While living in Uganda, we paid a trusted African friend to watch our kids while we went on date nights. At first, she looked at us like we’d grown horns.
“He still takes you out on dates?”
She opined aloud that if I were Ugandan and had borne four children, my husband would probably be looking for another woman to…entertain him. So believe it or not, our consistent dates and happy marriage were a fun and refreshing testimony to those watching us.
(There was this incident where we found Prego spaghetti sauce–Prego!–on a crazy sale at the supermarket while out on one of these dates. When we arrived home, our friend watched while my husband tossed me one of the jars…and I missed catching it. There was sauce everywhere, including up the walls. And my husband and I were laughing like little kids at our stupidity, or perhaps just my klutziness; we were collapsing into each other as we guffawed. My friend just shook her head with a smile. What could your enjoyment of each other communicate?)
Going overseas can be a pressure cooker on your marriage–deepening the flavor, but adding some intense heat and pressure. There are less resources, more demands, and often sweeping life changes, some of which may rock your world.
And to use a different metaphor, like any stressful experience to a structure, cracks in a foundation are often exposed.
In general, marriage before ministry.
There will be times, just like in having little kids, when your marriage is just gritting its teeth until you can both have enough time to reconnect. But on the whole, keep in mind that those you’re reaching will know you are Jesus’ disciples by how you love one another.
Perhaps that’s why all of those passages on qualifications for overseers in the church emphasize the quality of family relationships. Maybe it’s a stretch, but when I read, “if anyone does not provide…especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever”–I extend that to more than physical needs. (If not, I’m pretty sure the instruction for a husband to lay down his life for his wife like Jesus did, representing to the world Jesus and the Church [Ephesians 5:25-30] covers that?)
Everyone goes through tough spells. And “marriage before ministry” doesn’t mean marriage won’t sometimes need to sacrifice a little more. Marriage is a tremendous resource to draw on. But know that our most intimate relationships often bear the brunt of our stress.
Marriage is like a plant, right? Pick too much off, and there isn’t enough to produce fruit, reproduce, and keep it alive. Without consistent care, it withers, even to the point of death.
My husband and I were probably a year into our time in Africa when we realized we needed a plan in place to maintain our relationship functioning at a high level–because there are always more needs pulling at you in ministry, in a developed country, and certainly in ministry in a developed country. We decided we’d set aside just a few minutes before dinner–maybe on the back porch–or before retreating to our personal time after the kids hit the sack. Though we’ve maintained this with varying degrees of success, it’s taken some nice twists, too: perhaps rubbing the other person’s feet or back with lotion as we chat before bed, or my husband greeting me with a wow-level kiss when he walks in the door.
Great marriages don’t just happen. Like nearly everything else spectacular, they’re the result of work, investment, and TLC. To keep your marriage thriving, it might be necessary to form a plan. Spontaneity is great; we all love romance fueled by emotion. But your emotions may flatline in the midst of life and stress. It’s not a big step down to pay attention to your marriage simply because you’re committed and intentional.
We make time for what’s important to us. And sometimes, marriage needs to move a little higher on the list. If we offer all we have to the poor but “have not love” for those God’s placed in the “flock among us” (1 Peter 5:2)–aren’t we in danger of being the equivalent of a car alarm people can’t shut off (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)?
Remember–the Gospel in our homes matters deeply. We’re communicating to our kids, the world, and ourselves that our value and identity lie not in what we do, but in God’s peaceful, loving, restful acceptance of us.