The nature of the conflict between my husband and his colleagues is one thing; how it affects our family is a related but independent story.
Several months ago, as the conflict at church intensified, my husband’s health deteriorated such that he had to go on medical leave for severe depression. He entered a short-term hospital program and then, over a few months, gradually returned to a full-time schedule at work. Because church was the vise that crushed him, it was important that he completely separate from it for a time. On the recommendation of his physician, the staff and parishioners were asked not to call or stop by our home.
Of course, mental health problems are very difficult for a lot of people to understand (she generously understated), so it was also important to keep the nature of his disability private. The senior pastor and the congregation president had permission to talk with my husband’s doctor about his health and progress toward returning to work.
During his leave, we did not attend worship at our own church. We visited other churches in the area. For various reasons, I was around the church sometimes on weekdays. It was terribly awkward because people were concerned but did not want to invade our privacy, and so tended not to say anything to me.
I was mortified by the entire situation. I felt completely exposed. We had not been in this congregation for even a year when this happened. Hundreds of people I’d never met knew that my family was falling apart. I was scared for my husband’s well-being, overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for our children and, as it felt, caring for my husband. We received many kind notes from church members, but I did not even recognize most of their names. I had never felt so lonely.
The bright spot in those few weeks was when someone stopped me in the church parking lot, looking sorrowful, “I have no idea what’s going on, but know that we love you and are praying for you.” She hugged me and did not ask any questions. It was perfect. She has since become a dear friend.
The sense of isolation was devastating. I’m not sure I felt it at first. I think I had something like an adrenaline rush. My family needs me! I must hold it together for them! I have no idea who I would ask for help, so I won’t disintegrate or be terrified. We will make it work, and everything will be ok.
A dear friend, also a pastor’s wife, came from out of town to be with us for a few days right at the start. Her presence was so comforting. She seemed to be the only person on earth who understood what a complete mess we were. She left and I spent the next week in tears all day long.
I bounced back and made things work pretty well. I am resourceful and have a sturdy ego. Soon my husband was doing much better and steadily returning to work. We seemed to have survived the worst, and I expected all to improve from there.
Fresh conflict erupted. I sensed danger for my entire family. Church became a reliably unsafe environment for me, home an unrelentingly sad place. My husband was completely drained by coping with the conflict at church and could barely notice me. One evening I cried through a worship service and he said nothing of it. I began to cry uncontrollably, to feel hopeless every day.
I never, NEVER anticipated that being a pastor’s family would lead us to this. Two clinically depressed parents with three kids? Sign us up for the next seminary ad campaign.