challenges they face, because I am a pastor’s wife. Depression, even among those in ministry, is real and can be debilitating. Even Godly people at times feel despair. The prophet Elijah felt so depressed at one point in his ministry that He asked God to take his life (I Kings 19:1-9). I love the way God responded to Elijah. He didn’t scold him. He didn’t tell him to “buck up” or to “press on”. Instead, God put Elijah to sleep, and then fed him a God cooked meal. The journey had been too much for Elijah, and he needed a break! In addition to nourishing Elijah and giving him rest, God also brought Elisha into Elijah’s life as a new friend.
In light of Harriet’s death, I encourage congregations to pause and reflect on how they are caring for their pastors and their pastors’ wives. Consider, does your church provide time and money for your pastor and wife to rest? Does your congregation have realistic expectations for your pastor’s wife or is she expected to be superwoman? If your pastor or his wife are struggling with depression, or marital difficulties, will they be looked down on if they go for counseling? Are your pastor and his family being prayed for faithfully?
For those of us married to pastors, we need to remember that we must allow God to nourish our souls. We need to establish clear boundaries. Jesus didn’t heal everyone. We need rest, and we need friends. Our marriages face difficulties like everyone else’s marriage. When the critics come against us, or our husbands and ministries feels like too much, we need to find the courage to cry out for help. During a particularly rough season in our ministry lives and personal lives, I invested in counseling with a godly, well-trained therapist. I have never regretted that decision. I’ve learned since that time how to set boundaries, how to take a break when I need one, how to not take the critics too seriously, and how to press into the Lord as my ultimate hope giver.
Ministry is tough. I wish Harriet had talked with someone before taking her life. I wish she had known that she wasn’t alone. I wish she had known how deeply she was loved. But let’s use this tragic situation to open a door of hope for other pastor’s wives who may be hurting.
If you’d like to encourage your pastor’s wife, here are a few suggestions:
• Write her a note of appreciation.
• Send her a small gift. (A gift card to go shopping at her favorite store, a Starbuck’s gift card, movie tickets, or a gift card to a local spa can lift her spirits.)
• Give her and her hubby a few days away at a resort to rest and re-group.
• Learn the names of her children and pray for them by name.
• Lower your expectations – she can’t be superwoman.
• Above all, pray for her daily. You might not know what difficult challenges she is facing.
Becky Harling is a pastor’s wife and author of Finding Calm in Life’s Chaos, Rewriting Your Emotional Script and Freedom from Performing , whose also served 30 years with her husband, Steve (she’s served as a women’s ministry consultant and spiritual life coach and speaking coach), can be reached at email@example.com , and here’s her website: http://beckyharling.com/ Harling is also a regular blogger for FaithlifeWomen.com and CP Blogs’ Better Bible Study