When ministry steals your husband--thoughts on getting balance back between ministry and marriage

A reader recently wrote me:

I just had a baby 8 weeks ago, and we’ve been married for two years. My husband was a new Christian at the time and a former drug addict. He is now in ministry, playing drums on the worship team, leading a Bible study at a local nursing home, street preaching, traveling around the Midwest rapping in concerts at churches, giving people rides (“Saint shuffling,” I had a friend call it), and helping with anything else our pastor needs help like building projects. On top of that, he has a job. We only have one night a week that he doesn’t have to rush off an hour after he gets home.

I feel like he’s married more to “his ministry,” than he is to me. The majority of the responsibility of taking care of the baby falls on me, so time is very precious to me. I’m often exhausted and don’t want to go to all of these activities. That makes my husband very mad, especially when the baby and I have had a bad night, and I won’t go to church in the morning… or evening. We have two services on Sunday, and one on Wednesday.

Yesterday our church did a concert on the lawn of a youth center in a bad neighborhood. I decided to go ahead and go. We were doing okay during the outreach part where we go door to door in the neighborhoods and invite people to the concert. I had an issue where I couldn’t set up the stroller by myself while holding the baby, and she was starting to fuss with all the noise of the concert. I had to hold her, while standing (all the seats were gone) for the whole concert and my back was hurting. I called and texted my husband–it went straight to voicemail. A friend let him know I needed help, but he said he had to stay at the front to pray with those who became Christians.

On the way home I was upset, but he said, “Well, I do love you, but souls were saved. That’s all that matters.” His words sliced right through my heart. I still haven’t gotten much sleep and when I wouldn’t go to church this morning he told me I’m making “poor choices that will affect our daughter some day.” I want to go home (four hours away in another state) to my parents, but our pastor told me I need to stop doing that and lean on my husband or it’ll destroy our marriage. I want to lean on my husband but how can I? He’s rarely home and the few hours he is, he either refuses to help, or will only take her for a half an hour as long as it doesn’t interfere with either his Bible studying, song writing or whatever else he “needs” to do. I feel trapped. What do you do when ministry comes above you and your family?

I feel so sad for this woman. She sounds just exhausted–with an 8-week old baby to boot! I remember that feeling. Katie, my youngest, didn’t sleep. Seriously. Only 9 1/2 hours over an entire 24 hour period (including naps). And yet when she was awake she was happy! She just didn’t need sleep. She sleeps more now than she did then. I felt like I was going crazy; for about 6 months I was just beside myself. And Keith was working hard and studying for his pediatric exams, so he just wasn’t there for me (he couldn’t have been). It’s a hard time.

But it does pass, please know that!

But my heart also aches for this woman, too, because I’ve seen this scenario play out in so many relationships–especially ones with new Christians. They were often addictive personalities to begin with, so they replaced a chemical addiction with a “God” addiction–they need to keep super busy and obsessed to feel healthy.

And here’s where things get fuzzy.

I do believe that some people are called to a specific ministry that means that their wives (or husbands or kids) will have to shoulder a burden alone.

Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson StoryI think of Billy Graham, whose wife Ruth talked and wrote about how she felt like she parented alone. Yet look at the ministry that God gave Billy Graham. I think of Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon who writes poignantly in his autobiography about how he missed his kids’ events and how his marriage suffered because his work was so busy. But look at the lives saved.

Sometimes God does call individuals to a life where their family will be a sacrifice. After all, someone needs to be president. Someone needs to make research breakthroughs. Someone needs to be a traveling evangelist. And these things can’t be done on a normal 40-hour work week. If your husband may fall into one of these categories, then pray hard, knowing that if God has called your husband, He will also equip you, just like He did Ruth Graham. He’ll give you energy when you feel depleted. He’ll lift you up if you feed on Scripture and make your life a living prayer.

But I think these kinds of callings are very few and far between.

When God calls you to a ministry where your family will suffer, I think there are two main tests:

1. Does he also call your spouse?
2. Is it to a specific work?

I think if God is calling you to something that will require so much time away from the family, he also gives a peace to the spouse that they feel called, too.

And that calling is for something specific–international evangelism, pediatric neurosurgery breakthroughs–not to just “ministry” in general, like in this letter. It’s not about being busy; it’s about being called to a specific work.

A Note to Wives Who Feel Like Ministry Has Stolen Their Husbands…

Usually I’d recommend talking to a pastor, but in this case it may not work, first because your husband may very well be the pastor, and second, because in many cases, like this one, the pastor is benefiting from the husband being sold out to ministry.

So get on your face and seriously pray for your husband and for your family. Ask for help from friends when you’re overwhelmed with being a mom.

Emotionally Healthy WomanAnd read The Emotionally Healthy Woman, one of our selections for our Ultimate Marriage Reading Challenge in March. Written by Geri Scazzero, whose husband was a super-busy pastor, she knows what it’s like to feel like a ministry widow. And she learned that she had to start quitting some things if she, and her family, were going to be healthy.

She thought that as a pastor’s wife she had to sacrifice herself and all her time and energy, too. But eventually she realized that wasn’t actually godly, and she made some changes in her own life that ended up changing her family for the better.

Together, she and her husband Peter also wrote The Emotionally Healthy Church, looking at how churches can stop over-burdening people and start building them up.

A Note to Wives Who are Too Into Ministry

But let’s not pretend that this is only a male problem. I have seen women get too busy with homeschooling, and running ministries at church, and volunteering. We can let “good works” stand in the way of our marriages. And when we do that, it’s easy to feel superior, like our husbands somehow aren’t as spiritual. One of my friends was so over involved at church and with homeschooling groups that she grew apart from her husband, and later divorced him because he wasn’t a strong enough Christian.

If you don’t have time just to hang out with your hubby and do nothing, you have serious issues. Jesus took time to Himself. We all need balance.

The Emotionally Healthy Church, Expanded Edition: A Strategy for Discipleship That Actually Changes LivesA Note to Pastors

Your church will not thrive if the marriages in it are hanging by a thread. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to tell some of your volunteers, “You’ve done enough. Go home.”

Now tell me: Have you seen marriages falter because one spouse has gotten too involved in ministry? How do you tell when someone’s done enough?

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