“How would you feel about being in a relationship with a woman who is a pastor?”
There it was — a potential deal breaker, at least from her perspective. We’d been communicating online for a few weeks after getting matched up on eharmony and were slowly wading into increasing depths of vulnerability with our questions.
Clearly, if this was going to have any chance of working, I’d have to be OK with her career aspirations and be open to nontraditional gender roles. To her relief, I was. I actually thought her being a pastor made her even more attractive. Having traversed those waters, the conversations continued and we started dating. In less than a year we were married in a small church decked out with hundreds of freshly cut daffodils.
We spoke vows that day which we’d written ourselves. One promise, more than any other, has guided our journey together ever since:
“I will pursue your joy above my own.”
Those words were my promise to prioritize her happiness ahead of mine — to encourage her to pursue what brings her the deepest joy. It was a commitment to cheer her on as she lived into her dreams and calling to bless the world with her gifts.
I’d absorbed the idea from John Piper who believes “the reason there is so much misery in marriage is not that husbands and wives seek their own pleasure, but that they do not seek it in the pleasure of their spouses.” He’s convinced that “the biblical mandate to husbands and wives is to seek your own joy in the joy of your spouse.”
Since joy is the goal, not fleeting happiness, it’s not about making an allowance for every want and whim. Permissive and shortsighted love only leads to enablement and dysfunction. Pursuing our spouse’s joy means listening to the deepest desires of their heart, seeking to unearth their dreams and giving those hopes permission to grow. It means we take steps to see those desires materialized in our life together even if it requires sacrifice.
We’ve certainly veered off course into selfishness more than a few times, but trying to pursue each other’s joy these past eleven years has allowed us to both step more into who God created us to be. I think we’re experiencing some of what Frederick Buechner describes in his book, Beyond Words: “A marriage made in heaven is one where they become more richly themselves together than the chances are either of them could ever have managed to become alone.”
In some ways, we’re still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up, so for us, a big part of pursuing each other’s joy has meant encouraging one another through career twists and turns.* She’s found my support for her ongoing educational pursuits and involvement in church leadership, and I’ve found hers for my own professional development and moonlighting as a musician. It’s also meant making room for life-giving hobbies: her training for 10-K runs and my fly fishing trips. On the parenting front, we seem to find joy amidst the chaos and exhaustion to the extent that we help each other embrace the beauty of sacrifice and slow down to enjoy moments as a family.
Living this out definitely isn’t easy. I must choose to fight against the pull in my heart to put my desires and wants first, especially when I’m worn out and feel entitled to a break. Time and energy are limited resources, so pursuing each other’s joy requires sacrifice. Saying “Yes” to her taking an evening course means committing to care for the children on my own those evenings and being patient during crunch time when she’s immersed in completing assignments. Her saying “Yes” to my recording an album means she’s taking care of the kids alone for several evenings and has to put up with my absent-mindedness, which gets a whole lot worse when I’m engrossed in the creative process.
But it’s worth it! Down the road, we get to step back and say, “Look what you did! Look what God did. We make a pretty good team, don’t we?” It feels pretty good to be proud of my spouse — to witness her growing more into who she was created to be. Her joy becomes my joy as we celebrate together.
But it’s been a clumsy dance of grace as we’ve wrestled with the question FamilyLife Canada Director, Sharol Josephson posed in a recent podcast: “How can we both live into the giftedness that God’s wired into us, while caring for our family, loving each other, and backing each other up?”
When we get the rhythm right, maybe I’ll write another post to let you know how we did it, but one thing I’m confident of is that God is an incredibly generous Heavenly Father just waiting for opportunities to give us good gifts laden with joy. But often He wants to hear us ask.
There’s a story in the Bible about a woman who had just become a widow. Desperate for a way to pay off debt to avoid her sons being taken as slaves, she begged the prophet Elisha for help, who then asked her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” To which she replied, “Your servant has nothing there at all,” … “except a small jar of olive oil.” Then Elisha, who had a habit of making odd requests, said, “Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.” Behind closed doors, “they brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’ But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing” (2 Kings 4:1-7).
It seems to me that the oil only ceased flowing because they ran out of jars. I think our privilege is to help our spouse find more jars to present to God — and “not just a few” — to help them discover talents and gifts and emerging passions which God is thrilled to fill to the brim to bless not only our spouse and our marriage, but the community in which we live. Our joy is made full as we help them “use whatever gift [they] have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). It feels pretty good to see your spouse shine!
What’s the next jar you can help your spouse bring to God?