Let’s celebrate – and fight for – marriage

As we are in the middle of Marriage Week in the UK, and Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I spent time reflecting on what marriage means to me in my latest column for Christian Today. To read the article please click here. If you enjoy it, or find it useful, please could you indicate by using the ‘like’ button on their webpage. Thanks so much.

I ended up with far too much material for that piece, so I’ve collected some of my other thoughts below. (They will make most sense read alongside the Christian Today column.) As you’ll see, I’ve learned a lot about my own weaknesses through being married: I certainly believe marriage holds up a mirror to the ugliest parts of our character. It does give us the opportunity to grow and change though, thankfully. Marriage also does not make us immune to the difficulties and trials we inevitably encounter in this life, but hopefully we learn to help one another up those mountains when they come…

couple-climbing-a-mountain

As a couple, we’ve certainly been through some crazy and difficult adventures. I’ve said before that one of the biggest surprises and challenges for me was when my husband became a pastor – I didn’t sign up for that, and really struggled to accept it to begin with. Now I view it as a privilege to be a part of his calling, as well as following my own wholeheartedly.

So here’s those points that didn’t make it into my latest column…

My husband needs me to learn to keep my mouth shut in public

I can be quite sarcastic and my humour often involves winding up people that I’m close to. But I have learned over time that my husband finds it incredibly difficult if I am sarcastic or make a joke of something he’s done or the way he’s been in front of other people.

I am also one that can’t bottle up my feelings but being angry or having an argument with my husband in public does not do our marriage any good. Keeping quiet while in public also gives me a chance to calm down and be a bit more objective – which I’ve never been that great at! 😉

Fighting for ways to feel connected is so important

There can be times when I’m at the end of myself – juggling work, looking after my kids, my roles within church and as a school governor can totally wring out me out to the point that I feel I have little left to give. I know as a busy pastor my husband can often feel wrung out by the end of a day too. And yet it is so so important to keep fighting for those moments of connection. We can work hard both separately and together. In those seasons when we are both focused on very different things, it can almost feel like we are like ships that pass in the night – roomies at best, strangers in the worst moments. But if we just stop for a few moments and check in with one another we both instantly feel like we are working towards a common goal and can support and understand where the other one is at. Somehow it lifts what can be a time of struggle, as we realise afresh that we are not alone.

We need to fight for marriage

I could make all sorts of points here about the way that society is diluting marriage, or how high the divorce rate is – but, while that’s all true, it’s not what I’m focusing on. While writing this I was reminded of a stark image I saw firsthand while visiting friends in another part of London. Right the way down a street were bits of ribbon tied to the telephone lines. I asked what they were, and was gobsmacked by the answer: each ribbon represented a Christian couple. Apparently there was a high proportion of witches in the area and they very openly shared that they cursed Christian marriages and called on powers to break them up. That really shook me, and made me realise the spiritual battle that we can be in as married couples. If we aren’t praying and fighting for our marriages then who will?

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My new column

Sorry for the plug – actually, I don’t know why I’m apologising because I’m really excited about this! I’ve just started writing a column for Christian Today called Help! I’m now a pastor’s wife! It will be appearing on the second and last Wednesday of each month. Please do check it out – and feel free to add comments, ask questions or start discussions in the comments area at the end. I’d love to see you there 🙂 To read the first one click here.

Thanks!

Claire x

Feeling the squeeze

Today is the start of National Marriage Week. I chuckled wryly to myself when I found that out, as this week has been incredibly testing. We’ve definitely felt the squeeze, due to many reasons – mainly outside of our relationship. We are still exhausted from the fantastic weekend of celebrations honouring our pastor and his wife as he retired, and now my husband is feeling the pressure of taking over the church and being the only member of staff for the next two months. I’m really busy juggling a lot of deadlines, including writing a book, and looking after our kids. I’ve also found it very difficult to be surrounded by a houseful of mess as my husband transports the church office temporarily to the studio at the bottom of our garden. That sort of thing really grates on me – and I have to be honest, I bit my tongue for three days but didn’t manage to keep quiet completely!

Each night has been busy since last weekend, with meetings already booked in. And each night we’ve been supporting others with difficulties – some with intensely bad news they are struggling with. While it is an honour and a privilege to serve them it is still hard when you are just plain tired yourself – and some of the issues have been so big it is hard not to be affected by them. I think the fact that we are not sleeping well even though exhausted is a sign that the stress is taking its toll. And this afternoon my daughter had a complete meltdown doing homework that I thought she would actually really enjoy. I found myself almost at explosion point and shouted inwardly to God ‘Not now – don’t throw anything else at me now’.

I left her to it and escaped into my office. And there were another series of tweets about National Marriage Week, which stopped me in my tracks. We absolutely HAVE to make time amongst all the manic-ness, responsibilities and people problems to just chill out, do things together we really enjoy and affirm and encourage one another. Because when tiredness and stress set in, it is always the person closest to you that bears the brunt of it. I know you know this, but I urge those of you that are married to use this week’s timely reminder wisely and let your husband/wife really know why it is that you love them. Use the commercialised, cheesy, annoying day that is Valentine’s Day to do something special – whether you choose to do it on that day or another just make sure you do something in the next week! I’m going to make sure we do…

Why marriage?

I keep thinking about a family wedding I went to a while ago. Seeing people you haven’t seen for years, and listening to another marriage ceremony, does focus your mind – on where your life is going, how your marriage is going etc. It can be quite a sobering affair. I remember finding the marriage address particularly challenging. It was talking about how, in our disposable culture, marriage is very outdated, outmoded and probably seems totally ridiculous to many – and yet people still do it. Even those who don’t hold to the ideals that the institute of marriage was originally built on (this couple had been living together for years, had a child, she had two other children from a previous relationship). Why? What is it about marriage that draws people to it? As the vicar said, it is a leap of faith – it is into the unknown and there are no guarantees. What a risk! The giving of yourself, your possessions, your future dreams… And yet the possibility of sharing your life with someone who will always be there for you, always love you and always champion you is mind blowing! How many of us are still doing that for our spouses in the way that we should? It is certainly true that it is the people who are closest to you that can hurt you the most, and yet how precious a gift it is to have someone alongside you to share the heartaches and pain and also celebrate your successes. Deep down we all long for that – we were built for relationship – and I think that is why marriage is always going to be popular.

A pioneering woman, pt 2

The second part of my interview with Wendy Virgo:

How did you juggle supporting your husband and being involved in ministry while you raised such a large family? What were the biggest challenges?

Very early in our marriage, Terry and I redefined what we meant by “ministry”. Everything in our lives was to be seen as under the umbrella of serving God; there was no distinction between “sacred” and “secular”. So my ministry to God included loving and supporting my husband, loving and training my children and creating a godly and peaceful home and all the domestic activities involved in that. It also included praying, worshipping, seeking God for gifts of the Spirit and teaching and encouraging others. So as it was all ministry, I didn’t feel I was having to juggle home and ministry! But I did have to fight for time to study and pray, and I learned to pray while I was doing other things.

I found there were seasons in life, so that consistent times of prayer and Bible study were difficult after the birth of a new baby in the period of night feeds. I had to learn to talk to God while I was ironing or driving to the supermarket. There wasn’t much time for reading so I would learn to “feed” on a few verses of scripture. I also drew strength from being with others in prayer times etc. A young mum can feel very alone, so it is important to make time to meet with others.

As you said above that you had to fight for time to study and pray, could you share what you have found most useful for your own personal devotional times?

I have used different methods of personal study over the years. Sometimes I have followed a year plan; sometimes used daily notes. (I actually write for CWR’s excellent “Inspiring Women Every Day” series). I particularly like using the Bible Speaks Today series of commentaries edited by John Stott. I prefer to work through a book of the Bible rather than to jump about. That way you get a much more in depth understanding of the development of Biblical truth than if you just hop from one topic to another…although topical study can also have its place.

As the children grew up of course, the rhythm of life kept changing and now Terry and I are in the happy season of being able to pray together every day, which we really love!

Appreciating one another

Many of the thoughts that get me delving more deeply into my brain to ponder an issue occur when I’m doing something mundane. I guess that’s just a reflection of my life as a mum! I was busy dishing up dinner the other night when it suddenly dawned on me that I had probably already prepared, cooked and served up hundreds – if not thousands – of dishes since getting married and that there is no end in sight! We will have been married 18 years in August, our eldest will turn 6 in September, but I will still be clocking up the amount of meals I’ve prepared for us well after the time my husband and I retire! I started to get the hump – started to think about how many jobs a mother – and wife – does that go on behind the scenes, unnoticed. But then something in my spirit stopped me. And I started remembering all the times when my husband had sacrificially given of his time and I’d taken it for granted. And the times when my kids may have done something I’d been trying to teach them to do for ages and they suddenly ‘got it’ – but in my weary state I didn’t seem to praise or encourage them that much. I then started thinking about all the people there are in our church. A church doesn’t function without the help of its members and I wondered how often I’d thanked the welcome team for putting out the chairs faithfully each week for example. And, as I head up the worship team with my husband, I started thinking about all the musicians we are responsible for. How often do I take the time to check how each one of them is? I know I make sure to thank each one that plays alongside me on a particular Sunday, but what about all the other times when I’m not leading – do I still make time to show my appreciation? I know that it would seem forced to thank everyone every week, but I did get stopped in my tracks and just believe it is worth each one of us thinking about this. Do we truly appreciate those people who are around us day by day – the ones that we ‘do life with’? We could all do with some encouragement – why not tell someone how much you appreciate them today?

Relationship central

On Friday I had the huge privilege of attending Holy Trinity Brompton’s Relationship Central Conference. HTB is where Alpha was born, and those running the conference created the hugely successful Marriage Course and Marriage Preparation Course. On Friday they launched their new Parenting Children and Parenting Teenagers Courses. Both promise to be as helpful as the marriage courses, which are now run in over 100 countries round the world. Just before our pastor went on sabbatical we took time out to go on the Marriage Course at a local church that was running it. It was so helpful to have that opportunity just to pause and take stock. As we are in the process of buying a building for the church now we were excited about the prospect of being able to run such a course there in the future, which is why we went to the conference. Having been, we are now hoping to run the parenting ones too!

As leaders will know, when you are in charge of a church it is difficult to ever find the time to visit other churches, so I was really keen to go to HTB as I’d never had the chance to (even though I used to work in a publishing house just down the road from it 15 years ago). I was blown away by the welcome. The conference was brilliantly organised and executed by many friendly faces all eager to help make the day as accessible and enjoyable as possible. Enticing muffins greeted us as we arrived, and the food just kept coming all day long! I have never been so well fed at a conference! 🙂 My husband recently attended the HTB leadership conference and he commented that, yet again, the church proved that they certainly know how to put on a conference. The highlight was definitely meeting and listening to Nicky and Sila Lee. God has certainly placed a particular gifting in them but it was so refreshing to see them in the flesh and watch them banter with one another. It makes them seem ‘normal’ and helps put across the notion that what they are teaching is attainable – they aren’t super spiritual beings, but just like every one of us. The materials they have put together have been done in such a way to make them as cheap and easy to use as they possibly could – another attention to detail that is going to bless thousands across the world as they start to implement these new courses in their churches.

I thank God for you

So many things I’ve meant to say
So much I’ve meant to show.
It’s easy letting time go by
And to think somehow you’ll know.
So I wrote this song to just make sure
You never doubt it’s true
That I thank God for you
I thank God for you

You spend yourself so freely
On the things you do for me
You’re always there to lift me up
When I’m less than I should be
To earn the kind of love you give
There’s nothing I could do
And I thank God for you
I thank God for you

I thank God because He’s given me
A lover and a friend
With a heart that I can trust in
Through it all until the end
I thank God because you give more
Than I had ever hoped to find
No one else this side of heaven
Gives me so much peace of mind

The years have gone so quickly
Since we changed to one from two
But time has just intensified
The bond I share with you
And yes, I’d do it all again
To love you as I do
I thank God for you
I thank God for you

A pastor’s wife…

So what does that actually mean exactly?… I keep being told that there is no such thing as a pastor’s wife in the Bible – that there is no definitive role, that I should simply concentrate on being the woman that God called me to be and not worry about, take on or even create imaginary expectations from others about what I should be doing. My response? Well that is all well and good but part of my God-given role is to support my husband and there will no doubt be a change in stress-levels etc for him now. To backtrack a little, he became a full-time associate pastor about a year and a half ago now, but our only other full-time worker, and lead elder of the church, is on sabbatical at the moment. I would say things are going brilliantly, and my husband has really stepped up to the mark. Okay we need to learn to juggle things a little better, so we get some quality time together, but, overall, it’s good. My only concern really is the change in dynamic that could happen at home. Could we get so busy that our children suffer?