Thursday, February 9, 2012

Jonathan Edwards—A man whose wife was godly and yet struggled as a “Pastor’s wife”.

Sarah Edwards, like most wives of the “giants”, were basically unknown. The reasons for this are many. They rarely wrote. They were “helpers” to their husbands first, which seemed incongruent to self-promotion. The secular and sacred culture of the previous centuries was typically “patriarchal”, which saw little worth in hearing from a “woman” and to publish anything from a woman would have been almost comical. Finally, families were normally large and women (with the help of servants) did all the domestic duties.

Yet, because of the contemporary interest of Edwards during his lifetime, Sarah was integrated through the pages of her husband’s biographies. Here are some observations from Samuel Hopkins (one of Edwards’ first biographer):
“She made it her rule to speak well of all, so far as she could with truth and justice to herself and others. Thus she was tender of everyone’s character, even of those who injured or spoke evil of her.”
He continues:
“In the midst of these complicated labors, Edwards found at home one who was in every sense a help mate for him, one who made their common dwelling the abode of order and neatness, of peace and comfort, of harmony and love, to all its inmates, and of kindness and hospitability to the friend, the visitant, and the stranger.”
So as we can see, Mrs. Edwards was godly. But as any Christian who is short of their glorification, she struggled with people’s perception of her and especially of her husband. Even Edwards admitted during the time of the Great Awakening that his wife “seems to have a disposition to censure and condemn others” (this is one of the only times Edwards is critical of his wife).

The quote below is from Sarah herself. This is at the peak of the Great Awakening (a time of unusual spiritual awakening during the 1730’s—1740’s) and Edwards is gone on a speaking engagement. It is subtle, but you can see her personal struggles (as a Pastor’s wife) and the jealous thoughts she is battling towards the evangelist Mr. Buell.
“I heard that Mr. Buell was coming to this town, and from what I had heard of him and of his success, I had strong hopes that there would be great effects from his labors here.
At the same time….it greatly concerned me to watch my heart and see to it that I was perfectly resigned to God, with respect to the instruments he should make use of to revive religion in this town, and be entirely willing, if it was God’s pleasure, that he should make use of Mr. Buell. “
In other words, the wife of the greatest American theologian is struggling that God may choose to use Mr. Buell rather than her husband to awaken the souls of men of Northampton, which was her hometown and Edwards’ primary sphere of influence.

It is interesting but it seems that Edwards did not share his wife’s concern over the means of the Spirit’s influence. His theology convinced him that not only does the Spirit blow wherever and towards whoever He wants (John 3:8), but like the apostle Paul in Acts 16, his role was just to proclaim the truth and leave the raising of a dead heart to the Sovereign God, who is rich in mercy (Eph 2: 4).

The question is, “Was Mrs. Edwards unusual?” or maybe, “Is this struggle typical for a pastor’s wife?” The answer to both questions is, “NO” and “YES”.

Here are some additional thoughts:

The wife of a Pastor also needs prayer and encouragement.

A pastor needs to be a man of prayer himself, but he should also be hungry for the prayers of God’s people. He needs God’s Spirit and His wisdom to preach, to counsel, to lead and to be morally pure. But does his wife need prayer? Surprisingly, scripture doesn’t speak to this directly. Yet I believe a Pastor’s wife needs prayer, especially if she struggles being “in the shadow” of her husband. 

At this point, I can almost hear a mature, experienced Pastor’s wife reminding me that the role of a wife is to be a “helper” to her husband (Gen. 2:18). She would also remind me that scripture is clear that her role is to be first, a helper and then second, a mother. Then, with those roles firmly in their place, wives should be diligent to use their spiritual gift/s to strengthen the body of Christ (I Cor. 12:7).

To that I say, “Amen”. Unfortunately, though, the reality is that the Pastor’s wife of 2012 likely needs more consistent encouragement than the Pastor’s wife of 1742. Why? Well, the words of Gloria Feldt (said in October of 2010), former head of Planned Parenthood, sets the philosophy of our day:
“They (stay-at-home Moms) make it harder for the rest of us to remedy the inequities that remain. We have to make young women aware of how their choices affect other women. It should be acceptable criticism to point out that, although everyone has the right to make their own life decisions, choosing to “opt out” reinforces stereotypes about women’s priorities that we’ve been working for decades to shatter, so just cut it out. And, the “individual choice” women have to become stay-at-home moms becomes precarious when they try to return to the workplace and find their earning power and options reduced. If we could see child-rearing as a necessary task and not an identity (i.e. a God-ordained gender role), and if we could collectively recognize that facilitating it benefits us all, we would go much further in guaranteeing women’s choices than we do when we are expected to uncritically celebrate every individual’s decisions.”
After reading this quote, I want to climb on top of a high-rise building and flip on the “Bat-Signal”, calling ALL Titus 2 women to pursue the young women / wives of modern day Gotham City.

You must disciple them. You must point them to God’s sufficient Word. Without these reminders, Christian marriages, Christian families and Christian children will simply mirror the chaos of the unbelieving world.

Jealousy and defensiveness are often the struggles of the Pastor’s wife.

Jonathan Edwards wasn’t liked by everyone. This is the reality for any Pastor “worth his salt”, who is faithful to proclaim the offensive aroma of the gospel of Christ (2 Cor. 2:15). Yet this reality was difficult for Mrs. Edwards.

I am sure she had thoughts like this.
“How could these people not appreciate and revere my husband who spent 13 hours a day “doing the Lord’s work?”
“Do you even know how blessed you are to have my husband?”
“If you only knew how many churches have inquired of his preaching, you likely would not complain so much.”
Another reality that besets a Pastor is envy towards other ministers, especially those that shepherd larger, more popular and more influential churches. But is this a struggle the wife also? You bet it is. A wife of a Pastor sees the daily struggle on her husband’s face. She tries to comfort him. Many nights she cleans the wounds inflicted by the teeth of angry sheep.

So don’t forget to call, e-mail, text, tweet and pray for your Pastor’s wife. She may be smiling on the outside, but on the inside, she may be feeling lonely or irrelevant or God forbid….listening to the Gloria Feldts of the world.

1 comment:

  1. I intend to make praying for both my Pastor and his wife a higher priority now.
    Thank you for the article.