As we have transitioned in this season from pastor and pastor’s wife to laypeople who quietly sit every Sunday in the back row at a church full of people whom we do not know and who do not know us, it has been a very curious thing to experience the slow change in posture from one-who-ministers to one-who-receives. It took us a few weeks to break out of the mindset of, “Oh I like how they do that; we could have done this in our services too.” Slowly that faded…and as we simply began to enter into Sunday services as our own weary, disoriented selves, we have begun to cherish the ability to just bring our empty cups and have them filled, or at least start to plug and repair a lot of the leaky holes, one by one.
I suppose at this point, I should stop referring to “we” so that my husband can speak for his own experience. For me, there have been at least two main things that have stood out to me in this time.
The first is this very large part of my heart that has tremendous need for God’s comfort, ministry and peace regarding the level of suffering and amount of death I witness regularly as a pediatric ICU nurse. When the husband was still pastoring, and I was leading worship in music on a regular basis, I realize now that for many of those years, I came before God with the posture of a conduit – “Lord, please fill me with Your heart and Your power so that I can give or minister to others.” But I wasn’t receiving what I needed for my very self, because I wasn’t acknowledging that I mattered too. Now, He is telling me that I matter too, and it’s time to pay attention to my own vital signs. I haven’t fully unpacked it yet, and I probably never fully will. But curiously, as I stand in the back row and quietly sing my prayers unmic’d, no longer preoccupied with the musical arrangement of my fingers or the tone quality of my voice, I weep largely out of my own sorrow and confusion and anger and BLAAAHHHH over suffering and illness and child abuse and poor-quality-of-life-on-machines and death. There is something deep in my soul that yearns for heaven, and sighs deep relief in knowing that the Suffering Servant who bled and died on the cross knows more than just a small taste of our agony. You know, Lord. And You overcame it. It is not just my spiritual rhetoric. You know.
The second thing that stands out to me is the very pregnant pause that occurs in conversations with people who don’t know us, who come over to welcome us. Sometimes it eventually comes out in the conversation that my husband was previously a pastor at a church in the area, and they never seem completely sure how to respond or how much to pry without overstepping their boundaries. I always feel this need to reassure them that it was a peaceful process, which I find unfortunate, perhaps because of too much media sensation about pastors who have resigned from their churches over contentious reasons. I don’t know how to explain where we are or what we are looking for, except that we are “just visiting.” There is so much more, but we ourselves haven’t fully figured it out yet, and hence the tongue-tie, I suppose. By simply divulging that detail about my husband’s previous role as a pastor, we distinguish ourselves from the “typical” visitor, and I can feel it in the pregnant pause. It is something that I both despise and also embrace. I despise it because I feel it comes from the same family of pregnant pauses that I felt separated me from a closeness in relationship that I longed for when I was in active standing as a “pastor’s wife.” I also embrace it because it is basically what encapsulates exactly where I am. In the middle of a pregnant pause. And I need people who know how to pick up the conversation with me, without intimidation, condemnation, or prolonged awkwardness, and who can help me complete my currently tongue-tied response to, “Hi, welcome to our church. What brings you here?”