By Kathrin Gabriel-Jones, MTM Volunteer Encouragement Coach, CPC, ELI-MP.
Stagger on like Esther…
Having just read the last Ministering to Minister’s newsletter, these words replay in my mind like an affirmation on a loop. But today there’s this … feeling I can’t quite get past, like a stone in my throat, generating cognitive dissonance as congregants arrive at church. It’s been a long week and I’m exhausted in body and mind, and a deep sense of melancholy has settled on me like a thick humid fog; this happens in ministry sometimes (it’s hard work for the minister and the family alike) but today this gloom feels sticky like tar.
The temptation to stuff down what I’m feeling is strong; maybe I can just push it away (again) and deal with it later when I have time and space (translation: never.) Maybe what I’m really looking for is an escape hatch for what I’m feeling, to clear the deck so I can be present and do what I think I need to do: smile, greet people, provide a non-anxious presence as I listen to them. I know that each person really just wants to feel heard, seen, and valued in this simple exchange of a welcome, a handshake, or a hug…and I feel ashamed because I’m not sure I can push a smile past this stone in my throat and this melancholy feels bigger than me today.
“In this work, I serve a bigger cause than my comfort,” I remind myself again, “because I serve the ministry of God through the support I provide to the minister, my spouse.” This long view – serving God through supporting the minister, my spouse – has helped me stay firm and resolute for the past twelve years in the face of callous comments, mean or rude behavior, and just plain weirdness. For some reason today these shadows rise up in my mind like ghouls in a haunted house display, and an undercurrent of resentment thrums through me like a bullfrog at sunset: “you’re just the wife so I can say this to you,” or “I don’t want to offend you but his sermon today…,” or my personal favorite: “we had a minister’s wife 60 years ago who was a total control freak about Sunday school, so you shouldn’t be helping with the children at all.”
Trying to dispel these thoughts and memories just makes them stick firmer in my mind, and the more I try to create an escape hatch for my resentment, the louder it all thrums until my jaw aches from the pressure. So, I excuse myself from the ushers in the narthex and walk away for just a moment. Within the cacophonous privacy of my own mind, I give a holler to God for some help along the way: it’s a messy prayer filled with no small amount of yelling and sounds a little tantrumy to me, but I don’t care because I believe – I trust – that God is big enough for my anger and fear and even my confused resentment, not only for all of God’s children but even the minister’s spouse.
In times like this, I most often recall my spiritual mentor, Eloise, whom I met while teaching preschool in a synagogue near my home (O, so many years ago.) She shared a lot of wisdom with me during those years and we both enjoyed our private theological conversations, each laced with a liberal (and wonderful) biting sense of humor. The story of Esther was one of her favorite topics, and she loved to tell the children about Esther, especially Esther’s responses to each of Mordecai’s requests to approach King Ahasuerus without being called because doing so would be a death sentence for her: “Seriously? You want me to do what? When? Wait, are you serious? With whom exactly? You have got to be joking! “ As Eloise told it, Esther sought to serve her people and her God in fear, dread, and – who knows – maybe even a little hand-waving and a little resentment, when she presented herself to King Ahasuerus. But Esther called upon her own people – those she knew and those she did not know – to pray for her, to hold her in hope and love that she may be encouraged by step out in faith to serve, speak for, and protect the people of God.
Eloise didn’t often delve into Mordecai’s response to Esther with the children, Mordecai’s simple answer of “who knows? Perhaps you have been brought to royal dignity for such a time as this?“, but that question resonated so much more to me after Seth became a minister and I stepped (although staggered clumsily feels more accurate) into the role of “the minister’s wife.”
Today in the midst of my internal cacophony, I recall to mind each of you to whom we minister: spouses, clergy, pastor’s kids, all of whom understand the ebb and flow of occasional resentment, the glow of God’s Grace, the warm smile of a lonely person who rediscovers the love of God in your handshake, and the ache of exhaustion when the days get to be so long. You are my people, each of you, and I remember that I am not alone in this world. Through the cacophony within my mind today, I recall again that God is big enough for everything I feel, everything you feel, and all that we feel together: the love, the complicated experiences, the grace, and even our resentment. For we are God’s children, just like Esther, and we are not alone.
Self-care is not selfish …. Even on a Sunday
Kathrin Gabriel-Jones is a Ministering to Ministers Encouragement Coach