Battling Discouragement as a Pastor’s Wife

Several years ago, I experienced what appeared to be a fairly sudden onset of significant discouragement. It both surprised and scared me that, despite my best attempts, I couldn’t shake it on my own. And it wasn’t going away. A series of difficult circumstances and relationships left me feeling lost and hopeless in the church we’d worked so hard to plant. I was stuck, unable to find a way out. It was painful to admit I was quickly turning into the person I’d tried so hard not to become—a discouraged and disillusioned pastor’s wife.

What followed was a humbling yet powerful season of asking God to unravel the mess in my heart.

One of the first things he showed me was my deep fear of admitting how much I was struggling with discouragement. The battle seemed like a tremendous failure I should have been able to avoid. In retrospect, I had so feared the implications of discouragement that I refused to acknowledge its tiny seeds when they first appeared years earlier. My default reaction to encountering a difficult emotion was to ignore it and keep moving. I viewed this response as perseverance and self-control, but, in reality, I was hiding and living in denial. Fear, anger, disappointment, and sadness were piling up, but I assumed acknowledging them meant I was in danger of becoming a person who wallowed around in destructive self-pity. In reality, ignoring these emotions in an attempt to prove my own maturity and strength was a primary cause of my discouragement.

Over time, I learned emotions weren’t the enemy, but rather a helpful tool. Additionally, I saw that processing those emotions through the truth of Scripture alongside wise and godly people led to less self-absorption, not more.

Priorities Straight

I also learned to make rest and self-care a priority. I’d essentially spent several years living as if rest and refreshment were great ideas for others but impossible for me. I had plenty of excuses as to why I didn’t take time alone or develop a consistent habit of keeping Sabbath. But the truth was I didn’t want to battle through the practical difficulties of making these things happen consistently or, more importantly, of confronting my productivity and performance idols. Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 11:28-30, then, was a breath of fresh air. I gained a deeper understanding of what it means to rest in his finished work for me instead of in my own effort and striving. I’ve been learning to view rest as a gift and to intentionally pursue health and refreshment through worship, solitude, exercise, and recreation. Today, my habits of rest and self-care are among the first things I examine when I feel discouragement creeping in.

Another key to battling through discouragement was intentionally rediscovering the good things happening inside our church. Far from a moralistic attempt to “look at the bright side,” this was an important step of gaining a more realistic and holistic viewpoint of what was actually occurring all around me. I had become overly focused on our church’s weaknesses, problems, and trials; meanwhile, however, God was still rescuing and restoring people. Marriages were being transformed, the poor and marginalized in our community were being loved and served, and people were growing in their love for God’s Word and understanding of the gospel. I experienced anew the tremendous encouragement that comes from hearing and rejoicing in peoples’ stories of God doing the impossible.

Finally, I learned how resting in my complete security and safety in Christ allowed me to take relational risks again. To be sure, God doesn’t promise relationships in the ministry context will be simple or that I won’t ever get my heart broken again. But he does promise his love and grace will be enough—always. I’ve been beautifully surprised by the many ways he’s used the body of Christ to encourage me as I’ve become more open to receiving love and grace from them.

Overall, I’ve learned that struggling with discouragement as a pastor’s wife isn’t something I have to fear or manage on my own. I’ve experienced God’s faithfulness as he’s carried me through the struggle of discouragement more than I ever did by trying to fearfully tiptoe around it by myself. Today, I’m confident I can take my discouraged heart straight to our gracious and merciful God. He’s more than big—and good—enough to handle it.

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Learn more from Amie Patrick and her husband, Darrin, on “Dealing with Discouragement in Ministry” in their workshop at The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference next month. Register here, and we’ll see you soon in Orlando!

  • Claudia Erickson

    As the wife of a Pastor for many years and one who has been anything but ‘traditional’ I want to thank you for your candor and your insight. None of us are ever too old to learn anew the truths of God’s word as it applies to our roles as Pastors Wives. Thank you, you were the voice from the Lord to me today. Blessings!

  • Mike

    First off, I want to say thank you for this post! I am glad that it has appeared on TGC. SO often, in “church land”, the eyes are fixed on the pastor only- his struggles, his hurts, his joys, his challenges, etc. But “she who is of one flesh” with him is so easily overlooked! Does she not, as one flesh with him, share in his struggles, hurts, etc? Yet people so easily forget this. Perhaps it may be true in many churches that she is the least cared for of all…

    Second, I love the personal focus of this post. But what about the relational aspects? Self care via worship, solitude, exercise, and recreation are all great. Looking at the good things going on in the church are great. Trusting in Christ to take relational risks again is great. But could you explain that relational point a little more? How can pastor’s wives stay away from a “just-me-and-God” mentality in dealing with discouragement?

  • Amie Patrick

    Great question, Mike! I think it’s vital to pray for and intentionally seek out encouraging and wise people in the body of Christ all the time, and particularly during seasons of discouragement. As I mentioned in the article, processing my emotions and the truth of Scripture alongside such people was really important. Personally, I’ve found that sometimes the best thing when I’m stuck in my own head is an outside perspective, a friend who will pray for me, or just the company of a fun and refreshing person. I’m an introvert, and so time alone is very refreshing for me too, but living in the tension of time alone and time with others is always important to consider.

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  • Hope

    Thank you so much for this post. My husband started as a pastor full time in June 2012 and we were married December 2012. Although we’ve only been married for three months, I’ve already had some discouragement along the way. It’s encouraging to know that I’m not the only one with this struggle and it’s even more encouraging to have read these insightful thoughts early on in our journey. I’m so thankful for the graciousness and mercy of God.

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  • Barbara Marquart Johnston

    Dear Sister, I’m an old lady now, in my seventies, but still a
    pastor’s wife in my heart. After living with my pastor/husband for
    almost fifty years before he died, I learned that every time I
    focused on myself, my feelings, my needs, my frustrations, depression overcame me. Primarily because none of us can ever reach the level of dedication we’d like, and without the promise of our
    Lord, there is always a question of whether we have ever done enough.
    When I felt these times creeping in on me, I disciplined myself to find someone else to care for or about, transferring my pity
    or love onto someone else or cause. It works every time. My
    late husband used to frown upon “naval gazing”, which is looking
    inside ourselves all the time rather than into God’s Word for help
    and direction. God continue to keep you in body and soul!

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  • Gary Steffaniak

    It’s amazing how practical and helpful God’s word is, even with issues like depression. My wife posted one of my posts related to depression on her blog:

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