Editor’s note: For this perennial topic, we’re pulling some tips from the archive for all you spouses wrestling through what do to when your spouse is all-in, sign-me-up, let’s-do-this -thing-for-Jesus! But you don’t feel as “called.”
Hey. Every situation is different, I know. But I’ve talked to a few of you.
I’ve seen the look on your face—not just the usual culture shock or pre-departure if-this-country-doesn’t-kill-me-packing-for-it-might expression. There’s a nearly imperceptible tightness in your smile.
Because you signed up for this. But at the same time, didn’t.
You signed up to follow Jesus, your name on the dotted line beneath the great Commission. And the ring on your finger keeps reminding you of unending constancy; faithfulness.
(But did that mean my spouse’s dreams? You wonder every now and then.)
Or maybe your brain has signed up, knowing God doesn’t just call one of you. (Right? you ask me.) Knowing he asks a whole family to go or to stay.
But your heart signing up? That part could take awhile. And unfortunately, with the lack of medical care for your kids and the size of the reptiles, it could take longer than you planned.
I’m obeying you, Lord. This is my choice. (Write this down—I made the right choice when it killed me, and took me away from my mom living right down the street to help with the kids.)
I don’t know if you’ve already made your decision, or are waffling a little as the gravity of this choice starts to show like the hem of a slip.
(Spoiler alert: At the end of this post, you will still not know exactly what to do.)
I can only tell you what I know.
own your decision. 100%. Even if you don’t feel as called
This decision is hard enough when you feel completely called and feel zero hesitation.
But what’s not okay, even when you don’t feel as called? Choosing to be powerless.
When it was time for us to head back from Africa, that’s the time I felt the least “called” anywhere. It felt like a perfect storm of circumstances were grounding us from flying into Uganda—and what had become like home.
During that tumultuous home assignment, we were straddling two continents and homes. And that included, what? At least three evaporating sources of identity for me. (Missionary. Teacher of refugees. Educator of my kids.)
I remember words my husband spoke to me as we wound our way over a New Mexico highway. He cautioned me, encouraging me to dig into my confusion, my low-burning anger.
He said something like,
You cannot just push yourself forward in obligation, and pretend your passions don’t matter. People who do that are in danger of a couple of things.
They could end up jaded and bitter…or as Pharisees, doing the right thing on the outside and empty or dead on the inside.
Neither of those sounded lovely to me. I had to mind the gap between my heart and my decision. It took a lot of soul-tending. Wound-tending, if I was honest.
You might chuckle a little, and tell me your desires don’t matter: I know how this one ends. The guy who doesn’t go gets eaten by a fish, then vomited onto the shore he was called to in the first place. Thanks, but I prefer British Airways.
Understand if you go, friends, this is your adult choice. Even if you don’t feel as called.
You cannot blame God. You cannot blame your spouse, when the days are long or the neighbor kids won’t stop knocking at your door or one of you catches malaria.
I had no choice. Therefore I blame you
We use others as a shield, acquitting us if something goes pear-shaped. We blame others for our passivity.
But when obedience is my choice—if I’m not obligated, shuttled into a choice, but rather acting volitionally—I choose not to make myself into the image of someone else. I choose to act according to the Holy Spirit, according to the image of God in me, according to others’ needs and the compelling, eternally rewarding nature of the Gospel.
And I freely accept the good and bad consequences of that choice.
Abraham was not dragged up the mountain with his son in tow. Jesus was not pulled to the cross, heels dragging. It was his faith-filled, pain-stuffed, I’m-all-in choice.
As written in this essential post, it’s a necessity that you’re both completely committed to this path as if you were choosing to have a child.
Why? Because your life is about to change just as much.
And the demands and required teamwork of overseas living require more buy-in from a spouse than simply submitting to another’s passion.
I have seen this subtle, underground division work its way into the cracks of a marriage’s foundation like ivy, spreading slowly in a thick blanket. They’re so subtle, a person may hardly notice until it’s nearly too late.
There’s such wisdom in the words of 1 Peter: Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
That verse ratchets things to a whole new level, right? It’s not just unity of action. It’s my mind as one flesh with yours.
Whose Calling is More Important?
“Calling” gets tricky these days. It can be wielded as “a rubber stamp from God on doing what I really, really want.”
It can also be a mystical, vague buzzword that gets us hung up.
And the truth is, “calling” gets tricky in a marriage. Because few of us have had actual writing on the wall. For most of us calling is less “I’ve heard an audible Word from God–and more synthesizing passions with Scripture and the world’s need.
It’s a working out of what would be our own alabaster box, our own act of beautiful, sacrificial worship, to a God worthy of every loss.
But Jeremiah, Jonah, even Jesus? They had words with God about their calling.
What about when your spouse’s desires are different? When you just don’t feel as called?
Desires are not just something to steamroll over as an act of faith. Trying to rid yourself of desire is actually more…Buddhist. We see Jesus’ example in the Garden of Gethsemane of total honesty with his desire, yet total surrender.
Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.
Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. (Luke 22:42)
God put you in your marriage as well as your spouse. He may have given you your desires so you get to just the right place at just the right time. Together.
And it may or may not be where you think.
Um. …Did I Marry the Right Person?
Can your callings or dreams or whatever-they-are be so divergent? Did I hear you wrong somewhere in there, Lord?
“What God has joined together, let man not separate” (Mark 10:9). Even in your thoughts. Remember what happens to a ship that gets off course by one degree: It doesn’t arrive at its destination. Don’t let that one degree of separation end up in miles of distance later on.
Your marriage by God—this team of the three of you–was on purpose.
Don’t get me wrong. Your decisions and choices matter. But as Job declares to God after seeing him, no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
Over and over the Word reminds us it’s God who directs our paths. And like Joseph says to his brothers, even what we intend for evil is used by God for good (Genesis 50:20).
And God has his own strategy for the Great Commission, whether it has you reaching out in your passport nation or a host nation.
In his impeccable timing and orchestration, he hasn’t asked every part of his Body overseas. “If they were all one member, where would the body be?” (1 Corinthians 12:2).
The needs of so many around the world are great. But please remember that the Gospel in your home–the laying down of your lives for one another, the communication that we are accepted by God not because of what we accomplish–also matters intensely.
In case you missed it, allow me to say it openly: God accepts you fully whether you go overseas or not.
Whether or not this is an “obedience” issue for you isn’t something our blog can weigh in on. But do the hard work of exploring your call together, knowing your particular application of the Great Commission is your joyful choice.
Should I submit to my spouse when i don’t feel as called?
Side note: Depending on your theology, you may feel that this is an area where you need to submit to your spouse. That may be the case.
But let us encourage you that–as demonstrated in Esther or Ruth or Proverbs 31–submission does not mean silence. (Jesus shows this in his submission to the Father in Gethsemane.)
Like I mentioned in the beginning–I promise you no easy answers.
This is your time as a couple to be transparent, to think deeply and broadly (and Scripturally) about what is right and good for your marriage, your family. It’s time to seek God’s face together, for what you can willingly, open-handedly give him.
Janel Breitenstein is an author, freelance writer, speaker, and senior editor for Go. Serve. Love. After five and a half years in East Africa, her family of six has returned to Colorado, where they continue to work on behalf of the poor with Engineering Ministries International.
Her book, Permanent Markers: Spiritual Life Skills to Write on Your Kids’ Hearts (Harvest House) releases October 2021. You can find her—“The Awkward Mom”—having uncomfortable, important conversations at JanelBreitenstein.com, and on Instagram @janelbreit.
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