Five years ago last Sunday was the anniversary of my husband’s first day as a senior pastor. It’s two important years of my life that have shaped me and my view of ministry. The problem is that every time I try to get my thoughts in order, I get a mental block. I can recount in painful detail the circumstances that led to our leaving, but I don’t want to hurt the people I love who remain in that church. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized I need to talk about it. It’s the ring that did it.
Caleb bought me a ring while he was a pastor. It’s a simple band of white gold with three oval sapphires surrounded by tiny diamonds. It’s beautiful, and I love it. But I rarely wear it.
When he first bought me that ring I wanted to wear it all the time. Sapphires are my favorite gem, and most of my clothes are blue. It was small and subtle enough to wear with almost anything. I couldn’t wait to show it to them.
By “them” I mean the precious ladies who were so faithful to come to my Bible studies every week. I mean the wonderful VBS worker who stepped in to help me when she was already working night shift. I mean our home group who ate my egg rolls and brownies and laughed with us every week no matter how hard Sunday morning had been. I mean the amazing wife of one of our deacons who encouraged me with hugs and kind advice, even as she lost her husband to cancer. I mean the family who constantly encouraged us, prayed for us, and never failed to tell my husband how much they learned from his sermon. I mean the kids in the youth group who made me laugh week after week.
But I found myself wearing it less and less until it stayed in my jewelry box all the time. I remember showing it to a friend outside the church who asked me why I didn’t wear it.
“It isn’t safe,” I said.
As in I was anticipating criticism, not of ME, but of my husband. As in I knew that people would use that tiny band of gold to accuse him of wasting money on a “flashy” gift. As in I was always on guard for the next biting comment, the next cruel rumor, the next nitpicking complaint. As in nothing was sacred, not even a precious token of love.
I would dress for the day and remember that there were conversations over Sunday lunch where everything we did was placed under scrutiny. I’d think of the one time I spoke in unguarded anger and how the woman who saw it never treated me the same again. I’d wonder if I was going to see the person who gave me backhanded compliments about my “fancy” professional clothes I’d collected as a secretary. And that ring would stay in the jewelry box.
It stayed there long after we left Kansas. I realized that I’ve worn it a handful of times over the last three years. I have good memories from our time in pastoral ministry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with bitterness. I hate certain worship songs. I tend to be standoffish in chapel. I worry about how my involvement or non-involvement, smiles, frowns, clothing, jokes, and a hundred other things will reflect on my husband. Most of all, I realized that I’m scared to share joyful moments because I anticipate criticism. I’m still afraid to wear that ring.
A sweet lady I met at a chaplain training conference not long ago told me her own story of rejection by a church at the beginning of her husband’s ministry. The pain was obviously still fresh decades later. But in those intervening decades she and her husband had served God faithfully in many different roles and churches. As she gave me a hug and pat with a lightly bejeweled hand, she told me what she tells every pastor’s wife: measure yourself according to Christ, not what a congregation thinks. That’s when I decided that if she can wear her pretty rings without fear, so can I. I wore mine today. I’m going to wear it again tomorrow.
I’m going to keep wearing it until my fear is gone because Satan is not going to steal my zeal for the Gospel by threatening me with damage to my husband’s reputation. He’s a liar, and I’m going to remind him of that every day with three sparkling sapphires.