A husband and wife may go years and never step foot into each other’s workplace, except for a holiday party or summer picnic. But the spouse of a pastor not only goes to her mate’s place of work once or more times each week, a spouse is also expected to build her intimate friendships and Christian community from among those who regularly have opinions and offer evaluations of her husband’s job performance.
How can husbands and wives in vocational ministry discover a process of venting their experiences without gossiping or slandering or damaging one another by giving too much or too little information?
Consider these two categories. (1) General Venting and (2) Specific Venting
(1) Start by clarifying that you have something on your mind. “If I seem stressed or distracted or bothered tonight, I want you to know it has nothing to do with you.”
(2) Then, give a general category for what troubles you. “I have a critic on my mind, and it hurts” OR “There’s a family that is struggling, and I’m concerned” OR “There’s a decision I need to make and I don’t know which way to go with it yet.”
(3) Then, give an invitation to intimacy. “Would you mind if we prayed together?” OR “We know that it’s not best for me to give you the details at the moment, but you are the one who knows me best. Is there anything you think I should pray about or keep in mind or remember as I go to the Lord about it?”
- General Venting allows you and your spouse to stay connected with what goes on in real time in your soul and regarding your work. It protects your intimacy and disrupts painful distance.
- General Venting also protects your spouse from having to hear about situations that she has no power to do anything about and little ability to see what the reconciliations or provisions that take place.
- You free your spouse from having to guess about your thoughts while protecting her from having to fix or figure out or relationally defend you with someone the next time she goes to church.
For those who feel inauthentic or dishonest unless you share everything you think and feel, I’d like to free you with the remembrance that Biblically speaking, this “sharing-everything-feeling” is actually named “folly” (Prov. 17:27, 29:11).
Wisdom, in contrast, recognizes that not everything we think or feel serves or upholds love for God or our neighbor. We love our spouse, not by saying nothing and requiring her to guess, but by saying generally, so that we can partner together in intimacy and life and prayer. By doing so, we spare her from having to be like God for us. We’ve looked to the Lord, casting our cares upon him, so that we can share with our spouses without requiring them to do for us what only God can. This frees us both to be the brother and sister in Christ, the covenant lovers, the married life-long companions that we are in Jesus.
(1) After a Provision of God has been given. We say, “Remember when I told you about that family that was struggling? I just want to tell you what a powerful thing the Lord did! It was Rick and Joyce, and they are at peace now and giving thanks, and so am I.” OR “Remember that critic I was so hurt by? There’s no need to share his or her name, but I just want to tell you, God is good. Here is what God did . . .”
Then you invite to intimacy and gratitude, and you give thanks to God together. Sometimes you will share more detail, give names and situations, other times you needn’t do so at all. But either way, you get to rejoice together and give thanks, just as you felt concerned together as a couple and interceded.
(2) If your critic might blindside your spouse. Prepare your spouse well. Say something like: “Remember when I told you about that critic who is on my mind and we prayed together? Well, you know I typically don’t tell you who such critics are, but tonight when you go to the ministry event I think you are likely to sit at the same table as this person. I don’t want you to get blindsided by her frustration with me. So, it’s Barbara, and the situation has to do with the decision the elders made about relocating the Children’s ministry event. The Lord is with us. It is going to be ok. You don’t have to defend me or do anything at all. Together we can continue to show Jesus’s love as best we can. But let’s pray together. I want you to feel prepared. She might try to find out about me by attempting to go through you with questions that seem to have an edge to them.”
(3) If a painful pastoral care situation might confront your spouse. Prepare your spouse with something like this: “Remember when I told you about the man whose son is estranged from him? Well, I want you to know that it is Bob. He doesn’t want folks to make a fuss about it. But I’m telling you because you are likely to have conversations with Bob tonight at the parenting gathering. I know you’d want to be sensitive to his situation and I think because you are my wife he assumes you already know. So, no need to give you any details about it. We can let that be his story to tell. But I didn’t want you to get caught off guard if someone talks about their kids walking with God in glowing terms and Bob seems sad.”