Four years ago, I hit burnout. My work as senior vice president at the urban Alternative in Dallas where my husband, Tony, and I serve, overwhelmed me. And having two teen sons at home can wear out the best mom.
I told Tony one evening, "I need a break. I have to get away and get refreshed." We had talked for some time about the possibility of me visiting my sister, so this seemed like a good time. Soon after, I boarded a plane headed for England to spend two weeks with her.
I've talked to a lot of ministers' mates during my 21 years in ministry, and I know that's not a typical scene. We ministry spouses often pout when times grow hectic. We hope our mates see how exhausted we are and suggest that we take a breather. Yet we often don't come right out and say, "That's it. I've had enough, and I'm taking a break."
Do you want to know my secret for being a successful ministry wife? I don't think it's selfish to request that my husband hear (and act) when I feel exhausted. When Tony and I married 28 years ago, we agreed we never wanted to guess how each other was feeling. If we knew how to keep each other operating at full strength, we reasoned, then we could help each other best serve our family and ministry.
That's why I've practiced catching my husband's ears when the demands of family and his work threaten to overtake him. Here are ways I coach Tony to the gold medal in listening:
Since Tony and I work in offices that are near each other and can talk throughout the day, I can put a bug in his ear when I want to discuss our marriage or family. One afternoon a few years ago, I told him, "We need to talk through a few things about the children tonight." When Tony arrived home that evening, he was mentally prepared to listen and respond to my concerns.
I know of ministers' spouses who feel their mates should already know what they're thinking and feeling, because 1 Peter 3:7 says "He should dwell with his wife in knowledge" (KJV).
But it takes time and communication to get to know each other. And if I don't speak up about my needs and give Tony a chance to listen to me, I set myself up to harbor bitterness. How can Tony address my concerns if he doesn't know what they are? Let me illustrate.
When our kids were young and the ministry was growing fast, Tony's travel schedule doubled within months. Some weeks, he would speak at two or three events.
I finally told him, "I think you're traveling too much. The kids and I need you at home more."
Tony agreed, and within days he cut back his travel schedule. But had I not told him of our need to have him at home more, he may have zoomed full speed ahead without a thought.
Want your mate to be a good listener? Start by becoming a good listener. There's no guarantee he'll reciprocate, but it can't hurt to model listening before asking him to listen!
During the 1996 Christmas holidays, my husband mulled over some tough issues in the church. With a glance, I could tell his thoughts were wearing on him, because when Tony feels burdened he becomes very quiet.
So I pulled him away from the office one afternoon and said, "Let's have lunch." What was supposed to be a 30-minute break turned into a two-hour conversation! I listened as he unloaded his challenges, and reminded him that they wouldn't last forever.
I know when my husband is not listening to me. When I ask him a question, for example, his eyes glaze over and he looks into space without responding. That 's my clue that I need to wait before talking to him.
When our kids were young, I became overwhelmed with our breakneck pace of school and athletic activities. To top it off, I was completing an undergraduate degree.
One evening when Tony came home, I bombarded him with my frustrations: "How are we going to get everything done? The kids have homework due, we have to be at their games, I have schoolwork, and ..."
I stopped when I realized Tony wasn't responding. He was looking at me, but he wasn't really listening. I decided to talk with him later about how we would manage our impossible schedule.
I picked a time to talk with Tony when he wasn't hurried by his own huge ministry concerns. We worked out a plan for reducing our number of activities and later recommitted to evaluating our pace at the beginning of each year.
The lesson? Wait until you can have your mate's full attention. And if he's still not listening, write him a letter. He may not listen, but he'll appreciate receiving a formal document!
Above all, Tony is concerned about our marriage and family. He got that from his dad. Though his father worked long hours as a longshoreman in Baltimore, he always made time to listen to his family after work. Through these times, Tony's father eventually led the whole family to Christianity.
For Tony, listening is an extension of his deep care for me and the kids. He pays attention to us because he loves us. So when he listens well, I cheer him on. When he occasionally falls short, I encourage him. But even when he misses the mark, I know that his devotion to me and the children is real.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.