I was 23 years old, married for a year, and just received an offer to coach high school basketball. I was already attending seminary part-time and had started a career as a pastor. My wife, Tara, was scheduled to start traveling for medical internships within the month. Over the next four months, she would be gone throughout the week and return home over the weekends. I was entertaining the coaching offer because I was hoping to use coaching as an extension of a career in ministry.
I met with our senior pastor to seek his approval and wisdom regarding the offer. His words still haunt me to this day. With my pastor sitting right across from me, he gently looked up, and with concern on his face, said “Paul, I’m afraid you’re going to be doing too much.”
I’m afraid you’re going to be doing too much…
If only I would have listened. I accepted the coaching offer. Six months later, our marriage was showing fractures. I had grown distant from Tara. What had happened?
Complicating the Hard Work of Marriage
Marriage is hard work. A lot harder than I expected. Basketball started to dominate my focus and Tara started her internships. I found myself too physically and emotionally exhausted to talk with Tara every night on the phone. Our conversations became short and I grew snippy. When she would return home for the weekend, I often had practice to attend. When we were together, I was a zombie whether we were sitting on the coach or watching movies. We were not connecting. The physical distance of internships and the emotional distance caused by my commitment to basketball and my career made the hard work of marriage even harder.
The physical distance of internships and the emotional distance caused by my commitment to basketball and my career made the hard work of marriage even harder.
Lack of time together and the result of not connecting led to an unhealthy marriage. It took two years of counseling to recover. I wish I could go back to that office and sit in the on the meeting between my younger self and my pastor. The more mature, wounded me would refuse to allow my younger self to leave until he had made the decision to not accept the coaching offer. I still cringe when I think of the heartache we experienced as a couple.
Laying Aside Your Armor
The words of Deuteronomy 24:5 contain great wisdom. “If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (NIV). Focusing on marriage and not battle was an Old Testament warriors’ sole responsibility for a whole year!
Currently, if a young pastor or any young professional asks me about accepting an additional employment role in the early years of marriage, I try to put the fear of the Lord in them. I strongly tell them “You’re going to be doing too much and you’re going to hurt your marriage. Lay aside your metaphorical armor and focus on your marriage first.” Such focus is especially important when marriages start off with additional challenges like school internships, graduate school processes, young children, and medical or mental illness. Challenges like these require an even greater focus and commitment to help an early marriage stay healthy and holy.
If you find yourself at the beginning stages of marriage and facing an additional job offer, wrestling with going back to school, or accepting a position that requires even more time away from your spouse, please think long and hard. Do whatever is necessary to lay aside, or not pick up, your metaphorical armor. Work on “bringing happiness” to your spouse by focusing on them as much as possible. A young marriage that focuses on time together and connection lays the foundation for an even healthier marriage in the years to follow. There will be plenty of time later to pick up “your armor.”