What if your cross happens to be the one you married?

And so it came to pass in the morning, that, behold, it was Leah.  (Genesis 29:25)

Jacob was neither the first nor the last to find that the person he married was far different from the one he had proposed to and thought he was getting!

I’ve known a few pastors over the years whose marriages were crosses they had to bear.  I thought of that while reading Heirs of the Founders by H. W. Brands, as he commented on the marriage of John and Floride Calhoun.

John C. Calhoun was a prominent political figure in America the first-half of the 19th Century.  A senator from South Carolina, he served as Vice-President under both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson. His home, Fort Hill Plantation, is located in Clemson, SC, and is open for visitors.  Calhoun was a fascinating character about whom no one back then (or now!) was neutral. His son-in-law founded Clemson University.

To say the Calhouns had a difficult marriage would be an understatement.  And yet, it had a romantic beginning, as most probably do.

Calhoun was some years older than Floride. While she was growing up, he cultivated her mother, who had been widowed when her daughter was only ten.   Calhoun wrote long letters to the mother on topics ranging from family matters to politics. Gradually, as the daughter matured he inserted references to Floride.  In time, he directed his correspondence to the daughter who was only too happy to return his affection.  His letters were flowery and affectionate.  “…I shall behold the dearest object of my hopes and desires.”  “To be united in mutual virtuous love is the first and best bliss that God has permitted to our natures.”

In time, they were wed.  Now, we fast forward a few years.  Dr. Brands writes…

The marriage of John and Floride Calhoun had unfolded without surprises but not without difficulty.  She bore one child after another, to a sum of ten.  Three died early, leaving painful memories but still a full house at the upcountry plantation…

Calhoun was busy in the affairs of state and had little time for the little things that wives often appreciate.  He paid dearly for the omission.

Floride humored him, without good humor.  She had no taste for politics and no tolerance for most of those who practiced it….  Calhoun, in turn, humored her, as well as he could.  She was difficult and opinionated–a combination, he concluded, that ran in her family.  He learned to abide her prejudices, saving his energy for battles he thought he might win.  A letter to their eldest son, Andrew, captured the resignation he felt toward his spouse. 

Mother and son had argued; Calhoun thought Andrew had the better case.  But he counseled him to accept less than victory.  “As to the suspicion and unfounded blame of your mother, you must not only bear them, but forget them,” Calhoun said.  “With the many good qualities of her mother, she inherits her suspicious and fault-finding temper, which has been the cause of much vexation in the family. I have borne her with patience, because it was my duty to do so, and you must do the same, for the same reason.  It has been the only cross of my life.”

“The only cross of my life.”   His marriage

There it is.

A difficult marriage to someone you love.  Sound like anyone you know?

Scripture does not provide many examples of marriages good or bad.  The Old Testament heroes often had plural wives and thus no home life that we can identify with.  The New Testament gives us Joseph and Mary, Zachariah and Elizabeth, and Aquila and Priscilla, although we know nothing about their actual relationship.

25 Surprising Marriages: Faith-Building Stories from the Lives of Famous Christians is William J. Petersen’s fascinating account of the marriages of couples such as Charles and Susie Spurgeon, Billy and Nell Sunday,  Martin and Katie Luther, C. S. and Joy Lewis, John and Marjory Knox, and John and Molly Wesley.

Most, at least according to Dr. Petersen, were not unusually difficult, even if a union of two very different people.  Which, on reflection, seems to have been the divine plan from the beginning.

God said, “It is not good that man should be alone.  I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Genesis 2:18). The Hebrew word for comparable, or helpmeet (KJV) literally means like/opposite, we are told.  If that’s the case, it’s a wonderful insight into God’s plan for marriage.  A man and woman–that is forever the biblical model!–are like each other in significant ways, but opposites in others.

The trick is not to be too opposite. We are not to be unequally yoked, for example (2 Corinthians 6:14). But the old saying (and the physics principle) that “opposites attract” is still valid.

I’ve noticed, for instance, that my best friends are men who are like me in some ways but superior in others. No doubt I chose them because they are how I wish I was.  I admire qualities in them that I need.

Is that why we marry as we do? We have much in common but see qualities in the other person we find impressive and attractive?

For six months before heading to seminary, I served as the unpaid assistant to the pastor of a good-sized suburban church in the Birmingham area.  (I worked full-time at a nearby plant and the church allowed us to live in their old pastorium for my part-time service.)  That pastor, a wonderful and kind man, suffered through a difficult marriage.

Sitting in the choir loft during the service, I watched the congregation while the pastor was delivering his sermon.  His wife, a few rows back on one side, clearly did not appreciate his attempts to preach.  To this day I can see her sitting there with her arms folded and a scowl on her face.  That would have dampened the enthusiasm of any preacher, believe me.

Some years later, she divorced him.  On a subsequent visit to the city, he and I had coffee near the newspaper where he was employed.  He remained single for the rest of his life and never pastored again. A good man victimized by a bad marriage.

Ten words to a pastor whose marriage is his cross….

  1. As with any other cross, bear it faithfully as a gift you present to the Father. Every day try to honor your Lord in your marriage, in your relationship with your spouse, with your children.
  2. Get counseling.  If your mate will not accompany you, go alone.  Do you allow your pride to stop you.  Many a minister or missionary has lost his ministry due to a failure to take appropriate steps to save his home.
  3. Ask the Father to show you ways to honor your wife and make her feel appreciated.  If she is rebellious or resistant, then let that be the focus of your prayers.  If you have a few special friends who are prayer warriors and can keep a confidence, enlist them.
  4. If you have a mentor–if not, get one or two now!–confide in him and seek his counsel. Such a mentor would usually be a veteran minister with the scars to prove it, and thus a seasoned outlook on life and the Lord’s work.
  5. Look for things to do, conferences, trips, books, etc., that your spouse would be willing to share with you.
  6. Be faithful in mind and body.  Do not allow a less than ideal home life to make you vulnerable to evils that can destroy your witness, end your marriage and shame your Lord. I refer to pornography, online affairs, or outright adultery.  Do not buy into the devil’s lie that “you deserve this.”  Luke 17:7-10 says you (and we) are unworthy servants, just doing our duty.
  7. Serve your spouse.  Do the loving things you did early in the relationship.  “Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her.”  So, be careful about using the difficult marriage as an excuse to stay away from home, take too many out-of-town ministry trips, etc.
  8. If you have children, devote yourself to making sure they grow up healthy and balanced. May they always have a wonderful role model as they observe the way you took care of your home and honored your wife.
  9. Keep learning.  Keep praying. Keep paying attention to what the Holy Spirit is teaching you.
  10. One final caveat: Don’t be so quick to decide the problem is your wife.  That’s where a faithful counselor can be a great help, by speaking honestly and truthfully to you.

God bless you, pastor.  And God bless your home.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.