When and if God places me in front of young, eager, kingdom-minded students, I know one of the lectures I offer them from the start would be: make much of your marriage.
As a veteran of ministry I know full-well the draw of it and obsession with it. I know how it can consume you, titillate you, massage your ego and vie for your undivided attention. It is an attractive mistress that swishes and sashays in front of you, and when it beats those long eyelashes and delivers its bedroom eyes…forget about it. You’re toast.
A whole movement of God among men began with the disconsolate look upon a wife’s face—a wife who had lost her husband to his good work. The other woman.
Brethren, as Paul would say, these things ought not be! The same apostle would point in the direction of the minister’s wife and tell the man of the cloth (or whatever the case might be) to be diligent to love her. Don’t just say the words. Don’t assume she already knows. Love her.
Love her so she knows she is your cherished and treasured woman and there are no seconds. Love her so she feels so settled about you in her heart that she wouldn’t just be shocked if news of an affair came out, but that she knows it would never happen. Ever.
I say these things because I know there are wives of ministers out there who simply do not know where they fit in their husband’s life anymore, let alone if they even do. They are so used to the ignored phone calls, the glazed looks, the distracted looks, the preoccupied looks, the elsewhere looks. She knows she has dropped in his personal rankings. She sees how everyone else asks for and gets his time, how he seems so much more patient with them than he is with her. She watches how he lights up in certain settings in ways she used to remember, long ago, he did for her.
But that is a far-gone memory.
So she puts on her Sunday face and bravely does the church thing, all the while mourning, grieving and seething inside. She has to endure all the women who receive from her man’s ministry say things like, “Your husband is just the greatest!” or “You are so lucky to be married to him!”
If you say so.
I thank God that I have been unemployed from ministry for the past two years. You’ll never guess what my wife told me the other day. No, she didn’t say I sure hope you get a job soon. She didn’t prod me to see if I had any indication for our future. Husbands, she said something that both tore my heart out and healed it in one fell swoop.
She said, “I can tell you love being with me again.”
All those things I mentioned earlier? I’ve done those things to her. She has felt them. And, God bless her, she has come through it all, inattentive selfish jerk that I could be at times, with grace and beauty. She is one of the strongest women I know. But she still has wounds, and scars, and tender bruises from the neglect of our “ministry years.”
Don’t get me (or her) wrong: ministry is a sacred trust and the greatest blessing one could imagine, but it is heavy machinery that one should stay away from if their inner self is impaired or under the influence of the intoxicating drug of self-identity or selfish gain. Yes, you have a charge to shepherd the flock, but you didn’t put on a tux, write your vows, or fight to keep your virginity and save yourself for them all the way to the altar before God and a solemn company of witnesses when you got the gig.
She is your first ministry. You made uncommonly sacred vows to her. Leave her on the sidelines or in the back of your mind and you’ll regret it. I wish I knew more about Mrs. Spurgeon or Mrs. Lloyd-Jones or Mrs. Murray or Mrs. Whoever. We hear so much — and make so much — of the guy that we never consider the girl.
God doesn’t. He makes so much of the girl that He carefully selected her and prepares her to be a bride for His Son. The Son adores His bride. He is enraptured by her. Loves being with her! And she radiates because He died to be with her. For all eternity, everybody will know Mrs. Jesus. She’ll be seated right up there next to Him.
The past two years have not been easy. As I write this, I am in yet another stint in the hospital with a life-threatening infection (my fifth month to date). Some might see a wilderness or hopeless desert, but you wouldn’t know it by our marriage. We are as giddy as newlyweds and as deeply satisfied as an old married couple who still hold hands and have pet names for each other.
God help me to never let ministry mess with my Mrs. and me again.