Life in the Fishbowl
By Rhonda Rhea
How about we all just do this thing together. Let’s simultaneously go to the pantry for something to snack on and stare at a box of instant potatoes for about three minutes. Incidentally, last time I stared too long, even the packet of Shake ‘N Bake started to look good. And I think I may not have had it since the 70’s.
Decisions can be tough in any decade. We make a lot of difficult choices every day. That’s why I try not to judge people, for instance, according to their snack choices. Even when they don’t choose chocolate. I try not to judge, but let’s face it; I don’t get them at all. You say potato. I say Butterfinger.
As pastors’ wives, however, some decisions aren’t exactly ours to make. I wonder how many of us would choose living the voyeur life. It’s actually one of the chief complaints among ministers’ wives.
I do know it can be daunting to go about your everyday life and ministry with a near-constant audience. I don’t always want everyone knowing exactly how many Butterfingers I can put away in a week. If I have the choice, I don’t really want people to know where I got some of those Butterfingers either.
Why, kids. What do you mean some of your Halloween candy is missing?
But I also know that the fishbowl life holds a lot of good potential—for us as ministers’ wives and for our church as well. We have unique opportunities to influence people as we walk out our faith in the everyday-ness of life. Scary? Yes. Because we can have a good influence, or we can drop the ball with a Butterfinger-y one. And when we stumble, we do it publicly. Also because the judgment of people can be harsh even when we don’t stumble.
Still, the accountability of having an audience keeps us on our toes, depending on Him for the strength, wisdom, and discipline we need to become good examples of following Christ, and holding on to His plan with everything we’ve got.
And even when that hold feels weak and we become all “butterfingered,” we can sometimes teach more by a godly response to a mess-up than we would’ve been able to teach if we had done things right in the first place. Confessing our weaknesses and failures, humbling ourselves, asking forgiveness, righting a wrong—those lessons may not be fun but they can be oh so valuable.
On the other side, sometimes we crave the attention of the eyeballs, but for all the wrong reasons. Then there are some, as well, who sense the eyes watching even when they’re not. “Pastor-noi-a” maybe? Where do we find the right watch-i-tude in the aquarium life?
Paul experienced life in the fishbowl. And he used it. He said in Phil. 4:9, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (ESV). When he mentions the things that the people had “learned” from him, he gives us a clue that he had spent time teaching them—just like your hubby might do from the pulpit and like you might do. But he also refers to the things that his people had “received” and the things they had “heard” and, yes, even the things they had “seen” in him. More than hands-on. Eyeballs on! He gave them complete freedom to scrutinize his life. The Greek word for “seen” here is “horao” and it describes something a bit more than merely looking on. It’s not just glancing. It describes observing to the point of understanding what’s really happening. Paul invites his people to watch him and to let that change them.
I do recognize that our different personalities come into play in all this. Some welcome the spotlight into their lives. Others adjust and learn to cope with it. Still others resent it—even consider it wrong for the people in their churches to intrude their ogling stares into their lives. Guess what. He gives strength for each personality and each kind of response.
It is our decision. We decide if we’re going to resent the fishbowl or allow the Lord to use it. It’s a decision we make regularly. Here’s hoping we’ll choose wisely most often.
Oh, and for the record, regarding decisions in the pantry, after you’ve stared for more than 20 minutes, it becomes automatically acceptable to eat the rest of that box of taco shells.