Joy, Pain, and the Pastor’s Wife Life with Glenna Marshall

Editor’s Note: Hey, friends! As October draws to a close, we want to pay tribute to Pastor Appreciation Month here on the Revive Our Hearts Blog. For many of us, that also means giving a little extra lift to our pastor’s wife. For perspective on what the life of a pastor’s wife is like, and particularly, a pastor’s wife with a chronic illness, staff writer Katie Laitkep reached out to pastor’s wife and writer Glenna Marshall. We hope Katie’s words and Glenna’s story prompt you to encourage a pastor’s wife in your circle with an extra dose of love and prayer. —Laura Elliott

 

It’s nearly three o’clock in the morning when you reach down from the couch to turn your heating pad up a notch. You adjust to a new position, trying to stop counting how many hours you have before the alarm clock goes off. Two hours. Your husband will be up in two hours.

You’ve lost track of how long it’s been since you’ve slept well. During the day, the symptoms of your chronic illness are a little more manageable, but lately, the nighttime pain has been crippling. You’re exhausted. 

You close your eyes, and it feels like only seconds go by before the beeping of the alarm clock floats down the hall from the bedroom. Your husband walks into the kitchen to start making coffee, and you decide you might as well pull yourself up and follow suit. Grabbing your Bible, you flip to the text he’ll be preaching that morning. You pray—for him, for your church, for strength to make it through the day.

When he leaves to prepare for the first service, you get the kids dressed, get yourself dressed, and then run out the door. You make it to church in time for worship practice, and as you sit down at the piano, you pray again: Lord, please break through this brain fog, and help me to play in a way that honors You. 

As worship begins, you sing with the congregation, watching your six year old out of the corner of your eye as he makes a beeline for the stage. While your husband preaches, you parent the two boys in the pew beside you and attempt to listen to as much of the sermon as possible. When church ends, you spend time talking to members and visitors, silently asking the Lord to help you focus on their needs and not the pain throbbing through your body. You head home and fix lunch for your family and a friend or two. When they finally leave, you crawl back into bed with a hurting body . . . and a full heart.

Ministering with an Invisible Illness

If you live with a chronic condition that makes consistent church attendance difficult, you may wonder: Is it really worth it to keep showing upfor church each week?

That’s a question I asked Glenna Marshall, a pastor’s wife and author who suffers from ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic inflammatory disease. Glenna was the first person who came to my mind as I thought about the struggles of simply attending church when symptoms flare. I knew she understood what it’s like to live with an illness that isn’t always visible to others, and how it feels when others in your congregation wonder whether you’re exaggerating the pain you experience. 

You may be in a position similar to Glenna’s. You may be a ministry wife in a season of suffering, trying to faithfully fulfill the roles God has given you. Perhaps you’re a single woman like me, looking for advice from someone who knows what it’s like to serve while enduring long-term symptoms. Or you may be perfectly healthy in this season, but you want to learn more about what your pastor’s wife goes through, so that you can encourage her. 

This interview with Glenna is for all of us. May her words encourage you as you press deeper into Christ in this season of your life and seek to be more present in your church.

K: Can you tell us a little about yourself and your family?

G: I have been married to William for eighteen years, and we have two sons (ages thirteen and six) that God blessed us with through adoption after many years of infertility. William and I grew up, met, and married in Tennessee, but we moved to Missouri sixteen years ago for him to pastor our church, and we have lived and served here since then.

K: As a pastor's wife, your suffering is public in a way that others in the church may never experience. What has it been like to experience painful seasons in this setting?

G: Since I have an “invisible illness,” I look completely normal. At times, I’ve felt like I needed to go overboard in explaining my symptoms so that people would understand my limitations without judgment. Pastors’ wives don’t always feel safe explaining their life struggles in a group setting, but it has become crucial for me to be open because I really have needed help and prayer from my church lately. It’s humbling, but that’s not a bad thing.

In addition to illness, my husband and I have walked through nearly two decades of infertility and many difficult years in ministry. Suffering in public is hard. It’s exposing. But, when we are open and seek prayer and support, it does affect the culture of our local church. Whether we like it or not, our church is watching us. I remember pulling away from the church during one particularly difficult season of ministry and personal struggles, and I watched some other people pull away as well. 

It was sobering to realize that my suffering isn’t just about me, and that God is at work in the whole body when one part suffers. I can’t expect others to share their burdens if I won’t share mine. And when I don’t share my burdens, the church is robbed of the opportunity to care for us. 

We may want to appear stronger than we are, but our church doesn’t need to see a façade of strength. They need to see faithfulness and dependence on Christ who is always strong. We don’t want the church to look for us for strength but rather to the One who upholds us when we are weak.

K: How have you been served and supported by your church in practical ways during hard seasons?

G:

  • Help at home. During our second adoption process, we ended up walking through a long, difficult legal process that required us to make long trips to court with a young child and an infant. I was particularly unwell at the time, though I didn’t know what was wrong with me yet. During one of those long treks out of state, a couple of our church members deep cleaned our house while we were gone. What a gift that was! 
  • Financial support. When we ran into devastating legal fees during our adoption process, our small congregation gave an unimaginable sum of money to help us pay our bills. 
  • Compassion and prayer. They’ve also prayed us through many difficult seasons of suffering. Just yesterday, a friend from church called specifically to check on my health, asking detailed questions and listening to everything I had to say. I felt so loved and seen.

K: When you're dealing with chronic illness, it can be difficult to even attend church week after week. What would you tell the woman who is wondering if it's worth it to keep showing up?

G: Some Sundays, the exhaustion is overwhelming. My spine and hips throb throughout the services most weeks. There are days when it feels more like work than worship to be there. And yet, I know that I need to remain connected to the body. They help me keep walking in faithfulness to Jesus. 

It’s tempting to stay home, but if you’re able to attend, please do because you don’t know how sick you’ll be next week. I’ve never regretted going to church in pain because I need the spiritual rest that is offered in encouragement, singing, prayer, teaching and preaching of the Word, communion, and fellowship. 

Endurance comes from abiding with Christ, and one of the ways we abide in Him is through fellowship with His people. Being present at church in the morning might require an afternoon of physical rest afterwards, but I know my heart will be nourished and enriched by corporate worship with my spiritual family. Chronic illness isn’t just about the physical aspects of disease. The mental, emotional, and spiritual repercussions can be mitigated with comfort from the Word, prayer, and God’s people.

Your pastor’s wife needs your encouragement, practical help, and most of all, your prayers. We want to challenge you to pray for your pastor’s wife for the next thirty days. This guide with accompanying Scriptures offers some practical ways to get started.

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About the Author

Katie Laitkep

Katie Laitkep

Katie Laitkep was working as a hospital teacher when God called her to join Revive Our Hearts as a staff writer. She serves remotely from Texas, where God sustains her through saltwater beaches, Mexican food, and Scripture. Her website, www.apatientprocess.com, is a record of the Lord’s faithfulness in chronic illness, for even in suffering, He is good.

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