It’s often hard to be married to someone in the ministry. Your life is filled with expectations — from everyone you know and many you have never met. And typically, they don’t match your own expectations and dreams for yourself. How do you find balance and sanity? The following articles are provided to encourage you, challenge you and assist you as you cope with being married to a pastor.
After the Shock
When you discover your pastor-husband is ensnared by pornography
by an anonymous pastor’s wife
A little more than a year and a half ago, I stopped by my husband’s office at the church and sat down to write a quick email while he was gone. My husband had been complaining about how slow his computer was getting, so I decided to take a few minutes to clean up his hard drive. What I discovered has lead to a “clean up” of catastrophic size — a problem much more severe than just too many files. The real problem was the trails I found to pornographic web sites.
What I discovered has lead to a “clean up” of catastrophic size.
I’m not sure I can characterize my initial reaction. It was somewhere between disbelief and anger. The anger vented itself first as I deleted almost everything on the hard drive in an attempt to punish him and, in a strange way, protect him. I knew that, if I could find this evidence, so could others. I could barely imagine what that would mean to my husband’s job, our church, our home and reputation.
A growing number of pastors’ wives find themselves with a hard choice to make. Do I confront my husband and trust him to stop, or do I go to someone for help and jeopardize everything I hold dear? And, if I seek help, where do I go?
It was an agonizing choice for me, but I confronted my husband, was overwhelmed by his sorrow. I decided to hold him accountable myself — just him and me, fighting this thing together. Maybe this would be the right choice for you, but I need to tell you that, although I believe that my husband is the most truthful, integrity-driven man I have ever met, it did not work for us. In spite of my checking his computer when he would least expect it, he did have a relapse. I learned that this is not a habit that is easily rooted out and rarely without outside accountability and help. It was a problem that was bigger than both of us.
Another option is going to a pastor or deacon in your church. I hope and pray that, if you choose this path, you will find the kind of help, compassion and assistance you deserve. My husband and I were at what I consider to be one of the most wonderful, supportive churches that can be imagined. The assistant pastor was the first to find out of my husband’s addiction, and he, along with the head deacon, confronted my husband. Their initial meeting was one of grace and mercy. They set in motion a plan that would involve a leave of absence, professional counseling, software safe guards, accountability and evaluation. My husband felt such love and mercy from those two men. His repentance and remorse were wholly sincere. The very act of being held accountable for something he had fought alone for so long lifted a load of guilt. Finally, we were on the road to recovery, and we had help. Our hearts rejoiced with their grace and mercy for about three weeks.
The initial meeting was one of grace and mercy.
Unfortunately, the assistant pastor broke the confidence and shared our story with his wife, who, with very little biblical insight, formed her own theology of how things should be handled. As a result, a new meeting was called with my husband, the assistant pastor, his wife and the deacon. She demanded my husband’s resignation and a public confession. What we had viewed as a hopeful road to recovery became an avalanche of despair and depression.
Let me say that I believe in public confession of sin — if that sin has become known or involves others or leads to the name of Christ or His church being dishonored. But I do not believe public confession is required or necessarily wise for sins that are private and which can be handled with integrity, confession and repentance.
One week later, at the insistence of this misguided lady, we stood before our dear congregation with a public confession and our resignation. Sadly, this may be a very real danger if you seek help from those who are in your church. Even those who should be the most godly are sometimes tempted by a desire for power or are poorly taught about how to deal appropriately with sexual sin.
At a time like this, there may be many thoughts and fears pulling you in different directions. “I can’t handle this alone.” “I must protect my husband.” “I will be so embarrassed.” “Others will assume I am a bad wife and lover.” “If he knows I know, he won’t dare do it again.” Betrayal. Inadequacy. The list goes on.
You are not alone.
What I would most want to impress upon your heart is that you are not alone. This is a growing problem in the lives of pastors and their families. Many pastor’s wives are walking this road with you. Christ grieves over this sin with you. He feels your betrayal by someone you love. He understands how you feel when you wish you had been enough to satisfy your husband. Christ stands beside you because He too hates this sin. He too has been betrayed by this servant He loves. He who is all sufficient was apparently not sufficient in the mind of your husband.
No, you are not alone, but I know how very alone you feel. During the weeks and months following the public confession, a few brave souls called to comfort and encourage me, but for the most part, I was engulfed by silence from those I thought were my friends. Even when it was announced at a business meeting that I was feeling abandoned by the church, I received only one call.
Secondly, you must have help. Walk this road very cautiously and with much prayer, but don’t walk it alone. The church who should be our fortress may not be a safe place to run for a pastor’s wife. If your church is in a fellowship or denomination, I would suggest talking to someone outside of the church who is in leadership. I can almost guarantee that they will have experience with this problem in the lives of other pastors. You may feel reluctant to go to a pastor from another church who is a peer of your husband, due to the embarrassment that it might cause him. But, if this is a person who loves your husband, someone you are sure you can trust, don’t let embarrassment be the criteria of your choice.
Perhaps your best option would be to look to a godly professional counselor who works specifically with pastors. Contact Focus on the Family for a list of qualified people. No matter who you choose to trust, make sure that it involves qualified counseling and accountability for your husband. In our case, this was made more difficult due to the financial limitations of being a newly unemployed pastor. Never the less, counseling is a must — it is worth the investment and even the debt, if need be.
Lastly, don’t stop with just seeking help for your husband. You are wounded and bleeding. Your heart has been broken and you need to know this “thing” is not your fault. You may not be perfect, but your husband is responsible for his own actions. Get counseling and encouragement for yourself. It will be the best investment you ever make.
Also, ask God to bring an encourager into your life who understands and can love you back to health. A few years before this all-consuming thing took over our lives, God graciously and providentially brought me a dear and wonderful friend. Upon hearing of our circumstances, she not only shared that she and her husband had faced and conquered this battle themselves, but she loved us with so much practicality that she found a job for my husband as we went through the recovery process.
You may feel all is lost, but keep walking. Trust that your mourning will one day become dancing. With true repentance, restoration can come to your dear one and you.
The Air We Breathe
Every husband needs respect;
every wife needs love.
by Emerson Eggerichs
Kelly wondered if her husband, Steve, would remember their 10th anniversary. Some years he had forgotten.
But, this year, he remembered. He had found just the right card, and he was sure it would be a great anniversary. When he handed her the card, she beamed from ear to ear. But when she read it, her countenance turned sour and dark.
“It’s not bad … for a birthday card,” she scowled.
Steve stiffened at her anger. He meant well. What was written on the outside was great, but he had failed to read the inside. “Hey, an honest mistake. Give me a break.”
“An honest mistake? You just don’t care. You are so unloving!”
Now he was miffed. “Hey, give me a break.”
“You buy me a birthday card on our 10th anniversary, and you expect me not to be upset? I’d rather you hadn’t bought me any card at all!”
Feeling disrespected, he coldly said, “Fine. I’m going to the office.”
Love and Respect
This conflict isn’t unique. Kelly felt unloved, and Steve felt disrespected, even contemptible in his wife’s eyes.
When Decision Analysts, Inc., did a national survey on male-female relationships, one question for men read:
“Even the best relationships sometimes have conflicts on day-to-day issues. In the middle of a conflict with my wife, I am more likely to be feeling:
a. That my wife doesn’t respect me right now.
b. That my wife doesn’t love me right now.
Not surprisingly, 81.5 percent of men chose “a.”
Women need to feel loved, and men need to feel respected.
The survey only substantiated what I had already discovered in my years of working with married couples: Women need to feel loved, and men need to feel respected. This may explain why Paul wrote in Ephesians 5:33 that a husband must love his wife and a wife must respect her husband. Both commands are unconditional. The hard part is that respect comes more easily to men, and love comes easier to women.
You’re stepping on my air hose!
Colossians 3:19 commands a husband to agape-love his wife (love unconditionally). Obviously, she needs to feel loved.
Imagine that the wife has an air hose that goes to a love tank. She needs love like she needs air to breathe. When her husband stands on her air hose buying a birthday card for their anniversary she’ll react negatively!
When the husband sees the spirit of his wife deflate, he should realize he’s stepping on her air hose and get off it. Though she may react in a disrespectful way, she is crying out, “I feel unloved by you right now. I can’t believe you’re doing this to me.” If, in response, the husband heads to the “office,” she’ll feel even more unloved.
Likewise, the husband needs respect, just as he needs air to breathe (1 Peter 3: 1-2). He, too, has an air hose to a tank labeled “respect,” and as long as the air (respect) is coming through, he is just fine. But he deflates when his wife steps on his air hose by saying things like, “You don’t care! You are so unloving!” If she shows disrespect in an attempt to motivate him to be more loving, it hinders the relationship. A destructive cycle of feeling unloved and disrespected easily starts.
Husbands and wives must learn how to recognize when they are stepping on each other’s hoses and respond appropriately. (See “Love and Respect” for practical tips.) When a wife is careful to show respect in obedience to God her husband will stay connected and teachable. When a husband shows his wife love, her spirit will be reaffirmed. Then both will have the air they need to breathe.
Appreciating Your Husband as Your Pastor
by Georgia Sawhook
Georgia SawhookBeing a pastor’s wife is a wonderful adventure, isn’t it? I’ve been one now for over 26 years and continue to be blessed by the position and the responsibility that the Lord has given me in His plan.
Clergy Appreciation Month gives me pause to look at MY pastor … my HUSBAND! Do I really give him the respect and honor that he deserves? Do I take the time to thank him for every message he prepares? Do I thank him for all those extra hours he has to work at the church to counsel and help a wayward member or a newly engaged couple about their upcoming marriage or the times he’s had to leave the house because of someone’s illness and/or death?
Or … do I gripe about it?
* “Do I have to be with the kids alone again tonight?”
* “When ARE you coming home??? Dinner’s getting cold!”
* “It’s your mother and dad that are visiting and I’m not going to entertain them all myself AGAIN!”
Sound familiar? If you’ve gotten into that type of rut, maybe you just need to reacquaint yourself with your dear hubby. Remember, he’s got an awesome responsibility before the Lord to keep a charge over these sheep that the Lord has entrusted to him and he doesn’t need to have any more added pressure than he already has.
Let your home be the haven that he needs and deserves. Welcome him with a big hug and kiss. Tell him you’re praying for him (and make sure you do). Make his favorite meal and dessert for him at least once a week. Find someone to watch the children and have a night all alone. Pop popcorn, watch a movie together and look deep into his eyes and remember that wonderful young man you fell in love with.
It will jump start your ‘starter,’ that’s for sure. And if it doesn’t, ask your precious Savior to “jump start” your engine in that direction and start all over again.
Enjoy that wonderful gift that the Lord has given you and praise His name that He has chosen you both together to serve Him and minister for His glory!!
The Art of Compromise
Hint: It’s not giving up or giving in.
by David & Claudia Arp
Before John and Margaret Bell were married, we walked them through 10 dates to help them prepare for marriage. One week they pulled into our driveway, but didn’t get out of the car. About 30 minutes later they knocked on the door. They had been discussing a marriage topic we’d given them to discuss, but it had turned into a heated argument. They strongly disagreed.
They needed to learn the art of compromise. While they didn’t enjoy it as a pleasant experience, by talking it through and adjusting their expectations, John and Margaret were able to reach a mutual solution.
Every marriage involves give and take, and in order for a marriage to grow, both spouses must practice the art of compromise. For couples in ministry, it’s especially vital to work out these issues together. It’s so easy to get used to seeing things through a ministry filter that you begin to ignore each other’s personal needs. Putting God first may be misinterpreted as putting your marriage and family second, third or at the end of the list after the Monday night finance committee meetings.
We asked couples in ministry about which issues they have had to come to a compromise. Here’s what two told us:
Soccer dad needed
“I really think you should spend more time with Kelly,” Liz told her husband, Paul, pastor of a 500-member church. “Kelly needs her father to be more involved in her life, and this is a great opportunity — to coach her soccer team.”
Paul played soccer in college and loves the sport, but coaching Kelly’s team would require him to miss several regularly scheduled committee meetings at the church. “I’m not sure the church leadership would understand if I didn’t show up for those meetings,” Paul replied.
“But if you weren’t the pastor of the church, you would do it in a minute,” Kelly said. “Why should I be penalized just because you’re the pastor?”
The compromise? Paul agreed to coach Kelly’s team, but recruited an assistant coach who could relieve him when he absolutely needed to be at the church. And Liz agreed to sit in for him one meeting a week.
The neglected spouse
“I want to be the supportive wife, and often I say nothing,” Wanda explained, “but last week I told my husband, ‘I need some attention … now! I need to spend some time with you, but when you finally come home, you walk in the door and head straight for the TV remote and your recliner. I feel like I’m invisible. You know, there’s little demand for divorced pastors.’ ”
“When I walk in the door at night, I’m exhausted. I’ve been with people all day,” Sean said. “All I want is a few minutes to de-stress. I’m the only full-time staff member at our church, and I’m supposed to be all things to all people. But I love my wife, and, to be honest, the “D” word got my attention.”
While a neglected spouse may appear supportive, hidden issues are often just below the surface. Wanda felt Sean cared more about the church than he did about her. Sean felt that Wanda was not as supportive as she could be and that she wanted to control his involvement with the church. Together they looked at ways they could reconnect.
The compromise? Sean agreed to cut back on weeknight church functions and began to mobilize lay volunteers to help with some of the overload. “I had to take a hard look at my own expectations. Serving Christ should not mean neglecting Wanda,” he said. Wanda suggested they take an extended lunch break once a week and meet at home. During this time they wouldn’t answer the phone or check e-mail. And they planned regular dates. “When I know I am going to have Sean’s full attention on Friday night, I’m more patient when our weekly schedule is interrupted by a crisis at the church,” Wanda said.
One can’t go without the other
Hilton and Jane Davis wed 35 years ago, but it was several years into their marriage when Hilton became a Christian and was called into the ministry. Jane supported him through seminary and always felt that they were a team in ministry.
“I believe that God calls both of us,” Hilton says. “So when a church I really liked contacted us, I expected God to ‘lean on’ Jane, but she didn’t get the vision. I kept waiting for her to compromise. She didn’t. Over the years we’ve learned to trust each other’s heart, and I know if she isn’t called, too, it’s not going to work. I reluctantly declined.”
“Then we received the call to the church where we are presently serving,” Jane says. “This time our hearts were in sync and we accepted the call. Since moving to Florida we have compromised in other areas. I didn’t plan to work, but for us to survive financially I really need to work part time.”
Sometimes one spouse compromises more than the other, which isn’t beneficial. Instead, compromise is best achieved by taking turns asking questions, answering truthfully and listening attentively to each other.
Marital researches report that 80 percent of the things we argue about don’t really need a solution: We just need to be able to talk about them.
When you simply can’t find a compromise, give a gift of love with an attitude that says, “This is more important to you than it is to me. This time let’s do it your way.” This is a valid way to resolve an issue unless one is doing all the giving. Another approach is to agree to disagree; marital researchers report that 80 percent of the things we argue about don’t really need a solution: We just need to be able to talk about them. Seek to truly understand the other’s perspective and feelings — even when you disagree.
Compromising will help you work together as a team and develop “we-ness” in your relationship. And as you collaborate, you’ll discover that giving a little isn’t giving up or giving in.
With a little creativity, you can enjoy a regular night out with your mate — even if money is tight.
by Ruth A. Burgner
When Greg and I married, I didn’t give much thought to having a regular date night. When we’re together, I thought, every moment will be filled with thoughtful gestures and hours of meaningful conversation.
But between his youth ministry with a growing suburban church and my job one-hour away, we spent our time together talking about practical matters before going our separate directions. So when Greg and I moved to the small church where he would be pastor, we decided to spend more time together and discovered that planning dates is a smart idea.
Having a regular date night doesn’t mean having to spend a wad of money. To celebrate my birthday this year, for example, Greg and I drove to the lake and watched the sunset. Our conversation on the beach was better than any steak dinner.
There are inexpensive possibilities around every corner. You can create your own to fit your shared interests. (If you have small children, swap date nights with other parents. One night you watch all the kids while the other couple goes out. The next time, it’s your turn to go out while your friends baby-sit.) Some examples:
* Go shopping for antiques at garage sales.
* Find a two-person play at the bookstore or public library and read it aloud to one another.
* Go to an arrival gate at the local airport and people watch.
* Enjoy a creative cooking extravaganza. Get a jar of olives, cream cheese, peanut butter, saltines and anything you can find in your kitchen, and make your own hors d’oeuvres.
* Become your own reading group. Pick a book you would both enjoy. Read it separately during the week and then discuss it over dinner.
* Spend an evening at home with your favorite music and a jigsaw puzzle.
* Rent (or check out from the library) each other’s favorite movies on video and run a double-feature at home.
* Go camping in your back yard.
* Buy each other gifts at an everything’s-a-dollar store. Over dessert, present your gifts and explain why you chose them. Time is precious and money can be tight in the ministry. But a little creativity and planning can go a long way in keeping the spark in your marriage.
Looking for something a little more extravagant? Try one of these ideas:
* Rent a model of your dream car — especially if it’s a convertible — and ride into the country-side with a picnic lunch or dinner. (Cost: $40 to $55.)
* Go to the symphony or another favorite concert and top off the evening with a dinner at your favorite restaurant, a ride in a horse-drawn carriage or an overnight stay at a nice hotel in town. (Cost: $100 to $275.)
* Spend a night in a bed-and-breakfast inn. If you live in a rural area, you may enjoy a night in a nearby city. If you live in a city or suburbs, get out into the country. To find a “B and B” in your area, phone the Bed and Breakfast Reservations Services Worldwide at (504) 336-4035. (Cost: $75 to $125.)
* Hotel chains may offer reduced rates during off-peak seasons. Some travel experts advise that you make reservations directly with the hotel rather than through the central toll-free number. You may be able to negotiate a lower price with hotel staff.
Cocooning in Crisis
When hard times hit, couples can find shelter in Christ
by Karilee Hayden
Once again, that interloper named crisis arrived without warning. It came during our church choir rehearsal. My husband, Dan, was sitting on the front pew, narration in hand, while I sang my part in the soprano section. The music sounded stunning. The decorations were perfect, even exquisite. And to top it off, our son, Rob, was on his way home from seminary in Pennsylvania. I was giddy with anticipation.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed our associate pastor walk quickly toward Dan, touching his shoulder to gain his attention. After a few words, both of them slipped out.
When Dan returned, one glance told me something serious had happened. He motioned to me, but he didn’t need to — I was already making my way to him.
The news set my heart pounding: Rob had been in a car accident! As he and two friends traveled home, their car had been rear-ended by a speeding drunk driver, catapulting them over a 4-foot median into oncoming traffic. Two more cars had slammed into theirs. Rob was being airlifted, bleeding and unconscious, to a nearby trauma center. Just like that, life plummeted from joyful to terrifying.
A response that heals
So how do couples respond to crisis? I believe God wants us to cocoon together, as husband and wife. Doing so strengthens a relationship, eases heartache and deepens love for each other through the shared pain.
Crisis takes our breath away, sometimes completely knocking us off our feet. An unexpected death. Sudden illness. Natural catastrophe or family emergency. A good name ruined. Financial disaster. Critical times stir up anguish, fear or anger so fierce it can destroy a marriage. If we turn inward, withdrawing from our spouse, we risk damaging the beautiful oneness of marriage.
So how do couples respond to crisis? What helps? I believe God wants us to cocoon together, as husband and wife. Doing so strengthens a relationship, eases heartache and deepens love for each other through the shared pain.
Dan and I learned to cocoon in crisis in several ways:
Run to God
Just as children run to their parents when they’re hurt, or scared, so the Lord desires us to do the same. Yet I’m ashamed to admit that many times I’ve tried to go it alone, which only deepened my anxiety. There is no better response to crisis than to seek shelter together in Christ through prayer and the nourishment of God’s Word.
Adversity depletes energy and frays emotions, so it is imperative to get rid of extraneous activity. Distinguish essential duties from responsibilities that can be postponed or eliminated. When my mother recently fought her final battle with illness, Dan and I devoted our energies to her welfare and comfort. Being at her bedside trumped our social calendar. Keeping family and loved ones appraised of Mom’s health became more important than household projects.
Insulate, don’t isolate
It’s natural (but unhealthy) to erect walls of self-protection. Marriages often fall apart during crisis because one person shuts another out. Total isolation can lead to self-pity, anger, increased fear and worry, even depression or suicide. Don’t deny your spouse and family the privilege of sharing your pain. Their love and support are vital to your wellbeing; they want — and need — to help.
During our daughter’s prodigal years, I spent so much time responding to her day-to-day ups and downs that I neglected my marriage. The prolonged crisis was swallowing me up. So my husband and I made a decision to set aside time for ourselves. Uplifting concerts, energizing walks and weekend getaways brought rejuvenation and restoration.
A crisis might be so overwhelming or so emotionally devastating that it requires expert help. I recently heard of a couple facing the prolonged agony of unsuccessful attempts to conceive. Failure after failure was changing them both. The wife grew irritable. The husband withdrew. Their marriage had nearly disintegrated when finally they sought counsel. They were able to restore their relationship, but it took outside help.
As the details of our son’s car accident unfolded, we learned that all three boys had been hurt seriously but not critically. During our son’s long recovery, the love my husband and I shared deepened immensely as we clung to each other and to God. In fact, I learned more about Dan as we joined hearts in prayer than I ever could through our day-to-day conversations. He’d say the same.
Fill Her Up
How to help energize your wife in ministry.
by Jill Briscoe
Jill BriscoeFree your wife. Make it possible for her to serve one day a week in a place of her choosing, not where “duty calls.” Stay home and watch the kids so she can do this.
Pray for your wife and with your wife. The shepherd can be so busy praying for the flock he can forget the needs of his shepherdess!
Respect her opinion. Ask for her input for important matters, such as what she thinks about a prospective ministry move. Be willing to take her advice and come to a consensus before a major change.
Encourage her to continue her spiritual and intellectual education. When an adult is around small children all day, she tends to think, eat and talk like them. Adult company and stimulation helps keep her fresh and up on things.
Delight in your wife regularly, creatively and tenderly. Plan a picnic, revisit some favorite place or activity you enjoyed when courting her or carve out a special day in the middle of the week for her. You will discover that, if you delight in her, she will delight you!
For Pastor-Husbands Only!
by Doris Mataya
Your wife’s spiritual and emotional condition either will enhance or be a detriment to your ministry. Make sure your wife is healthy and feels loved and appreciated by understanding what she needs from you.
1. Seek to understand your wife. Mentally put yourself into her physical and emotional world to become aware of the demands she faces.
2. Realize her time and physical and emotional needs are vastly different from yours. Ask her what she needs from you; then meet those needs whether you understand them or not.
3. Give her time to cultivate friendships with others.
4. Assure her you care and want to help. If she’s running full speed ahead on TIRED, lighten her load by helping out around the house, taking care of the kids or whatever else would help her feel less stress.
5. Be her best friend, but don’t get jealous if she needs a woman friend also.
6. Pray for her and with her. Don’t just pray for the never-ending needs of ministry.
7. Delegate responsibility if she has taken on too much at church.
8. Instead of always going to conferences just for ministers, choose a family or marriage conference where she can visit with other ministry wives.
9. If you usually use vacation time to visit family, plan trips with those she is especially lonesome for or provide travel time and money for her to visit them.
10. Give her your time. On some of your days off, do things together that you both can enjoy. Many ministry wives are lonesome for their husbands.
11. Find a ministry couple you and your wife connect with on a friendship and fellowship level.
If you take the time to truly know your spouse — what she likes and dislikes, what makes her tick and ticked and tickled — you’ll both be better for it. And so will your ministry.
A minister’s wife can find them in the strangest places — like church.
by Colleen Evans
There’s a special chemistry I’ve shared with a dear friend since our earliest days in Washington, D.C. Whenever Mary Jane and I get together and drive somewhere, we inevitably miss exits because we become so absorbed in talking to each other we forget where we’re going. As we turn around and head in the right direction, we laugh and promise ourselves, “We won’t let this happen again.” But of course, it does.
In my lifetime, I’ve had many friends, but those with whom I’ve formed intimate friendships — like Mary Jane — are rare. I can count on my hands those people in my life whom I feel totally accepted and loved by, at one with and willing to give my life for.
That’s a big statement for anyone to make, and especially for a minister’s wife. Like you, I’ve heard all the arguments against the wisdom of pastoral couples forming friendships within the congregations they serve. But I don’t buy them. Something in me says, “Phooey!” As a partner in ministry with my husband for more than 30 years, I have sought close friends in each of the three churches we served.
My husband, Louis, and I believe that companions for the journey are necessary for ministry couples and that the Lord not only gives us permission, but encouragement to seek them. As we have done this over the years, I have discovered some guidelines that have been helpful along the way. But first, let me tell you how I came to call Mary Jane, a member at the last church we served in D.C., my best friend.
Mary Jane and Me
Early in 1974, my husband and I had just moved from a church in La Jolla, Calif., where, during 10 years of ministry, we had developed some warm relationships among the staff. While Louis jumped into the excitement of a new call with characteristic enthusiasm, I went into a time of mourning the loss of those friends.
Now in a large church in downtown Washington, I found myself among people who were gracious — but very busy. Each month, I became more lonely. I would meet women with whom the chemistry seemed good, and my hopes for friendship would soar. Then I would discover that their schedules were so jammed that they had no time for a new relationship.
So I backed off. Instead of looking for that special person who would be my friend, I began praying regularly that God would send that person to me.
“I quit, Lord,” I prayed. “It’s all yours. Just send me one person I can trust. Someone who needs me as much as I need her. Someone with whom I can share my life and faith.” Months passed with no answer, but I kept praying.
Then one Sunday after service, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned, thinking it was one of the four children, but sitting in the row behind me was a woman I had met at a luncheon weeks earlier. I had been drawn to her immediately when we met, but knowing she was the wife of a congressman with a busy schedule, I dismissed any thought of seeing her again.
But there she sat with her husband, asking, “Colleen, what do you do every Thursday morning?” I gulped and said something like, “Nothing … that is, nothing I can’t change.”
“Good,” she said, “because that’s my free day, and I have a strong feeling that God means for us to be together.”
Unbidden, tears filled my eyes. In that moment I knew Mary Jane Dellenback was God’s answer to my prayer.
First, we met at my house on Thursday mornings for about an hour. During that time, we talked and prayed, but I didn’t tell her anything too intimate. As months passed, however, I saw that Mary Jane was someone I could trust. She wasn’t a gossip. She didn’t have a need to be “in the know” about the minister’s family. And she never held me to unrealistic expectations because I was her minister’s wife. Within a year, we were talking often, and I felt safe sharing nearly everything with her.
That was 24 years ago, and my husband and I have long since left that church. But though hundreds of miles separate us (Mary Jane now lives in Oregon and I in California), we call each other often, and we fly to see each other five or six times each year.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: That’s great for you, Colleen. But how can I form friendships in the church without getting burned? And how can I be open with people without jeopardizing my mate’s ministry? That’s where the rules come in — what I call the ministry wife’s three must-knows for forming friendships in the church. Here they are:
Pray for discernment.
This is the most important rule, because only God can lead you to someone you can trust. On the surface, some may seem trustworthy, but I ‘ve been burned by such people. In short, don’t get too close to anyone whom God doesn’t give you a good feeling about. Enough said.
Dare to be transparent.
I remember the first time I dared to be open with Mary Jane. A small group of members was challenging Louis’ leadership (sound familiar?), and he and I were hurting.
My heart was pounding as I broached the subject with Mary Jane, prefacing my words with a warning: “Mary Jane, I need to ask you to keep what I am going to share confidential.”
Mary Jane looked at me in her very straight, no-nonsense way and said, “I have no need to repeat anything you say to me.” And she didn’t. In fact, over the years, she has never breached my confidentiality.
But have I ever trusted the wrong person? Of course. Did I get hurt, or was my husband’s ministry affected? Yes. Have I learned to be more cautious? You bet! But has that kept me from being transparent and trusting again? No way! Because intimacy means taking a risk.
But use good sense.
Yes, take risks, but don’t be stupid. Look for people who are mature and emotionally healthy. Stay away from gossips, people who don’t hesitate to tell you about everyone else’s business. Being loose-lipped with the wrong person can be disastrous. Let me illustrate.
In one church, a member asked me, “How is your husband, Colleen?” Sensing her compassion, I told her that Louis had been feeling the demands of ministry and was having trouble sleeping. Consequently, he hadn’t been feeling well during the day. The woman said she would pray for him, and I thought that was the end of it.
Within days, we were flooded with calls from people — some of whom we barely knew — who were “really concerned about Louis.” We later discovered that woman had put our name on the prayer chain of a nearby church with 1,000 members! I was embarrassed as I explained to each caller that Louis really wasn’t having heart trouble, as they had heard; he just had a little insomnia!
Worth the Effort
A good friend, chosen by God, can bring so much joy into life, and God knows we ministry wives need to laugh and have a good time.
Mary Jane has added a sweet fragrance to my life. We have laughed and cried our way through the last 24 years — learning to tap-dance (a gift she gave us as we both turned 50), holding hands and praying at hospital bedsides, and everything between. I cannot imagine life and ministry without this special woman.
If you don’t have such a friend (other than your husband, who I hope is your best friend), pray today, “God, show me why I don’t.” Then ask yourself, Am I willing to be transparent and trusting? Am I willing to give of myself? Am I willing to risk? And if I have been betrayed and wounded by a past friendship, am I willing to let God heal me so I can love and trust again?
God created us with a desire and need for friendship. It is part of God’s dream plan for our lives — a resource for health, joy and ministry. Jesus confirmed this truth when he said to the early disciples, ” You are my friends” (John 15:14), my companions for the journey.
What a privilege we have, this possibility of friendship with God and one another. Let’s live up to our privilege.
The High Chair Day
by Jane Rubietta
In the rare, early-morning hush, I slipped from bed and tiptoed to the kitchen. Hunger gnawed at my soul. I settled at the table with my Bible. And the list.
With one car, a newborn and a 2-year-old, errand day in our parsonage meant anxiety. My list seemed to grow between town runs. Pastoring two churches, my husband often worked 60 to 80 hours each week; I was increasingly frazzled as ministry spouse and almost-single parent. In greater martyr moments, I felt I did everything but stomp the grapes for communion.
This day, as I stuffed down the errand anxiety, I opened the Scriptures. In seconds, my husband, Rich, appeared with puppy-dog eyes: “Hon, could you please pick up some things for me today, too?” He fingered … a list.
I eyed his list. Then mine. And the swallowed anguish — adjusting to rural culture, first post-seminary churches, a new baby, loneliness, emptiness — gushed out. I jumped up, grabbed the empty high chair, slammed it into the floor and shouted, “What do you think I am? Your servant?”
Shocked, I crumpled to the table. We’d entered marriage expecting a glowing ministry. What had happened to me?
Something had gone terribly wrong with my soul. My quiet time was no longer nurtured. So busy being indispensable, I had crowded out God. Equating value and identity with productivity kept me working harder, longer, trying to endear ourselves to others and, perhaps, even winning God’s approval.
We’ve all had high chair moments — when our reaction far outweighs its cause. These moments demand self-examination. That day, my hollowness stunned me and wounded Rich. I determined to learn how to feed my soul — not with more achievements, but with God’s presence. Four simple items formed my menu.
Journaling. A sporadic journaler since college, I started journaling seriously. The pages created a safety valve, providing space to reflect, to process, to pray. Journaling without rules was vital. It didn’t have to be daily, pretty, well-written or nice and didn’t require hours at a time. Rather than a gushing representation of the glories of life — in case someone read it — the journal became a confessional, a place to repent, grow and experience God’s presence and grace. Rereading the pages reminds me of God’s faithfulness and deliverance as prayers are answered, situations change and my heart quiets to become shaped more like Christ’s.
Interestingly, journaling benefits health. Consistent journalers have better immune systems, increased feelings of well-being and fewer doctor visits. Asthma and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who journal report fewer flare-ups, less pain, less inflammation. Interesting how all the research documents Solomon’s wisdom: “A heart at peace gives life to the body” (Proverbs 14:30).
Stillness.The lack of adult conversation around me showed up in my prayer life. With babies around, I did all the talking and developed the same one-way conversations with God. I just handed Him my list and zoomed into my day. No wonder praying wasn’t fun.
So I ditched the list, read some Scripture and poured out my heart. I waited. Listened. Turned my face to God and loved Him. Just for a few seconds or minutes, I wasn’t earning approval, doing or producing. Amazingly, I learned that God still loved me. Out of that stillness with God, my energy returned, my days became more orderly and interruptions aggravated me less.
Personal retreat. A longtime tool for my husband had been a day away, alone, with God, without the calendar. A day to refuel, to rest. For years, he suggested that I, too, get away. Hah! My family needed me. I needed to be needed. The house might collapse if I left home for a day … or maybe my family would get along fine without me. Then where would I be?
Finally, truth dawned: I either had to go or fall apart. On personal retreat, I tasted heaven.
A retreat is both respite and restoration, regardless of frequency. Once a month is manageable for most people. Whether at a state park, retreat center or even a hotel, elements of a day away might include contemplative reading, napping filled with God’s Word and presence, long walks watching for God’s touch, singing hymns or choruses, journaling or listening. Away from home and work, the Lord again woos, restoring love for Him and family. Tangents and priorities untangle; dreams and desires resurface. Finding a quiet place for a few hours or a full day reaped soul dividends as well as a full harvest of energy and enthusiasm when I returned to daily life.
Spiritual support. In the midst of ministry loneliness, I begged God for a network of support for my various tightropes: wife, mother, ministry spouse, writer, speaker. It was unfair, impossible and overwhelming to expect Rich to meet all my needs. I watched and prayed for people further down the road.
Now, 20 years into ministry and marriage, a net stretches around me, ready to catch me should I slip. One group meets monthly (for eight years now) around a covenant of emotional, spiritual and ministry support. They ask if I’m in shape for the job, ask about my heart, joy, discontentedness, busyness. For a decade, I’ve also met with three other writers. We hold each other to the dream and calling God has whispered into our hearts. None of us were published prior to meeting together. Now, among us, we have 15 books in print.
Accountability and trust change lives — our lives and the lives we touch through daily living and ministry. Isolation is not God’s plan; relationships have always been the framework for abundant life on earth. A network of people with similar passions and needs is vital for any of us. Better to be caught in loving arms than to crash.
After its adventure that morning, the high chair always leaned to the side. The lurching posture reminded me that Jesus set a pattern of work and withdrawal, solitude and service.
At a retreat recently, the coordinator came to me: “I’m so thankful for your high chair day. You wouldn’t be with us now, leading us, if that hadn’t happened.” She’s right. I (and you) cannot, must not, live and minister out of emptiness. I wouldn’t have made it in marriage and ministry without that high chair day.
How to Encourage Your Pastor’s Wife
by Donna Bordelon Alder
Jenna (not her real name) was one of the most beautiful women I had ever met. Her fine eyes moved easily into a warm smile and a lovely toss of blond hair curved around the flawless skin of her face and neck. Graceful and slender, she laughed easily and, for that reason, I felt she must be happy with life. Although I did not know her well, we had exchanged pleasantries in the lunch line at a pastors’ retreat and had chatted on other district occasions. One could not miss her beauty, and her quiet charm — which I mistook for a quiet spirit. Her husband pastored a modest church in a large, neighboring city and, from all appearances, loved her dearly.
On a white, northeast winter Sunday, while her children and husband were in church, she committed suicide in the parsonage.
When I heard the news, a chilling wave rose in my heart, then settled like gray dust all over my thoughts.
When I heard the news, a chilling wave rose in my heart, then settled like gray dust all over my thoughts. I was in the early throes of my own dark valley, and was genuinely frightened to think someone so lovely and gracious could have concluded her valley so terrible. At that time in my life, I was at home with three children, five and under, and enduring the tumult of post-partum adjustments, a new church assignment and an unfamiliar parsonage. The people in our previous church, who had loved us and cared for us for five wonderful years, were far away and I was only just becoming acquainted with our new parishioners.
It was a very dark time for me. I did not want to trouble my husband by confiding in him, as he was enduring his own upheavals. For months, that same chill would overtake my thoughts regularly. I cannot say mine were thoughts of self-destruction, but thoughts of escape became more and more magnetic. I called desperately to God and he enabled me to hang on, but far from triumphantly, I felt. Eventually, after a remarkable series of God-ordained events, the chill lifted.
The responses of 72 women have been analyzed and distilled into some practical advice on how to encourage your pastor’s wife.
Jenna’s experience, and my own, precipitated in me a desire to put an arm around other pastors’ wives who endure such dark periods. So I developed a questionnaire that I administered at a subsequent pastors’ and wives’ retreat. Dr. Cecil Paul, who was at that time a psychology professor at Eastern Nazarene College, graciously consented to administer this same questionnaire to a number of pastors’ wives at a mid-west retreat. From the answers to those open-ended questions, a second, more quantitative questionnaire was developed. The responses of 72 women have been analyzed and distilled into some practical advice on how to encourage your pastor’s wife. Although she may not be enduring such a dark night of the soul now, it is likely that, at some point, she has or she will. As a caring husband or layperson, you may be able to help.
Let me introduce you to the average pastor’s wife of this survey. She is 39.1 years old, has been in the ministry 12.2 years, describes the ministry most often as rewarding, exciting and challenging. On a scale of 1 to 10 (1=poor, 10=super), she feels 7.45 about life and 6.78 about herself. Fifty-four percent of these women had only positive words when describing their role, 24% used both positive and negative words, and 12% used only negative words. Sixty-three percent of respondents, when asked what they liked most about being in ministry, said meeting and helping people. When asked what they disliked most about the ministry, 47% mentioned expectations others have for them. The top two things that bothered them most were people who reject God after all their efforts, and not having enough willing workers. They felt the greatest pressure from themselves (23.5%) and were most discouraged by unresponsive people (44%)
Eighty-eight percent of all respondents answered yes to the question, “Have you ever experienced periods of depression?” The average age of onset of this depression is 31.8, although a statistical analysis indicates a wide spread. Twenty-five percent said this experience had occurred once or twice in their lifetime, 23% said once or twice a year. For most, the time of onset was within the first 5 to 6 years of ministry. When asked to describe this experience, the terms “general discouragement and mild depression” were used 77% of the time. Seventeen percent suggested “deep depression” described their experiences and 17% had thoughts of self-destruction.
If, as I suspect, most had experiences like mine, they would admit to recurrent, obtrusive thoughts of escape in some irresponsible manner.
Most of these women feel positive about their role and find satisfaction in what they do. Most do have times of mild depression.
It is important to remember that most of these women feel positive about their role and find satisfaction in what they do. Most do have times of mild depression, as do women everywhere, which frightens and exasperates them and cripples their effectiveness. It is apparently a surprise to most of them. Since you are reading this, you care about your pastor’s wife and genuinely want to encourage her. Here are some suggestions.
1. Ask God to help you with your expectations of her. (The number one reply to the question, What I dislike most about the ministry is … was “Expectations others have of me.”) False expectations remind me of buying clothes from a catalogue. Remember the last time you perused your favorite dress/suit catalog to select a dress/suit for the district assembly or for your professional workplace? As you looked up from the catalog page, you could well imagine the striking way the outfit would fit and feel and the lovely sense of well being it would generate. But, if you have purchased clothing from a catalog, you know that reality is seldom what you anticipated. Wisdom and time refine your catalog expectations. Let wisdom and God’s grace refine your expectations for your pastor’s wife. There are some things she will be and many things she will never be. Let thanksgiving cover the former and grace the latter. If she is discouraged, it is likely that she is not measuring up to her own expectations of herself (56% of pastors’ wives who experienced depression suggested one reason for their depression is low self-esteem). Let her find her role in the church; don’t expect her to be suited for every job that needs to be done.
2. Tell her how she has made a positive impact on your life or on God’s kingdom. (The top reply to the questions, What bothers me most is … or The most discouraging thing is … was “Unresponsive people”.) Unresponsive people are what breaks the heart of God, so this is a legitimate burden she carries, and she can understand that. But often she does not even recognize the work she has done.
Laura and I were chatting in the foyer of the church one Sunday and I was overwhelmed by how God was transforming her life. She had come to know Christ one shining Sunday morning 22 years ago as I had prayed with her at the altar the very first time she had come to church. Many years of work and much grace from God later and she has become a parole officer with an M.S.W. degree and is in the home-study program, on her way to becoming an ordained deaconess. She often leads prayer in our Sunday services and she touches God for me as I listen. She seems to speak from my heart. I told her this as we chatted, and she gave me one of the most encouraging bouquets I have ever received. She smiled as she spoke, “You have been my role model.”
Tell your first lady when she has made a difference in your life.
Tell your first lady when she has made a difference in your life. Tell her when the words of her Sunday school class have helped you make the right decision for your family. Tell her when the call she made came at just the right moment in your load. She needs to know that she has made a difference for Jesus. The thing she likes most about the ministry is helping people. Don’t just say, “I appreciate you.” She can easily dismiss this as a kind generality. Thank her for some specific way she has helped you. Tell her if she has been your role model.
3. Provide for her spiritually. (I deal with pressure by … “Praying” (29%); When tempted to be discouraged I … “Read the Bible/Pray” (37%); What helped me most during my discouraging time was … “Prayer and Bible reading” (28%).) Ask some caring women in your church to help sponsor her in attending a prayer retreat or a women’s conference. Find out what gathering she thinks might encourage her and help her get there. A few months after Jenna’s suicide, I was at my lowest spiritual level when Nada came to me and suggested that I might enjoy a weekend at a local discipleship workshop. I had not spoken to her of this dark night my soul was slogging through, but she sensed it. She made arrangements for childcare for me and approached the church board for financial support for the workshop. Something from that workshop reached me. I did not come home a changed woman, but the following Sunday, I wept as I remembered the experiences of that conference and the thin slice of light that began to shine into the eyes of my heart. I am touched to tears even as I write this. You may not say just the right words to bring that light, but there is a great probability that you can help her find its beginning.
4. Pray for her, especially when she is ill, pregnant or caring for babies. (What family circumstances surrounded the experience? “Health and pregnancy issues” (29%).) She values prayer: it is the power that sustains her. When she is ill or pregnant, pray — not just for physical healing or a smooth delivery and transition. Indeed, God has called us to pray for any among us who are ill, so do pray for healing. However, do not spend all your prayer currency on these decaying bodies. These moments of physical stress also turn out to be times of great spiritual duress. Pray for her soul and spirit, that God would open her eyes to His glorious inheritance. The enemy is grinding away at her perspective. Pray for God’s peace to remain in her heart.
5. Help her find someone in whom she can confide. (At the time, what helped me most was … “Talking to someone” (31%); What frustrated me most when I was depressed was … “Isolation” (16%).) The number one source of help in these times was the sterling listener. Many respondents suggested that talking to their husbands provided encouragement. Open the door for your parsonage couple to get away for a few days, together, alone for conversation. Offer to keep the children. Does someone in the church own a nice cabin, or lovely beach cottage? Offer it to them for all the Mondays in September. Give them a gift certificate to a charming Bed and Breakfast.
However, many pastors’ wives long for a female friend in whom to confide. You may be able to provide this friendship or you may not. Don’t be disappointed if she is uncomfortable talking to you. She is uneasy allowing people from the church to see her discouragement. Somehow, it seems unchristian and she is most frustrated that she cannot seem to be what she thinks a pastor’s wife should be, so she may not want you to see this side of her. (That which frustrated me most when I was depressed was … “My own feelings about myself” (29%).) If you are able to provide a listening ear, please consider the following suggestions:
1. Maintain absolute confidentiality of her words and her spirit. There are those who feel elevated by the confidences of others. Some of these individuals find esteem in informing others of their value as confidants. Don’t be one of these! Not only should you not repeat what you have heard, but also none should know you heard it. Feign ignorance when others make references to her. Steady your eyes and face and maintain your silence.
2. Be a total listener. Do not entertain the thought of telling her how you or your mother or sister had a similar experience. One Sunday morning, heavy with some momentary tribulation, I stepped to the altar to pray for relief. A beautiful, well-meaning Christian friend came to kneel beside me and asked if she could help me pray. I cautiously unpacked a small corner of my heart and laid it before her. She seemed to glance at it and quickly breeze into her own experience with the same difficulty, and then she followed with her daughter’s experience. I carefully folded the remaining troubles back into their case in my heart and smiled as I listened for the five or ten minutes we knelt together. Please, do not do that. Even if you think it may help her to see that you understand, it is not what she needs. LISTEN! Listen until she has finished. Ask her questions about how these things make her feel. Ask her what seems to help. Ask her what you can do to help. Do not interject your thoughts until she is finished. She will be reluctant to unload, and will pause to see if you really are listening. Don’t use these pauses to relate your advice. Use them to ask if there is more. Probe carefully, like a fine surgeon searching for a tiny lump. In my 33 years as a pastor’s wife, I have had exactly four women who understood how to listen. They have blessed me, indeed. They have carried my load; so I could, in turn, at some later time, help shoulder theirs.
Once a year, many churches appropriately honor their pastor and his wife on a designated Sunday. This blesses them. A hearty “Thank you” if you do this. On that Sunday, or on another, remember your pastor’s wife, not so much with public words or gestures, but with a heart sensitive to her spirit. She will love you for it.
How to Fall in Love Every Day
The romance in your marriage won’t fade
if you invest in small acts of tenderness
by Linda Riley
Keeping romance alive is a challenge when you’re juggling never ending duties, exhausting schedules and the emotional demands of both a church family and your own home. Inspiring fresh feelings of romance takes commitment and creativity, but you can do it. Here are several principles that work well for ministry couples.
Separate work life from private life
Call “time out” on church business. Date night or bedtime is not the opportunity to rehash a committee meeting or critique a sermon. Make some days (and nights) off-limits for discussing ministry issues. You make wedding vows as well as ordination vows, so give your relationship the attention it deserves.
Seek and you shall find the time
Maintain a regular schedule with a weekly lunch or breakfast to discuss family “business” and a date night for fun and relaxation. If regular dates seem impossible, take a hard look at your calendar and make the necessary adjustments.
Ministry families have full schedules, but most have the advantage of being flexible. Maybe you can make time for an afternoon rendezvous when the children are at school or at a sitter’s home.
Come up with new ways of showing interest in your mate. Surprise him with your “good taste”: After the toothbrush and mouthwash, rinse your mouth with a weak solution of vanilla or almond extract in water. Or try some of the flavored lip-glosses that teenagers love.
Pamper her with a foot rub. Vacuum her car and leave a new music tape on the driver’s seat. Start a piggy bank “savings club” and keep filling it with loose change to splurge on something you know she loves but rarely buys herself.
Send love notes, write a message in lipstick on the mirror or give him a quick call at the office to say all you can think about is seeing him tonight. One missionary I know reads his wife a different love poem each day. She feels adored — for the price of a book of poetry.
Set the stage for continuing romance
Some use special lighting effects — tiny Christmas lights strung across the ceiling, a colorful lava lamp, candles. Some couples like to be “wet and wild” and invest in a tub for two when remodeling their bathroom.
It helps to dedicate the bedroom to rest and intimacy alone. Store bedroom clutter in a hall closet and keep your bedroom free from laundry, bills, sermon notes and the like. Make it an attractive place to recover, relax, sleep and make love.
Our bodies are great gifts to each other, so wrap them beautifully! Ladies, find out what kinds of bedtime clothing your husband prefers. (For all that Victoria’s Secret has to offer, some men love flannel gowns.)
Instead of dreaming about some mythical Mr. or Mrs. Right, enjoy the real person in your home. Refocus your attention on him or her alone.
Romance will not fade, and the flame of your marriage will not grow dim if you regularly invest small acts of tenderness and consideration. Making room for romance will keep the one you love the true love of your life.
If the Mask Fits, Don’t Wear It
Being open and honest in marriage isn’t always easy.
by Dr. Julianna Slattery
“Would you stop goofing around, Bill? Every time I bring up a serious issue, you think it’s a big joke.”
“Well, someone has to bring a little levity to this family. ‘The sky is falling! Josh got a B minus on his report card; how’s he going to get into college?’ For goodness sake, Tracy, chill out!”
You don’t even have to know what Bill and Tracy started arguing about to understand their problem. Their intimacy and communication are stymied by the masks they wear. No matter the problem of the day, they fall into the same pattern — he plays the comedian; she takes the part of the perfectionist.
Masks come in many forms: comedian, perfectionist, victim, know-it-all, peacemaker, wallflower, overachiever. Starting in adolescence, we learn to rely on superficial identities that define our place in the world. As we mature, our masks become more sophisticated and entrenched in our personalities.
By wearing masks, we make our relationships safer and more predictable. We protect ourselves from rejection, presenting the “me” that others will embrace or accept.
By wearing masks, we make our relationships safer and more predictable. We protect ourselves from rejection, presenting the “me” that others will embrace or accept. What if others knew the fears, insecurities and thoughts behind my mask?
You might think that the commitment and intimacy of marriage would make authentic communication easier. If you share a bathroom, bed and checkbook with someone, why hide behind a mask?
Ironically, marriage is often where we become most guarded because no other relationship is potentially more hurtful. Although being betrayed by a friend or co-worker stings, the rejection of a spouse is devastating. We cannot simply walk away from wounds inflicted in marriage. So we choose to stay safely behind masks rather than reveal our vulnerability.
Not long ago, my husband, Mike, and I were discussing a stressful decision I had to make. Mike astutely pointed out that I was avoiding the decision because of the conflict it was sure to cause. I didn’t want to admit he was right. Instead, I slipped on my scholarly mask, listing a handful of rational but superficial reasons for my procrastination. Only several discussions later did I admit that I was stalling to avoid a painful conflict.
If you share a bathroom, bed and checkbook with someone, why hide behind a mask?
Our masks might be one of the greatest threats to intimacy in marriage. In fact, many people understand their spouses in terms of their masks, never considering what might lie beneath: “Joe is a workaholic.” “Sara is someone who can never say no.” “Kris is the life of the party, but she’s a grump once she gets home.” “Never start an argument with Keith; he won’t ever let it go.”
Knowing each other behind the masks, however, helps couples understand why they respond the way they do. I have been privileged to sit in counseling sessions in which a husband and wife really see each other for the first time. She sees his fear of failure behind his perfectionism. He sees how terrified she is to trust his leadership because of the ways her father abused his authority.
In some ways, we are all scared kids in a grown-up world, afraid of failure and rejection. Our masks help us feel in control. The intimacy we desperately long for, however, can only be established once we reveal our vulnerability.
Here are three suggestions I often give to couples who are trying to remove the masks in their marriage:
1. Someone has to go first. People often ask me, “How do you pry the mask off someone you love?” The only mask you can take off is your own. What masks do you wear in front of your spouse? What vulnerable feelings or fears lie beneath?
2. Express the desire to create a safe environment. Unfortunately, many marriages have evolved into interpersonal war zones. Unmasking is unthinkable, given toxic exchanges from the past. If your marriage falls into this category, you and your spouse need to set some ground rules to establish a foundation of safety. A trained counselor can help you begin this process.
3. Learn to ask and listen. People love to talk about themselves. Even shy and reserved people will gladly unload their thoughts and feelings if you ask the right questions and show them you genuinely want to know.
The biblical ideal of marital oneness includes authenticity and unconditional love. Our marriages, scarred by sin, will never achieve perfection, but we can strive toward God’s design by choosing to relate to one another beyond the masquerade.
It Wasn’t Even Monday
If you’re a ministry wife,
that’s probably a common word for you.
Here’s how you can get back on your spiritual toes.
by Jill Briscoe
One Friday morning (it wasn’t even Monday, the usual after-church letdown day), Stuart and I struggled to wake up. “You’re tired,” I observed sympathetically.
“I was born tired, I’ve lived tired, and if nothing changes, it looks as if I’ll die tired,” he replied. “However, if I’m still tired when I get to heaven, I’m coming straight back.”
We laughed, but I knew it was no laughing matter. We needed to rest.
In my travels, I have found that being tired is a normal way of life for many people in ministry, but especially for wives. Ministry wives have told me countless times, “I’m too tired to try.” Let an acrostic spell out the elements of this common feeling of fatigue:
T stands for tired, so bushed that you feel like saying, “I’ve had it up to here with the lot of it!” Trying to balance family life with church life takes its toll. I meet people who are tired in the work of the Lord — and of it, as well.
I stands for intimidated — by people, by the task and by the expectations of the church world in which we live and move. Feeling intimidated exhausts us.
R stands for resentment. “What is the ministry doing to my marriage?” we ask. It takes herculean strength to keep the church from intruding into family time and even more energy to battle the boiling resentment about it.
E stands for empty, as in “running on empty.” Who has time to refuel in this job? What do we do when we’ve run out of gas for all the right reasons?
D stands for deadness, a frightening lack of interest in things that once filled us with enthusiasm. We dare not admit we’ve lost our vision and passion, not even to ourselves — after all, we’re supposed to be vibrant, shining examples of a dynamic, bionic Christian woman!
What’s the answer to this spiritual exhaustion that affects so many of us? Let’s go back to our acrostic for some insights.
T stands for thanksgiving. There is nothing that refreshes me as much as being deliberately thankful. I say “deliberately” because the will is involved: We must choose to say “thank you” instead of “please.” Where do we start?
First, promise the Lord, “Today I will be thankful instead of thankless.”
Second, thank him for the negatives as well as the positives. One night I fell into bed after a cross-country flight brought me home from an exhausting series of speaking engagements. My good husband looked at what was left of me, and before I could start my pity party remarked cheerfully, “It’s a great feeling, isn’t it, being weary in well doing?” Now what could I say to that?
“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will,” we are told (1 Thessalonians 5:18). When you can’t thank him for what he allows, thank him for being who he is in the circumstances.
Third, let thanksgiving give birth to hope. Hopelessness affects us physically and emotionally, and much spiritual tiredness stems from losing hope as well. But spiritual fatigue cannot continue if hope — that is, confidence in God — is present.
But how can we hope when there is no reason to? Spend time in the Word of God. For example, perhaps you have a child who, despite your best efforts, has turned his or her back on you. Read Isaiah 1 and you will see how God promised forgiveness and mercy to rebellious Israel if the nation would repent. Parents can take comfort in knowing God will take the initiative to turn around erring children, but they also can find an example to facing the same painful situation. The Word offers hope even in apparently hopeless situations.
Practice thanksgiving, and you’ll soon be on your spiritual tiptoes again.
I stands for intercession. If you are tired of feeling inferior because people are trying to keep you in line or minimize who you are and what you can do, pray for them. Intercession takes the focus off yourself and places it on the person who is intimidating you — and it helps you see the problem in proper perspective. You will also stop exhausting yourself by trying to justify your existence.
When we first came to Elmbrook Church, I felt overwhelmed by some of the fashionable women in the congregation whom I called the “ultrasuede ladies.” My limited wardrobe had never bothered me before, since Stuart and I had been working in Europe with street kids who didn’t care what I wore.
But I began to pray for the women who made me feel I was dressed out of the missionary barrel. (Well, I was.) I soon realized that the Lord had made me “ultrasuede” on the inside — and I also saw that some of the women were like well-dressed windows of a department store that was going out of business: They were beautiful on the outside and empty on the inside. My energy to love and serve them returned.
R stands for recommitment. When we find ourselves pushing the ministry away from our family times and resenting the intrusions, we need to reclaim our calling. “It’s my husband who’s called, not me,” one pastor’s wife objected when I suggested she do this.
E stands for encouragement. “Who nurtures me?” a missionary wife lamented to me. Who indeed? Find a friend in or out of the church or mission with whom you can pray and share encouragement and accountability. If for some reason this isn’t possible, then learn to encourage yourself in the Lord, as David did (1 Samuel 30:6).
D is for determination, as in determining to do something to combat the fatigue. When a feeling of deadness overtakes our passion for ministry, it’s time to be honest, ‘fess up and get assistance. A checkup with a doctor or reputable Christian counselor may help. Perhaps you need to risk attending a conference or taking another new step that will renew your vision for ministry.
Our common problem for us ministry wives is we often live in an insulated Christian subculture and simply are not in touch with the lost. When we lose sight of the big picture, we can also lose our passion for ministry. So we must determine to open our eyes again.
Begin with a simple act: Subscribe to a missionary magazine instead of a fashion magazine, for example, or join a secular organization and learn to love the lost all over again. I fight spiritual deadness every day, but I find that if I take a step, the power of heaven is there to reinvigorate me.
While Stuart and I lived in England, I stayed home to care for our three preschoolers while my evangelist husband roamed the world. But my situation allowed me to get a baby-sitter after the kids were asleep and get involved in youth outreach on the streets and in the coffee bars. It was the same work I loved while still a single student.
At first I didn’t want to step out of my newfound security blanket — the parsonage had become a safe haven. But a friend insisted I dare build such activities into my weekly schedule. That decision changed my life. I was more physically tired, but the spiritual energy and vitality made up for it.
That experience taught me a lifelong lesson: We who serve in ministry may well be tired in the work of the Lord, but we do not ever need to be tired of it.
Lois Evans: Connecting With Pastors’ Wives
by Sheryl Giesbrecht
As a pastor’s wife, Lois Evans felt isolated. She desired accountability, longed for fellowship and encouragement, and wondered if other senior pastors’ wives felt the same way. Thus came the conception and birth of The First Lady Ministry, her outreach to pastors’ wives.
“The ministry began two years ago out of my lack,” Lois explains. “I had no nucleus of women to network with. I wanted a core group of like-minded women.” Out of Lois’ desire to connect, love and minister to other pastors’ wives, The First Lady Ministry supports and trains them to fulfill their ministry role without losing their personal identities.
But Lois’ view of being a pastor’s wife wasn’t always this positive. In fact, as a young woman, it ranked at the top of things she did not want to do. She even told God, “Yes, I’ll follow you — but I’ll never be a pastor’s wife.”
Though she married evangelist Tony Evans, founder and president of the Urban Alternative, Lois easily found her place in life and ministry as an evangelist’s wife. After all, it didn’t have the same pressures and expectations of a pastor’s wife. Then came the day Tony told her that God was redirecting his life, from national evangelist to pastor of a local church.
“Never say never,” Lois says. “I did my ‘Sarah thing’ and laughed — not because I couldn’t do it, but because I had told God, ‘No, thank you.'”
Her biggest obstacle was the expectations placed on her to act or serve at church in a certain way. “During my first two years as a senior pastor’s wife, I struggled with the role thing,” she says. “I told Tony I didn’t know if I could make it!” With her sister’s counsel and her husband’s advice, Lois realized that she wasn’t the church’s “wife,” but Tony’s wife. That’s when she made the choice and commitment to be only herself. And that’s exactly what she inspires other pastors’ wives to be: themselves.
Through her honesty and vulnerability, Lois encourages ministry wives to make a difference for the kingdom of God by serving according to their season in life. For example, when the Evans’ children were in grade school, Lois was a busy mother. She was limited in areas she could serve at church because of the demands of her family. But she knew her ministry was to her kids. “I was in the season of raising my children,” she says. “They needed my attention then. I couldn’t let the ministry [hinder] my relationships.”
In her current season, Lois is the president of The First Lady Ministry, a senior vice-president for the Urban Alternative, author, singer and speaker. What’s more important, Lois Evans is a woman content in simply being herself.
Love and Alzheimer’s
Robertson and Muriel McQuilkin’s unintended testimony
by Summer Bethea
A talented and creative artist, an enthusiastic radio-show host; a happy mother and wife — no one would doubt the preciousness of Muriel McQuilkin’s life — until her decline into the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease.
Muriel spent the last decade of her life battling Alzheimer’s, while her husband, Robertson, battled critics of his decision to stay home with her. Robertson’s decision became controversial when he resigned as president of Columbia Bible College to care for Muriel full time. With his 22-year career at a peak, many urged him to put Muriel in a nursing home and continue with “God’s work.”
Many urged him to put Muriel in a nursing home and continue with “God’s work.”
God’s work, Robertson concluded, was taking care of his wife. “There are others who can lead the Bible college,” he said, “but I am the only one who can care for Muriel.”
He didn’t debate the ethical value of her life. The McQuilkins’ story is about abiding love.
“I wrote a book on ethics; I even researched euthanasia,” Robertson said. “I know the issues. I am keeping a promise: ’til death do us part. I made my decision because I love her. I thought, Here’s my lover; what can I do to make her life easier?”
“When will you put her in a home?” “When someone else can take better care of her than I can.”
To the oft-asked question, “When will you put her in a home?” Robertson always answered, “When someone else can take better care of her than I can.”
That never happened. Robertson kept his promise right up until Muriel’s death in September 2003, feeding her, bathing her, loving her even when she could only respond with grunts and groans. “Love takes the sting out of duty,” he says.
All of us who peek into the McQuilkins’ story receive lessons in love. Robertson painted the portrait of Christian marriage as that of Christ and the church. He loves His bride even when she doesn’t show love in return.
“Of course, love is designed to be reciprocated,” Robertson says, “but true love is not about how lovable the object is but rather the heart of the one loving.”
Robertson notes that the decision to stay home with an ailing loved one is not for everyone. “My story doesn’t always help people struggling with this issue,” he says. Some people may not be old enough to retire from their jobs; some might not be physically strong enough to lift a sick person; some might not be emotionally strong enough to handle it. “I was fortunate to be in a position that I could do what I did,” he says.
In Muriel’s case, perhaps God used her most profoundly in her mental darkness. Their story has been published many times and has spurred countless marriages to deeper commitment. One afternoon Robertson received a foreign magazine with their story in another language. “See there, honey, you’re preaching all over the world!” he told Muriel.
Since Muriel’s death, Robertson speaks at churches, conferences and universities on the topic of love and marriage, most often sharing his lecture “Six Things Muriel Taught Me About Love.” Through it all, their journey of love lives on and encourages many.
Making Friends When You’re a Ministry Wife
by Mary Manz Simon
Finding time to make a friend and be a friend is always a challenge. But for ministry wives, the issue is far more complicated. For some the role of pastor’s wife negatively shapes and stifles the development of personal friendships. You may be among the 45 percent of ministry wives who do not have a close friend. How can you overcome all the potential obstacles?
1. Pray for discernment and wisdom. “I need a Jonathan,” confides one veteran pastor’s wife. Similarly, we all long for someone with whom, like King David’s friend, we can become “one spirit” (Samuel 18:1).
Look before you leap, however. “Be careful about the first people to contact you,” one ministry wife cautions. “In four churches over the past 20 years, we’ve found these people are usually trying to get in good with the new pastor for a power play of some sort.” Ask God for a friend and then be patient.
2. Present yourself as a person, not a job description. Some congregations make this easier to say than they do. One Michigan ministry wife said, “When friends introduce me, they always say, ‘This is my pastor’s wife.’ That is the kiss of death.”
After more than 25 years as a pastor’s wife, I know some people will never see me as a person. I can’t change that, so I seek friends among people who relate to me as Mary, not as Hank’s wife.
3. Search for friends outside your church. Other ministers’ wives in your community, parents of your children’s peers or women who share similar activities (i.e., craft classes, local fitness center) may offer great friendship, as well as an environment for non-church related conversation and fun. Friends you make here will not face the obstacle of knowing you as their pastor’s wife.
4. Be realistic about friendships. “So much depends on what you are looking for in friends,” another pastor’s wife said. “I’ve never looked for a tell-all confidante. I have close friends in every congregation my husband served in from 1956 to 1994. We share recipes, household hints, church work and recreation — but never gossip. I’ve always had a lot of close friends, yet there were things we didn’t discuss.” Don’t expect that all your friendship needs will be met in one person.
The level on which we can relate to friends may have to change with the congregation. In some places, God and our husbands may be our only confidants. During those seasons, we must accept the tight limits on friendships. Staying in touch with long-distance friends via phone or e-mail can help. You may have to look beyond your situation by remembering, as one ministry wife says, “I have one standard, provided by Scripture — not someone else’s preconceived notions. Being Christlike is my goal.”
As Christian women, we can help, encourage, laugh with and enjoy each other. We can offer or accept support when things are tough. None of these great characteristics of friendships need to be compromised by a ministry wife. In the lean times, we can be assured that when we sense a slight pressure on our shoulder, God is reaching out to give us a hug.
Need a guaranteed good listener? Try the Pastoral Care Line at Focus on the Family (yes, it’s available to ministry wives!). Call toll-free: (877) 233-4455. Available weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Mountain Time).
Ministering to the Minister
It’s the Most Important Job in the World
by Stephanie Wolfe
My husband, a pastor, is a pretty ordinary guy. Probably much like your husband, he has two legs, two arms and one head. He also breathes ordinary air, drives an ordinary car and lives in an ordinary house. He has one extraordinary wife, but other than that, he’s pretty average (ha!) His hair gets messy, his clothes get dirty, he showers, wears underpants and even uses the toilet! Sorry to be so blunt, but do you ever get the feeling some people don’t see this about our husbands?
He gets tired, sad and mad. He gets underestimated, undermined and even under the weather. He gets overwhelmed, overcome and overdrawn. He gets misunderstood, misinterpreted, misquoted and misrepresented. He has feelings and emotions. If you tickle him, he laughs. If you hurt him, he cries. Don’t you sometimes want to scream at people and say, “Yes, folks. He’s human! I know. I live with him! He is a man.” And what’s wrong with that? The only difference between him and other men is a calling. He is called of God into full-time ministry.
I sometimes feel that people are shocked to discover that my husband has limitations! They are stunned to find out that he has the same number of hours in his day that they do in theirs, or that he couldn’t somehow fit more into his day than they do.
We know and accept his limitations.
We know and accept his limitations. We’re glad he’s human. We even get to remind him of that every now and then, but we love him just like he is — human and all! We are his helpmate; but even more than that, we are Mates in Ministry. We serve him as he serves the church. This is a very important role. I often feel we need more education to do our job than he does to do his!
I love my job as the Head Minister to the Minister. I’m responsible for that smile on his face when he walks confidently to the pulpit. I’m responsible for that spring in his step when he heads into the church office. I’m responsible for that dapper suit and tie he is proudly wearing. I’m responsible for that good attitude that helps him to face disgruntled members or difficult counseling situations. I have a big responsibility and I take it seriously, because you see, my minister-husband isn’t complete without me. He needs me. He needs my hugs and kisses, and pats on the back, and cheers, and smiles, and “amens”! Well, call me arrogant; but quite frankly, I feel like I’m important to the whole project. You see, I go with him everywhere he goes, even when I don’t leave the house!
When I do my job, he can do his.
I can send him out the door with a joyful, happy, loved feeling, where he can tackle the tests and wrestle the enemy to the ground. Or I can send him out the door with a heavy heart, full of hurt or anger, where he will quickly be overtaken by grief and anxiety, unable to jump the smallest hurdle. I am not the Senior Pastor (thank God, or we wouldn’t have a church to worry about!) and, though my input is valuable to my husband ultimately, I am not responsible for the way money is spent, ministry is done or employees are hired. My job is bigger than all of that! When I do my job, he can do his. It’s easy to tell if I’m doing a good job of ministering to the minister; he gets much more done, and enjoys doing it! Mates, let’s not neglect our most important role, that of The Minister to The Minister.
More Than Surviving
by Verdell Davis
Editor’s Note: On June 28, 1987, four Dallas-based Christian leaders were killed in an airplane crash as they were returning from a Focus on the Family retreat in Montana: George L. Clark, chairman of the board and CEO of Mbank; Dr. Trevor E. Mabery, a surgeon who helped found Humana Hospital-Medical City; Hugo W. Schoelkopf III, an entrepreneur and sporting goods manufacturer; and Creath Davis, senior pastor of First Baptist Church.
Among the losses their families shared, Creath’s wife, Verdell, also lost part of her identity: No longer was she a pastor’s wife, and no longer was she sure what she believed.
Oh God, where do you go to put down the pain? The voice I heard filling my car was my own. My sobbing threatened safe driving, but I didn’t care. Can a person really die of a broken heart? If so, I wished it would hurry up. I told God that if something didn’t ease this pain soon, I was going to explode. It had been two months since my husband’s death, and I wasn’t sure I could physically endure much longer.
A Storm Too Big for God
Sooner or later pain and sorrow invade our lives, and their sources are legion. We can’t run fast enough, hide well enough, be good enough or become wealthy enough to escape heartache. It is part of the human condition. “Lifestorms” will come those times when our lives are interrupted by an unexpected loss, the consequences of sin, the devastation of betrayal or the ruin of everything we have worked for.
The lifestorm that blew through my life, forever changing its landscape, came like a rogue wind out of a clear blue sky, leaving destruction in its wake. I was left to pick up the broken pieces and try to put together some sort of existence.
At lest that’s what I though I was supposed to do. This is too big even for God, I thought. Convinced that life could never be good again, I thrashed about, searching for ways to get through each bleak day. Surviving was the best I could hope for.
But over time I learned that God never intended for us just to survive our losses. Within each lifestorm he plants a seed of new life. He buries it deep within our souls and waits as we grieve our way toward it. As we do, the wound opens to the light of his love and grace, the seed sprouts and hopelessness gives way to new life.
So it was with me.
A Reason To Go On
Before June 1987, being a wife of a minister defined my life. I had loved Creath since I was 16 years old, and I needed him for my life to make sense. In the wake of the accident, I clung desperately to my memories, trying to find stability. Tearfully reflecting on our long talks, our children, our dreams and our ministry kept me tied to what was familiar when everything else was strange and frightening.
We had been married 27 years when I was forced to face life without him. We had weathered the storms of early marriage and the meshing of two opposite personalities, his outgoing and embracing, mine compliant and quiet. We had raised three children and put our arms around two grandchildren. We were at a good place in life, and with our love for each other came a deep and satisfying friendship.
My desire was to be the wife he needed. I saw this as God’s assignment for me, one I gladly accepted. I loved Creath completely and found contentment in his happiness.
But then he was gone. My identity, my dreams, my contentment, my security, my sense of future — all went with him.
Day after weary day, I begged God for the will to get up in the morning. If the choice had been mine, I would have chosen death over the pain that consumed my every thought and made my fragile spirit and body ache with fatigue. That is, until the day Stephen, my younger son, put his arms around me and said, “Mom, I have a reason for you to get up in the morning.” “What’s that?” I asked.
He simply pointed to himself. In that gesture I saw all three of my children: David, Shawna and Stephen, all in their 20’s when their father died. At that moment I knew that no matter how much I hurt, I had to do more than just survive this loss.
“Do what you must,” I begged God, “but please get me to the place where I can embrace life again.” I owed this to my kids — and to myself.
Now, more than 10 years later, I feel as if I am standing “on the other side” with Pilgrim in John Bunyan’s classic, Pilgrim’s Progress: “Now morning being come, he looked back, not with any desire to return, but to see, by the light of day, what hazards he had gone through in the dark.”
Morning has come to me, and I look back in awe. I still remember the darkness; I can still see the shadows. My crisis of faith was very real, and the hazards were ominous. Even so, in the light I see how God has brought forth a new life.
In the years since the crash, among the many things I have learned, I have discovered three truths:
Faith Means Wrestling With Questions When Heaven is Silent
I have often wondered if Job, after losing his family and property, would have heard God as clearly had he not emptied himself of the myriad thoughts and questions disturbing him in the face of unexplained loss. Job lived his questions, as did I. I asked God “Why?” and “What now?” and “Who am I without the man I love?” I asked him, “Are you truly sovereign? Do you ordain all that happens to us? What am I to believe about prayer?”
I questioned goodness and tragedy, love and pain, promises and reality. Though I have embraced the gospel for as long as I can remember, I felt torn by the tension of saying, “I believe. Help my unbelief.”
In the midst of raging questions, and growing more and more impatient with easy religious answers, one day I found myself praying, “God, help me look beyond my subjective interpretation of your promises, and look to you, who made those promises.”
In time, even while I still ended my sentences with question marks, I came to believe what my husband had taught: You can trust in the character of God beyond what you understand. Job certainly learned this, and he said to God, “My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5).
Living Without Hope Is Not an Option
There is no dark so dark as hopelessness. When all hope is gone and we are convinced it will never be retrieved, we die, if not physically, then most certainly emotionally. Life becomes meaningless. For hope to be real and operable in the midst of a lifestorm, it must be rooted in the truth of an unchanging, sovereign God.
Peter’s question for Jesus must be ours: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Our search for the hope that will restore the will to live must take us to the eternal perspective of God’s redeeming purpose; this world is not the whole story. God’s purpose is not to make us comfortable, but to make us like himself in character, so that one day we will stand in the presence of a holy God, because he has made us holy.
In our darkest hours, we must cling tenaciously to the hope stored up for us in heaven. When we do that, we begin to see meaning and purpose in our most painful and baffling experiences. The sustaining force of this hope allows us to believe that God is doing great work in our suffering.
An Exit Is Also an Entrance
Until the pain of staying is greater than the fear of going, we will always remain with the familiar. I came to the place in my journey where I knew I had done my grief work well and that changes in my life were urging me onward.
Moving ahead demanded that I first let go of what was no longer mine — not only my husband, but also a ministry that had given me a great deal of fulfillment. It was difficult to open my fists, so tightly clenched around “what was.”
But once I did, I was able to finish my journey. And now, on this side of a very dark valley, I can see how God’s intent in our suffering is to refine us and enable us to become, in Henri Nouwen’s phrase, “wounded healers.” For God’s work is not about helping us to merely survive. He is about healing; he is about wholeness.
On the Move
What relocation means for
the career of a minister’s wife
by Laura Winter
Nearly 60 percent of all ministers’ wives are in the work force. But what happens to their careers when their husbands are called to ministries in other cities, states or time zones?
Three women candidly discuss their experiences with the sudden setbacks and unexpected rewards of relocating.
East Coast Calling
For Mary Clark, the upheaval of relocation is all too fresh. Just last spring, she and her husband, Jay, then pastor of a large United Methodist church in the Washington, D.C., area, and were called to Onancock, a small town on the Virginia shore. Their move in June was their fourth in 19 years.
It was also the fourth time for Mary to redirect her nursing career.
Admittedly, the change came at their request. The new congregation was much smaller than the church Jay was serving, and the lifestyle of the friendly, coastal peninsula appealed to the couple.
“It was a quality-of-life move,” Mary says, one that offered a more wholesome and relaxed environment in which to raise their three children, ages 15 to 9.
But even though they sought this change, the stress on the Clarks was intense, especially as Jay’s paycheck shrank by 30 percent. Mary’s income also declined — a reality she has encountered more than once.
Peppered with different job experiences, Mary’s resume reflects part-time and full-time teaching positions and even a stint as a public-health nurse.
“I have always wanted — always needed — to work,” she says. “The hardest thing about moving is not being able to find a job at the same salary. We continually have financial problems.”
To overcome her repeated loss of income, Mary takes advantage of educational opportunities in her new locations. She is currently completing a family nurse practitioner program at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. Her third degree, it will provide job flexibility in both rural and metropolitan areas.
“It will greatly increase my marketability,” she explains.
Although pastors and their working wives face many of the same challenges as other two-career couples, Mary thinks those in the ministry have an advantage.
“In some ways it’s easier for us because we walk into a faith community,” she says. “We’re pulled into a group of people that’s already committed to us.”
Faith is the glue that has held Ruth and Stephen Boardman of West Chester, Ohio, together during their ministry-related moves within the Wesleyan denomination. Ruth, who lived in the same house for 18 years before going to college, has always clung to Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” That promise has given her the strength to move four times in 24 years of marriage.
Like Mary, Ruth is a registered nurse. Yet unlike Mary, Ruth has been able to enjoy a flexible work schedule through the years, one that allowed her to stay home with her children when they were infants. Though these times were intertwined with part-time nursing, Ruth’s income today is more important than ever, now that 20-year-old Phillip is in college and 15-year-old Stephanie is a few years away from high school graduation.
Their most recent move, however, had a big impact on Ruth’s career.
They were living in Bryant, Ind., where Stephen served a medium-sized church for 14 years. Ruth managed an Alzheimer’s unit at a nearby Christian nursing home, a job she loved.
“It was ministry,” she says. “The church was involved, and many times my kids would play games with the residents. It was like a big family.”
Then in 1996 the Boardmans were called to West Chester, just north of Cincinnati. Ruth was excited, but grieved leaving her job. Their savings freed her from having to work right away, and she was able to help her daughter adjust to a larger school. “I wanted to be there for her,” she says. It helped lessen Ruth’s loss.
As the fall progressed, however, Ruth began a series of jobs that left her unfulfilled. Job-hopping was not her style. But that’s exactly what she did.
“I’d take a job and find that there were things I just couldn’t work with. I was frustrated, but I wouldn’t lower my standards,” she says.
Three jobs later, Ruth now works part time at what she calls “a very nice Christian facility.” She also occasionally fills in as a school nurse and runs a home-based business. It is a balance she finds rewarding.
But how does she feel about making career compromises because she is a minister’s wife?
“Some pastors’ wives feel called into the ministry with their husbands,” Ruth says, “I can’t say that.
“When I married my husband, I promised to stand with him and help him. God placed us together. I love him, and I do all I can to support him in the ministry.”
For Diane Torriani Greer and her husband, Thomas, life has not been filled with ministry moves. In fact, they only recently entered the pastorate.
In 1990, less than a year after they married and blended their families, Thomas, then a chief financial officer for a large manufacturing company, was called to Saddleback Valley Community Church in Mission Viejo, Calif., as the pastor of administration. Diane continued her lucrative position in the acquisitions department of an international oil company.
“Working hard, building my career and helping our teens adapt to our new life as a family made the ‘pastor’s wife transition’ far less important,” Diane explains. Yet that transition didn’t totally go unnoticed.
“I was the only pastor’s wife at Saddleback working outside the home. I remember receiving comments about my (business) clothes. Although the remarks were complimentary, I didn’t want to stand out. I wanted to fit in.”
Then two years ago, Diane received what she describes as “the offer of (her) career.” She was to begin as project manager at a telecommunications corporation Nov. 1, 1996. But Diane never sat behind that desk. Instead, her husband was called to the staff of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Dallas. “I let the job go,” Diane says.
Thomas started his new position the same day Diane would have started hers. After staying behind to sell the house and finalize details, she and her then 16-year-old son, Paul, flew to Texas. It was the day after Christmas. The two older children stayed behind; Jeana, then 18, followed later.
“The emotional letdown after the holidays — combined with relocation, ice storms and my lack of transportation — made the move an emotional bomb,” Diane remembers. “It was six weeks before I had a car and our neighborhood was still under construction, empty. I lived in my pajamas! Abandonment, loneliness, loss, anxiety, self-doubt, insecurity — I faced it all.”
That desperate time became a journey of faith and spiritual growth for Diane.
“Rather than focusing on putting down roots in Dallas, I decided to establish my home in Christ by minimizing myself, maximizing God and simplifying life,” she explains. “It worked beautifully. God replaced the emptiness with hope, freedom, newness of experience, a sense of adventure and security.”
By July 1997, after seeing her family through the initial transition of relocation, Diane went back to work. Contract paralegal work helped familiarize her with the Dallas marketplace. It also helped build confidence.
“I worked at corporations and law firms on various assignments and tasks, making friends along the way,” she says. After nine months, Diane accepted a full-time position for a real-estate development company.
Through Diane may not have been able to see it at first, there is light on the other side of relocation.
“God continues to confirm our move,” she says. Her husband is seeing the fruit of his labor; her daughter is succeeding in college and is actively involved in ministry to urban children; and her son recently graduated from high school.
What encouragement does Diane offer other women facing relocation?
“Assess your need to work immediately following a move. I found that it takes approximately six months to make an initial adjustment,” she says. “If you have children, factor in six months for them, too.”
Her experience even promoted her to start Women in Transition and Wisdom, or W.I.T. and Wisdom, a ministry at her church to help women face change in a godly manner.
“All our talents, skills and capabilities are God’s. It is our job to use them wisely.”
One Ordinary Woman
by Sheryl Giesbrecht
At first, being married to Rick Warren, the senior pastor of the up and coming Saddleback Community Church, was not Kay’s idea of happiness. Five years into marriage, Kay was disappointed with life. She had wanted to make a name for herself by being beautiful, smart or talented. Instead, Kay realized she was merely average — ordinary in the areas that mattered to her. Her husband, on the other hand, had ambition, drive, motivation and the ability to birth a church model that would imbed itself in Christian history — all of which left Kay feeling even more mediocre, overlooked and unnoticed.
Like most newlyweds, Kay and Rick argued about money, sex and what other people thought of them. But when Rick faced a physical breakdown requiring hospitalization and Kay neared a nervous breakdown, both came to grips with the gifts God had given them, including each other.
One day while driving, Kay heard the song “Ordinary People” on the radio. The words marked a pivotal point for Kay, God uses ordinary people . . . Just like me and you, who are willing to do as He commands. . . “I knew then that the small, yet important pieces of my personhood were worth accepting because God gave them especially to me,” she says. So Kay asked Him to help her accept herself, instead of continually comparing herself to someone else. This has been her greatest milestone, reveling in the truth that God made her uniquely special.
Kay’s secret for ministry: nourishing each area of life.
Emotionally: She finds an outlet for expression through piano lessons.
Spiritually: She meets with a small accountability group of church women who are spiritually mature and have known Kay for many years.
Physically: Kay watches her weight and exercises several times a week. She feels it is essential to have endurance.
Mentally: She maintains strict margins for ministry in order to keep herself from shortchanging her top priorities.
“I began to celebrate my ordinariness,” Kay says. “I quit whining and wasting emotional energy over what I’m not and never will be.” In the process, she discovered marriage was rather enjoyable. Professional counseling, prayer and commitment molded Rick and Kay into an extraordinary team. “I concentrate on the things I love about Rick,” she says, “and try to ignore all the things I once thought were wrong with him.”
Elizabeth Styffe, a friend of the Warrens, compares them to runners in training. “You see two people who are continually in training to learn how to sprint faster, smoother,” she says. “They don’t hide that they’ve tripped in the past or that their muscles ache right now. Yet somehow, you know they’re not quitting.”
Determined to be practical and intentional about their marriage, the Warrens are at the top of each other’s schedules — a difficult task with a church of 15,000. Monday is the Warrens’ day off. No phone calls, no e-mail, no interruptions, just time together.
“Our marriage has presented me with countless opportunities to choose whether I was going to be sacrificial, unselfish and loving or demanding, selfish and self-absorbed,” Kay says.
As a pastor’s wife, Kay looks for ways to serve her husband and make his life easier. She is willing to say yes to the things God has clearly called her to and no to anything that interferes with her calling to love Rick. Kay Warren, as an ordinary woman submitted to an extra-ordinary God, has seen better than ordinary results.
The One Sided Marriage
by Susie Larson
My husband was absent from dinner again. I could see him at the other end of the table, but he couldn’t see me. For two years, his mind had been elsewhere — not on bad things, just busy things like his job and the church’s building program. He worked 50 hours a week as a construction manager and volunteered 25 hours a week heading up our church’s building project.
The weight of our home life was on my shoulders, and though I tried my best, many important things slipped off my plate and splattered all over the floor. This one-sided season was changing me, and I knew it.
“Everyone who marries will eventually encounter a season when the weight of the relationship ends up on his or her shoulders”.
After dinner one night, I went into the living room where my husband was looking at notes from a recent meeting. I swallowed hard and sat down. I opened my mouth to speak, and my eyes filled with tears.
“I need to ask your forgiveness for something,” I said. “You know I’ve been very hurt and angry over how things have gone these past two years. During my prayer time, I realized that though you’ve been absent, I am the one who has committed the greater offense. You’ve stayed kind through it all. My heart has grown cold. Please forgive me.
“I am going to make a conscious effort to love and care for you. I want all of what God has for me, and I am going to do what He asks me to do.”
Kevin’s mouth dropped open. With each word I spoke, it seemed another scale fell from his eyes. After I finished, his voice cracked, and he asked, “Is this what my choices have been doing to you?”
I put my face in my hands and wept. Kevin came to me and wrapped me in his arms. There we sat, two imperfect people, desperately in need of God’s mercy and grace.
When you said, “I do,” did you have any idea that life with your spouse could become a lonely burden? Are you carrying more of a load than you bargained for?
Everyone who marries will eventually encounter a season when the weight of the relationship ends up on his or her shoulders. Spouses get sick, distracted, selfish or overworked; they pursue further education or start new businesses; they overcommit or overspend. Life happens, the weight shifts, and suddenly we find ourselves wondering, Is this how God meant it to be?
Sad to say, many Christians are either “getting out” or “checking out.” They come upon an imbalanced season in marriage, and they either walk away or disengage from the relationship. It’s easy to consider our spouse’s busyness as our license to do what we want. And yet the choices we make during this difficult time are critical to the health of our marriage.
Just how do we safely make our way through a one-sided season?
Drop negative emotions.
While worry, self-pity and anger are normal, it’s important not to carry these emotions with you. They will slow you down and make your journey through this season more arduous. Deal with them as they come up, and guard your heart with diligence.
Turn your back on worry by relying on God’s faithfulness. Make the choice to trust Him. Fight self-pity by counting your blessings.
Turn your back on worry by relying on God’s faithfulness. Make the choice to trust Him. Fight self-pity by counting your blessings. Though times get tough, you are still blessed.
Defuse anger by getting real with God. Rather than pretending to be a happy Christian spouse while anger overtakes your inner life, bring to God every emotion you are feeling. Talk to a Christian counselor, and understand that there’s a difference between bashing your spouse and seeking godly counsel.
Run from conversations that stir up negative feelings. Guard your speech, and talk about your situation only with people who will help you regain a godly perspective. Rehearsing and revisiting offenses only re-injures the soul and the relationship. Turn from a complaining, grumbling attitude and embrace hopeful expectation instead.
Redeem negative experiences.
Loneliness, disappointment and imperfection are things we would rather leave by the roadside, but inside each of these burdens is a blessing in disguise. Use lonely times to nourish your soul by spending time with the Lord.
Allow your disappointments to redirect your prayers so you may believe God for better days. Embrace your imperfections (and your spouse’s) so that you gain a fresh understanding of your own frailty and God’s mercy. Use this difficult season to cultivate a deeper walk of faith.
I kept my word and made the conscious effort to love my husband while he struggled to overcome his workaholic tendencies. And to be honest, there were days I moved toward my husband simply out of obedience to God.
Over time, though, I saw something magnificent happen. Kevin slowed down. He saw what he was missing and didn’t want to miss it anymore. Contentment replaced his personal ambition, and though he still had an overdeveloped work ethic, he had an even deeper conviction to fulfill his God-given role at home. Little by little, we both made deposits into a relational account that had been emptied over the past two years.
We learned to put strict boundaries around our time and tenaciously guard our date nights. Now every morning we bow our heads in prayer and commit the day to the Lord. This keeps us in step with each other and with God.
Years have passed, and when I look at my husband now, I find a love in my heart that almost overwhelms me. He has worked hard to make choices that have protected our home and rebuilt my trust. I see God actively working in him, and he sees God actively working in me.
Prayer: Women Armed and Dangerous!
by Stephanie Wolfe
The calling of a pastor’s wife can be confusing at times and our roles somewhat ambiguously defined or generically categorized. We are all different and we all bring to our husbands’ ministries a unique set of skills. I have always felt my calling to write and speak, though I have not always pursued it. I have always had a teaching gift and, thankfully, have watched God bring fruit in this area over the years as a minister’s wife.
But one thing that I did not see as clearly, and therefore didn’t practice completely, was my role as the woman God chose to cover my “man of God” with prayer. In fact, only recently have I discovered this power as it relates to my husband. His personal needs, his private needs, his ministry strengths and weaknesses, his hurts, his frustrations, his fears and his anxieties. No one sees them better than I, and no one can relate to them more completely, and no one feels the passion or compassion that I do about him or what he is facing, so how could I neglect so great a responsibility? What was I thinking?
Oh, I have prayed over the years, but never with the kind of awareness and confidence that I pray now. In years gone by, I have prayed for him and the church, but most of the time AFTER a crisis or catastrophe, asking God to clean it up, fix it, heal it or restore it! I hope that you are saying, “Well, Stephanie, I have known this for years, and have been praying offensively ever since our first day in the ministry.” In fact, maybe I am the ONLY pastor’s wife who didn’t get this until now!
As I wrote this article, we were out in Van Nuys, Calif., where my husband was attending Rev. Jack Hayford’s School of Pastoral Nurture. He has attended Consultation I, II, and now III. All have been extraordinary, and I highly recommend them. I have accompanied my husband to all three sessions. They are one-week long (7:30 am — 8:30 pm everyday). I say I accompanied him because I am simply his traveling companion. I stay in the hotel while he is in the sessions, and am there to greet him when he returns to the room where he can tell me all about his day. (Though, if you’ve been around Dr. Hayford much, you know what a challenge it is to repeat what he so eloquently and profoundly communicates, especially when he has been teaching for eight hours!)
Anyway, while in the hotel room, I write . . . and write . . . and write. I can get away from my SWM responsibilities and focus on writing. Another one of my mandates since the first consultation with Dr. Hayford was to pray for Jack while he attends class each day. So I spend one to two hours praying for my husband each day. Now, before you request a sainthood mantle for me, just know that I do this by the pool. There, that settles that.
Well, this year I used Stormie Omartian’s book, The Power of a Praying Wife. The book has 30 chapters (perfect to pray through every month). I took the book, divided it into five days and read six chapters a day, praying for Jack on six topics each day. Wow!!! This was transforming! Not for my husband (that I can see), but for ME! The complete focus, the conscious determination, the deliberate intercession, the calculated intervention and the deep connection I felt were truly unsurpassed.
Every pastor’s wife needs to buy this book. Every plumber’s wife needs to read this book! Though the book is written with any man in mind, I was so able to translate it into the ministry and realized that a pastor has an even greater need for the specific prayer cover Stormie communicates throughout the chapters. It is an effective and divinely inspired process for praying for our “man of God.”
Whatever book you use, process you follow or plan you devise, the important thing is that you “just do it!” Our husbands encounter temptations every day, so we need to be on the offensive in prayer, under-girding them and asking for their protection as well as wisdom for their decisions in the area of work, finances, sexuality, insecurity, integrity, priorities, trials, attitude, relationships, emotions, obedience, self-image, faith and future — just to name a few of the issues faced by our pastor/husbands.
I don’t know about you, but I have never been around guns. Since I have no experience with one and do not even know how to “turn one on,” I would be considered dangerous if one were in my hand; dangerous, not to an enemy, but dangerous to myself and innocent bystanders! But “armed” with the gospel and prayer, I am dangerous to the enemy and he knows it! So he would desire to keep me from any knowledge of this mighty weapon, and ignorant of its power as long as he could. Well, look out enemy, ’cause this woman is now “armed and dangerous!”
The enemy is seeking to devour you and your husband, too. If he can devour you, he can devour your church. If he can devour your church, he can devour your city. We must be diligent and become a “watchman” on the wall for our husbands and our ministries. The enemy’s power is diminished and rendered basically ineffective IF we will take an offensive position in prayer.
Don’t worry. There will still be opportunity to pray defensively because crisis and catastrophe will still come, but I think it will come less and less as we charge the forces of hell and push them back offensively. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:4-5a).
I have been guilty of fighting using carnal weapons as opposed to the recommended and proven spiritual ones. I have often been known to reach for justification, reason and excuses, as well as anger, resentment and arrogance. I have found them to be powerful only in the pulling down of a reputation . . . mine. They have never worked, so why do I keep using them? It is like looking for something that you are sure is in your purse and coming back to the purse again and again, looking where you have already looked and not found it!!! But somehow, you think that between the last time you looked and this time someone may have slipped it in there and this time when you look it will be there! Duh? It’s not there and no matter how many times you look, it still won’t be there! Our carnal weapons do not work! When are we going to get it? How many times do we have to try them before we accept this fact?
The Word tells me that, if I walk in the spirit, I will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. It doesn’t say I won’t be tempted to, it just says I won’t fulfill them. I am believing the Holy Spirit to prompt me to walk in the spirit through prayer on a more regular basis, and that I will make more of an effort to cover my husband, our marriage and our ministry with intentional, effective and fervent prayer because God promises that this type of prayer “avails much!” I’m sure it will work a whole lot better than “HELP!”
Riding the Ministry-Family Seesaw
Advice to a pastor’s wife who feels resentful of the time that ministry seems to demand from her husband.
by Walt and Fran Becker
“When my husband, James, was called to minister five years ago, he let the church overtake his life. I want to support him, but I resent his time commitment to ministry in place of our family. How can I avoid nursing bitterness about my husband’s call?
Don’t discount your anger; your emotions are a barometer that tells you something is wrong. But you’re right — harboring resentment won’t help you. Instead, use your anger to fuel an action plan:
Accept the realities of life in ministry.
Before talking with James about what should change in your home, remind yourself of what may have to stay the same. Yes, James needs to spend more time with you and the kids, but his ministry demands that he sometimes be called away unexpectedly, for example. Your goal should not be to “steal him back” from ministry but to help him find a balance between home and work.
Talk about your feelings without attacking him.
If you blurt out, “I hate how much you neglect us!” you will put your husband on the defensive. Say something such as, “James, I feel hurt that we don’t spend much time together as a family anymore.”
Ask your husband for a spot on his calendar.
Some ministers find it easier to say no to other commitments when they schedule family time in advance. Suggest that he set aside regular “dates” with you and the kids, as well as times (e.g., nightly dinnertime) for the whole family to discuss the day.
Schedule follow-up sessions.
To keep your husband accountable (and you from growing bitter), agree to talk every few weeks about how each of you is feeling about the work-family balance. If over time you are still dissatisfied with the arrangement, discuss again how both of you can arrange your time to make changes.
For example, if James can’t keep weekly dates with each of the kids, suggest that he start off by spending one-on-one time with each child every two weeks. Be reasonable and flexible, but remind James that you can’t compromise on your commitment to the family.
The Rock and the Rolling Stone
by Phil Wood
Before our wedding more than 20 years ago, my wife and I received a rose-petal bedroom ensemble from J.C. Penney, including a dust ruffle, valances, sheets and an overstuffed matching comforter.
After a decade and a half of use, however, our comforter began to get a little flat and the rose petals a bit faded. The day finally arrived when my wife, Penne, was willing to replace our favorite blankey. She pored over catalogs, pointing to pictures and asking for opinions. I hadn’t seen her labor so painstakingly over anything since the birth of our last child. With trembling hands, she phoned in the order.
After a few days, a box arrived. Inside was a brand-new, overstuffed rose-petal comforter from — you guessed it — J.C. Penney.
So how does a rolling stone dwell peacefully together with an immovable rock? Very carefully. When I’m sensitive to her need for security, she’s more responsive to my need for change.
If you haven’t figured it out, my wife doesn’t like change. My church office is 0.8 miles from our house, and whenever I need to catch my wife en route, I know exactly the path she’ll take. I, on the other hand, love change. I’ve discovered 23 routes through our subdivision, and I seldom take the same one twice in a row.
So how does a rolling stone dwell peacefully together with an immovable rock? Very carefully. When I’m sensitive to her need for security, she’s more responsive to my need for change. The apostle Peter exhorted husbands to “be considerate as you live with your wives” (1 Peter 3:7).
So what does that look like on a day-to-day basis? Take a look at these helpful tips I’ve learned from experience.
If it’s in your power, don’t make unexpected changes.
Due partly to my Chicago upbringing, I’ve learned to drive as though I’m being chased. When my wife is in the passenger’s seat, you’d think she was having a heart attack. She stomps on an imaginary brake pedal and clutches the door as though she were contemplating an escape. My driving does not give her a sense of security.
Like our car trips, when I race through life in an unpredictable way, I shouldn’t be surprised that she’s reluctant to come along for the ride. How could she be comfortable not knowing if I’m going to stop, change directions, slow down or speed up? I may feel confident that things are under control, but she’s not. Whether on the highway or in my home, why unnecessarily change directions?
Communicate your intentions clearly.
Prior to GPS, I’d often get about 50 miles from home on a road trip and ask, “Did we bring a map?” I guess that was my subconscious way of making a trip more adventurous. Whenever I put out the plea for directions, however, Penne responds by pulling out an atlas of the Western Hemisphere. She likes to know, at all times, how we’re getting to our destination and wants an up-to-the-minute report on where we are.
Our day-to-day life is no different. Whether we’re talking finances, vocations or vacations, I can offer her a plan and keep her apprised on the progress. I need the discipline, and she needs the security. So I try to communicate my intentions as clearly as possible.
Reassuring discussions work wonders. I also share my motives, as this makes it easier for Penne to buy into my adventures. Whether my intention is to spend time with other believers, stay in shape or satisfy a desire to explore and learn, explaining my reasons gains her support. Besides, if I can’t articulate my motives, maybe I don’t need to be on that adventure.
Make every change count.
When introducing changes, I only have a few “bullets” (or chances) to do it effectively. Husbands who lead their families willy-nilly through life empty their arsenal quickly and lose valuable trust faster than a teenager can drink a Mountain Dew Code Red.
As the husband of a wife that cringes when the “C” word is mentioned, I try to keep day to day as calm as possible. Though the world around us may seem chaotic, the least I can offer my bride is a room with pink flowers on an overstuffed comforter — a place where she knows things can stay the same.
A Safe Haven Home
by Sharon Hart Morris and Archibald D. Hart
Why can’t you ever support me?” Sylvia yelled.
Feeling he failed again, Don defended himself, “I work hard to support this family. What more do you want?”
Sylvia snipped back, “You don’t care about me or this family.”
“You don’t understand me!” He slammed the door behind him.
Neither parent saw Johnny’s tears as he clutched his baseball in hopes of playing with Dad. Neither did they hear their 15-year-old daughter slam her bedroom door to shut out the hostility.
This is not a “safe haven” home. Don and Sylvia’s conflicted relationship fails to create the secure environment their children need for healthy development.
A relationship becomes a safe haven when we know that a person will consider our perspective when making decisions and be caring and loving when he or she responds to us.
Created for relationship
God designed our relationships to be havens of safety — a harbor so secure that even through life’s storms we feel safe enough to grow. We needed our parents to be a place of security when we were children, and we need our marriages to be the same.
A relationship becomes a safe haven when we know that a person will consider our perspective when making decisions and be caring and loving when he or she responds to us. Such a relationship becomes a source of strength on the journey through life.
Children need to feel emotionally connected so they can develop well. But too often parents are preoccupied with their own struggles for safety. The home becomes chaotic, and children end up feeling alone and disconnected.
Creating emotional safety
Recent research shows that marital satisfaction and longevity depends on a couple creating an emotionally safe connection. If you feel insecure when connecting to your spouse, you probably won’t open your heart, nor will you find comfort in tough times. You will fight to change each other, and if you can’t leave your arguments and reconnect in a healthy way, you are headed for an unhappy marriage.
A home that is not a refuge doesn’t bode well for children either. This results in poor school performance, lack of resilience in stressful situations and emotional explosiveness because children tend to keep things inside.
Here are a few suggestions to create a safe haven for your spouse and your children:
1. Be emotionally available.
Spouses and children want more than money and a schedule. They want you and your complete emotional attention. Be available by caring about what they care about.
2. Respond with consideration.
Your loved ones need to know you won’t emotionally overreact, but will respond in a controlled, thoughtful and considerate manner-no matter how tired, angry or frustrated you are.
Be intentional with your responses. Before reacting to the immediate situation, slow down, and state the facts: “I see your baseball stuff is at the front door, but I thought tonight was our date night.” Stop to ask for more information. Be willing to consider another perspective besides your own.
3. Be trustworthy.
Trust binds hearts together. There are two kinds of trust: dependability trust and emotional trust. Dependability trust assures your children and spouse that they can rely upon you. You show up at the soccer games as you promised, and you take out the trash as you said you would.
Emotional trust assures your family that you are emotionally predictable and invested in them. Your spouse and your children have a deep sense that despite all the differences, you have their best interest at heart and you truly care for them.
Creating a safe haven home is a journey, but it will help you strengthen your marriage and your family. And it will make your relationships closer than ever before.
A Salute to the Pastor’s Wife
What can make being a minister’s mate more of a joy than a burden?
by H.B. London Jr.
H.B. London One question is, “What is the greatest frustration you face in church ministry?” At a recent gathering, one minister’s wife wrote, “Loneliness, lack of spiritual kinship with other women, ‘single’ parenting, powerful women in the church bossing my husband around, lack of finances, and identity crisis. I am a non-person, not my husband’s partner in ministry, not a full-fledged member. I’d like to get a lot of stuff going in the church, but I have to defer.”
A few weeks after that gathering, I received a letter from another minister’s wife. She wrote, “In three months time, my husband has had only two full days off. I know this is wrong, and half our battle is weariness. We’ve found ourselves wanting to quit or run. We fight a lot lately. His escape from reality is the computer; then I feel even more left out. I nag, which makes him want to escape more.”
As I reread this letter and thought about the heartbroken woman at the pastors gathering, I wondered how many ministers’ wives feel the same way.
Conversations, letters and surveys tell us the concerns you wives in ministry have. About 45 percent of you fear physical, emotional and spiritual burnout. Nearly 60 percent of you work outside the home. Some 45 percent of you tell us you have no close friends. And more than half of you worry about raising your children.
I don’t have quick answers. However, let me offer four basic principles many pastors’ wives find essential in their roles.
Stay strong spiritually.
“Sometimes I’m afraid that I became a Christian as an insurance policy against hell,” a pastor’s wife wrote to me. There’s so much more to the faith than that. Deepen your relationship with our Lord; it is especially vital during trying times.
Guard your marriage and family.
If you do not build in some protection, your congregation will consume nearly every moment of your day. Your husband will lose himself in his assignment if you do not intentionally carve out time to be together.
Use your best gifts most often.
Find an area of ministry that brings you purpose and joy.
Find a friend.
I know doing so takes time and energy, but make a friend who can share your journey in confidence and sincerity. You will find she is a gift from God.
P.S. Our Pastoral Ministries staff can help you with counsel, information, prayer or a listening ear. Please call our toll-free number in the United States or Canada: (877) 233-4455. We may not have all the answers, but we will do all we can to help you find them.
The Separation of Church and Mate
How involved should the minister’s spouse be in the church?
That depends on who you ask.
by Judy Waggoner
Andrew and Kim Beunk are rookies in ministry. More than a year ago, they lived comfortably in Mississauga, Ontario, where each had fast-track career — Andrew, 30, as a mechanical engineer and Kim, 31, as an elementary school teacher. That’s when they heard the call to drop everything and head into full-time Christian service. Their first stop was Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Mich., where Andrew is in the master of divinity program and Kim takes courses in marriage counseling.
Rod and Nancy Thole and Craig and Pat Apel have a good idea about what awaits the Beunks in their new life. For the more than 15 years that each couple has served churches, the Tholes and the Apels have encountered ministry’s highs and lows. They remember what it’s like to be where Andrew and Kim are — young, zealous … and some time unrealistic. They wish that an older, more experienced ministry couple had told them what they’re about to tell the Beunks.
Over coffee and dessert one evening at my home in Grand Rapids, the veteran couples meet with the Beunks to discuss the reality of ministry life as they know it — specifically, how involved a minister’s spouse should be. Here’s what they say:
What’s the reality? How involved are you as a ministry spouse?
Nancy: Rod has been a pastor for nearly 15 years. During that time, I’ve taught Sunday school and worked in the nursery at every church, because I have a real love for children.
Rod: Nancy does more than she realizes. She’s also the Sunday school superintendent, she picks up people for church, fills in at the nursery when people don’t show up, and sets up chairs, She’s a true servant.
Craig: When we began in ministry 26 years ago at a tiny church, Pat was involved with me. The church had no youth program, so Pat and I started a kid’s club. But as the churches have increased in size over the years, I’ve told the search committees that Pat’s priority is to be a wife and mother.
Kim, how involved do you expect to be in the church?
Kim: I have two small girls, and taking care of them is demanding. Andrew and I have also decided that our family will be my priority. But I will still be very involved with him in the ministry.
Andrew: For example, Kim and I have talked about doing pastoral visits and even marriage counseling together. Kim’s already taken a class on marriage counseling at the seminary. Sometimes it may be awkward for me to visit a new mother who doesn’t look or feel very good. In those cases, it would be natural for Kim to make the visit. Honestly, I don’t know how all this will work out, but we definitely want our ministry to be a team effort.
Pat and Nancy, how did you decide how involved you would be in the ministry?
Pat: During our first 20 years in ministry, I participated the most. Though my focus has always been my kids, I was very involved in all their activities and in the church. Now that my kids are grown, I work in customer service at Zondervan. When I get home at 6 every night, I don’t want to have people over or go out.
Nancy: I agree with Pat. When you work outside the home, there is a lot less time to do things in the church. We used to have people over for marriage videos and dessert in the evenings [before I started working].
How do you handle members’ expectations about your involvement?
Craig: I make it clear in the interview process that Pat will take her turn working in the nursery, but that she will do only what she is comfortable doing using her gifts. She is not going to teach the ladies’ Bible class or play the piano just because she is the minister’s wife. Some members have a hard time getting over their [unrealistic] expectations, but most understand that my wife is no different from any other member.
Nancy: Every time we go into a church, Rod lets the interviewers know that they are hiring him and not both of us. He makes it clear that I will do what I want to do and help where I can, but I will not be on every committee.
Rod: We’ve never experienced resistance to that approach, and people have never treated Nancy poorly because of it.
Kim and Andrew, you said earlier that your ministry would be a full partnership. How do you react to reality as described by these couples?
Kim: What I’m hearing from everyone is that ministry is a full partnership and that the wife of the minister can [be part of her husband’s ministry] by just being there for him. That’s what I want to do — to make our home a secure and stable place for our family.
Andrew: Our call to ministry was not just of me, but of us. In fact, Kim knew before I did that God was calling us. And because we see this as our calling, I see Kim’s involvement as significant.
Kim, how will you deal with members unrealistic expectations?
Kim: I’m just going to have to feel my way through it, using the gifts that God has given me, and not just responding to others’ expectations. Since I was an elementary school teacher, some might expect me to be the Sunday school superintendent, and that’s okay. I love working with kids. That’s just a really big part of who I am. I think working with kids is something that I will do in the church naturally, unlike playing the piano.
What’s the most important thing Andrew and Kim should know about handling expectations as they head into ministry?
Nancy: Set up your own expectations from the beginning, in the interview process. Let the congregation know then how involved you plan to be.
Rod: Be transparent; admit that you have weaknesses, though you don’t have to tell everyone what they are. Have a great relationship with each other, because it affects everything you do.
Pat: Be yourself. Members really do like it when you are genuine. I did something really stupid one time, and some members said, “Oh, we like you, Pat. You’re just like we are!” I think the key is building relationships.
She Says — He Says
A ministry couple talks about why romance is so important to them
— and how they make it work.
by Kima and Barry Jude
Early in our marriage, I didn’t recognize romance as a primary ingredient in keeping Barry and me together. But now, after 15 years and four children, I realize how it keeps desire connected to commitment. Romance has always given our relationship its edge, its liveliness.
Our romance has taken many forms through the years. We’ve exchanged love letters (some silly, some serious), traveled alone (near and far), celebrated and flirted. But the most constant thing Barry and I do is to lunch together at least once a week, while the kids are in school. It’s our date time, a ritual we established before we married.
Our regular date would be easy to forego, especially during crunches of time or finances. We could cut it out of our schedules and feel virtuous about it. But we don’t because these dates connect us.
Though we live in the same house, schedules and children moving in four different directions pull us apart. Even when we’re all at home, the distractions of phones, computers and children’s chatter keep our conversation banal and insipid.
Because we date regularly, however, our individual dreams, hopes, frustrations and doubts tumble out — not because we plan that to happen but because there is opportunity. In the process they become shared goals, endeavors and struggles.
Romance infuses our marriage with fun and spontaneity. Barry showed up at my last birthday celebration with party horns and candles in Hostess cupcakes. It was silly and, yes, romantic.
Such an ongoing romantic relationship reminds me to protect the balance of our marriage. It would be easy, for example, to concentrate so much on raising children that I neglect my husband. But nurturing my relationship as wife helps me develop into the mother God wants for our children.
Of course, the demands of being Mom to a line of preschoolers might have over-whelmed the delights if Barry hadn’t taken pains to keep romance alive. Our children — Britt, 12; Jordan, 10; Luke, 7; and Keilah, 4 — were each born two or three years apart. In the early years, just when I feared I would drown in infant formula, Barry would pick up the phone. “I’m coming home for lunch.”
Sound mundane rather than romantic? Candlelight and roses aren’t required for romance (although they’re a great start). Romance is devotion, whether expressed in phone calls, love letters, physical affection or light conversation over a bland lunch.
I first understood the importance of romance a decade ago. When Britt was two, she was hospitalized for kidney failure while suffering from a rare disease. Church members came one day to help us at the hospital.
I turned to Barry. “She’ll be asleep for a while. Why don’t we go down to the cafeteria together?”
Barry and I didn’t eat much. We didn’t go for food. It’s never been about food.
Because we’ve nurtured our relationship all along, our first impulse is to reach out and cling to each other, especially in rough times when life is not fun or silly or mundane. We realize we’re really holding each other up.
So maybe romance does keep us together. I know I’m not ready for marriage without it.
Kima and I started our courtship when I was a youth minister, and the hours at the church office dragged while I waited to go and see her. I wanted to spend every minute with her! It didn’t matter whether we went to a ball game, movie or spent a quiet evening at her parents’ home — I just wanted to be with her.
We specialized in love notes, long phone calls and occasional gifts. I noticed what her favorite candies were and bought them. I made every church function an opportunity to be with her. (Her parents probably caved in and let us get married just to get me out of their house.)
I’m thankful we got married if only to slow the breathless pace of our courtship. I could imagine one of us eventually keeling over from a heart attack or sleep deprivation.
But as the early years of our marriage sped by, I became convinced that romance was intended not just for courtship, but for our lifetime of marriage as well. While we adjusted our pace for the long haul, neither of us has ever dropped out of the race.
The Scriptures tell us, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). In their book, Fit to Be Tied, Bill and Lynne Hybels point out that the first verb in this verse is in the Greek present imperative tense. Hybels says a more accurate reading could be, “Husbands, keep on treasuring your wives.”
This is a command from God, not a suggestion. I’m convinced that romance is necessary for me to fulfill my God-given responsibility of loving my wife. Romance helps me to be a servant of Christ to my wife, concentrating on her needs and not just mine.
Also, in purely human terms, romance helps me focus on my most important relationship next to Christ. Romance causes me to spend time thinking about Kima and prods me to be sensitive to her needs as I look for ways to express my love for her.
Romance makes our relationship fun. When I spend time alone with Kima, whether it’s at lunch, dinner, a ball game or the theater, I can simply enjoy her companionship. These times balance the more mundane moments and relieve the drudgery of our lives.
Whenever we can, Kima and I leave our kids with friends, and she and I travel to an annual ministers’ meeting. We go for other purposes, but this time away for spiritual renewal usually sparks a romantic revival as well.
A dynamic, ongoing love affair helps me stay faithful and pure in my thought life. When my heart and eyes are focused on my wife, I am simply less likely to stray. When, in my mind, I have the greenest grass, why would I look at another man’s yard?
I was excited for my husband’s new ministry.
But when we moved, the walls started to close in.
by Pam Farrel
My husband, Bill, had a dream: to become a senior minister. In 1988 we were serving in a thriving youth ministry with Calvary Bible Church in Bakersfield, Calif. But Bill longed for the opportunity to shepherd families, and we both sensed a call to work with all ages.
During the months of sending resumes, I was his cheerleader. When Bill was called as senior pastor of Valley Bible Church in San Marcos, just north of San Diego, I was eager to start. But then we moved and the walls seemed to close in on me — literally.
We went from a three-bedroom house to an apartment that seemed about the size of a jail cell. Only after we arrived did the management tell us that our two preschool boys were not allowed to play on the grass or ride tricycles on the sidewalk. We’d sold a car to move, so I was stranded with two rambunctious boys who couldn’t play anywhere.
Over the next few weeks, depression overtook me. I’d given up a nice house, great friends and a satisfying leadership role for sanctified insanity. One day as I reached for a box on the top shelf of a closet, I knocked everything over, scattering the contents across the floor and unleashing my frustration.
“I hate it here!” I yelled. The next thing I knew, I was sitting on a load of laundry, sobbing. As I cried, I prayed, “God, I know this is not the abundant life You planned. Bill has been coming home to my complaints and whining. I’ve been believing lies about him. I’ve accused him of not caring about me, and I know he does.” I looked around and cried to God, “Help me figure out what to do!”
What’s the Password?
Bill was frustrated too. He’d done everything he knew to help me. He listened and held me close night after night. He brought me flowers, called during the day, let me have the car whenever he could. He prayed with me and for me. He involved me in ministry to help me re-establish my identity. Bill loved his new ministry, and yet he went to work every day feeling guilty because I wasn’t happy.
The only thing that helped was taking long walks on the beach, which gave us a chance to talk. On one midnight stroll, I fell into my usual melancholy and began to weep. I walked more and more slowly until I stopped and sat under a lifeguard tower and stared out into the night. “I feel so helpless, Bill,” I said. “I want to be happy, but I feel stuck. It’s not you. You’ve been great. I’m even sure we made the right decision to move. I don’t have answers.” At that moment, Bill remembered a silly joke that always made me laugh. It was from the original Rocky movie: “So, you know what you get when you tap a turtle on the back?”
I couldn’t help smiling. “Shell shock.” Then I laughed. The punchline became our password: No matter how bleak things seemed, one of us would say those words as a reminder that someday we’d both smile again.
A Love Letter From God
Shortly after that late-night walk, I phoned an old friend and complained for an hour. Then, as only a good friend can say, she asked, “Pam, what attribute of God are you forgetting?”
I answered, “Right now, all of them!” I hung up, went back to the kitchen table and prayed, ” God, this is crazy. I am totally depressed even though I have two healthy kids and a husband who loves me. God, I need a fresh view of You.”
I pulled out my Bible. I began to jot down verses that I found comforting and that friends had sent me in notes. I strung the verses together and personalized them as a love letter from God to me: “It is not by your might nor by your power but by My spirit…I know when you sit down and when you rise; I perceive your thoughts from afar…You cannot flee from My presence. If you go up to heaven, I am there; if you make your bed in the depths, I am there. If you rise on the wings of the dawn, if you settle on the far side of the sea, even there My hand will guide you, my right hand will hold you fast…even the darkness is as light to Me.”
With that, God began rebuilding my heart. A few days later, on Bill’s 30th birthday, I called him and asked to take him to lunch, five months after my depression began. He thought, Oh, no, here we go again. Lord, please; no more complaining.
Over lunch, I reached across the table and took his hand. “I’m sorry for the way I’ve treated you,” I said. “If I never get the things I think will make me happy, I will adjust. From now on I am on your team!”
Bill sighed in relief. Over the next few months, his enthusiasm for life returned and my depression receded. I still don’t have all the things I want — life’s just that way. But I am content. More than that, Bill and I have gained a deep and strong love. Those dark days taught us to trust each other more.
Bill hung with me and didn’t criticize me because of depression; he saw that I continued looking for answers and taking care of him, the boys and the church, and that I never stopped reaching out to God.
You might say that we found the ministry we always wanted — but only because we first gained the marriage we needed.
The ebb and flow of ministry doesn’t need to swamp your marriage.
by Greg Asimakoupoulos
It seemed to be a match made in heaven. Wendy had grown up on the mission field and dreamed of being a minister’s wife since she was a little girl. I grew up as a PK loving the church, and I sensed a call to ministry by the age of 12. I’d envied my parents’ mutual involvement in the congregation and prayed God would give me a wife with whom I could be a partner in ministry.
God answered both prayers. As newlyweds in our first church, Wendy and I looked for ways we could minister side by side. It wasn’t hard. I discipled the husbands; Wendy counseled their wives. Together we led a weekly Bible study. We entertained church leaders and new members in our home, sharing in the planning, cooking and cleanup. We loved each other. We loved our congregation. We loved our identity as a ministry couple.
Soon, however, we discovered that, while the flood of pastoral demands could irrigate the work of ministry, they could also drown our marriage. Fortunately, we found some points at which we could regulate the flow.
We take up separate hobbies outside the church.
Wendy turned to gardening; I took up photography. Getting outdoors and celebrating the splendor of creation not only took our minds off the church; it filled each of us with joy that we could share with each other.
We protect our days off and spend them together.
Sunday may be holy, but Monday is sacred to us. Sleep in. Enjoy a cup of coffee. Leisurely read the paper. Go for a long walk. Plant flowers. Take pictures. Go antique hunting. Linger over lunch at a favorite restaurant. This was easier before kids, but when babies came we took them along. As much as we loved the church, we needed the routine of simple pleasures that had nothing to do with ministry.
We create fun traditions in our home.
Wendy and I decided to celebrate holidays and special days in ways that were unique to us. We decorate the house and have special menus for Valentine’s Day, Academy Awards night, the Fourth of July and Santa Lucia Day. We have even created our own family holiday: July 31st commemorates the day 35 years ago when my parents moved our family to our new hometown. And don’t even try to schedule a church board meeting on one of the special days we observe in our home!
We return to our roots regularly.
Wendy and I both have wonderful families — we want to spend time with them! But throughout our marriage we have lived far away from our parents and siblings. So we have determined to visit our respective hometowns during vacations. Thus, every year we trek to places where we are known and loved, apart from our professions. Those times remind us of who we are as real people.
Through a Cracked Door…
by Robert J. Morgan
Passing the partially opened door of my pastor’s bedroom one evening, I saw a sight I’ve never forgotten. I was a teenager at the time. I’d been invited to spend the night in the parsonage because I was to accompany Rev. Floyd on a trip the next morning. That evening, through the cracked door, I saw him and his wife on their knees by their bed, pouring out their hearts to the Lord. It was the private side of a successful public ministry — and I was deeply moved.
Such scenes are rare in today’s frantic world of ministry. Many of us seldom pray with our spouses, and it’s more than oversight. Some race past the throne of grace like speeders through a school zone, their schedules too full, their lives too busy. Others don’t realize how powerfully their joint prayers can affect both their marriage and ministry. And some men don’t pray with their wives for the same reason they fail in ordinary conversation — it takes them outside their comfort zone, making them feel too vulnerable.
But think of the benefits!
Praying together blesses our marriage
Arkansas pastor Doug Little observes, “When so much of the ministry tends to pull couples apart, praying is what pulls us back together.” Numbers of ministerial marriages are troubled today, often because of busyness. Two paychecks. Schedules aflutter. Kids running everywhere. Phone calls and meetings, e-mail and breaking news. But the spiritual dynamic of praying together will echo through the interiors of a marriage and slow things down. It’s an intimate exercise. The spiritual, the emotional and the physical are all interrelated. An intimate prayer union adorns the other dimensions of both life and love, enriching the whole.
This kind of prayer also affects the self-esteem of your spouse. “Praying together has drawn me into Henry’s ministry,” says Virginia Van Kluyve, pastor’s wife in coastal Beaufort, N.C. “Sometimes the spouse of a pastor feels excluded from her husband’s world. But when we pray together about the needs of the church, it gives me a sense of involvement in the ministry. It becomes our work, not just his.”
Praying together blesses our ministry
Dave and Marilyn Tosi of First Baptist Church of Asbury Park, N.J., credit prayer with the success they’ve had in growing an interracial church. “Many ethnic groups populate our area,” says Dave. “Each has its own church. Ours is the only nearby congregation where Puerto Ricans, Cubans, blacks, whites and Filipinos worship side by side. I think the reason is because every evening after supper, Marilyn and I earnestly ask the Lord to bring into our church those He wishes to save. We bathe our church in prayer. As we’ve prayed, people from many backgrounds have showed up.”
Praying together blesses our Master
Jesus said, “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19-20). When we pray together, Jesus enters our marriages and ministries in a special way. While it’s a blessing to us, it’s a joy to Him.
But how can the two of us agree on anything in prayer if there’s no time for it? Well, if we’re too busy to pray, our schedules have excluded God’s Spirit. Samuel told Israel, “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you” (1 Samuel 12:23). The apostles devoted themselves to “prayer and the ministry of the word” by relinquishing other seemingly important activities (Acts 6:4).
Dave Tosi is blessed with lots of energy, but Marilyn suffers from fatigue due to diabetes. He’s usually up earlier and later than she is, and praying at morning or night didn’t work for them. So they decided to join hearts after supper each night. “We made a specific time,” Dave says. “Sometimes we don’t even clear away the dishes. We just push them aside, read from Scripture and pray together.”
The Van Kluyves don’t have a regimented routine, but they frequently pray together during the day. “It might be when I’m leaving the house,” says Henry, who celebrates his 50th anniversary in ministry this year. “We’ll embrace at the door ask God’s blessing on our activities that day. We often pray at bedtime and at meals, and always before trips.”
In my own marriage, my wife, Katrina, has been a refreshing prayer partner. Often when we pray, I choose my words carefully, praying just the right thing about a situation, still thinking in pastor or sermon mode. But Katrina’s prayers are simple and sensible, and I walk away saying, “Yes, Lord! That’s what we really need!”
Katrina and I began praying together before we were married, but the trials and troubles of the past 25 years have deepened our prayer dependence on each other — the addictions of a close friend, the ups-and-downs of our children, the deaths of our parents, the onset of a crippling disease. We pray at meals and at bedtime, on trips and whenever a need arises. Often I’ll come home troubled about a situation and unable to relax. We’ve learned to stop and pray, giving it to the Lord. Such times are little turning points for me, enabling me to rest and enjoy the evening.
Praying together isn’t a substitute — but a supplement — to personal devotions and ministry. Each morning I arrive early at my office for a period of private Bible study and prayer. Katrina, taking a cup of tea to her desk in the bedroom, does the same. But there are times when, despite my most earnest prayers, I need another to come alongside, to bear the burden, to amplify the prayer and send it to heaven with doubled force. That’s when I thank God I married my prayer partner.
Maybe it’s time you laid aside this article and called to your spouse, “Honey, I’ve been thinking . . . ”
Time to Slow Down
Don’t let the speed of life kill your marriage
by Les and Leslie Parrott
Dale Rooks, a school crossing guard in Florida, tried everything to get cars to slow down through the school zone where he was in charge. But nothing worked until he wrapped a blow dryer in electrical tape, making it look like a radar gun. The next day Dale just pointed the contraption at cars, and drivers began to slam on their breaks.
Dale’s clever idea got us thinking about what it would take to get people to slow down in general — not just in their cars. Can you imagine if, on a day when you were particularly busy, your spouse could clock your speed and pull you over for a little respite? What if you could give each other “speeding tickets” for being too rushed. Maybe after three tickets in an allotted time frame, your spouse would have to make you go on vacation!
Nearly 20 years ago, when we were first married and living in Pasadena, Calif., we attended the same church as Dr. James Dobson. One Sunday morning, he made a guest appearance in our newlywed class. In his lesson, he said something that got the full attention of every neophyte in the room: “Overcommitment and exhaustion are the most insidious and pervasive marriage killers you will ever encounter as a couple.”
“Overcommitment and exhaustion are the most insidious and pervasive marriage killers you will ever encounter as a couple.”.
We’ve never forgotten that. In fact, we’ve been working at guarding against busyness ever since. Once you realize the harm busyness can have on your marriage, you become more conscious of how much or how little time you have together.
No matter how much time stealing, time stretching and time bending we attempt, we always find ourselves up against a certain mathematical law: Thirty-two hours’ worth of tasks can’t be crammed into a 24-hour day.
We are busy; nobody’s disputing that fact. The question is “What are you busy doing?”
Busy people rarely give their best to the ones they love. They serve leftovers — the emotions and energy that remain after one’s primary attention has already been given to others. Too drained, too tired or too preoccupied, they fail to give their loved ones the attention they deserve. And a marriage cannot survive on leftovers forever.
Here’s a little trick we learned from our friend John Maxwell. He’s one of the most productive men we know, but he makes an effort to give his best time to his wife, Margaret.
“Years ago,” he told us, “when something exciting happened during the day, I’d share it with colleagues and friends. By the time I got home, I had little enthusiasm for sharing it with Margaret. [So] I purposely began keeping things to myself until I could share them with her first. That way, she never got the leftovers.”
Of course, this principle applies to more than just sharing the news from the day. We give our best to our spouses when we give them attention and energy for the things -they’d like to talk about as well.
The power of no
One of the most difficult things some people ever have to do is say no. Yet this little word is one of the strongest weapons against busyness. We’ve seen people physically collapse from fatigue, drown in depression and develop debilitating illnesses because they never said no.
If you suffer from the disease to please, treat it seriously and assert yourself. Begin by making a list of things on your plate that you’d like to say no to. Ask God for discernment about what people and activities He has called you to. Then discuss them with your spouse or a mentor. Chances are he or she can coach you on wielding the mighty power of no.
Now that you’ve read about the impact busyness can have on your marriage, don’t be tempted to think that putting these principles into practice will come easily. You’ve got to get about the business of eliminating busyness from your relationship.
The Tony Award
Can’t get your mate to listen?
Here’s how one ministry wife does it.
by Lois Evans
Four years ago, I hit burnout. My work as senior vice president at the urban Alternative in Dallas where my husband, Tony, and I serve, overwhelmed me. And having two teen sons at home can wear out the best mom.
I told Tony one evening, “I need a break. I have to get away and get refreshed.” We had talked for some time about the possibility of me visiting my sister, so this seemed like a good time. Soon after, I boarded a plane headed for England to spend two weeks with her.
I’ve talked to a lot of ministers’ mates during my 21 years in ministry, and I know that’s not a typical scene. We ministry spouses often pout when times grow hectic. We hope our mates see how exhausted we are and suggest that we take a breather. Yet we often don’t come right out and say, “That’s it. I’ve had enough, and I’m taking a break.”
Do you want to know my secret for being a successful ministry wife? I don’t think it’s selfish to request that my husband hear (and act) when I feel exhausted. When Tony and I married 28 years ago, we agreed we never wanted to guess how each other was feeling. If we knew how to keep each other operating at full strength, we reasoned, then we could help each other best serve our family and ministry.
That’s why I’ve practiced catching my husband’s ears when the demands of family and his work threaten to overtake him. Here are ways I coach Tony to the gold medal in listening:
Let’s Pencil in Some Listening Time
Since Tony and I work in offices that are near each other and can talk throughout the day, I can put a bug in his ear when I want to discuss our marriage or family. One afternoon a few years ago, I told him, “We need to talk through a few things about the children tonight.” When Tony arrived home that evening, he was mentally prepared to listen and respond to my concerns.
I Know You Can’t Read My Mind
I know of ministers’ spouses who feel their mates should already know what they’re thinking and feeling, because 1 Peter 3:7 says “He should dwell with his wife in knowledge” (KJV).
But it takes time and communication to get to know each other. And if I don’t speak up about my needs and give Tony a chance to listen to me, I set myself up to harbor bitterness. How can Tony address my concerns if he doesn’t know what they are? Let me illustrate.
When our kids were young and the ministry was growing fast, Tony’s travel schedule doubled within months. Some weeks, he would speak at two or three events.
I finally told him, “I think you’re traveling too much. The kids and I need you at home more.”
Tony agreed, and within days he cut back his travel schedule. But had I not told him of our need to have him at home more, he may have zoomed full speed ahead without a thought.
I Know Being Heard Makes You Want to Listen
Want your mate to be a good listener? Start by becoming a good listener. There’s no guarantee he’ll reciprocate, but it can’t hurt to model listening before asking him to listen!
During the 1996 Christmas holidays, my husband mulled over some tough issues in the church. With a glance, I could tell his thoughts were wearing on him, because when Tony feels burdened he becomes very quiet.
So I pulled him away from the office one afternoon and said, “Let’s have lunch.” What was supposed to be a 30-minute break turned into a two-hour conversation! I listened as he unloaded his challenges, and reminded him that they wouldn’t last forever.
I Know There’s a Right Time For Everything
I know when my husband is not listening to me. When I ask him a question, for example, his eyes glaze over and he looks into space without responding. That ‘s my clue that I need to wait before talking to him.
When our kids were young, I became overwhelmed with our breakneck pace of school and athletic activities. To top it off, I was completing an undergraduate degree.
One evening when Tony came home, I bombarded him with my frustrations: “How are we going to get everything done? The kids have homework due, we have to be at their games, I have schoolwork, and …”
I stopped when I realized Tony wasn’t responding. He was looking at me, but he wasn’t really listening. I decided to talk with him later about how we would manage our impossible schedule.
I picked a time to talk with Tony when he wasn’t hurried by his own huge ministry concerns. We worked out a plan for reducing our number of activities and later recommitted to evaluating our pace at the beginning of each year.
The lesson? Wait until you can have your mate’s full attention. And if he’s still not listening, write him a letter. He may not listen, but he’ll appreciate receiving a formal document!
I Believe You’re Already Interested
Above all, Tony is concerned about our marriage and family. He got that from his dad. Though his father worked long hours as a longshoreman in Baltimore, he always made time to listen to his family after work. Through these times, Tony’s father eventually led the whole family to Christianity.
For Tony, listening is an extension of his deep care for me and the kids. He pays attention to us because he loves us. So when he listens well, I cheer him on. When he occasionally falls short, I encourage him. But even when he misses the mark, I know that his devotion to me and the children is real.
After 15 years, we found out how to grow spiritually as a couple through our devotional in duet.
by Bob and Charlotte Mize
Ever since we married 34 years ago, we wanted regularly to pray and read the Bible as a couple. But for 15 years, no matter how often we tried, we couldn’t establish a habit.
But our lives changed one summer when Charlotte was teaching at a Christian college. Her topic was “Bringing the Families Together Through the Bible School.” As she taught, she was struck by the irony that our five family members were in four different states. Bob, who was on staff with a large church, was attending an out-of-state conference; our oldest son was on a missions trip; and the two younger children were on a camping trip. Our family was being splintered by ministry.
So we concluded that spending time with the Lord as a couple was a must. Starting the practice seemed like a bird struggling to hatch, but eventually the habit, which we call our “devotional in duet,” was born.
Why We Come to the Lord Together
Since making this practice part of our lives, we have been rewarded in several ways:
1. We have time together. Hectic schedules go with ministry, and they can keep partners apart. Charlotte once kept track of Bob’s schedule over several weeks and discovered he spent an average of 85 hours each week in ministry work. In one congregation we served, Charlotte was teaching six times a week with five different age groups. Without a daily devotional time, we might not see each other some days except to trade greetings. Our daily devotional lets us share at least 15 or 20 minutes.
2. God has input. So many impressions — some ungodly, many mundane — bombard our minds each day. Without a specific time and place to listen to God, we may not be able to hear him. So our devotional time is an opening in the day for him to guide us in marriage and ministry.
3. We experience intimacy at a deeper level. Marital intimacy is more than a sexual relationship; it involves coming before God as one flesh, not merely as two individuals, and growing together in our walk with him. Devotionals in duet provide a way for us to do that. (This intimacy also helps protect against temptations to be unfaithful to God and to each other.)
4. We set an example for our children. Our three children learned the importance of a consistent, shared devotional life, and now our married children are practicing their own devotionals in duet.
Six Keys for Making It Work
We know this habit is hard to begin and maintain, and it is tempting to drop the whole idea. But the investment yields great dividends. These suggestions can help you begin and maintain this discipline.
1. Make a covenant with each other and with God. Nothing this important should be treated casually. We conducted our own ceremony in which we admitted our need for devotions together, stated our decision together (including all details) and verbally promised each other before God that we would treat our devotions as “top sacred.”
2. Stick to a schedule. To guarantee consistency, early morning is our only option; we usually begin between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m. That way we can get a jump on our full day (and, when they were home, our children).
If a breakfast business meeting is unavoidable, we meet later in the day. Even while we are apart, we decide how to get together. During one seven-month stretch when Bob’s job kept him away from home five days a week, we each read the day’s selection and then briefly talked and prayed by telephone.
3. Set the place. A specific place becomes a special place. Our “altar” is the bed, where we lean against the headboard on recliner pillows. It is comfortable, with reading lights above us and coffee cups on the bedside tables.
4. Agree on content and approach. Scripture and prayer are the main ingredients, but you must answer several questions as you begin: What will you read, and how much? If you use a devotional guide, how will you select it?
Several times, we have read the entire Bible during the year. (We often use Daily Walk or The Daily Bible.) We each read silently and then discuss application. Then we turn to prayer.
During our prayer time, we share requests, both for ourselves and for others. (We use a prayer list so we can see how God responds.) We both pray aloud. Some families assume the man should lead prayer while his spouse remains silent. But we are convinced that men need to hear their wives pray in order to know their wives’ hearts better. And as a minister, I especially need to hear my wife pray for me, because she is my main supporter.
5. Be flexible. One December, as we were planning for the coming year, we felt a need to read more slowly instead of going through the entire Bible. We spent the next 12 months in the Psalms and the Gospels, reading less but discussing more.
We breathe freshness into our routine in other ways. We may use different versions each year or supplement Bible readings with devotional materials written by saints from the past and present.
6. Be honest. It takes effort and courage to confess weaknesses, sins and struggles to each other, not to mention asking God for forgiveness in each other’s presence. It is hard to admit that we struggle with the meaning of a certain passage or with how it confronts us. But such honesty brings us closer to each other as well as to God.
Ministry marriages are in trouble. Once, Bob began naming ministers he knew who were facing serious domestic problems. He quit counting at 28! We are convinced that our devotional in duet helped us avoid many heartaches. This habit has been a cornerstone for our marriage and work, ensuring that we minister to each other and not only to a congregation.
United We Stand
Unless We Don’t See Eye to Eye
by Stephanie Wolfe
Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain. She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. (Prov. 31:10-12)
Oh, oh. I don’t feel like my husband found one. At least, not today . . . well, not this week . . . okay, so maybe longer. Worth? Somewhere around a “cat’s eye” marble. Today, my heart has not been a safe place for him. I’ve been grumbling and complaining all day. I have every right to, you know. I have my list of things that should be, my record of wrongs, my catalog of hurt feelings, and of course my ready reference to past infractions. Yes, I have it all.
Years ago, I thought I wanted to be an attorney. I would right every wrong, bring justice where there was injustice, and I do have a knack for arguing! The sharp tongue, the in-your-face attitude, the evil-eye . . . yep, I’ve got it all and it comes natural to me. Why, I’d be a millionaire.
Oh, I know what you’re saying . . . not you? Surely you are just being too hard on yourself. I’ve seen you interact with your husband and it’s . . . magical. Though, that is true of us MOST of the time, we have our combustible topics, just like anyone else.
If it were up to my husband, we’d never fight. He’s not a fighter. He doesn’t like conflict at all. He’s a lover, not a fighter. He’s always ready to let me have my way . . . but that’s not good enough for me, oh no, I have to “win” fair and square. So fight we must, until I say the fight is over. Yuck. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I’d learn to give in, but I can be so stubborn.
I’m a bit like the woman in this story:
A man and his wife were having some problems at home and were giving each other the silent treatment. The next week the man realized that he would need his wife to wake him at 5:00 a.m. for an early morning business flight to Chicago. Not wanting to be the first to break the silence (AND LOSE), he wrote on a piece of paper, “Please wake me at 5:00 AM,” and laid it on her night stand. The next morning the man woke up, only to discover it was 9:00 a.m. and that he had missed his flight. Furious, he was about to go and see why his wife hadn’t woken him up when he noticed a piece of paper on his night stand. The paper said, “It is 5:00 a.m. Wake up.” (Men are not equipped for these kinds of contests.)
The Bible says we are to “confess our sins one to another that we may be healed.” So, just let me confess, okay? I’m prideful, stubborn and self-righteous. I confess. Wow, I feel better already. Anyway, this is much easier than going into the other room and telling my husband I’m sorry. (He never visits this Web site!) Wow, that’s some kind of stubborn, huh? You mean I have to go and tell him? Of course, I knew it would come to that. I will. I just want to wait a few more minutes while I finish my written confession of imperfection!
Well, the Proverbs 31 woman is a figment of the writer’s imagination, you know. She’s like Barbie . . . she’s not real! That is my excuse for not trying to live up to the lofty ideals mentioned there. Even the writer says, “Who can find one?” Evidently no one ever has! I mean, come on! She does him good and not evil all the days of her life. What about PMS? That should be an acceptable excuse for some “off” days, shouldn’t it? Now, don’t get me wrong, I have some good days where I “do him good and not evil.” I even have some good weeks (though, this isn’t one of them), but all the days of my life? I think not.
Ministry marriage is one of those “high risk” relationships anyway, and deserves some “special consideration.” Plus, being a pastor’s wife is a tough gig and nobody seems to be writing a manual about how to do what we do. Though, I know what I should do, and I even write about it, I still struggle with doing it. How can I serve him best? How can I assist him in his calling? What if I don’t see it the way he sees it? What if I don’t agree? How can two walk together if they disagree? How can we share about how we feel and still stand united? It’s a mystery to me, but I know that surrender is the key. I don’t like to surrender — before surrendering — but I feel good about surrendering — after I surrender.
I share my feelings, my thoughts, my suggestions, but then it’s up to him. After I share, I will have to trust him, believe in him and pray for him. Man, that’s hard to do, but it is the right thing to do. Complaining, griping, criticizing and mocking sure aren’t working. I think it is time for a new strategy. How about loving, trusting, praying and encouraging? (I’ll let you know how it works out for me.)
I would love to think that my epitaph would read, “Stephanie Wolfe, Virtuous Woman,” but it probably won’t . . . especially if I die this week!
What Pastors’ Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Them
by Barbara Milioni
My husband and I know that for us to have a good relationship, we need to understand each other’s needs and expectations. Dr. James Dobson wrote a wonderful book — explaining women called What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Women. Here are a few additions — especially for pastors.
Love Me. The apostle Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” (Ephesians 5:25). I need to know I am more important to my husband than board meetings and men’s gym night. I appreciate Mark making time to spend with me, doing things we can enjoy together.
Love Our Family. There are many ministers, but our kids have only one dad, and they need him to make time too. Every morning Mark drives our children to school, giving them a chance to talk, laugh and have a few minutes of undivided attention from Dad.
Know My Limits. Contrary to popular belief, pastor’s wives are not auditioning for the role of Superwoman. Mark and I try to set goals and priorities together and then work to achieve them. We pray before committing to anything to make sure God is leading us more than our own desires. We’ve learned we can say no to a certain task and God could supply the right person.
Protect Me — physically, spiritually, emotionally. When our ministry began, deacons’ wives would sometimes ask me about some juicy tidbit of information their husbands had told them after a meeting. The other wives were shocked to realize I had no clue as to what they were talking about. It wasn’t that Mark was leaving me out; he was protecting me.
Laugh With Me, Never at Me. Though my early efforts at “tuna-spaghetti casserole for two” could have helped Jesus feed the 5,000, Mark waited until I laughed first before he joined in and turned the situation into one that we could laugh at together.
But there are some things I’d rather the congregation not know about. I don’t want to be the subject of a sermon illustration or joke if it will hurt my feelings or humiliate me. And I never want Mark to use a story from our lives without first asking my permission.
Pray For Me. I struggle not only with my own battles, but also with the awareness of my husband’s burden for the flock. I know how much it hurts when someone strays, the energy he expends with a family in crisis, the hours he spends preparing to feed the sheep.
So I want Mark to pray that I will be sensitive to his needs, that I will be wise in my counsel, that I will be gentle with my tongue and that our home will always be one where he is happy to return. And while he’s at it, I also want him to pray just for me, personally.
When Couples Are Cruel
by Louis McBurney
Louis and Melissa McBurney Summer cookouts can be great fun with friends — unless they’re barbecuing each other. I endured one of those backyard battles one night. John and Mary arrived a little late and wasted no time skewering each other.
“Sorry we’re late. Mary was trying to make herself beautiful. Failed again!”
“I might be able to do it if you didn’t hog the bathroom and then sit in the car honking for me to hurry up!”
“Oh, yeah, blame it on me. Is that why you’re late picking up the kids from soccer?”
The mosquitoes were less irritating.
As onlookers, you’d probably scramble to separate the combatants or change the topic — or maybe you’re that couple. This behavior raises two questions. Why would any couple act that way, and how can they change?
Why couples are cruel
My wife and I have friends who joke that their “language of love” is sarcasm and ridicule.
My wife and I have friends who joke that their “language of love” is sarcasm and ridicule. This may seem like a funny way to express tenderness, but there may be some understandable reasons — though not excuses — for being cruel.
1. Cruelty was modeled in childhood.
If your family of origin used put-downs as a prominent communication style, You may not be aware of its damaging effects. It may be second nature to criticize, and you may have chosen a mate who also knows that language and finds it oddly comforting. It’s often easier to maintain a familiar pattern than change.
2. Unresolved anger spills over.
Learning to deal effectively with conflict isn’t easy, and many individuals are never taught how. In fact, many Christians believe that feeling or expressing anger is a sin. But the Bible implores us to resolve conflict quickly and decisively, not to deny and suppress the anger. Anger that is stuffed oozes out around the edges.
Beneath John and Mary’s demeaning comments are many areas of disappointment or tension: physical appearance, parenting roles and respect. All are seen in the skirmish. Their late arrival only stirred up those feelings.
3. Individual insecurity breeds cruelty.
When a person struggles with feelings of inadequacy, he or she may deal with it by putting other people down. If you feel good about who you are and show up late for an event, you can apologize without having to blame your mate or anyone else.
4. Passive guilt can be used to, provoke a response.
John’s jabs provoke Mary’s anger, and vice versa. This is often called spite talk, and it’s a deliberate and sometimes desperate attempt to vent the pain. But spite talk is an ineffective way to communicate the hurt and anger beneath the surface.
5. Fear of emotional closeness erodes wellbeing.
Intimacy creates vulnerability. To share your deepest feelings of love and desire to be loved can seem scary, which is particularly true if you’ve felt rejected.
Have you ever tried to apologize but been ignored, so you shut down?
Have you ever tried to apologize but been ignored, so you shut down? True oneness is based on a trust powerful enough to risk being vulnerable and still feel safe.
For some individuals, intimacy is foreign. They survive by maintaining distance and by not drawing near to others. Couples get stuck in an approach-avoidance dance that leaves both partners frustrated. It’s like seeing one hand motioning for you to come closer and the other hand thrust out in resistance.
If you’re in this pattern of put-downs and cruelty, consider its destructive effects: It tears down your mate’s confidence. It puts you both in a negative light around others. It blocks intimacy. It erodes your spiritual well-being, and it teaches your children to be inconsiderate and unkind.
Fortunately, you don’t have to remain locked in this dance of disrespect. You can take productive steps to freedom, and changing your patterns can affect your children and your children’s children!
How couples can change
1. Be aware of how you have been treating each other.
Most couples engaged in the deadly combat of verbal cruelty have become blind to the extent of their destruction. They see their mates’ vicious attacks, yet they are defensive about their own venom. This process of discovery is not easy or painless. In fact, you may need help to see the truth. Close friends might help but it’d be better to schedule a few sessions with a marriage counselor.
2. Respect each other.
Both husbands and wives desire respect. I would live in fear if I thought my wife, Melissa, did not respect me as a person. My fear would become terror if I thought she would disrespect me in front of others. I’d feel hurt, embarrassment, rejection, anger and loss of respect toward her. Still, respecting your mate may not be easy at times. I’m sure I blow it regularly, but I’m also confident that Melissa’s respect is not based solely on my performance. Choosing to express love in this way gives you greater control of your life.
3. Be a positive, confident, effective partner.
It’s more fun to stroll through life hand-in-hand with a positive person. Isn’t it better to build your mate’s self-esteem than to tear it down? Nit-picking and criticism will gradually, but assuredly, reduce your mate to a person of insecurity and self-doubt.
4. Develop true intimacy.
Part of marital intimacy is certainly sexual. Connecting sexually can bring two people together in a wonderful bond. It can also be a superficial togetherness. Without real intimacy, spiritual and emotional connectedness is harder to develop.
A new start
In the process of change, give yourselves a lot of grace. Neither of you planned to assassinate the character of your mate or desired to become a couple that is uncomfortable to be around. Rather than staying in the blame game, look below the surface at the causes of your conflict.
Like John and Mary, you may have all sorts of hidden agendas. Maybe you’ve already identified one or two dynamics that explain your ineffective patterns. That’s the first step.
Finally, take time to learn more effective ways to develop intimacy. That includes learning how to express love, how to resolve the conflicts (which are inevitable in marriage) and how to become your mate’s biggest fan. You’ll both be more fun at summer cookouts if you’re not fanning the flames toward each other!
Why Be a Woman of the Word?
by Pam Farrel
It was one of those days. It must have been a Monday. I had been away speaking all weekend. I picked up the phone to gather voice-mail messages. “You have 31 messages.” I put down the receiver, discouraged. A stack of correspondence, a half-finished manuscript, and my email screen all stared back at me demanding a response. I was officially overwhelmed.
I had made a commitment to God, that I would spend time with Him before I would start my workday, but this day I hadn’t had my quiet time yet. I reached across the desk and picked up my dog-eared copy of Daily Light for the Daily Path, a book that gathers verses of the Bible together by topic, and has a Bible reading for each morning and evening. I opened to January 8th and read: “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able. Able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. Able to make all grace abound to you so that in all things at all times, having all you need, you will abound in every good work . . . Able to guard what I have entrusted . . . Who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control . . . Do you believe I am able to do this? . . . According to your faith it will be done to you.”
I felt free to be me and let God be God.
ABLE! ABLE! ABLE! I felt free to be me and let God be God. I thought of several friends in ministry who might also be encouraged by receiving this same devotional page. I turned to January 8th to copy it. It wasn’t there. I turned to February 8th — not there either. I turned to March 8th. It was the March 8th reading, but I had read it on January 8th! I’d been so preoccupied, I’d read the wrong page — but God had me read the right day for me! He is Able! Guard My Heart, Lord!
One woman who had sat in a Bible-teaching church Sunday after Sunday for over 10 years told me something one day that took my breath away. She had been having an affair with her best friend’s husband! Those in her world had counseled her, confronted her in love, shown her care and compassion — everything possible to help her see the trauma she was causing two families — then one day she eloped with this man! When she arrived back in town, I saw her at one of our children’s sporting events. She was so excited. She was flitting from person to person showing her ring and wedding pictures. When she arrived in front of Bill and me, we were shocked by her flippancy, “Oh, aren’t you excited for me? I just knew it was God’s will that we marry because, after the ceremony, I looked up and there was a ring around the moon!”
“A ring around the moon!” my heart screamed with sadness. Her heart had drifted so far from God’s Word that her decision-making ability had become irrational. That day has stayed with me — primarily because it wasn’t an isolated incident. A best friend, married to a minister, told me God had led her to an Internet chat room where she encountered a man who met her emotional and sexual needs. Another woman, who had been a committed women’s leader for years, told me at a retreat, “I was praying about whether to leave my current ministry, and I saw a butterfly and thought, ‘Butterflies are free; I am free from this ministry calling now. I am released to fly on to something else. Something for me.'”
I feel compelled to be in the Word daily.
Our world has become so feelings-based and experiential, women are hopping from one emotional high to another. Sadly, this thinking is also creeping into the church, and into church leadership.
Seeing this, I feel compelled to be in the Word daily because every day I lean on an experience or emotion rather than on God and His Word is one more day my heart drifts further from truth, and further from God. If I don’t gird up my mind with the truth, I will drift from the truth.
Guard My Emotions, Lord!
Recently, the emotional pressure in my life had escalated — facing deadline upon deadline, bad medical news, grief over my father’s death, plus the daily stress of church leadership and family responsibilities. I sat in my doctor’s office in tears. All I wanted to do was escape, and drive to the beach to spend time with God. Only by talking to God and having Him talk to me through the Word would salve this pain.
I knew that I would be okay if I could just get to the beach and let God’s love wash over me like the waves wash over the sand. So I drove home, told my husband I would be gone for a few hours, and I grabbed my Bible, concordance, journal and a few devotional books. I rushed to the beach, anxious to spend time with God. I read, prayed, journaled, walked, listened — and read some more. Finally, both peace and a plan came.
Guard My Body, Lord!
Last fall, I had weeks of back-to-back speaking engagements. On a trip to Colorado, I remember thinking, “Wow, this is great! My flight got booked with some breathing space. I’ll get there early, take a nap, shower and feel so refreshed.” I arrived at the Denver airport only to discover that my connecting flight was canceled, and I was stuck in the airport for five hours. I would have to dress for the event in the airport restroom and step off the plane and go immediately to my speaking engagement. My heart sank. How was I ever going to get the rest I needed stranded in an airport?
I walked the terminal and prayed. I spotted an empty gate; one that had a door that opened to the outside with fresh air streaming in. With a little ingenuity, I created my own lounge chair by placing my suitcase under my legs and my purse under my head. I began to read a book by A.W. Tozer about the character of God. The book was packed with verses, and I just devoured it. As I read, some birds hopped into the terminal and began to feed on the crumbs of tourist food. I thought of the verse, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matt. 6:26).
I smiled, read the final page of my book and drifted off to sweet slumber — in the airport! I awoke an hour later, refreshed and thankful that those who wait on the Lord gain renewed strength.
Guard My Mind, Lord!
If I am lost in a city, I like to go to a map so I can see the “big picture.” The same thing is true of discerning God’s will. Having an overall general understanding of God’s book, character, actions and words helps us to understand God and to understand how He works. Try one of these new ideas to layer God’s Word into your life this New Year:
1. Read the Bible through in a year. (The One-Year Bible and Walk Through the Bible Devotional/Bible Study magazine are great options.) You might read a new translation or use a different study tool as you read, but year after year — even if it takes you a few years to read it through — God’s Word will become anchored into your heart.
2. Study the Bible chronologically. Studying the Bible this way has helped me form my philosophy and methodology of ministry. For example, because I see how God lays foundations, then builds on them, I want to do the same in my ministry.
3. Study the character of God. By studying who God is, I get to see how He thinks, acts and relates to people. When I am in a tough spot, especially when I have to make a quick decision, I go back and ask, “What would God’s character have me do?” This year, I had several important decisions on my mind, decisions that would dramatically impact my family, my ministry and my future. I felt compelled to travel back to the place I started my Christian walk more than 30 years ago — in the book of Matthew. I re-read all the words of Jesus in the gospels, seeking the heart of God on the matter before me.
Other ideas for study are the names of God in the Old Testament, the verses that speak of God as the Father, the names Christ is called in the Old and New Testament, and the names and character of the Holy Spirit. When you layer God’s Word into your life on a daily basis, you gain the ability to see things from God’s perspective. Jesus explains it with the phrase, “You are in me and I in you” (John 14:20, John 17:21-22). The Word of God is the key ingredient in protecting your life: “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). My prayer is that I will never run my life by a ring around the moon, but by God’s Word that’s been hidden in my heart.
A Work in Progress
Growing into a godly husband doesn’t happen in a day.
by Daniel Guy
After dinner one evening, I noticed my wife wasn’t her usual cheerful self. “Is something wrong?” I asked.
“I could’ve really used your prayers last night.”
“Sorry. It slipped my mind. I was tired.”
“You aren’t giving me what I need! This just isn’t what I thought marriage would be.”
After several of these painful discussions, I slowly came to understand my wife held certain expectations for our marriage that were not being met. Even before we were married, she longed for a husband who would fulfill the role of spiritual head of the household.
She wanted someone who would lead daily Bible readings, initiate family prayer times and help cultivate her spiritual growth. She even had an idea of how these devotional times would be structured. All these ideals were part of a bigger desire for a marriage that would be Christ-centered, strong, joyful and alive. So how could such praiseworthy expectations lead to so much conflict?
Many Christian women have hopes for their married life that are similar to those held by my wife. These ideals are mostly based on Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in which he states that the husband is to be to his wife what Christ is to the church, emphasizing Jesus’ example of self-sacrifice in both love and headship (Ephesians 5:22-33). These themes, along with the commands for deacons and elders in 1 Timothy and Titus, have been taken to mean that the responsibility for the family’s spiritual health lies on the husband’s shoulders.
Naturally, young women who have grown up reading these Scripture passages often aspire to a marriage that reflects these teachings. These desires are often accompanied, however, by the expectation that such a marriage will happen immediately and effortlessly. Unfortunately, such an unrealistic standard will lead to frustration and can hinder the greater goal of a Christ-centered marriage.
It is also helpful to differentiate between needs and goals. Decide as a couple what spiritual practices need to be immediately present in the marriage.
A word for wives
This is not to say that wives should lower their expectations. Instead, couples can work to develop a positive — and realistic — plan to obtain such a spiritual relationship.
Ladies, remember that filling a new role takes time, and it may take your man a few years to learn the basics of being a good husband. Patiently encourage and pray for him as he figures out the spiritual side of having a family. Keep in mind that he is called to be a godly husband, not the family pastor.
It is also helpful to differentiate between needs and goals. Decide as a couple what spiritual practices need to be immediately present in the marriage. Once those things are securely in place, work together to establish goals for your marriage that will be accomplished over time.
A word for husbands
While many Christian women sometimes hold unrealistic expectations, their husbands often have no expectations at all. Men, the first step in becoming a spiritual leader is to develop some idea of what it is you are striving to become.
Read over Paul’s instructions to husbands, as well as his lists of qualifications for elders and deacons. Though you may not be considering a leadership role in the church, these verses provide good guidelines for any family man. Talk and pray with your wife about what your personal spiritual goals should be. Once these are established, see that you are continually and prayerfully moving toward them.
Pay attention to your wife’s spiritual and emotional needs. Being the spiritual leader in your home does not require that you become a full-time pastor, but rather that you nurture and protect the spiritual well-being of your family. Learn to initiate times for prayer and Bible discussion. Each marriage is unique, so be creative in your approach; find times, places and events in which you and your wife are best able to experience God together.
The husband’s role of spiritual leader takes time to grow into. Remember to be patient with each other during this process. Don’t give up on your desires for a godly marriage. Instead, prayerfully set reasonable expectations and, with God’s help, work together to make them a reality.