The Minister’s Wife
Not many ministers' wives begin their married life by marrying a minister. Most of them marry a husband who is in secular employment and who enters the ministry only later in life. This is a fact which deserves to be mentioned because the minister's wife is often taken for granted and her many acts of service to a congregation can be received as children take their mother's love – with hardly a thought for the kindness behind it. A man enters the ministry out of a sense of call; but many a wife enters on the work of becoming the lady of the manse with misgivings and trepidation, led into the work because the man she has married has felt led into the work rather than because she feels any personal adequacy for it herself.
A minister sometimes receives honour and recognition for the work he does, but a minister's wife can easily be overlooked. Yet, if the congregation did but know it, their minister's wife is as much in the work and as much involved in its joys and sorrows as her husband is. His name alone appears in the Church Notices and in the advertisements placed in the local paper. But his wife, all unobserved by others, is silently, yet most importantly, upholding her husband in every aspect of his work for Christ and is therefore as much deserving of love and respect as he is.
The role of being a minister's wife must be one of the most taxing that any woman could have. To the many duties of wifehood and (probably) motherhood she has to add those of being a hostess, typist, secretary, Sabbath-school teacher and confidante. Her home is an office, library, committee-hall, Bible study venue, rendezvous for holiday friends and a sanctuary for prayer. She must add to her many accomplishments the art of exercising a prudent economy so that in her practised hands one pound can do the work of two. She is sweetness itself to all who cross her path (even to her husband's critics) and she remembers always to have the 'law of kindness' in her mouth (Prov. 31:26).
The minister's wife labours under 'disadvantages' which her husband does not have. He is in the public eye; she is not very often mentioned. He is always busy; she 'has nothing to do but tidy the manse' – or so it is commonly thought! What no eye outside the manse sees are the many ways in which she sustains her husband in every aspect of his ministry. Her ambition is not to be important in people's eyes but to keep her husband in his work. Few realize the ministry that God has given her and few notice how carefully she does it. But her great task is to keep her husband in the pulpit.
The minister's wife is the mother of the manse children. 'Manse children', at least in the judgment of some, are a special sort of children who are expected to be exemplary. This expectation is a good and right one, for if the minister 'know not how to rule his own house', he has no business ruling in God's house (1 Tim. 3:5). But since the minister himself is so busy, the bringing up of their children is very much left to the lady of the manse.
A minister's children often grow up without him noticing it! His work is so absorbing that the years of their childhood fly by and he only realizes when they are in their teenage years that they are not little children any longer, but now little adults. These years had to be supervised by someone other than the minister and, in the absence of anyone else to do it, they were supervised by his wife.
Every wife shares in the joys and sorrows of her husband and is a partaker of his losses or gains. So in an especial way is the minister's wife. She, more than most, knows by instinct when her husband is worried by problems. A congregation can be a place of pain as well as of pleasure and the pastor's face, which conceals from all others the inward agony he feels, is a well-read book to his sympathetic spouse. She marks his foreboding as he leaves to go to that dreaded church-meeting. She meets him at the door as he returns from what she knows must have been an excruciating experience as he faced the angry opposition of unreasonable men, who ought to have known better.
But these trying times pass by. God gives good times as well as sad times. Times of joy in a manse are truly times of heaven on earth for the minister and his faithful wife. 'A new convert, my dear!' he cries as he throws open the door of his sitting-room. 'The son of Deacon so-and-so was melted to tears under the Word of God tonight. He has given his life to God. Oh, blessed be God for his grace and goodness!'
Such news is heard in a manse from time to time and it is balm to the soul of both the minister and his wife. No joy is so rich in all this world as to see the dewy tear in the eye of one who has just found peace through the blood of Christ. Faithful pastors see it still and in this happy privilege their wives are joyful partakers.
A minister's wife does not know how long she will live in the house which she occupies. By faith she comes to a congregation, and by faith she stays there, serving her church and her family, often in a house that is not hers. At the back of her mind she has the thought that one day, any day, she may have to move her family and her furniture to another house – and perhaps to another and another after that.
When, often with startling suddenness, her husband is placed under 'call' to another church, she has to review all her plans and to revise all her domestic arrangements. She bids a sorrowful farewell to those dear people of God in the congregation whom she has now come to know so well. At last the thousands of books and the manse furniture are all packed in cartons and boxes. The removal van is at the door. Soon the place which she has loved for ten years will be little more than a memory and a matter of prayer.
No part of her work is harder to the minister's wife than to criticize her own husband's preaching. Yet at times she must do even this. 'Faithful are the wounds of a friend' (Prov. 27:6) and she knows that there are times when she must, for love's sake, tell her husband that he is going wrong in one way or another. 'My dear, you have preached four sermons in the last four weeks on the very same theme. Don't you think we should have a little variation?' Or, it may be: 'My dear, you are becoming so deep and so complex that not one in ten can follow you.' Or, again, 'My dear, you are forgetting the unconverted in the congregation. You do need to speak to their consciences more.'
Usually, a minister can take criticism tolerably well from another minister. But it is the really sanctified preacher who can bear to be corrected by a lady – even the lady by his side. The pastor's wife knows this all too well. But she knows too that she must risk everything to ensure that her husband does not fall into some bad habit in his preaching. The preacher who goes off at tangents or who rides a hobby-horse is in need of a quiet 'aside' from his wife. It can be a painful experience for both parties, but one which yields good fruits to all concerned.
The minister's work is a physically and emotionally draining one and it belongs to his wife's experience to see him sometimes exhausted and brought almost to a stand-still. Some days she has to give up her hope of a 'day-off' while he sleeps to recover himself. Other days she has to steel herself to the thought that her beloved husband must be 'handled with care' till he recovers from a period of special strain or unusual fatigue. In patience and with a wife's love she shares his burdens and so halves them for him. It is a ministry which very few see in this life but one which will be rewarded by an all-seeing Saviour when he comes.
Who can estimate the worth of a good lady of the manse? 'Her price is far above rubies' (Prov. 31:10). She may not receive her recognition in this life but she will get it in the next. Her ministry in this world is to minister to Christ's servant. It is her joy and calling to support a husband who is dedicated to the preaching of God's Word in this life. It is the honour of congregations to honour those who do the difficult work which God has given her to do.
If, after long years of service, she sees her once-youthful husband now slow and labouring in his duties, she has the comfort of knowing that she and he together will before long enter into their everlasting rest and reward. Even if she is called on to see him sicken and fall into the grave, she remembers that for him and for her death is but the doorway to glory and to Christ.
Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.Prov. 31:31