Riding the Ministry-Family Seesaw

Advice to a pastor's wife who feels resentful of the time that ministry seems to demand from her husband.

"When my husband, James, was called to minister five years ago, he let the church overtake his life. I want to support him, but I resent his time commitment to ministry in place of our family. How can I avoid nursing bitterness about my husband's call?

Don't discount your anger; your emotions are a barometer that tells you something is wrong. But you're right — harboring resentment won't help you. Instead, use your anger to fuel an action plan:

Accept the realities of life in ministry.

Before talking with James about what should change in your home, remind yourself of what may have to stay the same. Yes, James needs to spend more time with you and the kids, but his ministry demands that he sometimes be called away unexpectedly, for example. Your goal should not be to "steal him back" from ministry but to help him find a balance between home and work.

Talk about your feelings without attacking him.

If you blurt out, "I hate how much you neglect us!" you will put your husband on the defensive. Say something such as, "James, I feel hurt that we don't spend much time together as a family anymore."

Ask your husband for a spot on his calendar.

Some ministers find it easier to say no to other commitments when they schedule family time in advance. Suggest that he set aside regular "dates" with you and the kids, as well as times (e.g., nightly dinnertime) for the whole family to discuss the day.

Schedule follow-up sessions.

To keep your husband accountable (and you from growing bitter), agree to talk every few weeks about how each of you is feeling about the work-family balance. If over time you are still dissatisfied with the arrangement, discuss again how both of you can arrange your time to make changes.

For example, if James can't keep weekly dates with each of the kids, suggest that he start off by spending one-on-one time with each child every two weeks. Be reasonable and flexible, but remind James that you can't compromise on your commitment to the family.

Taken from Pastor's Family magazine, Feb/Mar 1997.
Article copyright © 2003, Walt and Fran Becker.
All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
Used by permission.

Walt Becker, Ph.D., and Fran Becker direct The Cottage at Coronado Island in San Diego, Calif., a marital retreat center for couples in ministry. The Beckers have two adult sons.