by Rachel Mohn

I was sitting poolside during my son’s swimming lessons at an indoor aquatic center in suburban Chicago when it happened—heart palpitations and racing, trembling, dizziness, and inability to catch my breath. I thought I was having a heart attack at 29 years old! We headed to the ER.

Gratefully (I can say that now), I was wrong. It turned out to be an intense panic attack. My heart, medically speaking, was fine. What ensued was a several-year journey through brokenness to—by God’s grace—healing, growth, and a renewed faith.

You’ll know what I mean if you’ve been there yourself, but it is quite difficult to explain a mental and physical breakdown to those around you, particularly to your church. And perhaps even more so when you’re a pastor’s wife.

A bit of background on me: I have been a Christian as long as I can remember. The home I grew up in was safe, I was happy, and my view of Christianity was picture-perfect. I didn’t realize I was wearing rose-colored glasses.

I am also first-born and have a definite type-A personality. I’ve always pushed myself to high standards and embraced…even sought after…responsibility. By age 23 I had been married for four years, was a new mom, graduated from college summa cum laude, moved cross country two times, and found myself standing alongside my husband in full-time church ministry.

Somewhere along the way, I had developed some very unhealthy beliefs: primarily, that “good” Christians were unwavering in their faith and never wrestled with God, and that weakness was a sin. I was also hyper-vigilant, feeling as if I was controlling my little corner of the world. Boy, was I wrong about these and so many other things! But I hadn’t figured that out yet.

When the year 2000 came, a series of circumstances and events turned my world upside down. It felt like a battering until, eventually, the rose colored glasses fell off my tear-stained face.

First of all, we did not understand the importance of drawing personal boundaries during our ministry. If anyone needed us, at any time, we were there. I became quite angry, stuffing the emotions, not realizing that it was because I was spiritually depleted yet continued to serve. We ended up learning the necessity of margin the hard way. Personally and as a family we paid quite a price for this lesson.

Also, tragedy surrounded us. First, one of my best friends had a long-awaited baby daughter that lived for just over eight months, born with a surprise, rare heart condition. We spent a lot of time huddled over baby Kalianne in fervent prayer for her healing, which we did not see happen. The evening she died I was awake all night, nauseous and horrified. This did not fit into my pretty picture of prayer and the power of God.

Then, ten days after the birth of my son, who seemed to cry the majority of his first seven months of life, my younger brother (and only sibling) who then was 22, ended up with life-threatening melanoma which had started as a mole on his foot and metastasized to his lymph nodes. He was given a 20 percent chance of being alive in five years. More than anything I wanted to be by his side during his treatment and surgeries, but as the mother of a two-year-old and a newborn, I just couldn’t. I charged God with incredibly bad timing.

Also during these years, not just one but two of the couples in our small group—whom we loved like family—suffered the terrible experience of delivering stillborn baby girls. In empty nurseries and fresh gravesites I tried to be there for them but was mostly wordless…the God I knew seemed nowhere to be found.

And then there was Barb, one of my best friends, who endured a horrific two-year battle with cancer which resulted in her leaving behind a widowed husband with three children under the age of six. I did not understand how a loving God the father could allow this, nor the lifetime of abuse by a relative she had experienced during her childhood. Where was He? My world was utterly rocked.

Yet, hanging on to some thread of a belief that God was still in control, we pursued adoption of three children in Chile after prayerful confirmation that this was His plan for us. When that process ended in failure almost two years later, I concluded that we obviously had not heard God, were foolish to have even thought we could know His plan for our lives, and that prayer was completely irrelevant in this mess of a world.

At this point in my Christianity, I was only going through the motions.

But I was not about to let anyone know it. After all, Rachel was strong, Rachel was wise, and Rachel was in the ministry! So I put on my happy face, grabbed my Bible, and headed to the front row of church every Sunday to be near my husband who was leading worship. All I wanted to be doing was lying face down on the floor and weeping.

I learned that one can only live like that for so long. Eventually, you’ll be found out—or you’ll implode (which is what happened to me).

At first, the panic attacks could only be controlled by strong medication. I was relieved for the immediate fix, but I knew there were some underlying issues (fear, control, grief, and anxiety, to name some) that needed to be addressed. It was time to reveal the real me.

So, I voluntarily checked myself in to a three-week inpatient Christian counseling program. My therapy group consisted of an alcoholic mother, a girl with self-inflicted scars covering her arms, a married man struggling with homosexual feelings, a young woman whose husband lived with her but had not spoken to her in a year, an anorexic teenager, and a man struggling with deep depression and substance abuse. I had no idea what to say to them. “Hi. I’m a pastor’s wife and I guess I just kind-of cracked?”

At first it seemed like I was in the WRONG place. But you know what I quickly learned? The people in my therapy group and I had a lot of similarities: vulnerability, weakness, and emotions wreaking havoc in our lives.

Like anyone who goes through an intentional healing process, we had to make some radical changes. For us that meant a three-year break from church ministry, a move back “home” to Kansas to spend a few years with extended family, and continued learning of healthy coping skills through intermittent counseling and dedicated self-care and education. I also had to give up worrying about what anyone else thought of me.

Especially pertinent to my healing was being transparent about wrestling with God. The tragedies and seemingly “unanswered” prayers brought me to a place of distrust and anger. I didn’t want to give up on Him completely, but I sure didn’t feel much peace or comfort in being His.

Yes, even pastor’s wives can go through periods of questioning and doubting their faith.

During this period of soul-searching, I sought out counselors, mentors, and books to help me through it. God allowed me to kick and scream and wallow in my pain for about a year—I certainly didn’t rush the process. And then one day while reading Scripture (I did my best to seek Him out even though I was doubtful), I felt clearly that He wanted me to surrender my disbelief and distrust to Him…the Creator of the Universe. And that is what I did.

God will meet His beloved children in the darkness. And when He gently leads us out of it, we are reminded again of what a Savior is.

Contrary to what we may have heard or always believed, God isn’t looking for “perfect” or “really good” people. In fact, the Bible has an overarching theme of God using very broken people for His magnificent purposes. When we come before Him and offer ourselves just as we are…even if we consider ourselves to be “a mess”…He will embrace us. In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul writes “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” He goes on to say, “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

I reject the notion that we women, Christians in particular, must hide our emotions, have it all together, and fit some perfect image. We need to get real! God does not expect perfection; neither should His church. God allows us to passionately wrestle with Him in order to know Him more; His Church should not make it taboo.

Let’s be Christians who embrace those who are transparent with their brokenness and faithfully anticipate God showing His power through it…and let’s start by being transparent ourselves. Though it isn’t always easy or comfortable, the freedom is fabulous and the joy runs deep! _____________________________________________________________________________________________
Rachel Mohn has been a pastor’s wife for 15 years. Rachel enjoys speaking at and providing entertainment for women’s events throughout the country.