How about we all do this together: let's simultaneously go to the pantry for a snack and stare at a box of instant potatoes for three minutes. Last time I stared too long; even the packet of Shake 'N Bake started to look good. And I think I've had it since the '70s.
Decisions can be tough in any decade. We make a lot of difficult choices every day. That's why I try not to judge people according to their snack choices. Even when they don't choose chocolate. I try not to judge, but let's face it, I don't get them at all. You say potato, I say Butterfinger.
As ministers' wives, however, some decisions aren't exactly ours to make. If we could decide the number of eyeballs focused on our lives, I wonder how many we would choose. Living life in a fishbowl is one of the chief complaints among pastors' wives.
I know it can be daunting to go about your everyday life and ministry with an audience. I don't always want everyone knowing exactly how many Butterfingers I can put away. If I have the choice, I don't really want people to know where I got some of those Butterfingers either: "Kids, what do you mean some of your Halloween candy is missing?"
But I also know that the fishbowl life holds a lot of good potential—for us as pastors' wives and for our churches as well. We have unique opportunities to influence people as we walk out our faith in the everyday-ness of life. Scary? Yes. Because we can have a good influence, or we can drop the ball. And when we stumble, we do it publicly. And we know the judgment of people can be harsh even when we don't stumble.
Still, the accountability keeps us on our toes—eyes fixed on the Father, depending on Him for the strength, wisdom, and discipline we need to become a good example of following Christ, holding on to His plan with everything we've got.
And even when that hold feels weak and we become all "butterfingered," we can sometimes teach more by a godly response to a mess-up than we would've been able to teach if we had done things right in the first place. Confessing our weaknesses and failures, humbling ourselves, asking forgiveness, righting a wrong—those can be blessed testimonies.
On the other side, sometimes we crave the attention of the eyeballs, but for all the wrong reasons. There are some, as well, who sense the eyes watching even when they're not. "Pastor-noi-a" maybe? Where do we find the right watch-i-tude in the aquarium life?
Paul experienced life in the fishbowl. And he used it. He said in Philippians 4:9, What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (ESV). When he mentions things people "learned" from him, he gives us a clue that he had spent time teaching them—just like your hubby might do from the pulpit or like you might do. But he also refers to the things that his people had "received" and the things they had "heard" and, yes, even the things they had "seen" in him. More than hands-on. Eyeballs on! He gave them complete freedom to scrutinize his life. The Greek word for "seen" here is horao and it describes something a bit more than merely looking on. It's not just glancing. It describes observing to the point of understanding. Paul invites his people to watch him and to let what they see change them.
Paul is all but shouting, "Hey! Get a load of this!" He invites the watchful eyes. For us as well, every watchful pair of eyes is an opportunity to demonstrate the power of God at work in our lives.
Okay, so is anyone getting hung up on the last part of that verse? Because the last thing we tend to think of when we think of the fishbowl life is "peace." But this life with an audience didn't seem to get Paul in a dither at all. I think he was so in tune with Jesus that a life scrutinized didn't frighten him. When he told them to follow his example, and told them that if they did, the God of "peace" would be with them, wouldn't that have to mean that Paul was at peace too?
We find peace in the presence of the Lord as we live in the power of His Holy Spirit—with or without the audience. Paul reminds us where he gets his strength just four verses later in a verse we breathe in and out regularly as ministers' wives: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (v. 13, NASB).
I recognize that our different personalities come into play in all this. Some welcome the spotlight and cameras into their lives. Others adjust and learn to cope with it. Still others resent it—even consider it wrong for the people in their churches to intrude their ogling stares into their lives. Guess what? He gives strength for each personality and each kind of response.
We get to decide if we're going to resent the watching or welcome it. And we choose whether to embrace His strength and experience His peace or miss both. So let's make our decisions wisely.
For the record, regarding decisions in the pantry, after you’ve stared for more than twenty minutes, it becomes automatically acceptable to eat the rest of that box of taco shells.
Adapted from Join the Insanity: Crazy-Fun Life in the Pastors' Wives Club (New Hope, 2014). Rhonda Rhea is a pastor's wife, mom, speaker, and author and is a regular contributor to the Missouri Baptist Pathway and SBC LIFE. She and her husband serve at First Baptist Church, Troy, Missouri.