By Kathy Ferguson Litton
The well-worn word that marks many sentences during the COVID-19 crisis is “unprecedented.” The upheaval of an unimaginable nearly world-wide quarantine has shaken up almost every person, organization, company, and system – including the Church.
We are married to the men who lead churches. Our husbands are pastors, leaders, shepherds, entrepreneurs. Many are highly trained, others have years of experience, but nothing really readied them for this unparalleled hour.
Yet, all eyes have fallen on them to lead, serve, steady, and preach to their flock. Not one wants to make unwise decisions or be inadequate for this hour. The pressure on these men is unprecedented.
Our husbands aren’t alone
We stand alongside as a barrage of issues land squarely on him — often with little support. Unfortunately, by the nature of church planting itself, potential resources to help in this hour are very limited. Church plants rarely have extra money, staff, equipment, or willing volunteers available to them.
This is also key in this unprecedentedhour — there is no model or guide for how to navigate it all. Leaders everywhere are desperately looking for solutions. Uncertainty and difficulty abound. As does inadequacy and fear.
This is where we come in. We see behind the curtain. The emotional toll is immense, and it is taking place in the close quarters of our homes.
A recent Barna survey cites a notable decline in pastors’ well-being now compared to the Pastor’s Survey in 2016. Currently, 21 percent rated their spiritual well-being as excellent compared to 37 percent in 2016. Additionally, 17 percent rated their mental and emotional health as excellent during the pandemic compared to 39 percent in 2016.
These results remind us, our husbands aren’t alone.
We want to support our men in this unprecedented hour by loving, honoring, and helping him. Perhaps the most significant, intimate support couples can give one another is emotional support.
6 ways to emotionally support your husband
1. Recognize the value of your support.
While men seldom verbalize their need for support, your support is immensely valuable and helpful. Leadership is often lonely. Your supportive presence reminds him he is not alone. More than we realize, men struggle with a lurking battle of self-doubt. Our support helps him fight that battle.
Knowing and understanding your affirmation touches him deeply should create a desire in you to be far more intentional with meaningful, genuine words and gestures of affirmation. Physical touch, not just sex, is truly affirming to him. We should long to be generous and frequent supporters.
Supporting him means understanding the power of your support.
2. Honor his pain.
“Honor their pain” was introduced to me as young widow. Often well-meaning, loving people feel the need to help us move through pain, or worse, help us “get over it.” When others tried to move me too quickly through my grief — or attempted to create an explanation for my pain and tie a neat spiritual bow on my losses — they were often failed to “honor my pain.” This is truly hurtful.
Your husband’s pain is real, the losses are real, and the circumstances are truly challenging. How do you honor his pain? Listen. Demonstrate empathy. Feeling what he feels and working to understand his perspective and reality is critical. Think of the disastrous results of Job’s friends as they began to speak. They provide a glimpse of failing to honor pain.
Your husband is grieving losses and disappointments. Suddenly, he is swimming in complicated leadership matters with few options. Honor his emotional journey.
Supporting him begins by legitimizing his pain, not minimizing, spiritualizing, or fixing it.
3. Help him identify his emotions.
One feature of emotional intelligence is working to understand what is going on inside of us. Having the ability recognize and admit feelings of anger, sadness, fear, inadequacy or loneliness is a key part in learning how to experience and manage the emotions we feel. We can play a supporting role in this process.
Christine Hoover provides solid advice for coming alongside our husbands in this process:
“I’ve learned to help my husband name his emotions. I’ve learned that well-timed, gentle questions help draw him out. He doesn’t always know how he feels, but when he tells me the situation he’s in, I can reflect back to him, “Does that make you feel _____?” I may not hit the exact emotion on the head, but he can clarify, which leads to further conversation and understanding on both of our parts.”
Her last phrase highlights the desired outcome, “further conversation and understanding on both of our parts.” Emotional moments shared and processed together can yield greater oneness and true partnership. We can think we know what is going on with him emotionally, but asking gentle, loving questions can peel back what is really happening in his heart and soul.
Supporting him means helping him experience and express a wide range of emotions.
4. Manage your own emotions
Men often want to protect their wives from their personal emotional journey so they won’t spark fear, discouragement, or alarm in their wives. This is a fair concern and certainly a loving one. My husband recently expressed this to me when he said, “I don’t want my fears to set off your fears.” I don’t think he is alone in that thinking.
Yet this is where our faith, hope, and confidence in God will help us address our own emotions. Our hope is in Christ, not in our men. You may indeed sense your own fear or anxiety as he shares his, but you must hand your emotions to Jesus. Let Him provide you the peace, hope, and confidence you may lack in that moment.
Plus, as a counselor recently shared with me, there is the reality that “only one of us can be up the crazy tree at a time.” A lighthearted word picture but the visual is a good one.
Supporting him is managing our own emotions in healthy ways.
5. Extend patience and understanding to him.
Understanding him means you see the reality and validity of his feelings. Your patience says, “I accept, and I will not be upset by your present emotional state.” Patience and understanding together recognize that our emotions are processed in time. What we feel today is most likely temporary. We can extend patience because we truly believe God uses time and processing to strengthen us emotionally.
Supporting him means we give him time to process his emotions without judgement.
6. Walk in wisdom.
Ask God to give you “wisdom that comes from above.” Depending on our number on the Enneagram (a popular personality assessment), our present emotional state, or the depth of our confidence in God, we may be prone to reactionary response that isn’t driven by wisdom. My advice is simply, “Don’t.” (That answer is definitely derived from things I learned the hard way.)
Keep this in mind in the moments you are primarily (or perhaps exclusively) a listener. You may feel the urge to advise, dismiss, or correct. Press pause on that urge. He may seek that from you, but let him guide in that.
His most immediate need is your presence, your ear, and your affirmation. This is where physical touch can send powerful affirmation — taking his face in your hands and wrapping your arms around him tightly sends him a powerful message of your love, confidence, and promised presence.
Supporting him means we seek God’s wisdom on how to respond.
I want to leave you with a beautiful picture of support:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toils. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he fails and not another to lift him up” (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10).
“Father, use me to help lift up my husband in this hour because two are better than one.”
Kathy lives in Mobile, Ala., with her husband Ed, pastor of Redemption Church. Presently, she serves at the North American Mission Board as Planter Spouse Care Manager. This post originally appeared on the NAMB Send Network blog.