When Your Church World Collapses–
and You’re the Pastor’s Wife
An unexpected church conflict triggered anger, depression, bulimia and a stay in a psychiatric hospital. But God turned it around for good.
“Where did You go, God? Why did You allow this to happen?” I was so angry at Him.
I had read enough of Psalms to know it was OK to be totally honest with God. David certainly was at times. If God knew what I was thinking, I felt I might as well verbalize it to Him.
But how could this happen to me? I had been so excited about my calling as a pastor’s wife when Don and I got married in 1979. I knew God had gifted my husband to be a minister, and we both had an intense desire to follow His will for our lives.
Anatomy Of A Nightmare
How could our dream have turned into such a nightmare? The answer is simple: We experienced the severe pain of rejection by the people we were serving.
I have always known people are fickle. I had been in the ministry long enough to see adults act like children when they want their own way. Yet I wasn’t prepared for the level of treachery mounted against us in November 1994.
We felt certain that God had led us to the church Don was pastoring. We poured our love into the lives of the people, and they became a real family to us.
The Seeds Of Discord
However, amid this happy pastorate, there were those who wanted to be in control–and they looked upon ministers as expendable. And so began a year-long process of gossip and criticism.
Sowing seeds of discord among the brethren, Satan often works quietly behind the scenes of a church. This seems particularly true in churches where people are being saved and are growing in their desire to serve the Lord. We are in a spiritual war–not against flesh and blood (each other) but against Satan and all the powers of hell.
The stress became greater as the behind-the-scenes dissension became increasingly evident. Watching helplessly while a group of people conspired against my husband, I fell into a deep depression.
The intense, constant criticism was destroying him–and me. As Don’s wife, I knew how much he loved God and loved those people–the very people who seemed bent on destroying him. No matter how he tried, in their eyes he could do nothing right.
Where Was God???
I thought of God’s many servants in the Bible who were persecuted unjustly. Where was God then; and where was He now?
Never had I experienced the hate I witnessed at one Sunday night service. It was as if I was in the middle of a bad dream and couldn’t wake up.
Some of the deacons brought a motion to have my husband terminated as pastor. Then, after it was read, a man stood and said he thought a round of applause should be given for the godly deacons who had the courage to make such a motion. This man and his wife had always been so loving and encouraging to us. Now, out of the same mouth, came quite a different message.
I sat in disbelief as it became clear the congregation was split right down the middle: 50 percent stood and clapped for the motion; 50 percent sat and did not clap. I was shocked as I looked at the belligerent expressions on the faces of people I loved and thought loved our family. All of this happened three weeks before Christmas. It destroyed the joyous season for me.
The Family’s Hurt
Suddenly remembering that our son Matthew was with us in the meeting, I stood to my feet and, exploding with anger, shouted: “I can’t believe you’re doing this in front of my little boy! This is just hate!”
Sobbing so deeply that I could hardly walk, I grabbed Matthew and left the meeting. Even then I heard the demonic murmuring of someone in the crowd: “She shouldn’t have brought him in here in the first place.”
It was as if the congregation had become a lynch mob. By walking out, my son and I were spared from the venomous dialogue that followed. Fortunately, some precious friends came to comfort me in the room in where Matthew and I had gone. Many people were hurt, shocked and horrified that night. I wasn’t the only one who left with a broken heart.
I never went back to that church. My husband did, three days later, to submit his resignation.
Healing The Wound
How is a broken heart mended? This unexpected rejection was something I felt I could not live through. The pain was so great I wanted to die.
“Love never fails,” says 1 Corinthians 13:8, but it appeared to be failing for me. Although I had been a Christian for 26 years and knew all the verses for crisis situations, they didn’t seem to be working at the moment.
I continued to go through the motions of living, but I was dying on the inside. My husband was very loving and supportive, but I hid the extent of my inner turmoil from him.
Coping Mechanism Failure
When stress and anger are allowed to build up over time, they eventually will find an outlet. In my case the coping mechanism took the form of compulsive overeating and then making myself throw up–bingeing and purging. I later learned this is called bulimia, a very serious eating disorder suffered by an increasing number of people in our society.
With my life spinning out of control, I found myself doubting even some of my favorite verses, Proverbs 3:5-6. I wanted to trust in the Lord with all my heart and acknowledge Him in all my ways, but how could I trust a God who would direct my path onto such a painful road?
It took quite a while before I could focus on the part of these verses that commanded me not to “lean” on my own understanding. Indeed, I could not understand how Christians could treat each other so cruelly.
During this time, my mind was never at rest. Constantly it analyzed what had happened, trying in vain to make some sense out of things and searching hopelessly for some clue to repairing the damage. I struggled to sleep, and when I did, the nightmares kept me from waking up rested.
Overtaken By Mental Illness
The bulimia escalated until I was purging everything I ate. Then, one evening, I began reading a book about eating disorders published by Rapha, a nationwide inpatient-counseling ministry. I unmistakably recognized myself in the pages of this book as it described my disorder in detail.
The morning after I read this, in a moment of total despair and fear, I finally told my husband about the bulimia. I needed help, and at last I realized it. I admitted myself into the Rapha program at Charter Springs Hospital in Ocala, Florida. I’ll never forget the song I was quietly singing to myself as my husband drove me to the hospital:
God will make a way
When there seems to be no way.
He works in ways we cannot see;
He will make a way for me.
Something deep inside me wanted to believe those words. A faint flicker of hope told me my broken heart could be healed.
Before a problem can be solved, one must admit there is a problem. That part I had done, but going for help was another difficult hurdle. In my mind, the worst thing that could happen to a minister’s wife was being admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
I spent three weeks there.
My first night in the hospital brought a barrage of tangled thoughts rushing through my head: What’s wrong with me? Have I done the wrong thing by admitting myself to this hospital? I’ve let so many people down. Why has all this happened to me when I was just trying to serve the Lord?
Recovering From Failure And Rejection
My ability to trust people had been severely damaged by what had happened, and I was petrified by fear of what people would think when they heard of my stay in the hospital. If they criticized and rejected me before, what would they be saying now? I thought.
Sadly, my thoughts were not just filled with presumptions about how I would be further rejected by people. In my trauma I also lost sight of what I needed most: the unconditional love of God.
It was a perfect opportunity for the devil to taunt me: “If you don’t perform correctly–perfectly– then you’re worthless, unlovable and hopeless. God will never be able to use you again.”
One Positive Result
Although nothing is more painful than dealing with core problems such as failure and rejection, there was one positive result. The decimation of my sense of personal significance caused me to search for a self- image founded on the Word of God.
The Bible speaks of the wisdom found in a multitude of godly counselors. Through the Rapha staff, the wisdom and love of God flowed to my mind and heart. The mending of my broken heart began.
Learning To Trust…Again
Other than my family, the first people I began to trust were the other patients in the Rapha program at the hospital. There was no pretense or facades among us.
We all knew we were there because we needed help, so we began to love and trust each other– unconditionally. We didn’t have to pretend everything was “fine” as Christians often think they must in order to be accepted.
I had never experienced such honesty and genuine love among a group of people. We prayed and learned together every day.
God’s Unbelievable Promise
While packing for the hospital, I had grabbed a plaque on my dresser and tossed it into my suitcase. The plaque displayed a verse that really began to bother me, Jeremiah 29:3: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord; plans for good and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
“How could good come from what happened?” I asked God. Although I looked at that plaque every day, I told myself I didn’t believe its message anymore. But as the days went by, the verse was planted deep in my heart.
Why Me? Why Not Me!
With the help I received at the hospital, I began to see that my self-worth does not equal my performance plus the opinions of others. My performance may falter, my popularity with people may rise and fall, but God constantly and completely loves and accepts me. Seeing that, I began to trust Him once again.
On my first night in the hospital, a patient shared his story of attempted suicide. “Why me?” he had asked a Christian friend who came to see him soon afterward. His friend replied: “Why not you? God will use this in your life.”
When I heard his story, I thought I would never be able to say, “Why not me?” Now I can honestly say, “Use this experience for your honor and glory, Lord!” That was the starting point of God taking me off the road to self-destruction and placing me on His path of healing.
It has now been more than a year, and I’m still in the healing process. So is my family.
God has given me a wise Christian psychologist to complete my treatment. Also, our new church is filled with wonderful, loving people. Their unconditional love–in addition to the support of my family and those at Rapha–has been a major factor in teaching me to trust people again.
Trust God’s Plan
Forgiveness plays a major part in the healing process. The overwhelming waves of anger I felt did not begin to subside until I genuinely forgave those who hurt me. By an act of my will I forgave them and prayed for the Lord to work in their lives.
Most important is the fact that I can now see the plans God has for me are for my good, not for calamity. By bringing me out of what seemed to be a hopeless situation, God has made me a bolder witness and given me a greater love for people. As a direct result of what we have gone through, my husband and I are now embarking on a ministry to hurting pastors and wives.
The Bible says of Joseph that when he was falsely accused and thrown into an Egyptian prison, “the Lord was with him” (Gen. 39:20-21). And so He is with us when we face unjust circumstances today.
May our testimony echo Joseph’s words to those who caused his pain: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
©1993 Tricia Hicks