Sleeping With The Bishop: One Wife's Wish List
From time to time, ask us how we’re really doing. Sometimes it feels like the only reason anyone talks to us is if they want something. It would be nice if ward members would occasionally recognize that we are people with feelings, good and bad days, trials, and needs just as real as theirs.
Occasionally say thanks. A kind woman in our ward recently coordinated a massive “bishop appreciation” project. Early Valentine’s Day morning, we were awakened to the sound of the doorbell ringing. On the porch, we found a shiny red box filled with Valentines from the ward. We spent hours reading the cards, laughing and crying. The red box sits on our computer desk—all it takes is a glance in its direction and we’re buoyed up by memories of the sincere expressions inside.
Call your visiting/home teachers first. Save the calls to the bishop/his wife for the times when the bishop really needs to be involved. Don’t call the bishop’s house for ward members’ phone numbers when you’ve lost your directory, when you’re wondering what time stake conference starts, etc. Rest assured that twenty other members have already called that week with similarly non-pressing issues. Although your call only lasts five minutes, those five minutes add up quickly.
If you are in a position to do so, try to ensure that your bishop’s family is visit/home taught. All too often the assumption is made that since it’s the bishop’s family, they don’t have any problems. Hah! Not only do we have problems, but we need to feel like we have at least one or two people in the ward we can turn to if we need something. It seems like a pretty basic idea, but I honestly didn’t realize it until a short time ago when we began to receive visits from our HTs/VTs [maybe it had never dawned on me because I myself struggle to do my own VT?]. It feels so great to have someone I can call when my car breaks down and I need a ride to the doctor, someone to hide behind in the hallway when a cranky ward member is on the rampage, etc. Even in wards where the number of dedicated VTs/HTs is limited, this type of support is in the ward’s best interest—to paraphrase the old saying: “If the bishop’s family ain’t happy, ain’t nobody in the ward happy.” If the bishop and his family are feeling supported, they will have greater motivation, energy, and patience to serve others.
If you must criticize the bishop, do it the right way. I’m under no illusion that my husband does things perfectly. This job has a sharp and lengthy learning curve. Most bishops don’t really “get” how to be a good bishop until right around the time they are released. Therefore, it’s inevitable that he’s going to make some blunders, or even serious mistakes, along the way. If one of those errors has significantly affected you, let me make the following suggestions:
1. Before you bring your concerns to the bishop, ask yourself a couple of tough questions: What is the real issue here? What are my motivations for speaking with the bishop? What do I hope to accomplish by discussing this? What part might I have played in the problem? Have I done everything I can to resolve the issue from my end?
2. Address the issue as soon as possible. If, after asking yourself the questions above, you still feel that you need to speak to the bishop, call the executive secretary and make an appointment. Now. Small wounds can get infected and turn into gangrene rather quickly.
3. Do not send your criticisms via email. Tone is too easily misread; words both spoken and unspoken might be negatively construed. Speak to him face to face so that he can gauge how upset you really are, focus in on the most important issues, and immediately start working with you on a solution. [If you are too intimidated to speak face to face, or if it just isn’t your style, you should be cognizant of the disadvantages of written complaints. Do all that you can to make your letter clear, fair, and solution-oriented.]
4. Do not criticize your bishop in public. Public means with your friends in the ward, even if it’s a “private” conversation (who else would you talk to about this stuff?). While venting to your friends might feel good at the time, your words are damaging on many levels. First, I can promise you that it will get back to us. This is difficult for the bishop on a personal level, and, as a wise anonymous commenter in the last post said, “Criticism deeply, deeply wounds [bishops’] wives and children when we speak ill of them. Their families are making incredible personal sacrifices to enable them to serve, and we should shield them and their loved ones from our judgments.” Second, your words will have an effect on the listener and the listener’s relationship with the bishop. If you have an issue with the bishop, please recognize that this is your issue, and not necessarily anyone else’s.
5. Before you walk into the bishop’s office, remind yourself that you are probably not the first person who has criticized the bishop today. Imagine what it would feel like if you were sacrificing all of your free time (and a significant amount of your family, school, work, exercise, and sleep time) toward your calling, and that no matter how hard you tried, there were always people who were upset with you—telling you what a jerk/how incompetent you were. Take a deep breath. Play nice.
6. Speaking of playing nice, start off the conversation by specifically recognizing the many sacrifices that the bishop and his family are making on behalf of the ward. This will take a little bit of the sting out of what you say next. As the discussion progresses, the bishop will feel less like “I’m doing everything I can but people still complain!” and more like “This person can see I’m working hard and is willing to work with me to help me become better.” This will help the bishop feel less attacked, which will help you achieve your goals in the conversation.
Please, please pray for us. This calling is the hardest thing we have ever done in our lives. We need your prayers. One day when I was visiting primary, a little girl gave the closing prayer: “. . . and bless Bishop X and Sister Maria so they can drive home safely . . . and bless them to have a nice week, too. . . .” My heart melted and I felt the spirit for the first time in a long while. I thought, “Hey, as long as this sweet girl is praying for me, maybe I can handle being the bishop’s wife for another week.”
Although I am generally annoyed when women apologize for (or make disclaimers about) their feelings, I’m going to make a mini-disclaimer:
(1) These suggestions reflect my personal experiences (and the experiences of a few women I have spoken to), and may not be representative of the feelings of other bishops’ wives. [If you have a different perspective, I would actually really appreciate hearing about it.]
(2) I explicitly recognize that I have not always lived up to these expectations in the past. They are aspirations—meaning they are ideas that everybody (including myself) could work toward implementing.