Becoming a Pastor's Wife (Part 1)
I was sitting in the library with a friend and her boyfriend as a sophomore in college, uneasy about a particular theological topic we were studying in one of my Bible classes. I was shooting him questions: But what if...? But how...? Why? My friend, one of my hall-mates, did not seem to have many answers. She did not seem to have many questions either. She seemed to be perfectly content, perhaps from a more childlike faith than I could muster. I wanted to be sure that God was who I believed him to be all my life; if he wasn't, I'm not sure I could go on in my faith. This was a tricky spot to be, as not going on in my faith would mean abandoning not just my faith, but my security in Jesus. He had always been there, tending to my worrisome heart and my ALL CAPS pleadings for forgiveness in my prayer journal. How could I abandon him after all we had endured together? No, there had to be a better answer.
(The kind of stuff I did when I was *supposed* to be studying in college, featuring my lovely roommate Megan. Also me: asking random theological questions to pre-seminary students and getting annoyed when they had answers)
My friend's boyfriend was a pre-seminary student. When I asked him my burning questions that I had googled 100 times and found that there were no clear answers, he seemed to have exact ones. In thousands of years of church history, Christians have fought and disagreed over the answers to these same questions. There has been little to no agreement; in fact, there have been denomination splits, declaring that this belief is enough to part ways with this kind of Christian and stick with this kind of Christian. It all deeply bothered me, but what bothered me more was this pre-seminary student's confidence in his exact answers to these complex theological questions. He thinks he knows everything. He thinks he knows more than me because he is a pre-seminary student. (Eye-roll) I will never marry someone who is a pre-seminary major.
After that night at the library, I started calling this phenomenon of people who formally studied the Bible "pastor syndrome." I had noticed it first as a teenager in my small local Baptist church—that the pastors there believed that they had "the answers" to all the tough questions. This prideful attitude poked its ugly head not so much in their words but in their tone, especially at the pulpit. I would leave church, feeling like a less-than Christian because my pastor had to explain what the word actually meant in Greek. Instead of trusting the professional translators' choice in translation, our pastor instructed us that one of the words in the passage actually meant the fourth possible meaning, completely changing our understanding of the verse. For years, I believed there was a secret message behind every passage of Scripture, which made me feel like an inadequate Christian who was incapable of reading the Bible on my own. It left me feeling anxious about God's love through his word instead of embraced by it.
During this time at my local Baptist church, I was not quite able to pinpoint "pastor syndrome," though I could feel that something was off kilter. Still, I confessed to my youth pastor's wife that she had the "best job in the world." She asked me what I meant by that. I told her that it seemed dreamy to raise a family and be married to a youth pastor. She got to join alongside him, doing all of the ministry he was doing and discipling all the girls in the youth group! In retrospect, I think what I was trying to tell her was that I wanted to serve in ministry, but I didn't have a context for that desire because the idea of women in vocational ministry was only welcome in the children's church. So, I told her that I wanted her "job" because it was the closest thing I had witnessed to a woman serving the church. (What a shame that I'd never marry a pastor and secure my dream job! )
When I saw TJ's name on a poster, advertising that he was running for SGA Chaplain, I said aloud to my friend, "His last name is Pancake? That's so cute. I could go for that last name." He was, however, a pre-seminary major, who I had—just one year earlier—sworn I would never date or marry. I did not know him, but I decided that TJ Pancake was different. I just could not get him off my mind. I found out that he studied at the library, so I started studying more at the library. Instead of seeing "pastor syndrome," I started dreaming about the possibility of us doing ministry together.
The actual poster that made me chase after him (lol)
The first time we hung out, TJ invited me to go with him to a local church where he was preaching. He had wanted to get some preaching practice, and this was an opportunity. We rode awkwardly in a van with 5 other students who all seemed to know each other but did not utter a word. I knew we had a thirty-minute drive, and I wasn't about to sit there in silence, so I started a discussion in the van, easing the awkwardness. (If I'm skilled at anything, it is turning silence into noise.) When we arrived, we all jumped out of the van and entered the doors of an ancient-looking church with not-much-younger constituents. TJ was nervous about preaching, so I tried to calm him by playing some sort of guessing game with the hymnbook (another skill of mine).
As I listened to TJ preach his much-too-short sermon (he started speaking too fast due to nerves), I decided that, for once, I seemed to be right about this guy. Though he was studying the Bible, he did not seem to have "pastor syndrome." There was a humility I sensed in the way he taught God's word that drew me in and delighted me. He was excited to share God's Word with the congregation, not his ideas or his agenda. He loved God's word and the way he shared the Gospel felt real. He didn't have all the answers; he just had Jesus. If I get to be married to him, I can make an exception to the rule. Maybe I can be a pastor's wife. Maybe my dream of being a pastor's wife would mean I would get to love him and we could do ministry together. Maybe.
Immediately after getting engaged to a pre-seminary student
To be continued...