Early in 2012 my wife Michelle and I came to a difficult decision. While I had been involved in full time ministry for 10 years in Port Alberni, BC Canada and was thoroughly enjoying that season of life, we came to the point of realizing that in order to be faithful to God's call on our lives, I needed to pursue my studies full time.
So with our second son Elias only 3 weeks old, in November 2012 we moved back to Saint Charles, IL and I enrolled full time at Judson University in Elgin, IL in the Biblical and Theological Studies Program. It has been a difficult season for our family as I have been working full time at school, fatherhood, being a husband, and working any minute available. As I am nearing the end of my studies I have been praying through Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:25, and seeking to love my wife better this summer while we go on vacation. She has encouraged, prayed, and supported me as I have sought to juggle studies, work, and family. She has dealt with me during my frustrations, put up with my absence, and has lovingly shouldered much of the responsibilities at home to enable me to focus. I had tried to “plan-out” and force growth by “spiritualizing” our vacation by buying some great books and study guides to go through thinking this would bring about the best vacation ever.
But then I came to the realization that the best way to love my wife was to give her myself and not a lesson plan.
Like Michelle, there are countless wives of pastors who have loved, cared, and supported their husbands as they serve and lead the local church. Brothers, here are some thoughts as I planned our summer holidays.
It can be difficult to swing, but if possible, get away alone with your spouse. Even if you have your kids with you on vacation, try to do what you can to spend some alone time. While my wife and I love our kids, it is great to be able to go and spend time alone together. Sometimes your wife needs a break as well, and often you both need to spend some quality time with each other.
I know this may go without saying, but I need to remind myself of this. When going on vacation it's important to unplug from anything that will distract. I am notorious for checking my emails, seeing if there is an issue at work, and before long I am in work mode getting involved and finding solutions.
Do what you have to do to get unplugged and be present. I've tried telling myself I will not turn on my email notifications, or take that call, but I am convinced that I just need to leave my computer, tablet, and phone at home. Pastor, let the Elders know, let the staff know. Set clear boundaries that you will be unavailable while away. I once had a Senior Pastor pull me aside before the start of his holidays to give me an emergency phone number of where he was going to be with the specific instructions, "Only call me if someone dies." This Pastor wanted to protect his time with his family and be present during their time together.
One of many things I am poor at is selflessly putting others first. When I think of vacations, I automatically think that I should get to do what I want, that I get to set the agenda, and others have the privilege of joining in. My ideal vacation is to wake up, go fishing for the morning, and sun tan in the afternoon. I am content spending my vacation focusing on either one or both of those tasks. But Michelle loves to sight-see. She wants to go touring, visit locations, and take pictures. I want to do none of those things because they involve being around people, and when I'm relaxing, I don't want to be around people. But loving our wives, modeling the love of Christ, is to sacrificially serve our spouses by laying aside our agendas and sharing in their joy and desires.
I remember first meeting Michelle and doing everything I could to win her affection. I put my best foot forward, went out of my way to act like a gentleman, put together great date nights, and paid close attention when we just sat and talked. I fought tooth and nail to win her heart. I am embarrassed to say that over the last 9 years of marriage, I have relaxed quite a bit and, dare I say, have taken my wife for granted.
This summer, be intentional and fight for your wife's affection. Be extravagant, be unpredictable, be attentive, be a gentleman. Woo your wife, surprise and shower her with affection. Let her know you still have the same passion for her now that you had when you first laid eyes on her; when you felt deep within that you had to spend your life together. I know I should be doing this all the time but I haven't. It's time to be intentional and love my wife the way she desires and deserves to be loved.
One other aspect of being intentional needs to be noted. Recently, Michelle and I meet with the Elders of Redeemer Fellowship and they asked her what are my growth areas. She was very kind in her response -- too kind. Knowing the struggles we had been facing over the past season it was important for me to spend time asking her about the health of our relationship. So I sat down with her later while on vacation to press in on this issue. What could I do to be a better husband? Take the time to “check-in” with your wife. Find out those area blindspots and ask her how you can be taking better care of her and the family as well as what does she finds difficult during this time in your lives.
A perfect vacation is not about the waves, fresh powder, or the length of stay. It is found with your wife by being alone, present, willing, and intentional. Love your wife who has supported, cared, and enabled you to focus on the call God has put upon your life. Don't just do this because she has been faithful to you, but because you love her and there is no one else you want to spend time with this summer. Husbands, "rejoice in the wife of your youth” (Proverbs 5:18)