Grown Up "Preacher's Kid" Won't Go to Church
January 31, 2014

Dear Theo,

Dear Theo, My wife is a UCC PK ["Preacher's Kid"] who has many issues: depression, sensory integration disorder, and attachment disorder, to name a few. She says she's faithful, yet she doesn't seem able to go to God for strength, comfort, or relief. She says that her depression lets her see things "as they really are," but she hasn't made room in her life for God to do his work. Other than prayer, how can I help her? Please pray for us.

Worried, Wondering Wife

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Dear Worried, Wondering Wife,

It's interesting that the first piece of information you offer about your wife is that she is a preacher's kid. Based purely on anecdotal evidence, I think that PKs have a hard time of it, generally speaking.

Some of the PKs I've known were raised in situations where their pastor parent worked long hours outside the home, was physically and emotionally unavailable to them—while being very available to their congregation, which must have been confusing and hurtful to their children.

On top of that, there can be a high expectation, either from the congregation or the pastor themselves, that their family will present publicly as perfect. Any odd bits that don't fit the pretty picture are carefully hidden from view: not just big stuff like alcoholism, infidelity or abuse but the totally normal, everyday stuff of being a family like sibling rivalry, marital spats, and temper tantrums.

Too many churches (and too many pastors) try to hold the preacher's family to an impossible, fictitious standard, with devastating results. Sore spots of an ordinary size that might have easily healed if allowed sunlight and antibiotics instead fester in the darkness, untended, and become lifelong, even life-threatening, wounds.

It's no wonder, given this paradigm, that your wife might have trouble letting God in. After all, if God lives in church, which is a belief instilled in us churchgoers at an early age, then church is the scene of the crime—and God is a co-conspirator. And then to hear that God is our Father (or Mother) when our model for what parents actually do is such a mixed bag, well, that's another ball of wax.

I remember when my son was young and had the habit of stripping stark naked and crawling the length of the sanctuary under the pews. Quelle surprise to the church ladies singing their hymns! I was younger then too, and mortified when this happened. Thankfully, my congregation—including some wonderful PKs who have taught me a lot about how to parent my own kids—was more relaxed than I was, and always had a good laugh about it.

We pastors also need to be able to "get naked" with our congregations—to be fully human and ourselves, and to allow our families to be fully human and themselves, the well-differentiated individuals whose behavior doesn't necessarily reflect on us. Our families are not there to make us look better or do our work for us—that is not God's purpose for them.

And, a friend taught me: if we have made marital vows and baptismal vows to our partners and children, those vows come before our ordination vows, and are in fact what allow us to keep our ordination vows. A happyish home life strengthens us for the hard work of ministry.

As for your wife: does she have a good therapist, and do you have a good church? A church with healthy expectations of the pastor who serves it, who loves the pastor's family for who they are, not for the projections they put on them? Your wife might be suffering from a serious church hangover, and could be cured by the hair of the dog that bit her—as long as it's the right dog.

Praying for you,

Theo   

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