By Kimberly Nash Alexander
Mental health is an integral part of self-care. In the church we are reluctant to discuss depression. Yet many suffer in silence. Often called the “common cold”, depression quietly lurks in the shadows. One of the contributing factors to depression is often loneliness. I want to give several strategies that may be helpful in combating loneliness for clergy spouses as a response to some of the reasons for loneliness identified by Thom Ranier in his blog post, “Twelve reasons pastors’ wives are lonely.”
Loneliness has been identified by several researchers as a consistent complaint among clergy spouses. As technology has become more prevalent in our society, we often relate without connecting. We function with each other to accomplish tasks but not necessarily to develop relationships or establish meaningful friendships. We talk about many subjects but don’t share personal information with each other. As clergy spouses we are in the midst of many people but may not connect in a way that eliminates the feelings of loneliness.
I have found several practical ways to address loneliness in my life. First, it is important to nurture personal interests and hobbies. It is easy to put everyone and everything before ourselves. Somewhere deep inside is a little girl passion or dream to do something that brings fulfillment. We can become absorbed in everyone’s interests and lose ourselves. Ask yourself what do I enjoy doing? Find something, such as a book club, an exercise class, painting, gardening, puzzles, etc., that relaxes you. If it is something you do alone, you may enjoy it and not be lonely, or if it is a group activity, it is an opportunity to develop friendships. Remember to be creative and research resources to keep the costs down.
Secondly, creating a support system that works for you may mean reaching out to other clergy spouses. 2 Corinthians 1:3–4 says, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (NIV). No one can relate to a clergy spouse like another clergy spouse. During my 20 years of being married to a pastor, my greatest support has been friendships with other senior pastors’ wives. Most of them are not local to me, yet our phone calls and prayers for each other are priceless. I also have found joy in mentoring new pastors’ wives by providing support for them that I did not have available to me. Sharing life with others brings us out of our insulated fish bowl.
Thirdly, nurturing the marriage relationship helps us work on companionship rather than just coexistence. Many are lonely because spouses are emotionally unavailable. In Genesis 2:18 God said, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (NIV). It is important to create healthy ways of relaxing together, communicating, and connecting. Advance planning is necessary for the marriage and the family to receive priority on the calendar. Mark special days in advance and block them to give priority to couple time and family time. If you don’t plan for it, it is not likely to happen.
Finally, having an arsenal of scripture hidden in your heart will help combat feelings of loneliness. Growing a spiritual life with times for prayer, study, reflection, and meditation gives us an anchor that will hold through adversity. However, don’t neglect to seek counseling for extended periods of loneliness and depression.
Kimberly Alexander D.Phil., a native Charlottean, is the “Leading Lady” of The Park Church and serves as the leader for the Women’s Ministry: Daughters of Divine Destiny. She received her BS in Speech Language Pathology at University of North Carolina-Greensboro, Master’s in Speech Language Pathology from George Washington University in Washington, DC, and a Doctorate of Philosophy from Oxford Graduate School. She is married to Bishop Claude R. Alexander Jr., and they have two children—Camryn Rene Alexander and Carsyn Richelle Alexander.
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