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Reshape glass slippers, she says of expectations of ministers’ wives

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Meeting people’s expectations is like fitting into Cinderella’s glass slippers, Susie Hawkins, wife of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annuity Board president, O.S. Hawkins, told ministers’ wives at the 21st annual Annie Elias Leavell Lectures at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

“We’re always trying to do and to be what other people expect of us. I say, let’s reshape that glass slipper,” she said.

Hawkins listed several expectations ministers’ and students’ wives voiced during the Oct. 4-5 “Wear the Shoes God Gave You” conference: They should be at every function, always look good but not too good, always be happy, have well-mannered children, be silent and have no opinion, and be a role model for all the women in the church.

“When we try to fill all these expectations rather than being who God meant for us to be,” Hawkins observed, “it is going to be very difficult to fill the shoes we are supposed to fill.”

Sifting through the desires and expectations that she once placed upon herself in comparison to other pastors’ wives, Hawkins said the Holy Spirit told her, “Maybe you shouldn’t worry so much about being like them and worry about being like me.”

Noting that the Bible contains no real job description for the wives’ ministry but instead contains passages concerning the character of women (Proverbs 31; 1 Timothy 3:11), Hawkins emphasized the wife’s role as helper to her husband.

“You have such a ministry in the role as wife,” she said. “God was wise to create man with a ‘helper’ (Genesis 2:20),” she said, explaining that the role was not demeaning, for King David had called the Lord his “Helper” throughout the Psalms. Defining “helper” as someone who does for someone what he cannot do for himself, Hawkins affirmed, “Don’t ever think that you’re just a wife or an appendage. You are set apart.”

Particularly in a woman’s resourcefulness, she encouraged, “You have a very important role.”

Gingerly comparing the role of the minister’s wife to that of a politician’s wife, Hawkins reminded there are no hard and fast rules to follow. Yet, they may greatly enhance or distract from their husbands’ roles, she said.

With such visibility, wives are the target of numerous expectations, she said, sharing three principles that help wives reshape those expectations:

— Find your spiritual gift and use it, she said, quoting 1 Timothy 4:14, “Do not neglect your gift that God has given you.”

Everyone has at least one spiritual gift, Hawkins said, asking, “What do you feel good doing? What are you good at?” What you are usually attracted to is your spiritual gift, she said, because it is comfortable and enjoyable, although there are times when God will stretch a person’s abilities.

She also explained that ministry is often born out of life experiences, such as recovery from cancer. “God is melding your gifts and life experiences together for his purposes,” she said. Leave the other activities for others who have the applicable spiritual gifts, she added.

— Consider your seasons and opportunities, Hawkins continued. Instead of being overwhelmed by too many responsibilities, she suggested wives apply the 10-year rule: “Will what I am doing make a difference in 10 years?”

Highlighting the childbearing years of women, she reminded, “No one can wear the shoes of wife and mother like you can.” However, she said that does not mean that wives tend to their families at the exclusion of anything else. “Your children need to see you serving God, often at the point of sacrifice,” she said. “As in everything else, there is a balance.”

She shared Oswald Chambers’ devotional words: “If you have received a ministry from the Lord Jesus, you will know that the need is not the same as the call — the need is the opportunity to exercise the call. The call is to be faithful to the ministry you received when you were in true fellowship with Him.”

Outside of relationship with God, the wife’s ministry to her husband is her priority, Hawkins said. That season will never change, she added.

— Share your lives with your church members, Hawkins then counseled, dispelling the myth that ministers’ wives cannot have close friends. She pointed to Jesus who lived his life in close connection with the 12 disciples, with special attention to his three closest friends. “Nowhere in the Scripture are we told to deny ourselves friendship,” she said.

While she cautioned the wives to not violate the privacy of her husband because it might compromise the message he brings before the congregation, she said that there is nothing as effective as sharing one’s life and what God is doing.

“Don’t think that you have to be the queen that has no needs,” Hawkins said. Instead, be willing to develop honest relationships. At the same time, do not hang out with just one person, she cautioned.

Be approachable and spread good cheer throughout the church, she added, because it is important to make people feel loved. “People will put up with a lot of imperfections if we show them they are loved,” she said.

She also pointed out that because the minister’s presence is desired at intimate family events (weddings, baby dedications and funerals), ministers’ wives are considered part of the family circle. “People will never forget you,” she said.

Ministers’ wives can walk a long way in shoes that are shaped by God’s expectations, balanced by each person’s unique giftedness, the seasons and opportunities in her life, and her willingness to open her life to others, Hawkins said.

Held each fall on the New Orleans Seminary campus, the Annie Elias Leavell Lectures were established by Landrum P. Leavell II, NOBTS president emeritus, and Margaret Leavell Mann in honor of their mother, who was a minister’s wife, to bring outstanding Christian women to speak to student wives.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: SUSIE HAWKINS AT NOBTS.

    About the Author

  • Shannon Baker

    Shannon Baker is director of communications for the Baptist Resource Network of Pennsylvania/South Jersey and editor of the Network’s weekly newsletter, BRN United.

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