Jani: Hello, everyone. Welcome to He Restores My Soul. This is Jani Ortlund and I have a special guest with me today, my daughter-in-law, one of them, is here from California. Her name is Esther Ortlund and she’s married to our youngest son Gavin. Welcome, Esther.
Esther Ortlund: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jani: I’m so glad you’re here.
Meet Esther Ortlund
Jani: Esther is a pastor’s wife. She and Gavin are serving in California. Esther, why don’t you tell our listeners a little bit about how long you’ve been married and how many children you have.
Esther Ortlund: We got married—everyone will be able to remember our wedding anniversary—we got married on 7/7/07. So however many years ago, that was, I think, coming up on 14 in July and we have four children. Isaiah just turned eight yesterday, the day before recording this podcast, and then Naomi is six, Elijah is three and a half and then we have little baby Miriam, who’s 10 months old.
Jani: And we’re having such a good visit. We don’t get to see each other very often, do we? Yeah. So the kids are back here for a little while. A little bit of a vacation and some ministry stuff, and so it’s just really exciting. So I twisted Esther’s arm and I asked her if she’d be willing to share with our listeners.
On Being a Young Pastor’s Wife
Jani: We want to talk about the life of a young pastor’s wife. You know how much this is on my heart. All my listeners know this, Esther. And I just would love to throw some questions at you about what it’s like being a young pastor’s wife, some of the joys and some of the challenges and what restores your soul. That will help not only our pastors’ wives who are listening, but I think it can help church members as well.
Esther’s story and how she met Gavin
Jani: Could you give our listeners a little bit of your history like did you and Gavin were you married when he went to seminary and how many churches have you served in?
Esther Ortlund: Yeah, I met Gavin right before he started seminary. So I did know what I was getting myself into. And I actually I loved the idea of being a pastor’s wife. And it was funny, shortly after Gavin and I started dating, I remembered back in probably eighth grade a couple different friends of mine, telling me that they thought I might be a pastor’s wife one day.
Jani: Really? I didn’t know that.
Esther Ortlund: Yeah, I had completely forgotten about it until, you know, I was 21 when I get met Gavin until then I thought, yeah, maybe this is something. I don’t know what specific things they saw in me that brought that up. But I had a desire to study counseling. And so I actually went to seminary with Gavin while he got his M.Div. I did an MA in counseling at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis (which we loved Covenant). We made great friends there. Was a really fun place to start off our marriage, driving into school together every morning, packing our lunch, packing our dinner because usually one or both of us had a night class.
Esther Ortlund: So then we we served at a church just as doing an internship during seminary in St. Louis, then we lived in Washington D.C. for one year. Gavin did an internship at a church there and I was working in mental health. Then we moved out to California in 2010, served at a church there for about six years. And then we spent one year in Chicagoland (he was at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, participating in the Creation Project). And then, in 2018, we moved back to California to a little town called Ojai, where he serves as the senior pastor at a church out there.
Jani: Well, I just want to brag about you before we start. You have been a fabulous wife for our son, oh my goodness, you have freed him to serve the Lord wherever the Lord has called. And Gavin has not only pastored but he also has written. What books does he have published now, Esther? Am I putting you on the spot with some of these?
Esther Ortlund: Luckily I’m sitting in your office and there’s a handful of them. He has written—I don’t know if I can keep track of them all—he has written his doctoral work. Oh, also while we were in our church in California, the first one, he got his PhD. at Fuller Theological Seminary. Yeah, it’s easy to forget. Because he was working full time as a pastor and did his PhD. full time at the same time and was working part time as an editor for the Gospel Coalition. Meanwhile, we had our first two kids within two years.
Jani: Yeah, crazy life.
Esther Ortlund: Crazy but full but all joyfully things we felt called to do. So yes, it worked. It was busy, but that’s, you know, it felt like unique circumstances that the Lord opened up. So he has written his doctoral dissertation was published on St. Anselm. And then he’s written a book called Retrieving Augustine’s Doctrine of Creation. He’s written Theological Retrieval for Evangelicals, and most recent Finding the Right Hills to Die On: The Case for Theological Triage. And then he has a forthcoming book out this October on, it’s an apologetics book, on the beauty of Christian theism.
Jani: Well, being married to an author, Esther, I understand the sacrifice that you’ve given. Because if a man is pastoring full-time and writing, there are many nights when you’ve had the children alone or weekends when Gavin has had to write and I just want to honor you. I thank you for doing that. You’re a great pastor’s wife.
Question: “What are some of the joys as a young pastor’s Wife?”
Jani: So let me let me ask you, what have been some of the joys that you’ve experienced as a young pastor’s wife and the churches you’ve been in?
1. Fun to Serve Together
Esther Ortlund: I think it’s been really fun to serve together. I think lots of different types of vocational ministry can be unique in that way where I get to, in a sense, go to work with Gavin. In some instances, we do. Because I have a counseling background we often do premarital counseling together, when there’s a couple he’s going to marry. And that’s been a joy. We kind of in this season of young kids, when that’s been the case, we’ll have a couple over to dinner sometimes with our family, and then we’ll put the kids to bed and over dessert, we’ll do the formal counseling. So things like that, that I really enjoy. Getting to do that getting to know, I feel like pastoral ministry can sometimes give you an inroad with people relationally. I’m a very relational person. And so I just think it’s really an honor to get to be a part of people’s lives, and to be entrusted with their joys and sorrows, and to walk with people. I really, I feel honored to get to do that.
2. Fun to see Gavin’s gifting in action (preaching, speaking, writing, teaching)
Esther Ortlund: And I love getting to see Gavin use his gifts of preaching and speaking and writing, shepherding people.
Esther Ortlund: Yeah, and I think one way we like to serve kind of as a couple of now as a family is just opening our home using hospitality. That can look sometimes it looks like a playdate with non-Christian friends from the children’s school. Or it can be having families over for dinner after church on a Sunday. Hosting small groups in our house, all those types of things I find really joyful to get to do together.
Question: “Does the burden of hospitality fall on you?”
Jani: And do you find the greatest burden falls on you? Like if you invite a couple over for dinner? I don’t remember Gavin being real handy in the kitchen. And I wonder, to me, it feels almost like could that be a burden as well? Or did the Lord just make you in such a way that you love having people over?
Esther Ortlund: I do and he doesn’t usually cook, I mean, it’s my decision. I am the one that cooks but you know, he’ll often say if you want to have people over we can we can order pizza, we can do whatever. I usually like to cook, but we just sort of have an agreement that he watches the kids while I do that.
Jani: Oh, that’s helpful then. You’re not having to watch them full time and cook.
Esther Ortlund: Yes. So he’ll, you know, be home an hour, or however long, before people are due to arrive. And he can help set the table and play with the kids. So we kind of do that as a team so that it doesn’t all fall on one person.
Jani: I like this! I wish you had been around earlier.
Question: “WHat about the Challenges of Being a young pastor’s wife?”
Jani: I wonder too, being a pastor’s wife myself, I have loved looking forward to the hopes and dreams that you have about a church and I don’t know if that’s been something that has been a joy for you. But Esther I have found in my own life, that sometimes those dreams or hopes are disappointed. Could you talk with our listeners about some of the challenges of being a young pastor’s wife?
Esther Ortlund: Yes, if only someone would write a book to help out pastors’ wives like myself. Yeah, I was actually reading your recent book, finishing up the last few chapters, and I felt kind of struck by the categories of suffering and slander that you introduced in that book, which would not be new categories to anyone who’s been in ministry. But I think, yeah, if I would kind of summarize headings, I would say: suffering (which can mean lots of different things) and slander, and then just relational brokenness. I think not that any of those are unique to pastoral ministry. But I think if you’re in ministry long enough, you experience probably all three of those. And I think those are some of the most painful aspects.
Jani: By broken relationships, do you mean just observing that people are broken or do you mean relationships that you thought would carry on for a long time and they’re broken because of the difficulty?
Esther Ortlund: Yes, more the latter. In addition to that, so it could be someone leaves the church and that’s painful to you. Or you leave and you thought you’d keep in touch and you don’t, maybe both parties were at fault. But I think, probably what is most painful that I’ve experienced is the betrayal that can happen when there’s someone you thought you really trusted or respected, look up to and you feel mistreated. That is painful.
Question: “How do you respond to painful betrayal or broken relationships?”
Jani: Yeah. What have you done when you feel someone has spread a lie about you, or slandered your husband in such a way that has been very painful and detrimental to the ministry?
Esther Ortlund: You know, it’s funny, Gavin and I, when we met, we were working at a conference center together. And we had just started dating and there was one staff member who, I have still to this day don’t know why, really did not like us and was kind of doing that. Kind of slandering us saying each of us said things about her that we didn’t, and I remember being so upset because I wanted everyone to like me. Why would someone not like me?
Esther Ortlund: And I remember him saying, “You know, if I’m a pastor, and we get married, this is, this happens.” You know, growing up as a pastor’s kid, he had his eyes wide open, that there are times where you can’t always trace, “Did I do something? What did I do? How can I make this right?” Hopefully in healthy, you know, loving, gospel-filled relationships, you can trace the fault and work towards reconciliation and forgiveness. But there are times where you will never know why someone is mistreating you. And that helped me coupled with I was thinking…Mom, would you read Colossians 3:23?
Jani: Oh yes.
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men…”Colossians 3:23
I can’t always fix things.
Esther Ortlund: Yeah, I bring up that verse. because years ago, when we were in seminary, on the one day off a week that I didn’t have class, I was waiting tables at Cracker Barrel. And I, you know, anyone who’s worked in food service industry knows, you can meet some difficult people. Or you can be a difficult person, you know (if I’m under slept or having a bad day)? And so I wrote that verse out of my little notepad where I would take people’s orders just trying to kind of center my heart on what I’m doing is for the Lord. Yes, I’m, you know, carrying this plate of food to these people at a particular table, and they may like it, they may not, they may yell at me, they may tip me, they may not tip me, but I’m doing this for the Lord. And that helped me to kind of focus and I think that helps even more in pastoral ministry to kind of remind my heart, I can’t always fix things. If it’s a broken relationship, I want to fix things, I want to talk things out and get to the bottom of it and repair. And that’s just not always possible. And so sometimes,
Jani: It’s so hard.
Esther Ortlund: It’s so hard. Sometimes I just have to let it go and say, “Okay, I’m working as for the Lord, and so he will do what he’s gonna do.”
Question: “How do you endure unjust suffering?”
Jani: What does that, letting it go, is it an internal struggle? I mean, is it mentally you just say, “Lord, help me let this go.” How would you counsel a young pastor’s wife who might be listening whose husband has been slandered and might lose his ministry position to help her “let it go”?
Esther Ortlund: Yeah. It’s not easy and it’s not a one time thing. I think, to me, it feels like forgiveness when you have to forgive someone for something and you may really feel in your heart before the Lord you forgiven them, but it creeps up in your mind and you think about, you know, the offense or the situation.
Esther Ortlund: Several years ago now, I was leading a small group through Jen Wilkin’s 1 Peter study, which was just so wonderful and restorative to my soul.
Jani: Don’t you praise the Lord for Jen Wilkin. Oh, thank you, Lord, for that woman.
Esther Ortlund: Yeah. And I felt so cared for by the Lord because we had chosen that study unbeknownst to the season that I was going to be walking through when we studied it. And the all the passages about suffering, I just felt like the Lord was specifically ministering to me throughout the whole thing.
Important: Give your Mind Scripture to Focus on
Esther Ortlund: And I don’t know, Mom, if you’d be able to read 1 Peter 2:19.
Jani: Sure. Let me turn to it, Esther. 1 Peter 2:19 says this,
“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.”1 Peter 2:19
Jani: Well, yeah. That’s pretty packed, isn’t it.
Esther Ortlund: It is. It kind of speaks for itself. There was a season in which we were going through a lot of ministry difficulty and pain, and I wanted to fix it, you know, I’d hear those persons said this. Well, that’s not true, you know. And there just wasn’t a lot I could do. And so this verse became kind of I memorized it, and it kind of became like oxygen to me, There were times on a Sunday morning sitting in church, when all I could do was just open up my Bible to 1 Peter and just read that verse over and over again and think, “Okay, this is a gracious thing,” you know, the part of being mindful of God. You’re not just enduring suffering unjustly, but you’re mindful of him. “Okay, he’s with me. He’s caring for me, he knows. He’s endured the ultimate unjust suffering.”
Esther Ortlund: You know, we’re not perfect, we’re sinners. And so anything we experience, even if it’s unjust, it’s not as unjust as what he experienced. And so it just, I clung to that, and I feel like that was just a perfect gift to me from the Lord to kind of root my mind. It didn’t make it easy or painless but it gave me something to focus on.
Jani: Yes, it gave you that anchor. We’ve talked about finding a good verse before on the podcast and meditating on it and just having it like you said, just always there in your mind, you could turn to it when the tears come or when another accusation comes and that kind of anchors your soul. You say, “Okay, all right, I’m going to be mindful of God and I’m going to ask him to help me endure sorrows, while suffering unjustly. He sees it and some day he’s going to make it right.” Yeah, that’s good, honey.
Finally: Have a verse to cling to
Jani: Well, anything else that you could offer to our listeners, you’re really a wise woman for your age. I know you’ve gone through some suffering and in some of your ministries.
Esther Ortlund: Yeah, I think that category you just mentioned, of finding a verse to kind of cling to, is something that Gavin I have done a lot. I think of a couple different seasons in which we found a Psalm that really kind of spoke to what we were experiencing, what we were praying for, asking the Lord for.
Jani: Together, you would?
Esther Ortlund: Together, yeah, and sometimes it’s something he reads and oh, I think this is for us. And sometimes I’m the one that reads this and say, hey, look what I was reading. Does this speak to you? And we’re both kind of like, ah, yes, that’s it. That’s our word for this season to kind of have in mind when we’re praying or journaling, even just separately, but to kind of, it’s not like it’s something we announce (“Hey guys, this is our verse for this season!”). It’s more of a private thing. But during a time of struggling to feel, to hope for life to feel normal, after a trauma,
Jani: A ministry trauma?
Esther Ortlund: A ministry trauma, yes I should say, of just upheaval and pain, we were really clinging to Psalm 121.
Jani: Yeah, this is great.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord is your keeper;Psalm 121:1-6
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
Jani: Wow, two extremes. Day and night. The whole of existence. The totality of it. Verse 7 continues:
7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;Psalm 121:7-8
he will keep your life.
8 The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
Remember: “He Has Us.”
Jani: You’re going out of a ministry or you’re coming into a ministry, the Lord will keep that. You’ve learned that, you’ve experienced that, Esther.
Esther Ortlund: Yeah. It’s I mean, it’s so rich, I don’t even really need to give my commentary on why it was so meaningful. It just, it was a reminder. He has us. He’s not sleeping or slumbering. We’re suffering. We’re confused. We’re asking the Lord where we’re gonna go, we don’t know where we’ll move to, what kind of ministry will serve in. Those are the things going through our mind years ago, during that season. And so to remind ourselves, “He has us. He has a plan for us.” So that during that season, Gavin, every night when he put the kids to bed, he’d be kind of praying lines of that Psalm over them.
Esther Ortlund: And it was hard. I mean, it’s not like, “Oh, then we’ll just have a smile on our face every day. Okay, well the Lord is not sleeping or slumbering.” I think oftentimes, you’re struggling to even believe, “Is this even true? Can I really believe this?” But it felt like it was an act of the will, of trusting. He will keep us.
Esther Ortlund: The song, the Getty song, He Will Hold Me Fast. That was, yeah, I would just weep every time I heard that song during that season. I think it was during one of those painful seasons when that song was released and that I just would kind of play it over and over every time I was driving somewhere and it helped me. It really ministered to me. Okay, he will hold me fast.
Jani: Yes, he did restore your soul, didn’t he? In the midst of hard trials.
Jani: Is there anything else you want to say before we wrap up today?
Esther Ortlund: I’d say I think after a particular season, like that the next Psalm that ministered to us was Psalm 90.
Jani: Oh here, Esther, I’ll read it. Psalm 90:15,
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,Psalm 90:15
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Esther Ortlund: I think we, those verses or that verse but that entire Psalm, that specific verse, stood out as kind of a prayer after our Psalm 121 wilderness season to say, “Okay, Lord, you’ve kind of delivered us out of that. Now, will you make us glad for as many days as you’ve afflicted us?” Just a season of healing, of fruit, of… I don’t know, I don’t know how to describe it. But that was just a prayer. Sometimes I think you don’t really know exactly what you’re asking for. You’re just saying, “Lord…” kind of crying out.
Jani: Yes. And it’s so wonderful to pray scripture. Because then you know, someone else was suffering as well and God met them and you can claim that as your prayer as well.
Jani: Well thank you for sharing. You’ve talked to us and we realize a little bit more how hard it can be sometimes to be a young pastor’s wife. There are many joys—many, many joys—but there are challenges along the way, too, especially when you have to leave a ministry that you really love. And I appreciate how you’ve brought us to Scripture. Esther, thank you so much. That’s really, that’s really helpful.
Jani: I think that’s what I want our listeners to know today. That, “Yes, ministry can be hard but we can keep coming to Scripture.” That’s where we land. That’s where we can find the hope that we need to encourage our faith and to keep going.
Jani: We pray that this conversation between two pastors’ wives, an old one and a young one, can be an encouragement not just to our pastors’ wives, but also to church members, to get a little peek inside the heart of one young pastor’s wife what it’s like. So thank you, Esther.
Esther Ortlund: Thank you for having me.