When my husband was doing his pastoral internship, what our church calls vicarage, I got my first taste of what it’s like to be “the wife.” We were placed in a church for a one-year term, and I’m not Speedy Gonzalez about making friends, so most people didn’t know me too well. But the people in our congregation were very warm and kind. They often wanted to introduce me to visiting friends or family members. Invariably, the introduction was something like, “Oh, come here and meet the vicar’s wife!”
The Vicar’s Wife.
To me, that was almost like saying, “Come look at the vicar’s nice robe!” I may as well have been an interesting inanimate object. I was young, timid, and uncertain, so I usually nodded politely and said hello and then stood silently listening to the rest of the conversation. I know I imposed this anonymity on myself.
I’ve graduated to pastor’s wife now. Still I often feel like I’m wearing a hat that is too big and obscures my face.
Lately I’ve had occasion to think about the balance between fulfilling social roles and being genuinely myself. There are all kinds of important social roles with rules we need to follow well enough to get along in communities: parent, sibling, child, worker, student, pastor’s wife. I am a pro at following social norms and fulfilling roles. I can read other people’s expectations and almost unintentionally work to meet those expectations.
On the other hand, I’m a little weak on respecting my own idiosyncrasies. In a high-stress situation, where I perceive conflict between what I think/want/feel and what others expect of me, I’ll generally sacrifice the expression of my own feelings.
I am in a high-stress situation. There is a lot of conflict among the leadership in our congregation, and it has come to be focused on my husband. A dutiful, dignified pastor’s wife, I am loathe to say or do anything that might not fit someone’s (I don’t know whose) notion of The Pastor’s Wife.
The upshot of this is that almost everybody likes me. The drawback is that I feel a little sick every time I go to church and I avoid it as much as I can.
I need to take off this damn hat.