“They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah” (Genesis 26:35).
No marriage is perfect.
The union of two godly well-intentioned disciples of Jesus Christ does not guarantee a successful marriage.
And even the successful ones–however we define that!–in almost every case had their ups and downs.
So, if you’ve been feeling like a failure because a) your husband spends more time at the church than at home, b) your wife isn’t nearly the cook or housekeeper your mom was, c) you and your spouse argue, d) you have each lost your temper and said/done some things you regretted later, or e) all of the above, then….
Welcome to the human race.
Let me refer you to William J. Petersen’s book 25 Surprising Marriages: Faith-building Stories from the Lives of Famous Christians. It’s worth the price, friend.
Petersen has chapters on the marriages of Martin and Katie Luther, of C. S. and Joy Lewis, and of Billy and Nell Sunday. He writes about Charles and Susie Spurgeon, Dwight and Emma Moody, John and Molly Wesley, and Billy and Ruth Graham. He has chapters titled “Grace Livingston Hill and her two husbands,” and “John Bunyan and his two wives.”
Personally, I wish he had included a chapter on Elisabeth Elliot and her three husbands. But he didn’t.
I wish we had discovered this wonderful volume (written in 1997) when Margaret and I were in the thick of pastoring and she was chafing under the demands of the ministry, the expectations of the church members, and the absenteeism and/or distraction of her husband. (We married in 1962 and God called her to Heaven in 2015.)
These days, I tell young pastors’ wives that they have so much in common with one another, even across denominational lines. The wife of the Church of God pastor, the wife of the Holiness pastor, the wife of the Presbyterian pastor, the wife of the Christian Church pastor, and the wife of the Southern Baptist pastor–to name a few–all fight the same battles.
I’m glad you asked. See if any of this sounds familiar….
The wife: “You’re going out again tonight? When are you going to have time for your family?” “Why can’t that committee meet without you?” “The children need to see more of their father.” “I wish you would learn to say ‘no’ to some of these invitations. You don’t ‘have’ to go to all those other places to preach.”
That’s the wife talking. Want to hear the husband?
The husband: “You’re home all day. I work hard so you won’t have to work outside the home. I’d like some appreciation.” “The church provides this home for us. The least we can do is keep it looking presentable. You never know when someone may drop in on us.” “My mother would never have done that.”
You thought your home was different–that you and your spouse were failing and that all the other ministers had better home lives than you. But, you would be surprised how normal your home is.
About these famous Christian couples, William Petersen writes, “I certainly don’t want to debase these men and women whom God has used in spectacular ways. But it is good to see them as mortals with shortcomings and foibles.”
These great men and women of God had shortcomings? Listen to Petersen….
It is good to see Francis Schaeffer smashing the pot of ivy and Polly Newton biting her fingernails when her husband is late in coming home. It is good to hear Catherine Marshall unable to understand why her husband had to travel so much. It is good to hear Ruth Graham complaining that her husband seemed to be taking her for granted, and to find Katie Luther taking the hinges off the door of her husband’s study after he had locked himself in.
My wife Margaret–whom some may think I beatified after her homegoing–once poured a bottle of black India ink all over my office desk and ruined the cartoons I was working on for the Foreign Mission Board. “You have time for everyone but your own family!” she said through the tears and anger.
Petersen writes, “The marriages of Christian leaders seem to be more fraught with clogs and bogs than the average Christian marriage.”
Get that? Their marriages are a lot like yours, only moreso.
“When you think about it,” he continues, “this is not surprising. Greatness, like genius, places unusual stress on marriage. For one thing, leaders are in the spotlight, and nothing grows normally under such conditions.”
Not only that, Petersen says, (But) “the very gifts and character traits that make a person stand out as a leader may make him or her a challenge as a marriage partner.”
Ladies, you do not want to be married to Joel Osteen, David Jeremiah, or Chuck Swindoll. Nor to Rick Warren, Max Lucado, or me. (I just added that to see if you’re still reading this!)
After Catherine Marshall wrote A Man Called Peter, the story of her beloved husband Peter Marshall, who died at 46, the book was turned into a movie. We’re told a lot of young people entered the ministry as a result of the impact of their story. And, my guess is a lot of pastors’ wives watched that Hollywood star on the screen with his delightful Scottish burr and compared him with their balding preacher husband with the spreading paunch and the Alabama hill-country speech, and grew dissatisfied with their marriages.
If they only knew.
Martin Luther said, “I would not change Katie for France or for Venice.” Then he added, “If I should ever marry again, I should hew myself an obedient wife out of stone.”
Your wife doesn’t take orders very well, Martin? Ministers’ wives, did you get that? We’ve found your patron saint.
Martin Luther would sometimes spend the entire mealtime talking. His Katie would eventually get enough and said, “Doctor, why don’t you stop talking and eat?” And he would respond, “Women should repeat the Lord’s Prayer before opening their mouths.”
(Years before writing this book, Petersen penned a small volume with the wonderful title, “Martin Luther had a Wife.”)
At the top of this article, the text is a reference to the time when Esau, son of Isaac and Jacob’s twin, took two Hittite wives for himself. We are told absolutely nothing about Judith and Basemath, except for this one thing: “They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah.” It was an in-law thing.
If there are perfect marriages to be found in Scripture, someone should point them out to me. We project onto the biblical stories of people like Ruth, Abigail and Esther our own fantasies and imaginings, but I expect the reality was a lot less than what we think.
The story of Abigail from I Samuel 25 is about as romantic as Scripture gives us. But there is a serious downside to it.
After we read, “And so (Abigail) became (David’s) wife” (that’s 25:42), we read in the very next verse, “David also married Ahinoam of Jezreel, and the two of them became his wives.” Yikes. I’ll bet that went over good.
So much for that romantic interlude.
Finally, a couple of points need to be made…
Christian wives, your marriage is unique because there are no other people in the world exactly like you and your husband. Christian husband, you and your wife are one-of-a-kind. However….
You would be amazed how much you have in common with every other family in church. Even the ones who seem to have it all together have their own struggles, battles, temptations, and failures.
I’ve addressed this to ministers and their wives–as everything on this website is devoted to church leaders–because I know from experience how much frustration they can feel since they are not doing everything they think they should.
You ask, “So, we should just accept a lousy marriage?”
No. Absolutely not. But you should drop the perfectionism and cut each other some slack.
Scripture says, “He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). Please spend a little time on that. Consider, for instance…
The Lord is under no illusions about you and me. He knew He was getting no bargain when He saved us. The One who created us knows we are made of humble stuff. And when we sin, the only one surprised is us.
That’s why we make so much of His grace. “That saved a wretch like me.”
So, did you think you were marrying a perfect person? I can hear your answer. (smile please) “No, but I thought he was more perfect than he turned out to be!”
I wonder if he thought the same.
The simple fact is both you and your spouse married sinners, imperfect people who are still on the way to becoming all they will be in Christ. And between here and heaven, friend, there is a lot of growing to do, a lot of potholes to navigate, a lot of hills to climb.
Please be faithful. Cut each other some slack and get help. Then, one more thing: Reach out to other ministry couples. I can almost guarantee that some of them desperately need a friend to their marriage and have ruled out getting counseling for one reason or the other. Your friendship might just save their ministry.
A favorite cartoon from years ago lingers in my mind. The pastor and wife are on their way to church with two children in the back seat. The wife is speaking: “What would church members think if they knew the pastor’s family does not sing choruses in the car on their way to church?”
You’re normal, pastor’s wife. Relax. It’s quite all right to be human.
Do not give up on your marriage. Do not accept a poor relationship as the norm. Keep working at your marriage. Just put your eyes on the Lord, and not on one another.
It was Ruth Bell Graham who said many unhappy husbands and wives expect their spouses to be to them what only Jesus Christ can be.
A point well made.