How many times have you been introduced or referred to as "the youth pastor's wife?" Let me guess — too many times to count. If you are anything like me, you may find yourself feeling some days like that is the only identity you have left.
Someone once asked me, when we were in a very busy "season" of youth ministry (aren't they all busy seasons???): "And what do you enjoy doing as a hobby?" I gave her a blank stare. She probed a little and asked what I really enjoy doing when I have some time to myself. Apparently, "sleep" was not an acceptable answer! I mumbled a few ideas about scrapbooking and cooking, things I had enjoyed doing several years ago. But it shocked me to realize that in the busyness of becoming a mother and my husband's new all-life-encompassing youth ministry career, I had completely forgotten who I was, and what I was passionate about, and what energizes me, and the gifts and interests that God has given uniquely to me. It was also the first time in a long time someone had actually asked me about me, not about my husband. (She wasn't a member of our congregation.)
It's so easy within the life of a church for your spouse's ministry role to overshadow everything and everyone else in the household. This doesn't happen overnight, or with the intent to necessarily be a harmful thing. It just slowly creeps up on you until you realize that absolutely every aspect of your life revolves around youth ministry.
In my opinion, this isn't healthy for you, your spouse, your marriage, your children, or for the congregation you are serving! While I believe it is of utmost importance to be supportive and engaged in your spouse's ministry calling, there is a need for balance as well, and to remember who you are apart from youth ministry. Without grounding yourself this way, you will be easily tossed about by the winds of change and difficult times and you will not be effective in anything you attempt to do. Without this balance, a dangerous environment can develop in which resentment and desperation breeds.
So how do you achieve this balance? I am slowly learning, and the following are three things I've figured out. I would love to hear further thoughts and suggestions if you have any.
1. Find your own niche within the church.
Someone once said that their involvement in church was letting their husband be there all the time! Do you feel this way? Do you always stay home while your spouse walks out the door to yet another church meeting or event? The backside of that door is not a fun or healthy place to be all the time. Don't forget, you are a member of the church, too! And you are not just the spouse of the youth pastor!
Find a place in the church where your gifts can be used, an area that you can enjoy serving in. Trust me, there is no shortage of areas that are desperate for more volunteers. If babysitting costs are an issue, make it known and see who offers a solution, you might be surprised. This will allow you to get to know a different group of people in the congregation, and for them to get to know you as well, for who you are. If you are already heavily involved in youth ministry with your spouse because this is where your interests lie, find a way to acquire a unique role within that so that you are not just an extension of your husband.
Yes, the two are one, but there are two sides to every coin. Shine your side! Be a leader of your own small group, without your spouse. Or volunteer to produce the newsletter for the youth group if you have administrative talents. Or help develop a youth praise team if you have musical abilities. The possibilities are there. Make your own mark! This will not only help you to have an identity, it will bless those around you as you allow God to use the gifts He has given you.
2. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
On the flip side, it's also a great idea to pick one area of your spouse's ministry that you can do together. The benefits of this are huge. First of all, it gives you both some common ground when it comes to his/her job. It can also prevent some of the resentment that can build from the job always pulling the two of you apart. Also, it is great for the congregation to see that you are in this together and especially for the youth to see this side of their youth pastor.
I'll never forget the time when my husband had to decline an invitation to a young adult's personal event because, in his words, "I have a wife and daughter at home who need me to be around this weekend" and the young adult responded, "Oh, that sucks for you!". They need to see that no, in fact, it doesn't suck to have a spouse and a family! I've always enjoyed connecting with that age group and so we opened up our home to a regular young adults Bible study. It was a wonderful experience that built relationships I am still enjoying to this day.
Joining your spouse in one area of ministry can also provide some great cheap "date nights". We've gone to hockey games, live theatre, out for dinner, ski retreats, etc. all because I volunteered in young adults ministry with my husband! Our previous church was even gracious enough to cover our costs of babysitting for any young adult events that required both of us to be there because they saw the value in what we were doing.
3. Get out of the Bubble!
Finally, do whatever it takes to figure out what your interests/hobbies/gifts are and find an avenue outside of the church to pursue them. For me this was joining our community's local symphony chorus because I love singing. Yes, I also sang on our church praise team, and yes our church had a choir that could've used another alto. But it was such a refreshing experience to get out of the church "bubble" and do something I loved with a completely different group of people who did not view me through the lens of my husband's job. My fellow chorus members didn't even know my husband!! What a foreign, glorious feeling to be appreciated solely for who I was and to connect with others who also passionately enjoyed the same thing I did.
There are many different ways to get out and do this, from running clubs to cooking classes to quilting or scrapbooking groups. It took me about 6 months to finally re-discover what my interests and hobbies were, and if you are struggling with that, I'd be happy to share some of that journey with you. It was a transforming experience that allowed me to be a much more content and effective wife and mother and church member.
So who are you? I am Monica. I'm first of all a daughter loved by my heavenly Father, I am also a wife to my best friend and greatest gift from above, and a stay-at-home mom to three children who I love with a surprising fierceness but who can honestly drive me to the brink of craziness some days. I love beauty, light, and creative order. I am a foodie and I love to cook and eat and create recipes. I have a deep appreciation for music and can lose myself in singing. I enjoy reading and learning facts, and I like attempting creative writing. I am very relational and love connecting with people.
Oh yeah, and my husband is a youth pastor...