I remember the first time I prayed with another woman. She had just shared a burden with me. I didn’t expect the rush of awkwardness that descended inside me right after I said, “Can I pray with you right now?” Nor did I expect to lose all sense of the English language as I fumbled for words and prayed a parallel prayer that my awkward prayer would make sense. (Was the Holy Spirit even able to interpret that?!)
I remember the first time my husband and I were called to sit with the family of one who had passed away just hours before. Sitting beside and pulling them in tight with a hug felt natural. But I didn’t expect the awkward pauses as we fished for something, anything to say that would ease their cavernous loss just a tiny bit. I didn’t expect to have their tears on my face, their used tissues in my lap. (Do I throw them away or give them back?)
I remember being appalled at how difficult it was to make small talk with people before the service started. This was before I understood that I was an introvert. Some years later, I remember being appalled that understanding my personality better didn’t help me make small talk with people. Going deep feels natural. Talking about Jesus- it brings me to life. But coming up with sensical surface conversation while greeting people before the service? Still so awkward- even after all these years of being a pastor’s wife. (Isn’t making small talk a form of torture?)
I remember the first time we were called to help a family in trouble, then a marriage in trouble. They were all older than us. So many awkward pauses, tense family moments that caught us in the middle, situations that left us wondering why God called us into ministry if we flailed about so much. (Couldn’t He find anyone else better equipped?)
I remember the first time I did public speaking for a ladies event at my church. I wasn’t prepared for how unnatural it felt to me. At the time, I hadn’t yet discovered the joy of writing. I was just finding out that speaking just about killed me. Too many awkward pauses. I hoped desperately that the listeners gleaned something in spite of my distracting, awkward self. (Why did I even agree to this?!)
Even as I type, so many awkward moments and memories come flooding back- awkward conversations, awkward requests, awkward phone calls, awkward situations to navigate, awkward social gatherings, many times out of my comfort zone.
Awkward, why won’t you go away?!
Probably five years into being a pastor’s wife, my brain wrapped itself around this reality of awkwardness. Okay, ministry is awkward. It just is. Oh dear. Now what? I don’t like how this feels!
I had spent a few years equating my personal awkwardness with the Holy Spirit’s caution in my soul. It felt awkward? I must have done something wrong. It still feels awkward? I must just not be good at this (yet.) I tried it and the awkward never went away? It means I’m not called to that area of ministry. God isn’t asking me to do this.
Oh, but imagine my horror as I realized that it was sometimes just the opposite. God was teaching me so much about grace. God was calling me to do these awkward things where hearts meet and meaningful ministry happens. The awkward moments are where the grace is so needed. And they are where the grace abounds. If I stopped serving at the onset of awkward feelings, I would miss the grace! Talk about horror!
“And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.”
2 Corinthians 9:8
Just like I remember the first time I felt the awkward, I also remember the first time I pushed through the awkward and prayed anyway, attempted conversation anyway. Imagine my surprise to find joy on the other side! Fellowship in Christ. Friendship. Seeing God work and answer prayer. Perfection? Nope! (Still awkward me here) But sweet unexpected grace, and enabling to do God’s will.
Ah, so that’s the key. I must stop trying to avoid it. Instead embrace it, lean into it, do it anyway. Stick around to see what is on the other side.
This may seem like a “no brainer” or simplistic topic to actually put words to or take the time to write about, but I think it’s important. It’s important to normalize the awkwardness that we all feel from time to time as pastors’ wives in ministry. It’s not you, per se. It’s just the nature of working with people, of shepherding humanity. It’s the nature of being human and interacting so intimately with fellow humans. The bodily closeness and sensations that are there during bereavement, the wracking of the brain for words in a situation that has taken your breath away for a second, the anxiety of not knowing what this meeting or that visit will actually be about, how it will end, or where it will lead, what you will say or do. There is humanity in all of these places, and it is awkward.
There is also always grace in these places, and it is waiting to be discovered. I am sure that we could all tell our stories of grace with clear memory, and then if we think back a bit, we will remember the awkward moments just before the moments of glory, or the moments of grief and pain.
Thank goodness it wasn’t my words that needed to bring comfort to the women I’ve prayed with.
Thank goodness it hasn’t depended on us to say the perfect words that would comfort and heal the hearts of our grieving church members.
Thank goodness it didn’t ever hinge on us to mend marriages, to put families back together, by what we said or did.
Thank goodness it doesn’t depend on me to say the perfect greeting to people that will make them want to stay for the service…and come back again next week.
Thank God it ALL depends on HIM!
If you are a new pastor’s wife, learn and accept early the fact that feeling awkward in ministry is normal. Embrace it, look for the grace. Ask God for grace to push through awkward situations and your own personal feelings. You will be delighted here, grieved there- but always graced.
If you are a seasoned pastor’s wife, you know this awkwardness is true, regardless of personality even. Maybe you are weary of the awkward, even surprised that after this many years it could still be this awkward in certain situations. But dear soul, take heart. There is still so much grace waiting for you in these moments. And there is so much for you to teach others along the way.
Let us be sisters who normalize the struggles and surprises of ministry so that the joys are more easily exposed and realized together.
So, welcome, awkward. We’re not afraid of you. We know that you are just the door to grace!
A Kindred Spirit