Dear Pastor's Wife, Letters From a Kindred Spirit

Dear Pastor’s Wife: Thoughts On Simultaneously Embracing Joy and Sorrow


Dear Pastor’s Wife,

It’s been awhile since I wrote you a letter, and I aim to do it more often. On the days when I just want to chat heart-to-heart, letters come more easily than blog articles. And lately, those days are most days. There are all kinds of church and ministry related issues that burn in me to be written about, but those can wait.  Today you need to read a letter, and I need to write one.

Because there’s something about a diagnosis that instantly changes your world. There’s something about a prognosis that colors everything and changes your thinking and your every day life, possibly forever.

Our family has received such a prognosis in the last few weeks concerning my father in law. The diagnosis came about two years ago in the form of “Dad has cancer.” Our world shifted, but we were 2,000 miles away in a different world than Dad.  And somewhere in the middle of resigning a church, packing a moving truck, and settling in a new country, life smoothed out. Years of sorrow from personal and ministry trials began to soothe. Joy trickled in. Hope began to grow again in places where it didn’t seem possible. Other hopes died.  Grief surfaced and surged. What a myriad of emotions come when you uproot your life and step out into nothing!

If you’ve been following our story for a year or more, you know that 2015 began a time of much needed sabbatical for our family.  And right about the time that the year ended, I began thinking “that was the smoothest year we’ve ever had. It’s about time for a trial.” Perhaps my thinking is off, but it’s really the result of years of uninterrupted sorrow that has colored my perspective on life.

Sure enough, here we are, barely into a new year, and a prognosis comes that changes our world. Dad’s cancer is no longer in remission, no longer contained. In fact, it’s widespread and very serious. That spot that appeared on the bone scan two years ago- the one we were told was certainly not cancer? It was. And during the past 18 months, while the doctors were focused on PSA, that spot was spreading like wildfire.  And we can hardly believe we are hearing the doctor correctly, “This is terminal. Get his things in order.”

It was supposed to be a somewhat routine appointment where we discussed a plan of treatment. We thought we had more than a year of time left. I thought I was going along to take notes. But I unknowingly went along to comfort, to cushion the blow, to put cold towels on Dad’s neck when he was burning up…to be pulled aside by the doctor and told things I didn’t want to hear.

I’ll be honest- for most of the past 10 years I have not known how to process both joy and sorrow simultaneously. Perhaps it’s because sorrow has always taken the lead and been more life changing than the joys have been. “The blessing of the LORD, it maketh rich, and He addeth no sorrow with it.” Really? That verse troubled me for years, until a wise person shed some light on the Proverbial nature of it. I have always lived the reality that every joy had a chain of sorrow attached to it, just waiting to taint my delight.

But what if it’s the other way around?

What if every sorrow has a joy chained to it, just waiting to glimmer hope and dry the tears?

Our time of sabbatical has single-handedly begun to infect my thoughts in a different way, teaching me how to embrace both joy and sorrow at the same time, accepting both as from the hand of a good Father.

“How could a good Father have so much pain planned for one of His children?” I have asked myself, “I don’t plan that much pain for my children!”

But everything changes when I see the other side of the sorrow, and I marvel how a good Father could have so much joy planned for one of His children.  Truly, the joy is not possible without the sorrow that precedes it. And sorrow would not be felt at all, were it not for the presence of joy.

They are a beautifully sad union of grace, woven together by the thread of flawless love from our heavenly Father.

Life continually becomes unpredictable, forcing us to make “day by day” living a full reality. I can tend to either be a control freak or a “Murphy’s Law” type when it comes to circumstances. This is definitely an area where I’ve seen God gently yet intentionally work in me both in our ministries and in my personal life, never allowing me to possess the stability that I crave. I’m finally learning to let go and my heart is becoming more settled with accepting both good and perceived bad from His hand. I’m seeing them as separate events in the timeline of life, yet connected in His will and Sovereignty in a way that only He can fully understand.

One of the keys to embracing joy and sorrow simultaneously is to take each day as it comes.  Say “yes” to what God is handing you today.  Expect and embrace the mercies that are “new every morning.” {Lamentations 3:23}

Live in the strength of his grace.  Inhale Scripture and exhale trust.

Receive a joy with energy and full enjoyment. Accept a sorrow with tears and deep grief. If you squelch sorrow, you will also squelch joy. Some of us {including myself} have had to learn to laugh, learn to cry.  And I don’t think I realized until this year how much my deep grieving last year has impacted and enhanced my ability to embrace joy this year. Learning to let myself joy will impact how I grieve this year. And so the cycle goes, for you and me.

What has made a big difference? I finally stopped being busy, stopped being there for everyone as a pastor’s wife, stopped attending all the events and playing the piano for all the things.  My grief crashed in, and I finally had time to acknowledge it instead of pushing it to the recesses of my heart while I did the next thing.

Life will always hold these rhythms of joy and sorrow, and often simultaneously. Right now I have things in my life that make me incredibly sad. I also have things in my life that are bringing great delight and excitement. God is at work in both. And so I embrace both, knowing there will be grace for both.

I embrace both, knowing that God has created and equipped me to do just that without my heart being in conflict with itself.

He has gifted you the same, my friend. Whatever sorrow you are facing today, whatever joy- you can embrace both simultaneously. You have to, in order to experience both to the fullest extent. Christ Himself led the way, enduring the cross “for the joy that was set before Him.” {Hebrews 12:2}

So, today? Laugh. Cry. Maybe at the same time. I’ll be over here doing the same. Because God is present and active in both.


A Kindred Spirit

3 thoughts on “Dear Pastor’s Wife: Thoughts On Simultaneously Embracing Joy and Sorrow

  1. Beautifully written words on real heart-wrenching issues. I think of sorrow as being the tool that carves out the heart, in order for the heart to contain more joy afterwards. Praying for you and the family as you face the next chapter.

  2. Thankyou for your words of wisdom. I to am a pastors wife and have gone thru some similar struggles. I was diag. With Parkinson,s 3 years ago and boy did it open my eyes and heart! God has a way of using on struggles for our good! You begin to realize what is important! Prayers for your father and you! Keep sharing I know I will as I do with my art. In christian love Wendy

  3. Leah, you truly are a kindred spirit. In reading this halfway through I was looking up Heb 12:2 to share with you but you shared it at the end. Yes, joy is set before us and, as Susanna Wesley once said, “those whom God bruises the most are the ones He uses the most.” Let’s remember that.

    God has definitely used you in my life the past few years. Thank you for being that vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, [and] prepared unto every good work. 2 Tim 2:21

    Love you,
    Terri 🙂

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