For the last 23 years, my wife, Rachel, has been my partner, my best friend, and my comrade-in-arms. I asked if she would guest-post this week to share some of her insights about what it looks like to experience joy in marriage and ministry. Rachel has built both our home and our church with strength, grace, and joy.
When Dave and I were married 23 years ago, neither of us could have imagined the journey God had for us. While both of us had grown up in the church, we were eager to step into the shared dream of ministry together. We have experienced the goodness and bigness of God along the way, and we have also experienced pain, discomfort, and challenges. Through it all we have learned a few things that have helped us to fight for joy in our marriage:
SET BOUNDARIES ON YOUR OUTLOOK, ATTITUDE, AND WORDS
One of the biggest ways that Dave and I have fought for joy in our marriage these last 23 years has been by setting boundaries on our outlook, attitude, and words.
We have had to establish boundaries that we don’t cross as far as the way we talk about things. We have had to make decisions to not “go there” as far as losing hope or becoming devoid of faith during the hard times, even (especially) if we feel big emotions. We have had to dig in and commit over and over again to have faith that no matter how a moment or a season of life feels, we will have faith that God is in it. He has seen us through enough seemingly hopeless times that we choose to hold onto hope that he will carry us through the future problems too.
We also set boundaries with the way we talk to each other. As challenging as it can be, we fight to retain filters with the words we release from our lips. We work hard to not just “let it fly.” We have to remind ourselves that just because we feel a certain way doesn’t mean our perspectives are correct, and that feeling big emotions doesn’t mean we need to use big statements. The catch phrase “don’t think big thoughts” has protected us from responding rashly and creating even bigger problems.
PROTECT SACRED SPACE
We live in a culture where ambition is idolized, and achievement is a trophy to be won. Many couples are running on empty simply because they are pursuing too many things. Dave and I have learned that we must fight to protect sacred space in our home.
In order to experience lasting joy in our marriage and ministry, we need to carve out time, space, and breathing room. This looks different for everyone, but for us that has meant fighting to keep Mondays rest days. We rest. We take naps. We don’t try to be super creative or demand a lot of the time together (e.g. projects). We just delight in the day together.
There are times when more than a single day off is needed to restore health. Guarding sacred space also means looking for more extended time away together, whether that’s a beach-vacation, or a weekend-getaway, there are seasons when we need to carve out a bigger chunk of time in order to restore.
HAVE SHARED DREAMS
Marriage means becoming one with another human. Having a shared vision, a shared dream, keeps you on the same trajectory and fighting for the same mission. Leading and growing 2|42 has been both of our dream, and we have prayed, worked, and leaned into that mission together.
In our experience, when ministry couples co-exist with vastly different big dreams it is easy for one or both spouses to become disillusioned and bitter. One person is going full force in one direction, and pretty soon that dream feels more like a competitor.
BUT DON’T OVERESTIMATE WHAT FULFILLING DREAMS IS GOING TO DO FOR YOU
I mentioned it earlier, but today’s culture heralds anybody pursuing and succeeding at anything. But just because we can, and just because we could be good and successful at something, doesn’t make a dream God-given or of the highest value. We must prayerfully discern what dreams are from God, and what dreams are selfish ambition in order to protect margin, protect priorities, focus on what matters most, and remain united as a family. God will never call you to something that will cause you to sacrifice your marriage.
Ministry life can be tough on a family. Odd hours, loving hurting people, working harder during the holidays when most people are on vacation….ministry families need to develop grit to handle the demands and schedule.
Early on in marriage, I had to grieve on some level; I had to let go of what most would consider a “normal” life for the adventure of ministry. But I am convinced that God called us to this, so while I grieved a little, Dave and I stepped forward to embrace the blessing of what we get to watch God do. Life is different, and socially it can be odd; we have weird schedules compared to our neighbors. But it really is a privilege and a gift.
One of the things I have had to learn is that ministry life can be intense, and there are seasons that have demanded that we lean in, toughen up, and not freak out. We have had to learn that the crazy seasons will end, and we will be refreshed eventually.
These lessons aren’t meant to be anecdotal; marriage and ministry are complex. But I am convinced that ministry life can be a joyful family adventure if we learn to embrace the uniqueness of the mission, establish boundaries, protect margin, and trust God who called us into the journey in the first place.