My Pastor-Husband is So Stressed But He Doesn’t See It! HELP!
Written by Shannon Carroll
The pastor’s wife carries many roles and wears many hats. But the most lonely and burdensome hat we wear is watching the effect the ministry can have on our husbands.
Before I go any farther, let me clearly state that ministry can be one of the most beautiful gifts and callings. We have a front row seat to watching God literally transform lives! We see that the fruit of our labor has eternal implications. What we are doing matters and can be fulfilling at the soul level. I love ministry and I love being a partner with my husband in ministry at our local church.
Yet… ministry can be hard. Soul-wrenching hard.
- Because people let us into their life in a vulnerable way, we witness just how messy life can become.
- We see the hurt of sin and the painful consequences of decisions.
- We wrestle in prayer alongside parents who are worried about their wayward kids.
- We plead for healing at the side of a hospital bed.
- We have to offer hope to others when we ourselves might be going through a difficult season.
- We are tasked with offering encouragement during sad times, such as at funerals.
- The needs of others are so great and they look to us to help anchor and encourage them.
- Our needs can be pushed aside and we are afraid to even mention them.
- We don’t have regular work hours and are actually on-call day and night, on holidays and even on vacations.
- We give and give and often don’t take the time or intentionality to replenish.
- Carrying the spiritual discipleship burden for a congregation is a very weighty responsibility.
- Pleasing all of the church members is an impossible task.
- Preaching God’s Word requires adequate preparation and a lot of energy to deliver powerful messages week after week.
- We desire authentic and vulnerable friendships, yet are hesitant to form them within the church.
- We put ourselves and our family at risk of ridicule, judgement and gossip.
- Because we are on the front lines of seeing lives changed for the Gospel, we have a target on our backs from the enemy, who wants to keep us discouraged and defeated.
There’s more… but if I keep listing them, we might start turning prospective ministers away from their calling! What might you add to this list of the hard parts of ministry?
All of these things, along with the spiritual warfare we encounter as a ministry family, can easily and effectively wear us down. In a word, it all produces STRESS. In fact, ministry families are some of the most stressed-out families. The turnover in the pulpit is humongous because of the unique and challenging demand included with this profession.
Ministry Wives Experience a Unique Form of Suffering
And as ministry wives, we feel the stress not only for ourselves, but for our husbands. We watch them give their all and pour their lives out. We see the struggle. We watch their unwavering commitment to serve a church body, even when they are being personally attacked. We see the sleepless nights and hear the overwhelmed sighs. We carry a silent burden for them as we worry about their health and how long they can sustain this pace.
So many pastor-husbands don’t want to admit their stress or that the ministry is negatively affecting them. They “press on towards the high calling” while sometimes running themselves into the ground.
Our pleadings for them to slow down, take a break, go on vacation, talk to a counselor can largely go unheeded.
We suffer in silence for and with them.
I hear this exact complaint from countless ministry wives who are worried about their husbands and don’t know how to help them. They love the ministry just as much as their husbands, but they are ready to put up some boundaries and get help – while their husbands press on.
It’s hard to admit that a Divine Calling to be a shepherd of a local body is causing us physical, mental and emotional pain. Somehow that feels like a taboo confession or a sign of weakness.
But David and I have learned that giving voice to the struggle, putting up boundaries and being real with your congregation can actually be very freeing. We understand, though, that getting there isn’t easy.
How Can a Ministry Wife Make a Difference or Help Support Her Stressed-Out Husband?
So what is a pastor’s wife to do when she sees her husband hurting but he won’t listen to her cautions?
I know you’re looking for more practical advice, more of an angle of how to frame a conversation with your husband – a magic wand to make it all better. I get it. I was there.
After 13 years of ministry at our local church, my husband crashed. He developed a very bizarre amnesia and when the doctors couldn’t find anything medically wrong that might have caused the amnesia, they determined it was due to years of cumulative stress.
I had been watching his stress mount up over the years. I saw his moments of clutching his chest in pain. I witnessed his increased need to sleep and escape from life. I heard the stress and irritation in his voice.
And I tried all of the wrong ways to address it.
- I tried to convince him that he was wrong for sleeping so much.
- I reacted to his irritation with irritation of my own. (We ended up in a big argument the night before he lost his memories…)
- My worry came out in the form of nagging. I was one more voice telling him he wasn’t good enough and needed to do better.
- I would call pastoral counselors and get info on how much they’d charge to talk to David and give him a safe outlet outside of the church.
- I even called some of his friends or mentors and told them how David was struggling and asked them to intervene…
I’ll give you a hint – none of those strategies were effective! In fact, they only served to cause him (and me) more stress and heartache on top of all that was already there.
The best and only answer, the most effective solution to watching the stress of our husbands is to pray. (This is a secret for all wives, not just ministry wives!)
We are given a special assignment as an insider into our husband’s private life so we can know exactly how to pray for them. Because we see parts of their life and struggle like no one else, we know better than anyone else how to pray for them. I believe God hears our heart-felt cries for our husbands. As we pour out our heart to Him on their behalf, He alone offers us peace in exchange for our worry. He somehow takes our anxiety and imparts calm and assurance to our soul in a way that no other friend or helper can.
AND – He alone can soften and change their hearts. He can change situations. He can bring awareness through His Holy Spirit. He makes a way where there seems to be no way.
God answered my prayer for my stressed-out husband in the messed up and strange package of amnesia.
One Thing Remains
We tell the whole story in our book, “One Thing Remains” but in a nutshell, I thought he was having a massive heart attack and when the dust settled, his heart and brain were fine – but he had zero memories of the last 8-13 years of our life. He didn’t know he was a pastor. He had never “heard” of our church. He didn’t recognize our home. He thought our grown boys were still infants. Years of memories and stress and happiness – gone. Scooped out. (You’ll definitely want to read more about life with amnesia and how God miraculously brought his memories back. It’s all in our book!
Be careful what you pray for! God might just answer in a way that is totally unexpected.
But our nightmare of amnesia turned out to be the biggest gift we could have ever received. If ever there was a sign from above that life had to change, this was it. God got my husband’s attention in a powerful and unmistakable way! And the result was the answer to all of my prayers for him and our family!
We turned our life around and learned to approach ministry and family totally differently. We learned to recognize stress and we finally gained courage to put up boundaries and do something about it.
Our congregation saw the impact of ministry stress on their pastor and they started to support us in a beneficial way as we all worked together towards the same goal.
A Word of Hope
I’m here to encourage you – there IS hope! We don’t have to be victims to the ministry. We can be – and are supposed to be – overcomers, living an abundant life as a ministry family. Don’t believe the lie that it has to be stressful all the time and we just have to live with it or get out. We can make changes today to turn the tide and find better balance in our work and ministry. It’s possible!
There were a couple other things I started implementing after amnesia to help support my husband and provide a safe place for him.
- I took myself off of all committees and church responsibilities except the worship team. I saw that my #1 goal in church was to support my husband. I couldn’t do that very well when I was pre-occupied in all the peripheral activities and events. This might not be your story or your calling, but I needed permission to step back from a lot of church life so I could be more available to serve and support my husband.
- I discovered that his love language was words of affirmation. No wonder my constant barrage of criticisms weighed him down so much! I purposed to tip the balance and offer way more words of encouragement and affirmation than negative “constructive” criticism. This shift has had a huge impact on him and on our marriage. I started a gratitude journal for him. When I’m inspired, I write a note to him in the journal of something I love about him or something I’m thankful that he did, etc. I place it on his pillow for him to read before he goes to bed. Knowing he has a cheerleader in his corner allows him to face the needs of others with more courage and energy.
I completely understand how you feel, sweet pastor’s wife. I know the heavy and unnamed burden you carry for your husband. I am here to hold you and affirm to you that God also sees, is listening and cares for you and your husband. Run into His arms and let Him speak peace to your soul today.
This is the prayer I’m praying over you…
Heavenly Father, you see the secret hurts and fears and burdens my sister is carrying today. She feels like she’s alone and weighed down to the point of desperation at times. She knows you’ve called her and her husband to this ministry, but she’s a little surprised at how difficult it can be and how much you’re asking of her. Thank you that she can be real with you, that she can pour out her heart and you take notice of every tear and every prayer she cries. In fact, You specialize in reaching down to hold broken people. You can redeem any situation! Thank you for that hope! Would you please offer peace and comfort for this pastor’s wife today? Will you assure her that You are working even when she can’t see it? We entrust our husbands to you and ask that you soften their heart to see the need to slow down and possibly even take a step back to rest and refuel. We ask that you bring people and circumstances across their path to offer clear direction for the next steps in their ministry. Thank you for caring for us, for never leaving us and for always providing a way where there seems to be no way. We eagerly look forward to seeing how you are going to intervene in this situation. Thank you for hearing our prayer. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
You might also be encouraged by this short talk I gave to other Pastor’s Wives about Ministry Exhaustion and What to Do About It.