A lot of it had to do with the good relationships we made during that time. We were getting to know a bishop who took his calling very seriously. We had it bad, but so did everyone else really… and we struck up a sort of camaraderie-in-arms with them. The best of them showed me how to look at my situation in the best light, and for that I will always be grateful… Because there were others who sowed their discouragement around like the seeds of invasive weeds.
I had a job, I had responsibilities, and I stayed. We pushed through, survived, moved on to a parish. And then I knew why seminary was hard: Look, I told myself, this is harder. They wouldn’t be doing the students any favors making it easy. Even if the hearts were really dark… well there are dark hearts everywhere. You can’t hack it? Don’t sign those papers allowing your husband to be ordained. Cuz it ain’t getting any easier, sister. We’re all sinners and we’re all in this together. My attitude towards the seminary experience changed over the years since graduation. Seminary wasn’t a mire barely escaped. Seminary was a forge.
But there was one incident in seminary that sent my mind reeling… and I almost asked my husband to quit. The seminary had a regular gathering of the seminary wives for education and fellowship purposes. At one event, they brought in a veteran priest’s wife to talk to us. And not just any priest’s wife: this one’s husband had particularly rough parish assignment, at least by the stories she told. She had a positive attitude, but the deluge of her experiences (which included a tale of using an outhouse daily that lacked a front wall) overwhelmed me with discouragement. How could I possibly survive that? How could anyone expect that of me? Am I supposed to be okay with my kids and I being treated as at best a free secretary and at worst free janitorial services?
Well, I know the answer now: No, actually, I don’t. I was saved from my discouragement by a discussion with another, just as positive, priest’s wife. She told me I will be treated however I allow myself to be treated, and so will the kids. I should be myself and view myself first as a support for my husband, then my kids. The parish comes after that. I’m not the priest. The bishop ordained my husband, not me. I should strive to live a Christian life, but just like any other member of the parish struggling along the same path. I should volunteer for the things I feel called to with my talents, and turn down those that aren’t a good fit… no matter what the last priest’s wife was in charge of. Don’t be an officer in the ladies’s group and don’t gossip. Love everyone, not because you need to be political… but because you should “Love one another, as I have loved you.”
I came across something that a friend shared on Facebook and I know it was meant as a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek commentary… but I didn’t like some of it. It reminded me of that incident. Do I need to pray? Of course, we all do. But to say I should “Shut up and pray”? Look, sometimes we all need to shut that door about our lips, I get that. But that statement says to me, “You are the priest’s wife… your real opinion is probably invalid. Prayer is a way for you to gag yourself.” It’s one thing to tell a new priest’s wife, “Learning discernment is important. Learning how to let things go is a process. Turn to God to help you with that.” It’s another thing to tell her to “Shut up and pray.”
I’m not going to link to it, because I bear no ill will towards the (anonymous) author, but I am going to quote another of these: “If you must cheat on a fast day, don’t get caught.” You know what? I have “cheated” the fast. Who hasn’t failed at keeping the fast? Who hasn’t eaten a steak on a Friday because a non-Orthodox friend has offered them hospitality, or grabbed a bucket of chicken because they were driving through the middle of nowhere and their choices were KFC or a bag of convenience store peanuts? Who hasn’t carelessly eaten an egg sandwich because they forgot it was Wednesday, or even failed to resist that chocolate chip cookie at a non-Orthodox friend’s Christmas party? Do all of us do the full fast? How many of you abstain from food completely every year from Monday morning to Wednesday evening during the first week of Lent? The full fast is the Iron Man, people. You don’t run the Iron Man if you’ve never run up and down your street! You work up to it, and you might even have a coach helping give you advice. Fasting is like that. Small, consistent steps. Failures have nothing to do with cheating. A priest’s wife is a person just like anyone else in the parish, and she’s building the same muscles. Don’t laugh the fast off, but it’s okay to acknowledge honest failures and struggles. I work on my fasting with the advice of my confessor. I’m not judging the fasting of others, so hopefully they aren’t judging me.
Most of the post was advice in the right direction, but I felt like it was intimating that us priest’s wives have to “hide” who we really are. I don’t think that and I would never tell a new priest’s wife that. I also wouldn’t parade out my war stories. “This is a good life. We’re doing the work God has handed our husband, and so to us as well in a way, and it does have its hard days. But don’t fool yourself, honey, there isn’t a woman alive who doesn’t have hard days and plenty of them. Don’t do anything immoral, don’t do anything blatantly un-Christian, look for the image of God in every person you meet (and sometimes that’s not easy!!), keep your eyes on the Prize, and be yourself.”
Even if you are me. And I’m crazy, so if most of my fellow parishioners still like me, they’ll like you too!