When our daughter was born, I was more than ready to finish work. So it was a terrific surprise when unemployment turned out to be so hard to adjust to. Not because I missed the workload or the pressure, by any stretch of the imagination; but because I am what John Ortberg calls an approval addict; I care what people think. I just hadn’t realised quite how much until the first time someone asked what I ‘did’, and I hastily replied that, “I used to be a teacher…”
You see, people generally approve of teachers. “I am a teacher” rather unanimously says I am professional; educated; hardworking; worthwhile. Now;”I stay at home with my own children”? That one is a little harder to predict. ( Of course, if the Internet is anything to go by, I’m obviously either a saint or a sponge, with not much in between!) This week, however, I am reflecting on the more recent mark on my identity; the other defining role that draws all sorts of assumptions and judgements, whether I welcome them or not. For I am now a Clergy Wife, and that is rather a lot to live up to.
So… Here’s the thing.
I recently discovered that a stranger had misunderstood, and consequently disapproved, of something I had written. And, as a self-confessed approval addict, this was probably more discouraging than it should have been. What’s more, the perceived offence was deemed especially worrying for a Vicar’s wife. And herein lies the problem. I know that my About Page declares I am a “trainee Vicar’s wife”, but I feel the need to clarify:
Husband is the trainee; Wife gets no training whatsoever.
In fact, Husband had to undergo two years of thorough interrogations before they would even allow him to formally interview. Wife had a brief chat over a cup of tea, (arranged with enough prior notice to hide the drug stash and clear the brothel, if one had the need). Husband’s interview was what they call a BAP; which is no where near as light and fluffy as it sounds. BAP is a 3 day, intensive analysis of personality, mental health, academic capability, Spirital capacity, social awareness and communication- to name but a few. Wife is believed to be whatever Husband says she is (which, if his grooms’ speech was anything to go by, might have included “one of those white girls who thinks she’s black.” I kid you not.) And once through that? Congratulations! Husband now goes through a 3 year process of ‘formation’; which basically involves taking all of that criteria and breaking it down so that he’ll often wonder who, where and what he is, and whether or not everyone involved in the selection process has grossly misjudged it. Wife picks him up, dusts him off and sends him back to college with the affirmation that yes, this is what you are called to, (now hurry up before I change my mind!). At college, Husband recieves all sorts of training in theology, mission, pastoral care, ethics and the like. Wife hears tidbits over toddler tea time (“that’s interesting- get that pea out of your nose!”), tries to decipher complex theory from a grammatically-challenged essay, and finally finds time to talk about the big stuff when Husband’s brain is too tired to function, (apparently my latest thoughts on predestination aren’t considered pillow-talk; who knew?!) Husband also undertakes a variety of placements; the current being a hospital chaplaincy with an emphasis on death and dying. Wife admits that, with Husband unavailable, the idea of struggling down some badly-thought-out steps on her own with two small children- for the sake of spending the entire duration in the crèche- just isn’t worth it, and, as such, actually spends less time in church now than she ever did before. At the end of all of this, Husband undertakes another 3 year training post in the form of a curacy; to polish off his skills and learn how to actually be the “job”. Wife tags along, with the option of being as involved or uninvolved as she likes.
And yet… I fear the expectation is often that the Vicar’s wife should come out of this with the exact same level of wisdom, faith and pastoral prowess as the one who trained 6 years to do it. Which is not only unrealistic, but unfair. Now, don’t get me wrong; I want to grow in wisdom and maturity. I want to be more kind; more compassionate; more patient, gentle, gracious, loving and self-controlled. Not because of who or what I’m married to, but because I am a Christian in my own right. I love the God we serve and I want to be better at loving those around us; better at representing Him in the world. Namely, I want to be more like Jesus, because that’s what we are all called to be. Yes, being married to any minister carries the responsibility of being some sort of display model; but that shouldn’t mean that honesty and integrity are shunned for the sake of pretence. (It does, however, mean that I will regularly be misunderstood, and very probably disapproved of; and I need to get used to that.)
So this is why I am writing.
I want those close to us, particularly outside of church, to get a little more insight into what on earth it is we’ve signed up for. I want the space to say yes, I was that mate who got so intoxicated she drank a centre piece and snogged a smurf; and I won’t ever pretend otherwise. But thankfully, however; I also believe in a God of forgiveness and transformation; so my past doesn’t need to be my future. Secondly, I also want to say to those inside the church, I am not operating on a higher spiritual plane; and chances are the Vicar’s family in your church aren’t either.
However, the Internet is an unpredictable beast; you never know what may go viral. So, like any good wife or mum, I also want to immunise my family against potential infection. Thus, for now at least, I stand by my stance on public anonymity. That any approval or disapproval my thoughts attract should have no bearing on my husband’s reputation or ministry; no infamity for our future church or community; and draw no attention to my children. The thoughts expressed are entirely my own. As such, they should be read as those of ‘A Vicar’s wife’, and not ‘THE Vicar’s wife.’ Non-prescriptive; non-promotional; personally reflective; entirely devotional.
So there you have it; and, more importantly, there it is.
My first step towards realising I can only ever be the person that God created me to be; and accepting that she won’t be everyone else’s cup of tea.