Where Do I Belong?
by Nancy E. Israel
The summer of 1993 was the beginning of a season of confusion for me as my husband accepted his call into full-time, ordained ministry. I questioned where I fit in ministry. Although I supported him in following his calling, I believed I had three strikes against me from the start. First, I don’t like change.
Our denomination appoints its clergy on an itinerant system, and I knew that meant a lot of moving and, therefore, change for our family. Strike two is that I struggle with trust. Having experienced disappointments in important relationships throughout my life, trust was a bit foreign to me, even when it came to trusting God. My third strike is that I like to be in control, and following God in this way took away every ounce of control I wanted over my life and family.
Those three strikes were not all that seemed to be working against me. I also didn’t feel like I was being called to be a pastor’s wife. After all, I grew up Catholic where there isn’t such a thing. So I had a bunch of stereotypical ideas in my mind as to what that meant. Let’s see...play the piano....NO; sing in the choir.... NO:, cook .... NO; know everything about the Bible....not even close. When I took a look at that checklist, I was nowhere to be found. So maybe God had called Dave into ministry...but He didn’t call me. In my eyes we were serving God as lay people.
Prior to Dave’s calling we served the Lord together in a variety of ways. We led spiritual retreats, we spoke on love and marriage, and we were actively involved in our church....together. I felt as though we were spiritual equals and on the same plane, so to speak, in that aspect of our lives. However, as Dave started seminary, I felt like he had taken a huge leap in the field of faith, and I was left behind in the dust. It was at this point that I really began to wonder where I belonged, who I was, and to question a lot of things in respect to expectations.
Our pastor’s wife at the time told me to just be myself. Well, that’s easy to do for someone who knows who they are; however, I discovered that I really didn’t know who I was on my own. I had wrapped my identity, particularly my spiritual identity, together with my relationship with my husband. They were one in the same.
Confusion Concerning My Calling
Dave’s first church appointment was as a student associate with a very affluent congregation. We had young children, and I worked full-time so I really wasn’t able, or willing, to do much with that church. I wanted to be in ministry with my husband, which proved difficult in our situation. Someone had to care for the kids, and of course, since Dave was the one employed with the church, that job became solely mine. At this point I was simply fulfilling the “expected” duties of a pastor’s wife. I learned quickly that the “expected” duties don’t always make you feel fulfilled nor are they always what you are called by God to do. They can, however, create bitterness—especially if you aren’t living true to yourself.
The summer of ‘99 brought new possibilities to find my place in ministry. Dave was assigned to do a new church plant. I was really excited about this adventure because we were going into this together, and because this would be a new congregation, there really wouldn’t be all those expectations of what I should and shouldn’t do.
Dave and I attended training conferences, worked to develop the core group, and laid the ground work for the church together. Eventually though, the children and my job consumed most of my time, and I wasn’t able to do as much. I again found myself unsure of where I fit. Dave had hired a staff person, and I felt like I was being squeezed out. Dave rarely asked me to do anything because he didn’t know what I wanted to do. I became hurt and confused because I decided his not asking meant I was unable to fit anywhere. I did a little of this and a little of that, but didn’t feel as though I was using my gifts or living out my calling.
This became a very difficult time in my life and in our marriage. When I began to think I knew who I was, I would find out that I still wasn’t quite sure. I thought I was to be serving based on what my gifts were, but these areas of service became chores with no joy attached. I was watching my husband completely pour himself into the church and in some ways out of the family. Somehow, in the midst of it all, I had managed to integrate my relationship with Dave with my relationship with God. I was unable to separate the two. I was lost.
Finally, the Turning Point
It was at this point in my life that I found myself in a state of depression. I needed some help in learning who I was, what my real gifts were, and what God was calling me to do in ministry. As part of my search for an answer, I entered counseling to discover who Nancy was. This process took some time. We started by having to “unpeel” the onion of who I was. This was an extremely difficult task and one which required me to face some parts of me that I didn’t want to face, including the possibility of my not wanting to stay with my husband. Thank God I came to the conclusion that my love for him and my desire to make our relationship work was stronger than any of the other junk. To make matters even more difficult, we made a major, very unwanted move in the middle of this process, which meant starting over with a new counselor in our new location. The basics were a bit easier to share at this point, and eventually I came to a turning point where I was ready to make some changes in my life.
It was also around this time that God placed a very special friend in my life. We met at a spiritual growth retreat just weeks after my family’s move from a large city to a small rural town. We were the same age and our children were close in age as well. She was also a pastor’s wife and from a small rural town. We bonded quickly, and I believe that God brought her into my life when there was no other way for Him to get through to me. He needed a vessel; I needed a friend with whom I could talk openly and be myself. This woman has made a major impact in my life by helping me to figure out who I was and where I fit. She also helped me to realize that while Dave had been called into ordained ministry, he is still just a man and still my husband.
Between a counselor who once referred to me as Jonah because she believed I was avoiding what I was supposed to be doing and a friend who encouraged me to read and study the Bible, I found myself opening back up to God and His will. As I began to surrender to God’s control, the opportunities to serve and live out my calling began to fall into place. I began allowing myself to have hopes and dreams once again and I was even able to share these with Dave, who I now know supports me in what I am doing.
Yes, I know this is only the beginning of the healing process. But I am encouraged because I believe I have figured out who I am and what God wants from me in life. My identity is no longer solely based on my relationships with other people; it is based on who God wants me to be.
Finding where I fit in relationship to the church and God’s mission for my life was not happening when I had closed myself off to Him and His guidance. Once I allowed God to reenter my life and I surrendered my life to His will, things turned around completely.
Our marriage is better, I have a better understanding of who I am as the person God wants me to be, I am able to figure out where I belong, and my relationship with God and others is incredible. After a lot of struggle and soul searching, I truly believe that I am using my God-given gifts and know where I belong.