In the rare, early-morning hush, I slipped from bed and tiptoed to the kitchen. Hunger gnawed at my soul. I settled at the table with my Bible. And the list.
With one car, a newborn and a 2-year-old, errand day in our parsonage meant anxiety. My list seemed to grow between town runs. Pastoring two churches, my husband often worked 60 to 80 hours each week; I was increasingly frazzled as ministry spouse and almost-single parent. In greater martyr moments, I felt I did everything but stomp the grapes for communion.
This day, as I stuffed down the errand anxiety, I opened the Scriptures. In seconds, my husband, Rich, appeared with puppy-dog eyes: "Hon, could you please pick up some things for me today, too?" He fingered ... a list.
I eyed his list. Then mine. And the swallowed anguish — adjusting to rural culture, first post-seminary churches, a new baby, loneliness, emptiness — gushed out. I jumped up, grabbed the empty high chair, slammed it into the floor and shouted, "What do you think I am? Your servant?"
Shocked, I crumpled to the table. We'd entered marriage expecting a glowing ministry. What had happened to me?
Something had gone terribly wrong with my soul. My quiet time was no longer nurtured. So busy being indispensable, I had crowded out God. Equating value and identity with productivity kept me working harder, longer, trying to endear ourselves to others and, perhaps, even winning God's approval.
We've all had high chair moments — when our reaction far outweighs its cause. These moments demand self-examination. That day, my hollowness stunned me and wounded Rich. I determined to learn how to feed my soul — not with more achievements, but with God's presence. Four simple items formed my menu.
Journaling. A sporadic journaler since college, I started journaling seriously. The pages created a safety valve, providing space to reflect, to process, to pray. Journaling without rules was vital. It didn't have to be daily, pretty, well-written or nice and didn't require hours at a time. Rather than a gushing representation of the glories of life — in case someone read it — the journal became a confessional, a place to repent, grow and experience God's presence and grace. Rereading the pages reminds me of God's faithfulness and deliverance as prayers are answered, situations change and my heart quiets to become shaped more like Christ's.
Interestingly, journaling benefits health. Consistent journalers have better immune systems, increased feelings of well-being and fewer doctor visits. Asthma and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers who journal report fewer flare-ups, less pain, less inflammation. Interesting how all the research documents Solomon's wisdom: "A heart at peace gives life to the body" (Proverbs 14:30).
Stillness.The lack of adult conversation around me showed up in my prayer life. With babies around, I did all the talking and developed the same one-way conversations with God. I just handed Him my list and zoomed into my day. No wonder praying wasn't fun.
So I ditched the list, read some Scripture and poured out my heart. I waited. Listened. Turned my face to God and loved Him. Just for a few seconds or minutes, I wasn't earning approval, doing or producing. Amazingly, I learned that God still loved me. Out of that stillness with God, my energy returned, my days became more orderly and interruptions aggravated me less.
Personal retreat. A longtime tool for my husband had been a day away, alone, with God, without the calendar. A day to refuel, to rest. For years, he suggested that I, too, get away. Hah! My family needed me. I needed to be needed. The house might collapse if I left home for a day ... or maybe my family would get along fine without me. Then where would I be?
Finally, truth dawned: I either had to go or fall apart. On personal retreat, I tasted heaven.
A retreat is both respite and restoration, regardless of frequency. Once a month is manageable for most people. Whether at a state park, retreat center or even a hotel, elements of a day away might include contemplative reading, napping filled with God's Word and presence, long walks watching for God's touch, singing hymns or choruses, journaling or listening. Away from home and work, the Lord again woos, restoring love for Him and family. Tangents and priorities untangle; dreams and desires resurface. Finding a quiet place for a few hours or a full day reaped soul dividends as well as a full harvest of energy and enthusiasm when I returned to daily life.
Spiritual support. In the midst of ministry loneliness, I begged God for a network of support for my various tightropes: wife, mother, ministry spouse, writer, speaker. It was unfair, impossible and overwhelming to expect Rich to meet all my needs. I watched and prayed for people further down the road.
Now, 20 years into ministry and marriage, a net stretches around me, ready to catch me should I slip. One group meets monthly (for eight years now) around a covenant of emotional, spiritual and ministry support. They ask if I'm in shape for the job, ask about my heart, joy, discontentedness, busyness. For a decade, I've also met with three other writers. We hold each other to the dream and calling God has whispered into our hearts. None of us were published prior to meeting together. Now, among us, we have 15 books in print.
Accountability and trust change lives — our lives and the lives we touch through daily living and ministry. Isolation is not God's plan; relationships have always been the framework for abundant life on earth. A network of people with similar passions and needs is vital for any of us. Better to be caught in loving arms than to crash.
After its adventure that morning, the high chair always leaned to the side. The lurching posture reminded me that Jesus set a pattern of work and withdrawal, solitude and service.
At a retreat recently, the coordinator came to me: "I'm so thankful for your high chair day. You wouldn't be with us now, leading us, if that hadn't happened." She's right. I (and you) cannot, must not, live and minister out of emptiness. I wouldn't have made it in marriage and ministry without that high chair day.
Conversations, letters and surveys tell us the concerns you wives in ministry have. About 45 percent of you fear physical, emotional and spiritual burnout. Nearly 60 percent of you work outside the home. Some 45 percent of you tell us you have no close friends. And more than half of you worry about raising your children.
The ebb and flow of ministry doesn't need to swamp your marriage. God gave me a wife with whom I could be a partner in ministry. Together we led a weekly Bible study. We entertained church leaders and new members in our home, sharing in the planning, cooking and cleanup. We loved each other. We loved our congregation. We loved our identity as a ministry couple.
Encouragement for women to make God's word the center of their daily lives.