“The problem was me.
I needed a change of attitude."
As graduation neared, we faced a dilemma. Several professors were encouraging me to stay on for graduate study and work toward the doctor of theology degree. With no practical experience to speak of, I wanted to find a place of ministry along with the classroom work in order to keep me from stagnating spiritually. Mary agreed, and we began to pray together that God would open a pastorate near enough to the seminary to allow me to pursue doctoral work.
After a full year without a pastor, and frustrated at every turn in looking for an older and more experienced man, the Fort Worth Bible Church finally decided to consider a recent graduate. It would be less than an hour's drive from the seminary. I was one of three men recommended by the seminary, and for some unknown reason the church began the candidating process with me. They would vote after I had preached for two successive Sundays, and if I did not receive the necessary 75 percent majority, they would go on to the second candidate. Much to our delight, the church called me (with a fraction of a percentage point over what was required). And we began our pastoral ministry--young and green as we were.
Mary describes our new life like this:
"What I had looked forward to since I was a young girl was finally a reality. I was now a pastor's wife. For the first time we would have our own little home rather than a seminary apartment. And Richard would have more time for me, for Steve, and for the next little one who was due to arrive in six months.
"It didn't take long for my bubble to burst, however. The pressures on Richard were greater than ever. Now he was not only driving to Dallas two afternoons a week to attend classes, he was preaching Sunday mornings and evenings, teaching an adult Sunday school class, giving a devotional study at Wednesday night prayer service, marrying couples from the church, burying the dead, visiting prospects and hospital patients, counseling, attending board meetings, and doing all the other thing pastors do. In addition to that, the church was too small to hire a secretary, so he was typing the Sunday bulletins, printing them, folding them, and handling church mailings. He was hardly ever home. In fact, he was gone from home more than he had ever been during the previous four years.
"And I was left with the kids. And they kept coming. Mike arrived during our first half year in the pastorate. Ten and a half months later Mark was born. Richard's dad jokingly quipped, 'I knew God said we were supposed to be fruitful and replenish the earth, but you two don't have to do it all by yourselves.'
"Money was still scarce, so I was minding another child during the day to help with expenses. Although as a teenager I had always loved children, there were times now when I was getting frustrated and exasperated having them under foot all the time. There were always diapers to be changed, noses to be wiped, formula to he made, clothes to be washed and ironed, meals to be prepared, discipline to be administered, battles to be refereed, and bedtime rituals to be followed.
"In Richard's defense, I should say that he was almost always home from five to seven in the evening. During that time he would help me with the dishes, since the boys were nowhere to be found at dish washing time. That gave us a few minutes to talk. Then he would spend some time with the boys. But that wasn't enough to satisfy me. He would usually have some evening responsibility, and I would be left with the children again. Richard would come home after they were snugly tucked into bed. And then, as you might expect, he would often want to go to bed and have sex. I found myself getting increasingly resentful.
"During our seminary days I had not been an easy person to live with, but now it was getting worse. I was unhappy about almost everything. I criticized Richard for not being home and helping more, for not showing me more affection other than at bedtime, for not being more considerate, for not understanding my moods, for not listening to me, for not talking to me as much as I wanted him to, for not taking care of things around the house, and for numerous other things that neither one of us can remember anymore. I complained about my responsibilities, I fussed about our lack of money, and I was discontented about something or other most of the time.
"I didn't like what I was doing to Richard and the boys, and I didn't like myself. But I didn't know how to change it. It seemed as though it was out of control, like a raging fire.
"There were times when I actually thought about taking my life. But several things hindered me. For one thing, I was afraid that I would not be successful and I would have to say 'I'm sorry.' I hated to say 'I'm sorry.' Another was the thought that Richard would remarry and be happy with his new wife. The nasty part of me didn't want him to be happy. And when I thought about it seriously, I didn't really want to die. I wanted to be a better wife and mother, but I didn't know how."
As I look back to the unpleasantness of those years, I know I loved Mary to the best of my ability, but I just didn't know how to make her happy. God had been so good to us and we had so much to be thankful for, but it seemed to me that nothing I did satisfied her. It seemed as though we were arguing about something most of the time. There were occasions when she had to go out in the car to shop or run some errands, and I actually thought that it might be good if she never came back. It is difficult for me to admit this, but sometimes I wished she would run the car off an embankment or something. But the selfish part of me didn't want to lose my car!
I can remember coming home at night after a meeting or after visiting in someone's home, then lying in bed and arguing until two or three o'clock in the morning. I was usually defending myself against the latest accusation. There were nights that I literally laid in bed and wept over the shambles we were making of our marriage.
About those late-night arguments, Mary says: "I started most of them deliberately so I could have Richard's attention. At least he had to talk to me if we were arguing. One night in the middle of one of those silly quarrels he said, 'Mary, either we get this marriage straightened out, or I'm going to leave the ministry.'
"I felt as though a bomb exploded inside my head. I thought back to my childhood aspiration to be a pastor's wife, to my decision to yield my will to the Lord, to my desire to glorify the Lord whether by life or by death. It occurred to me that I was willing to go to the mission field and be eaten by cannibals, yet I was not willing to be the person God wanted me to be in this marriage. I had said that I wanted to do God's will, but I wasn't doing what I already knew to be God's will. I felt like a liar and a hypocrite.
"God's Word says that I should be content (Hebrews 13:5). I wasn't content with anything. God's Word says that I should do all things without grumbling or complaining (Philippians 2:14). I didn't do much of anything without grumbling or complaining. God's Word says that I should rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4). I hardly knew what it meant to rejoice. God's Word says that I should live peaceably with all people (Romans 12:18). I was deliberately agitating my husband into arguments. God's Word says I should look out for the interests of others before my own (Philippians 2:4). I seldom thought about anything except what was best for me. God's Word says that I should be a helper to my husband (Genesis 2:18). Instead, I was hindering him. God's Word says that I should not worry about anything (Philippians 4:6). I worried about nearly everything.
"The light was beginning to dawn. I think I realized for the first time that the problem was not Richard, not the children, not the lack of money, not my tedious responsibilities, not the pressures of the church. The problem was me. I needed a change of attitude. I needed to begin obeying the truth of God's Word that I knew with my mind but was not as yet translating into life. "
In our counseling opportunities, we both listen as the victims of unhappy marriages describe their plight. We wish we could magically transform their spouses into the people they want them to be.
But none of us can change other people. We can only change ourselves. What we usually do in those situations is encourage the counselees to become what God wants them to be. We each must appropriate God's grace and power to make the necessary changes in our own lives regardless of what our mates do. God may use the changes in our lives to affect them, but we must leave that with Him.
Mary was ready to make some changes. She never told me what God was doing in her life or of the decision that was crystalizing in her mind. And the progress would be so slow that I would barely notice it for some time to come. But it was a beginning.
Examine your life in light of the biblical principles mentioned in this chapter. Choose at least one of them and begin to obey it, consciously depending on God's presence and power.