This is part of a series on clergy couples and their stories. Andy and I wrote a book about being a clergy couple and all the insanity that goes along with it called Yoked: Stories of a Clergy Couple in Marriage, Family, and Ministry.
Mark and I have been a couple for 15 years and have actually been serving together in ministry for almost all that time. There have been many different seasons, but the most recent chapter in our lives has been consumed with the birth of our family (two kids, currently ages 8 & 5) and the re-birth of Pres House (whom we half-jokingly call our third child). Somewhere along the way of becoming parents and co-pastors, the role of being individual people and lovers slipped into the shadows, making only rare appearances on special occasions.
It is why this current Sabbatical has been so vital to us. Sabbath is a defiant act of remembrance, especially for parents of young children and pastors—doubly so when those roles pile up on top of each other. Much of the past eight years has been hurrying from here to there, a constant motion that left barely enough room to remember the kids’ lunches never mind a more vivid reality of a holy and awesome God.
In this season of Sabbatical, I have to be honest and admit I haven’t been reading the Bible, kneeling in prayer for hours, or studying classical theological texts and spiritual disciplines. Instead, I have been engaged in an act of remembrance. Remembering what it’s like to have a whole day (or at least a few hours) of silence; reading a book with no thought of producing a sermon; eating a meal (and going to the bathroom) without any interruptions; sitting in worship to simply, well, worship.
In these acts of remembrance, I have been rediscovering bits and pieces of myself—sort of like going through old boxes in the attic. Those who are mothers can attest to how easy it is to forget oneself. Old hobbies and passions; relationships that have been shelved due to lack of time and energy; the truth that I am an interesting person in my own right (and not just as a source of food, band-aids, and moral compass)—indeed that I am a precious child of God.
This act of remembering who I am has also helped in the hard work of reclaiming my role as lover. As one might surmise, parenting and pastoring generally aren’t terribly romantic activities and while there is often drama, it’s usually not the kind conducive to dreamy evenings lit by candle light. Mark and I have had the good fortune of being pretty good colleagues and partners; not that we don’t ever disagree or have challenges, but we work well together. What’s harder to do, especially after a long day, month, or years of work combined with the marathon that is parenting, is nurturing the flame that is uniquely ours alone. We realized this a number of years ago when we tried to have a conversation without talking about either the kids or work.
And so we have been given this unique opportunity to also remember the love which started us on this wonderful journey. Thankfully it’s not like dating (which I found to be a roller coaster of emotions that made it difficult to focus on anything). But there are elements of excitement, passion, and mystery. My dear friend, Kate Wiebe, recommended the book “Passionate Marriage” in which the author makes counter-cultural and radical claims about the long-term, monogamous couple. It’s been refreshing to give attention and space to remembering that beyond being mom and dad, co-pastor and co-pastor, we are lovers given a wonderful gift by God.
It has been an excellent season of Sabbath, of remembering God’s good creation and blessings. My hope is that this time of renewal will help us sustain the callings we have to be lovers, parents, and pastors together.
Mark and Erica are campus pastors of Pres House in Madison, Wisconsin.
[Yoked image from here]