Today is my 26th wedding anniversary, which is another way of saying that today marks the 26th year of my wife’s incredible patience and longsuffering. Tertullian called marriage the “seminary of the human race” and Luther regarded it as a school for character. Donna would proabably say that is more like being in school with a character. Through the voice of John Plowman, Spurgeon expressed my own sentiments about marriage to Donna:
My experience with my first wife, who will I hope live to be my last, is much as follows: matrimony came from Paradise and leads to it. I never was half so happy before I was a married man as I am now. When you are married your bliss begins. I have no doubt that where there is much love there will be much to love, and where love is scant faults will be plentiful. If there is only one good wife in England, I am the man who put the ring on her finger and long may she wear it.
As every pastor’s wife knows, a minister’s marriage brings its own peculiar trials and blessings. To serve a church–especially for decades–necessarily requires a tenacious kind of love for that local body. Where that happens it is not so much a reflection on the heart of the pastor as it is the grace of God who alone can cultivate such affection for bride of Christ. While this is a good thing it brings with it inevitable challenges. Sometimes a pastor’s wife can feel that she is competing with another lover. And sometimes a pastor can appeal to his love for the church to excuse the neglect of his own bride.
It takes a special woman to help her husband navigate those currents without doing injustice to either loves. To borrow from John Plowman, if there is only one such woman in all of America, I put the ring on her finger May 10, 1980…and long may she wear it.
I have been a pastor longer than I have been a husband. But in terms of priorities, I have tried to keep my relationships in this order. First and foremost, I am a Christian and must be faithfully devoted to the Lord Jesus. If I fail at this then I cannot be the kind of husband that Donna needs. Next I am her husband and must be committed to love her as Christ loves the church. Failure here will inhibit my ability to parent my children as I should. Next, I am a father and must give myself to bringing up my children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If I neglect this, then my work as a pastor will suffer and I may well disqualify myself from that office. After this, I am a pastor and must seek to shepherd the flock of God for which He shed His precious blood. Only after this do I engage in various other ministries.
When I get these priorities out of line then I inevitably hinder my ability to fulfill my responsibilities as I ought in any of them. If I am more devoted to my church than I am to my children and wife, then I will fail them all. And if I am more devoted to Donna than I am to Christ, I will unavoidably fail her as a husband. She knows this and believes it. And she has been faithful in calling me back to reorient my thinking on more than one occasion through the years. In this way, before she is my wife, Donna is my sister in Christ, and by taking her calling seriously, she has immensely helped to stay the course.
One of my favorite quotes of Spurgeon comes from a wedding he performed for a young minister and his bride. He speaks with the wisdom of experience about the great challenges and opportunities that face a pastor’s wife. After the vows had been exchanged, he made this comment:
If I was a young woman, and was thinking of being married, I would not marry a minister, because the position of minister’s wife is a very difficult one for anyone to fill. Churches do not give a married minister two salaries, one for the husband and the other for the wife; but, in many cases, they look for the services of the wife, whether they pay for them or not. The minister’s wife is expected also to know everything about the church, and in another sense she is to know nothing of it and she is equally blamed by some people whether she knows everything or nothing. Her duties consist in being always at home to attend to her husband and her family, and being always out, visiting other people, and doing all sorts of things for the whole church. Well, of course, that is impossible; she cannot be at everybody’s beck and call, and she cannot expect to please everybody. Her husband cannot do that, and I think he is a great fool if he tried to do it; and I am certain that, as the husband cannot please everybody, neither can the wife. There will be sure to be somebody or other who will be displeased, especially if that somebody had herself half hoped to be the minister’s wife. Difficulties arise continually in the best regulated churches; and, as I said before, the position of the minister’s wife is always a very trying one. Still, I think that, if I was a Christian young woman, I would marry a Christian minister if I could, because there is an opportunity of doing so much good in helping him in his service for Christ. It is a great help to the cause of God to keep the minister himself in good order for his work. It is his wife’s duty to see that he is not uncomfortable at home; for, if everything there is happy, and free from care, he can give all his thoughts to his preparation for the pulpit; and the godly woman who thus helps her husband to preach better, is herself a preacher though she never speaks in public, and she becomes to the highest degree useful to the church of Christ committed to her husband’s charge.
For 26 years Donna has overcome the challenges and enhanced the blessings of a being married to a pastor. She is a great gift to me and I praise our gracious God for the privilege of calling her my wife.