For years, I prayed for the “right one” to come along. I can remember sitting across from my friend John and telling him about the other guys I really liked. Then somehow in the span of three years and in spite of my move to another country, we became best friends and realized how much we could just be “ourselves” with the each other. This blossomed into something more and I can still recall the perfect night under a full moon overlooking a harbor in Maine that we admitted our feelings had morphed into “more.” The only “hitch” I told him was that I was “called” into full-time ministry, and I felt I should marry someone who felt the same way.
Less than a year later I dressed up like Cinderella, and we made our vows before God and man. It happened all of the ways everyone says it should. Sure, we thought we were ancient (at 24) compared to our friends who married right after college, but three months later we were pregnant with baby number one. By the time we had been married three years, we were both in full time ministry with three kiddos. You swear you will not “over romanticize” how it will be once you get married, but there is really no way not to. There are hopes and dreams as he carried you over the threshold. You believe every love song and it feels like you just can’t get enough of each other. At least that is really the way it happened for me.
Until you wake up one day and realize, “This is not the way I thought life would be.” Ministry is hard…really hard, and it is constantly creeping into every corner of your life. There isn’t a vacation or day off when a deep hurt or need from someone doesn’t invite a phone call. Every week night is another activity out and weekends are never “off.” You get to an age when friends start to move away from the “Early Thriftstore” decorating and have furniture that actually matches. In other words, they start to appear to have some money, and you still are struggling. Looking in the mirror some lines begin to creep in around the eyes, and you aren’t sure if it’s caused by laughter or worry.
Then as life begins to take nibbles from you here and there you say things to your spouse like, “I have to work this many hours. This is my ministry, but it’s also my job.” Resentment begins to seep in just a little from the amount of seemingly one-sided effort put into the family, from both of you. Each of you feels neglected, because by the end of the day everyone else has gotten your energy: kids, ministry, life…and there is simply no more for each other. Then one day you look at each other and ask, “Are we going to make it?”
This is the point at which many will talk about “falling out of love,” or that the “butterflies are gone.” It’s just not that simple. It’s more that you have forgotten what your relationship looks like. Doing work FOR the Lord has replaced your relationship WITH Him.
You like the feeling that “working for good” gives you. Being on a stage speaking, being needed by many fills a void, or so we think. It isn’t even your spouses’ fault. If you are honest, you are generally unhappy with many things and have no one to blame.
The church or ministry has leadership that are telling you all you are “not,” and you believe them. Perhaps, your spouse wants to throw in the towel, but you are “called.” They try to support you but you believe the words of the naysayers (if you are truthful). What do you do? You can’t point fingers at God, because well, He’s God. You are angry at those in the church that hurt you, but you don’t want to burn bridges. So honestly, bitterness funnels onto the only one you feel like you CAN nit-pick. So this discontent bubbles and boils right onto your other half. It’s so easy to take a first step down a slippery slope and keep walking away from your spouse in the name of “ministry.” Then before you know it, one or the other of you has a wandering eye to someone else who might care for you just a little bit better.
Truthfully, now married 17 years I keep hearing of friends and family who have gotten divorced, many of them as a result of ministry. Honestly, it is becoming rare to have peers who have “made it” past 15 -20 years together. I have had that moment when my husband called me out and told me that I was putting ministry before everything else. I have had that moment when my husband wasn’t terribly “lovable” for a period of time. We know marriage takes work. To allow true love to take it’s roots deeper takes care and tending and dealing with the pests that will cause disease. Making a marriage work in ministry takes honesty.
When things start to go wrong with our marriage where does the issue really lie?
Have we forgotten our “first love” in Jesus? Have we become driven to be seen as “successful” in ministry? Are we angry at God because well, we thought choosing ministry meant a different life than the one we got? Is our soul worn out?
My husband and I have been through bumps and bruises, and we have learned first and foremost we don’t have it all figured out. We have also seen that too many times we have lost our first love when our marriage is hurting. What we do know is our marriage is always worth it, because the Lord gave us each other on this path to be with Jesus.
Tomorrow I will tell you a couple of things we have learned to keep our marriage healthy. But today just remember to step back and put your marriage behind God and in front of your ministry. No matter what the people at church want from you.