I found my husband unconscious at the bottom of the stairs.
Why, you ask? The answer is obvious, now, but at the time, it shocked me. I thought he’d fallen asleep since he’d been working so many hours to get our new church up and running. I’d be tired, after all, if I worked over 80 hours a week gathering teams, training leaders, setting up, taking down, making connections, planning sermons, planning and leading worship, and remodeling houses on the side. John had done this for almost a decade. We’d gone from church plant, to church plant, to church plant, a series of marathons, without as much as a vacation in-between. It was time for something to give, and in this case, it was my husband’s body. We’d gotten so used to the pace, I thought the way we were living was normal.
When I finally corralled him up from the floor, he didn’t make any sense. He suggested I call Rick, one of his pastor friends and mentor, to find out how to plug in his computer. It was after this comment when I put on my shoes and told my six and eight-year-old daughters daddy had a doctor’s appointment, and we headed off to the ER.
Once we were in the car, he didn’t seem to comprehend what was happening, and it scared both of us.
Gladly, I had friends who were willing to help us. Two of our best friends picked up the kids from the hospital. One of our pastor friends came to pray. And through John’s murmuring about wanting to go swimming and whatever other nonsense tumbled out in that terrifying time he doesn’t remember, I realized the gravity of my calling as a pastor’s wife. I felt like I was his pastor. For the next several years, and through other ups and downs, I did everything I could to bless the amazing man who had ministered to me for so many years.
What do you do if you notice your husband going down this path? I want to share five ideas with you about how to help your husband during times of sickness and burnout. He needs you. You can be there for him if you…
1. Release yourself from ministry, for as long as needed.
During this time of recovery, we completely unplugged from church. It was strange, you know? Going from a full speed ahead freight train carrying hundreds of passengers, to sitting on the bench waiting for the train to come. And the ministry train didn’t return for a long time. But that was okay, because it’s what we had to do if we ever wanted to return to ministry as healthy people again. By the way, this means another thing… please shut off the church talk when your husband asks you to. He has had enough. Believe him when he says he needs to talk about it later. He means it.
2. Maintain respect for your husband.
Even when your husband isn’t in the one (looking hot in his Sunday best) in the limelight, he is still that wonderful man you married. Besides that, being a pastor isn’t the only thing that defines him. He is a child of God, first and foremost. Don’t idolize him as a pastor.
3. Tow the line of his spiritual calling.
What do I mean by this? I mean that when your husband is down for the count, it is your job to remember his initial calling. Do not let him quit entirely when he isn’t thinking straight. Give him time to heal, and remind him of the vision you both were once so passionate about. Don’t push him, but let him know that now isn’t the time to make major decisions. You just have to be patient and see what God has for you.
4. Accept help from others.
Let your congregation take care of you through this difficult time. Accept their meals, gift cards, offers to babysit, paid time off, etc. because it is for God’s glory that they act as Christ’s body. Just because it isn’t you who is juggling scheduling, set up, phone calls, Sunday School and greeting, doesn’t mean it won’t happen. If you let go and let others take over the work, then when you come back, your people will have grown. They will have become better servants than they were before, and that is wonderful! So what if they don’t straighten the corner on every table cloth or sing worship songs like you can? You need to know when it’s time for others to do the work you have been doing.
5. Pray for him and read him scripture.
This isn’t a time to solve ministry problems and give him advice. You shouldn’t be going over every detail you think brought him to this point. Simply love him with the Word. My husband often tells me he loves it when I read scripture to him, because he is always reading it to others. It’s a blessing to have a wife who will minister to her husband in these ways. Pray out loud for him, lay hands on him, scratch his back, just love him with the love of Jesus.
Even if you haven’t found your husband unconscious at the bottom of the stairs, I’ll bet you have identified one area where you might be able to help your husband before he goes through burnout. We have an incredible role as pastor’s wives. It’s a joy and it’s a burden, but one thing I know for certain, it is a calling.