My husband, Michael, and I sat across from our counselor at an 11:00 am appointment on a seemingly perfect Thursday. Our lives didn’t look much like a Hallmark movie. There we were on an older, faded couch sitting almost where the two cushions came together. His hand rested on my knee, directly over the hole of my jeans. A year of disappointment - make that two years of disappointment - brought us to this place. It wasn't an affair, pornography or sneaking around - although I understand all of those - it was the loss of expectation. What dangerous waters "failed expectations" are because many people stuff these feelings down. Affairs exasperate things, so can pornography; these seem like obvious reasons to make space for help. But disappointment? This lurks in tide pools, never making big waves, but slowly it can drown a human because no one was made to tread water their whole life.
For two years, my husband and I privately fought through rejections on many playing fields. We wondered where was God and why us? I, Michael's wife, started to secretly blame him. My very human thoughts would bounce around in my head that I could tackle our plans better than him. That’s so scary to say out loud but it's the honest truth. So not only was it disappointment that placed us on that couch, but blame. I actually don't think Michael did this to me. He instead spent the year fighting for our marriage as my head filled with lies. Maybe his did, too. That's his story to tell, not mine.
In our highly educated and Biblical competent circles, we all know marriage is important, but as leaders in ministry, is caring for our marriage our utmost goal beyond abiding in Christ? Or have our ministries trumped our covenants? Worse, have we grown content with a shallow marriage? Peter Scazzero, the author of Emotionally Healthy Leaders, writes that we should be leading out of our marriages, rather than leading while being married. Two very different concepts, two radically different outcomes.
When we choose to lead out of our marriages it becomes a bright spot in our world of social injustices, fighting church members and fallen pedestal pastors. A marriage of genuine hope rooted in proper identity, real laughter, and the importance of affection might be the church our neighborhoods are craving. At least, I'm craving it, and so is Michael. So we're taking steps out of the tide pool and re-focusing our gaze on Christ. Here's how:
The truth is: a life of ministry is a good life. Isn't it incredible that we get to do this…for our lives? We get to visit widows and listen to them in their brown recliners while light floods through the windows of their assisted living homes. We go to hospital rooms and hold babies, absorbed in the miracle of DNA strand upon DNA strand that makes up such cute babies. We get to open the Word of God and share it with others, reading phrases like, "God can do immeasurably more" and "where the Spirit is, there is freedom."
Unfortunately, in the great joys of ministry, we constantly get asked the questions: “How big is your church? How good is the pastor at vision-casting? How is he at mobilizing the people?” In our human flesh, maybe our minds are tired of stacking the deck, forgetting the humble beginnings of Jesus.
And let it be proclaimed, “Praise God for the megachurch! And praise God for the small country church! Praise God for the unified body of believers!”
But if we aren’t careful, our identity as ministry leaders can get wrapped up in whether or not our ministry is "successful" and this ultimately poisons our souls. It poisoned ours. So we had to open the Bible, not for others, but for ourselves, and remember who we are despite the outcomes of our church. We concluded what we all know: We are sons and daughters loved by God (Romans 5:8), saved by grace, not by works (Ephesians 2:8), and that there will be many pastor's and pastor's wives of our church as she lives, but never another marriage of the same man and woman.
Ministry is amazing and also hard. We do funerals and bury people, people that maybe didn't know Jesus. We are constantly at the church, so much so that our kids know they can belly laugh to get attention and fall asleep on the pastor's couch in his office. Our calendars fill up with hosting meals at our homes and having Bible studies on the other evenings. This isn't to mention the other "personal" aspects of our lives - whether or not our children are behaving, if we have sick parents to tend to, and actual menial things like making grocery lists and vacuuming floors.
In the midst of it all, we can forget to laugh because the burden feels so heavy. To be honest, I feel silly asking us “to laugh,” because it seems so childish. But lately, I’ve begun to wonder what Jesus’ laugh sounded like. Certainly he laughed around tables genuinely enjoying the fellowship of his friends. He knew the weight of his mission. He eventually would sweat drops of blood, but the weight of the broken world didn’t keep him from engaging in rich fellowship - in the same way we can with our spouse.
Think: What drew you to your spouse? Is there a chance that you used to laugh with each other, laughing over things like funny TV shows, books and trying new things? Was there a time that you both were so full of hope that smiles would creep up your lips because you really believed God? I mean really believed him.
Paul prays, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” When we are filled with hope again, laughter feels easier. So does going roller skating, laughing over a burnt meal or taking off your shoes and feeling wholly alive with God and your spouse.
Talking about privileges, how fun is it that you get to kiss your bride over and over again? And brides you get to kiss your groom each and every day - multiple times a day. It's easy to fall into routines, forgetting to pull one another in for a quick surprise kiss near the kitchen sink.
Remember when it seemed that electricity pulsed through your veins when you first started dating? Or when she passed you a note in science class? Or when he would casually linger at your work desk making you feel special and worth something?
From the very beginning, we are taught, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) In Hebrew thought, the term “flesh” didn’t just speak of the physical body, but of the whole person. For example, when God said to Noah, “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them” he was referencing more than bodies. In the same way, we use the word “everybody,” God used the Hebrew word “flesh” to mean “person.” This can only mean that to become “one flesh” means to become “one person.”
There are many gospel implications we could explore here, but what if we simply explored the joy of touch? The joy of being one. Practically speaking, this means when the kids are loud and the girls need their hair done and backpacks still need to get packed in order to get out the door, if Michael leans in to kiss me, I kiss him back. All the way. I really kiss him back.
We are spending a lot of time and resources on how to revitalize our churches, plant churches, and grow our churches. We should be. In addition to all of those conversations, could we lead out of our marriages instead of leading while being married? Wouldn't that be so alluring? Couldn't that be a key element to our church growth strategy?
Hallmark makes a killing with their over-the-top movies. And they certainly are extravagant, but so is the story of Jesus; the Son of God whose mission was to atone humanity and redeem all realms seems to be quite a good script, too. I'm not saying that we should all move to Evergreen, Colorado, build a barn and kiss under the mistletoe every day of our lives, but I am suggesting we look at our marriages as something worth fighting for. I'm also hypothesizing that a thriving marriage might be the very thing our communities are looking for more than a good children's program and a well-crafted worship set. And if that means I get to kiss my husband more, so be it.