So Dad, what’s the benefit to us of you being a pastor?

img_0695This last weekend my 11 year old son, after a small disagreement regarding a trivial matter on a Sunday, asked a phenomenal question….  “Dad, what benefit is there for us now that you are a pastor”?  Ouch…. that hurt…..  While it sounded like a really selfish question for an 11 year old to ask, it was a great, honest, heartfelt question in the moment.  After a month of pushing hard to get many things done it was a good reminder of my priorities.

Before I dig deeper into that question and my response I need to paint some background.  Over the course of my career in healthcare I tried to carve out time during my busy schedule for my children.  This picture above is what “Work Days” normally looked like.  These were days that I would invite one of my boys to the office for an hour where we would hang out, eat ice cream from the hospital cafeteria and I would try to make them feel important.  I would introduce them to people I worked with, let them draw pictures on my white board and listen intently to them.  I still got work done during the time we spent together – as you can see in the picture I’m on my phone….but I intentionally carved time out of my busy schedule for them.  I would also take them to Notre Dame football games or special events and we would vacation together to fun places.

Now in ministry I find it more difficult for “work days”and financially challenging to take them to larger events like football games or fancy vacations.  My boys go to church on Sunday’s so they are at the place I work, but for a different purpose.  In ministry you also deal with your weekends being much different than they were when I was in the marketplace.  The day I’m off my children are in school or working and it can be challenging to find time to be meaningfully present.

Here are ways in which I try to connect with my children while in ministry, and I’m still working on these:

  • We try to eat together many evenings – this doesn’t happen every night, but we really try hard to do this regularly.
  • Intentional time – I drive my middle son to school almost every day.  It’s 20 minutes together and while we don’t have amazing discussions every day (imagine a 15 year old early in the morning – not the most talkative), it’s time we get together and we do connect.  Finding intentional time with each of my sons is important.
  • Special Events – These take on different meanings because they are likely less frequent in ministry just due to time and financial constraints.  Instead of Notre Dame games or destination vacations we go away and camp or to a state park.
  • Pray Together – Must do more of this!
  • Texting – With my oldest son who now has a full time job and attending a community college texting seems to be a lifeline to connection throughout the week.  From comical tidbits back and forth to serious questions texting is a must.

Today after an early morning meeting and leaving before my sons got up, I went back home to eat with my youngest son and we discussed some of the benefits of my job to the family.  We talked through his question yesterday and we talked about how our time together was important.  It was the highlight of my day.

While there is a delicate balance between your time in ministry serving others, are you serving your family and your children well?  Do they feel like they are important to you, or are you out of balance?  It took an 11 year old to ask an honest question for me to recalibrate after a busy month of activity….  I appreciated his honesty and I enjoyed my breakfast with him this morning.



The Prodigal’s Brother – A Marriage Lesson

The story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) is one that many people relate to as they wander from their faith, request unreasonable things from the people they love and then come back and ask to rejoin the place they once left.  It is a story I could relate to as well.  Some of the real power in this story is the power of the prodigal’s brother and how it relates to marriage. (Luke 15:11-32)

Let’s look at what the older brother asks and reacts to when the prodigal son returns:
“What is going on”?  – The older brother, while working in the family business he already owns and has a future inheritance in, wants to know what all of the hubbub is about.  Notice that he is out working hard, in his mind maybe “earning” his right to what he already owns.
He became angry and refused to go in to the party – Learning that his younger brother came back and a party is being thrown with the best calf, instead of celebrating and joining in, the older brother becomes jealous.  He starts to compare his effort and rewards to his brother.  He doesn’t understand that he could have enjoyed his brothers return and lose nothing – there was no cost to him and no impact to him or his inheritance in this situation.
“Look all these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.” – The older brother immediately points to his performance on the farm and how hard he is worked.  The father knows this.  This is not new information.  I can only think that the Father at this point is wondering why, at this point, we are even talking about what the older brother did.  You already have this – why are you asking for it – just receive it!
“You never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends”.  The older brother attempts to make some comparison for what his brother has received, but does not make the connection that the goats were already his.  All he had to do was ask his father and he would have received.  This is like asking for access to something you already own.
So how does this relate to marriage?
1.  In marriage we can get caught up in working or performing to maintain an image of what we want,  we lose sight of the most important things we already have.  Don’t get caught up working to uphold an image that either don’t deserve or don’t understand.  If the image you are trying to maintain is completely disconnected from who you really are, stop performing to an incorrect image.  Celebrate what is going on around you, many times it’s not about you at all.  Even though the celebration isn’t about you, you can still enjoy the celebration. 
2.  Don’t point out all of the effort you have put in to your marriage to get some outcome you think you deserve.  This is an effort in futility because you never want honor to come to you because you had to tell someone what you did, you want them to notice.  You should assume they notice already.  Striving to perform to get something you want only reinforces bad behavior on both sides of the marriage.  If you are rewarded then you should also be prepared to be disappointed when your partner doesn’t reward you EVERY time.  You also shouldn’t do things for a reward in your marriage.  Love as a reward is really not true love.  True love is giving and receiving and desiring nothing in return.
Stop thinking you are the prodigal in your marriage – you are the older brother – and stop trying to perform your way into getting something you already have but don’t realize.

We’re just not on the same page spiritually

Jealous manI’ve heard too many times that a husband or wife isn’t “at the same spiritual level” as the other.  This is usually followed by some type of disappointment or frustration and a wish that the other person, who is inevitably described as “further behind”, start catching up.

While I can somewhat understand how this could be a problem, what I’ve come to appreciate in my own marriage is peristaltic movement in our spiritual growth.

The what?!?!

Think of an earth worm for minute.  It inches forward while while a portion of it holds tight, the next part moves, and so on and so on.  This is how I vision a healthy marriage moving along a spiritual journey as well.

The husband or wife moves forward and then after a short amount of time and understanding, the partner moves forward, in the same direction, as well.  Each is always connected, always appreciated, always joined in a common direction.

Could we move together at the same time?  I suppose, but that isn’t how it has worked in my marriage.  For many years my wife was out ahead of me and I resisted moving forward.  Once I started inching forward though I found out how enjoyable it was to move forward quickly.  When I moved forward I also was closer with my wife.  We moved in the same direction and there was shared vision on where we were heading.  In areas now I’m moving ahead and she is following lovingly.

I’ve come to understand that being on the same spiritual level can be a bit dreamy – while it could happen, it probably would only be for a very small period of time.  If we were moving at the exact same level at the exact same time it would mean that we were growing at the exact same rate.  (Or not growing at just stagnating at the same level).

A healthy marriage is a growing marriage in the Lord, appreciating what your partner has to offer and where they are leading or watching.  When you move forward in leadership pray about the direction together and lovingly move forward.  When you are “behind” (in a supportive position), celebrate the person ahead of you and start preparing for your own growth to lead soon.