Wearing A Mask?
Most clergy spouses continue to wear a mask, but it’s not a KN95! How about you? As a clergy spouse, do you mask your authentic self? Regina Raiford Babcock, a participant in several Artos programs, shares her journey and insights on this widespread struggle for clergy spouses. Thank you, Regina, for the reminder that we have choices in how to respond so that we can truly share God’s gifts within us!
Deeply introverted, I was terrified when my husband transitioned from hospice chaplain to church pastor. I am a patient, compassionate person but I knew I didn’t have the chops to be a “first lady.” I just didn’t have enough hats, let alone enough words. My beloved tried to allay my fears, assuring me that times had changed and most people don’t have traditional expectations of a pastor’s wife. Ha!
More than a decade later I’ve learned a lot about church culture and myself.
“I prefer listening to talking, reading to socializing, and cozy chats to group settings.” –Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
When I was a magazine editor, at first the sales team didn’t want me to accompany them on potential advertiser visits. “Regina is so shy, Regina is too quiet,” I heard through the grapevine. I’ve heard these comments all my life. So, to learn industry trends, I visited press events solo. On a one-on-one basis, I reached out to contacts to cultivate article ideas and form relationships. I was good at naturally making others feel heard. Soon I developed a reputation as the “source whisperer” because I listened and just made people feel comfortable. Soon the salesmen were squabbling over me to meet with their clients.
Being a clergy spouse often demands you be all things to all people. With other clergy spouses, I’ve often joked that being a clergy spouse is like a job where each congregant carries a secret job description that you never fully know but you DO know you’re not measuring up.
“A time to be silent, and a time to speak.” Ecclesiastes 3:7b (NIV)
Over the years in the church, I’ve learned that no matter how difficult it feels to not fit in I can only successfully be me. To me, this passage says it’s equally as terrible to be silent when you have something that needs to be said as it is to pretend you are a voracious, outgoing more socially acceptable version of yourself.
I’ve learned to lean into my true self. And that means in my church role I can say yes or no or nothing and simply listen. In an Artos-led clergy spouse group, we discussed dealing with triangulation. It’s a major bugaboo for all clergy spouses; the church community shares their thoughts, questions, requests, and complaints with us instead of their pastor. We brainstormed on what to say, how to gently point the wayward parishioner back to their pastor. I remember saying, “I always try to be kind. If I can’t be kind, I try to be civil. If I can’t be civil, I can walk away.”
I’ve learned socializing more than I desire – or socializing in ways I’m not comfortable with (I’m looking at you dreaded coffee hour) – is detrimental to my spirit and to making vital connections within my church community. By realizing I’m more authentic at a church knitting prayer shawl group than I am at a weekly church potluck, I am happier and have more energy to occasionally tuck into a casserole without breaking into a sweat. Accepting who I am and sharing my authentic self allows my church community and family to really see God’s gifts in me.
By being quiet I can let out my true voice.
Susan Cain also says, “So stay true to your own nature. If you like to do things in a slow and steady way don’t let others make you feel as if you have to race.”
– by Regina Raiford Babcock
Don’t forget! Artos offers certified professional coaching for clergy spouses seeking healthier ways of relating with congregations. We’d love to support you in your journey!