I began my pastoral ministry with good intentions. After completing seminary, I set out with a deep desire to serve God with all my heart, along with all of His children. Unfortunately, I was misguided and ignorant in one vital area of life.
For the first few years of my pastoral ministry, I abandoned my family in the name of Jesus. I started work early, came home late, and allowed almost any phone call to interrupt family activities. To make matters worse, I was oblivious to the damage occurring in my family. Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” either was ill informed or was talking about some other situation. Bliss was not a word that came to mind when describing the loneliness and sense of abandonment in my home.
Fortunately, my wife had the courage to confront my unhealthy behavior—she wrote me a letter. I can still remember the moment I opened it. The content was quite different from the love notes we wrote each other during our courtship. One sentence will never be forgotten: “You tell me that I’m at the top of your list, but I don’t feel like it.”
The time had come to practice what I preached. I was familiar with the inspired counsel of the apostle Paul: to love our spouse as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph. 5:25). The apostle used words such as nourish and cherish to describe the intentional nurturing of our family relationships. But how often we fail to put those principles into practice.
The articles in this month’s issue of Ministry will help us on our journey. I agree with my colleague Willie Hucks that developing and maintaining a healthy family life is one of the toughest jobs anyone can tackle. In his excellent interview with Willie and Elaine Oliver, Family Life directors for the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, we are reminded “while healthy family relationships are difficult to develop and sustain, it is still possible to enjoy a fairly healthy family life.” The good news is there is hope for us all.
One powerful insight impacted me from Curtis Fox’s article on maximizing marital and parental satisfaction in pastoral couples: “Prioritize your life and work to ensure that your spouse and family get your best time and energy. Build beautiful memories in special places, doing wonderful things together.” While I deeply regret the wasted years, I’m thankful for new beginnings and fresh opportunities.
The article on family dinners and bonding provides timely counsel for our eat-on-the-run culture. Take time to eat with your family and with special friends. While we don’t live to eat, we can experience blessings as we take time together enjoying healthy food. I have learned to give thanks to God at mealtimes—not only for the blessing of food when many in the world go hungry, but also the blessing of sharing the meal with loving family or friends.
We pray you will be blessed, and we also want to hear from you. What are some ways you have found to safeguard your family and enjoy healthy relationships? What lessons have you learned during your years of pastoral ministry? You might even want to share this issue of Ministry with your spouse and/or children. The articles could provide the basis for constructive conversations during quality family time. Sometimes the truth we discover is painful, but this is a vital step towards healing. If you are married, your spouse will rejoice. If you are a parent, your children will bless you, or at least give thanks to God. If you are single, you can apply valuable lessons to your important relationships. Share this special issue with a married colleague in ministry who may need this practical counsel more than you realize.
I am so thankful to God and my wife for rescuing me from an unhealthy behavior early in our marriage. We have been married for more than 35 years and we have had at least 25 happy years! I plan to take some practical counsel from this month’s issue and live what I learn. I encourage you to do the same.