When Ministry and Marriage Collide

by Elizabeth

Jonathan and I have been married almost 15 years now, and I can honestly say being married to him is the best thing that has ever happened to me. We were friends first, then fell madly in love our senior year of high school. Even our first year of marriage – considered by some to be quite difficult – was pure bliss. And I can honestly say that every year after that has grown more joyful and more intimate. This is not to say, however, that we haven’t ever struggled.

I’ve shared before about two of the major struggles in my marriage. I’ve talked about how I didn’t want to move overseas in the first place and how Jonathan and I were at an impasse until God got a hold of me. I’ve also shared my struggle to believe God loves me as much as my husband, since he seemed to have so many more gifts than I have.

There is another difficult season in my marriage that I’ve never discussed online. The two stories I mentioned earlier represent enormous works God wanted to do in my heart and in my spirit. They also had enormous implications in the way I lived everyday life alongside my husband. The struggle I’m going to talk about today might seem more earthy than spiritual, but it still looms quite large in the landscape of my memory.

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Some of you know we served in youth ministry in the States for 10 years. At one point we lived in a Parsonage next door to the church building, and we hosted summer youth meetings in our house. Initially we only invited juniors and seniors to our house on Tuesday nights for Bible study, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Later we started hosting all ages in our house every Wednesday night during the summer. And every Wednesday night without fail, teenagers trashed my house.

This went on for two whole summers. My house was a disaster every Wednesday night, and I had a breakdown every Wednesday night. Jonathan and I could not see eye to eye on this issue and often fought over it. He felt we needed to have the teens in our home, and that I needed to want to have them in our home, and that furthermore, he believed the teens would perceive my reluctance to welcome them into our home, so I needed to check my attitude.

This, as you can imagine, led to lots of stress in our marriage. I wasn’t confident enough to instruct the teens how to throw trash in the trash cans or how to avoid spilling coke all over my white living room carpet. I’m more confident now and would be able to teach teenagers in that way, but I was too intimidated back then. (Also I was much more uptight about cleanliness when I only had two kids as opposed to now, with four.) I just wanted my husband to kick the teenagers out; I wanted him to do it for me. At the same time I felt an intense pressure to let them in my house every Wednesday, or else I’d be a “bad ministry wife.”

Conflict can happen, even when you’re married to your best friend, even when you are absolutely convinced he’s the only one for you, even when you love practically everything about him. We shouldn’t be surprised when we have disagreements with our spouses. We’re different people, and we’ll see the world differently. And when we feel our own point of view so strongly, it can be difficult to imagine someone else’s point of view.

For any of my old darling youth group members who may be reading here today, please know I love you. And I want you to know I miss you all so dreadfully. I’m recounting a problem that was mine, not yours. Probably any of you who still like me enough to read my blog wouldn’t have been the ones tearing it apart in the first place, but either way, it doesn’t matter. This conflict wasn’t about you.

Two years and many, many fights later, we finally got creative in our problem-solving. We finally thought outside the box. This wasn’t either/or. It wasn’t: have them at our house, or they won’t feel the love. It wasn’t: have them at our house, or I’m a failure. It was: let’s have them at our house and not in. We didn’t cancel Wednesday nights at the Parsonage. Instead, we invited teens into our yard (but outside our house).

We gathered around the fire pit for hot dogs and marshmallows, for long chats and pyromaniac adventures. We played volleyball with the teenagers and let all the youth volunteers’ kids play in our kiddie pool. We swung on the bag swing and climbed up the rope on the oak tree. And it was a great compromise. It was hotter outside than in, that’s for sure, but my husband didn’t have to give up teens at his house, and I didn’t have to give up my sanity, my privacy, or my clean house.

I share this story to illustrate that compromises around ministry stressors are possible. For a long time, I saw the problem one way, and Jonathan saw it another way, and as long as we did that, there was no meeting in the middle. We had to get desperate enough to think about things in a different way, desperate enough try something new. I’m such a black and white thinker that our eventual solution never occurred to me (or my husband). In the end he must have figured he had to do something about his unhappy wife, no matter the ministry cost.

Now I look back and think how silly we were that we couldn’t find a compromise sooner. At the time, though, it didn’t feel silly at all. It felt deadly serious, as I’m sure all marriage conflicts do at the time. It took me a long time, but it was a good lesson to learn: sometimes there’s a solution that isn’t either/or. Sometimes there’s a solution that meets both spouses’ needs at the same time. Sometimes we just need to consider other options.

13 thoughts on “When Ministry and Marriage Collide

  1. Bless your heart! I so understand about having people in your house. I struggle with that too! You sound like a fabulous person who really tries to do what God wants. We all struggle to follow through. Keep up the great posts! I enjoy reading them and have sent up a prayer for you and your family! Blessings!

  2. Elizabeth well done on capturing the nuances of ministry marriage dance! I had a deep learning curve as youth pastors wife which gave me a foundation to recognize and then work off of in missions. After 20 years. of practice I still struggle in some set ups and scenerios! Ive been isolated in much of this and your wrightings. are a gift to me. Others in the same situation help me think outside the box. thank you for investing in missionaries all over the world.

    • I confess it’s still hard for me to think outside the box! I can do it, but it’s not my first inclination. 🙂 And I echo your experiences, serving in youth ministry was such a good foundation for mission work. So glad you stopped by today, and so glad you were encouraged — or rather, so glad we can encourage each other in these things!

  3. Well written! My husband and I also served in youth ministries in different churches, but never encountered a “trash your house” test. I am very proud of you and how you handled that because it could have gotten VERY ugly. I wish my kids could have been a part of your youth ministry. They would not ever trash your home. I am a victim of church hurt yesterday and my kids got up today and cleaned the house, vacuum, dishes, the laundry. I was speechless. I am telling you to say that youth do get what you are teaching them even if it doesn’t seem like you are getting across. Sometimes letting them see your “human side” is what it takes for them to get into gear and “pitch in”. I went to your site because I am also wondering what happens when a marriage goes head to head with ministry. The husband will drop everything (including you) to be at prayer meeting, bible study, sunday school, and leaves you in the dust (or the ashes) as the case may be. Your article was right on time. God bless you and your family. I am writing this now as my husband and kids just left for vacation bible school.] that he is teaching this It’s just me and the baby. I had decided to take a sabbatical from church for a while to sort some things out.

    • Katt, dearest, I am so sorry to hear of your recent hurts at the hands of God’s people. So, so sorry. Such a painful thing to happen, and so outside of God’s will for His church. And I am so sorry I haven’t been able to respond until now — our internet was out for a week.

      Now that I’m online again, I just want to say a prayer for you as you rest and heal from this church ordeal. I pray Jesus will be with you in the silence and solitude, and that He will bind up the wounds as only He can. I pray that He will knit your and your husband’s hearts together in an intimacy that reflects the love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit for us. Ministry can be very hard on a marriage, but right now we call on the One who created them both, to restore both.

      Let me know if you want to communicate more privately through email. Please know I’m available for you. Love, Elizabeth

      • I would love to stay in touch sister to sister. I am really excited to shift my focus from doing things for church to chasing after God. I feel like I am meeting a whole new me.

  4. I’m just reading this today due to internet problems. We’ve had a recent tough choice about marriage/family vs ministry. I’m glad to know it’s not just us. 🙂

    • Oh my heart goes out to you, Anna! No, it’s not just you — it is SO many of us. Hugs to you this day — and peace and rest, after your recent life events. May we walk together toward the God who called us, serving our ministries AND our marriages along the way, even when it causes us heartbreak. {And more hugs now.} ~Elizabeth

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