You could argue that I’m not the most qualified person to review a book called The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness, and More by Karen Stiller, but I happen to know one minister’s wife very well. So maybe I’ll take a shot.
Here are three reasons why I think you should read this book, regardless of whether you’re a pastor’s wife or not.
If you’re a pastor or a pastor’s wife, you’ll recognize yourself in this story. You’ll be amazed that Stiller has thought the same things as you and admitted them in writing. You will get a glimpse behind what you see when everyone’s wearing their Sunday best. You’ll see the real family, with its beauty, struggles, doubts, and questions.
I love people who drop their guard. Rather than thinking less of them, I think, “You too?” I did that over and over again while reading this book. I’d laugh. I’d remember going through similar experiences with my wife in ministry. And then I would give thanks that someone else was brave enough to share their experience honestly, and point to the pain and the beauty of serving in ministry together.
Stiller can write like nobody’s business. Some books are businesslike, every word serving its utilitarian purpose. Some books are art: not the fussy kind, but the kind that drips with beauty without seeming to try too hard. The Minister’s Wife is the second kind of book.
Stiller succeeds in showing us what her life is like. We get in her head. We see the moments of struggle and the ordinary moments that don’t seem like much. Somehow she manages to transform all of this into a beautiful piece of writing that sometimes made me pause in wonder and gratitude. A life like hers — filled with ordinary, frustrating, and painful moments — is filled with more beauty and wonder than we realize.
Perhaps the book is so beautiful not only because of the writing, but also because of the meaning found within its pages.
“I am just following you around,” Stiller said out loud to her husband one day. I imagine it’s hard not to feel that way. “I sometimes had this feeling of following and never leading, of lagging behind and not standing beside.”
You read passages like that, or of unkind words spoken, and you see the cost exacted from those who serve. But then Stiller brings us back to surrender. “I trust you,” she would say to God. “And if I trusted God, it helped me trust Brent and our decision making, and that there would be something in that move for me as well.”
She also points us to the beauty of the church — not the idea of church, but of the churches we know, full sometimes of people who are hard to love. “Church, with all its imperfections, is faith’s incubator. Church is faith’s hospital and its picnic grounds, its sheltering tree and also the rich soil from which it grows. Church embraces faith and holds it tenderly with strong arms. It embraces me. And so I love the church, even when it expects more of me than I think it should.”
I’m not a minister’s wife, but I hope that those who are will pick up this book and find a friend in its pages. I hope pastors will read it too and enjoy it as much as I did. And others too: others who want to learn to love their pastor’s family more, and marvel at the beauty of how God uses people like us. I think you’ll like it. It will make you laugh, and you will find something meaningful in its pages. More like this please.