One of the hardships that I have to come to terms with as a Phase One probationer is the fact that I am in Uitenhage, and my family has had to remain in Johannesburg. I have to confess that being on my own was great for the first couple of weeks, as it gave me time to adjust to the new routine of ministry, Phase One college, etc. After that, it became just plain miserable!
So it was with a degree of anticipation that I flew up to Johannesburg last week. Granted, it wasn’t under the best of circumstances, being as it was to attend my late father-in-law’s funeral, but the thought of being able to spend even 24 hours with my wife was one that lifted the spirits somewhat.
Having now returned to Uitenhage, it struck me yesterday that a marriage relationship is like building a sandcastle. If you don’t keep working at it, shaping it, adding more sand, and protecting it from the ocean, it will be eroded and eventually disappear altogether.
One of the things that I realised is that, having been married for just over 17 years, one goes through various stages in a marriage. There’s the foundation stage, where you get used to living under the same roof, and this is usually when one has the “Mother of All Wars” over something trivial like whether the toilet seat should be left up or down. (I found this out the hard way when my new bride got up at 4 am to go to the loo, and plonked her derriere down on the cold porcelain, because some thoughtless, selfish so-and-so left the seat up…)
But gradually a couple grows together, to the point where Belinda and I now finish each other’s sentences – correctly! I remember the one time the two of us had arrived at a home cell meeting, and as we were walking in, Belinda was busting my chops by saying, “You’ve left the goodie in the whatzername again”, to which I replied, “No, I did not leave my Bible in the car – here it is!” Our fellow cell members thought that she had received the gift of tongues, and me the gift of interpretation!
On this particular visit back to Johannesburg, however, I got a sense that there was a bit of “rebuilding” to do. Something from our relationship sandcastle had been eroded by the ocean of time. Now don’t read too much into this statement – we aren’t heading for the divorce courts! In fact, it wasn’t even something that would give rise to a disagreement. However, there was a feeling that, somehow, we needed to get back to where we were in our relationship – it’s as though we had slipped back from Year 17 to about Year 15.
In two weeks’ time my family will be joining me in Uitenhage for a while (just 15 more sleeps – yay!), and the rebuilding process will be able to take place. But spare a thought for those ministers – even those who are ordained – who, through circumstances, are apart from their spouses, sometimes for years at a stretch. What happens to those relationships? We wail and gnash our teeth when we hear of a minister getting divorced, but could this be a contributing factor?
I’m thankful that God has helped me recognise so early in my ministry that time apart DOES have an eroding effect on one’s relationship. This revelation has helped me to realise that I need to work even harder at my marriage, especially during the short times that we are together. But this is yet another thing that one doesn’t learn in textbooks. No-one tells you about these things. And if the Church DOES provide support for ministers in this situation, we are not told where to find such support.
What has been the experience of other ministers who have been stationed in places where their families could not join them? How did they cope? Did they have similar experiences to those that I have described here? And did the church provide any support? If so, where does one go, or who does one speak to? Comments – please!
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