Imperfection. This word has become my mantra and self-definition as of late. It may sound odd, but its meaning is actually a positive one. Let me explain.
You see, not only am I a pastor’s daughter, I am a pastor’s wife. I have lived my entire life in the ministry. I’ve felt God’s unswerving hand fulfilling our needs, along with precious growth in my faith, and soul-touching encouragement from service. I’ve also dealt with the harshness and difficulties that can come along with full-time ministry.
If those of us in ministry are willing to be completely honest we will probably admit that having a job within the church can be exhausting and even overwhelming at times. Honesty brings acceptance, followed by strength and growth, so honest I will be.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve noted a certain stigma and expectations that come along with people’s view of pastors’ wives: quiet, plain clothing, nothing to stand apart from the crowd, ever the pianist and/or Sunday school teacher, self-sacrificing to the point of not having a break, and, most of all, as perfect as an imperfect human can be.
Now, I fully admit that these are generalizations and are not true of everyone’s perspective. I’m fairly certain that most of you will agree, however, that at one point in time, there was truth to all of these judgments.
For a long time, I somewhat bought into these unrealistic expectations — even demanded them of myself, as much as I was able. Now, I do want to make a point of telling you that my husband had no such expectations of me. These came from the unspoken viewpoint of others and even more so from myself. The problem with this was that it wasn’t me. I wasn’t being real.
Realistic or not, these expectations weren’t quite as difficult to achieve before we had children. Then something life-altering happened to us. We had a baby girl, and that beautiful daughter of ours had special needs. She was born with Down syndrome, combined with a seizure disorder, a severe cognitive impairment and autism. It was and is an intense combination and, to this day, takes every ounce of energy I have. I quit my job at our local symphony orchestra and became a full-time caregiver and stay-at-home mom.
This drastic change in our lives brought about the realization that I could not be the mother that I needed to be for our daughter and live up to those expectations at the same time. Partly because of time, and partly because our lives were suddenly exhausting and stressful in a whole new way. I had no energy left for pretense.
At first, I became overwhelmed because of this. I worried that the church members would see that I wasn’t fulfilling my “duties” as a pastor’s wife and be disappointed in me. I pulled away from the church for a little while because of this. It quickly became apparent to me, however, that this wasn’t the answer. At that point, I needed the support of my church family more than ever.
Slowly but surely, I came back, only this time as genuinely me. It was absolutely with fear that I would be judged as such, but I did so anyway.
After a little while, an interesting realization developed within me. I was not only accepted for being exactly who I was, I was appreciated for it. See, the “real” me has pink hair, piercings, tattoos, loves fun, somewhat flashy outfits, also shows up on a Sunday in raggedy sweatpants on occasion, can be fairly opinionated, knows that, for myself, serving in the church simply means loving and partnering with my husband, not feeling the necessity to overextend myself, and is about as far from perfect as I can get. The last point is true of all of us, of course. You know, except for Jesus.
Then another happy surprise came along: I started to receive messages of appreciation from other woman in the church. I was thanked for being utterly real and simply myself. I started with little portions at first, but over the years I have completely let myself be seen as the “real” me with our church family. The freedom and peace that came along with this was transformative, but not just for me. Other women around me began to feel the freedom to be completely real themselves.
I was both relieved and humbled by this turn of events, as it led to the most important insight of all. The best possible way for me to serve my church family, specifically the ladies in our church, was by being myself.
As pastors’ wives, we are noticed more than most. We’re usually looked to as an example. There’s a lot of pressure there. That’s the main reason that stigma and those unrealistic expectations began.
As I mentioned earlier, honesty brought about acceptance, followed by strength and growth. It was and is a very good thing. Those expectations were due for a change. Believe it or not, it’s actually time for imperfection to take their place. Or, more specifically, acceptance of our imperfection.
We’re all flawed human beings. “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). Once we accept this, we can find strength and growth. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).
Imperfection. It no longer necessitates a negative connotation. It can now give us connection and hope. I strive to accept my imperfections and use them to cultivate not only my relationship with the Lord, but how I can serve others in our church. Together we can form new expectations, simply by being real. Won’t you join me?
Emily Davidson is a classically trained pianist, a stay-at-home mom and a freelance writer for Autism Parenting Magazine and other publications. Her husband, Adam, is the lead pastor at the Portage (Michigan) Free Methodist Church.8