Bounding down the stairs from my home office, I felt productive. It was only Tuesday and I had already finished most of Sunday's sermon, solved three minor Sunday school crises, written the week's newspaper column, and prayed with two hospitalized church members. Some days you just feel like a successful minister, I thought.
On my way to the coffee maker in the kitchen, I could see my wife, Joy, on her knees in the living room surrounded by piles of clean-yet-unfolded laundry.
"I can't do this anymore," Joy blurted out.
I laughed. "Who can?" I joked, folding a towel.
She broke into tears.
I stopped laughing.
"It's just too much."
I matched a pair of socks. "Honey, I know. And I'll help, okay?" Must be that time of the month, I thought.
"I don't mean this," she sobbed, gesturing to the ever-present laundry.
"I mean (gasp) our life. I can't (three convulsive, inhaling gasps) live—this—way—any longer."
Even before it came out of my mouth, I knew it was a dumb thing to say. But that's never stopped me before. "What way?"
Torn between bewilderment and anger, I needed specifics. "Every-thing?"
She took a deep breath and then let fly a script she had obviously been thinking about for a long time: "You working all the time—me left with the kids. You stomping up the stairs, angry at the latest church problem—me left wondering why you're mad at me. You dictating the schedule—me adjusting to the schedule. "Every-thing!"
She paused, looked up from the laundry, and stared me straight in the eye: "I hate my life. Something has to change. I cannot do this any more!"
I was prepared to help with unmatched socks, but this? I felt like a tourist standing at the ocean end of a long pier, taking pictures of an incoming tidal wave. Her next words knocked me off the dock: "I don't feel any love in our relationship any more. In fact, I don't feel anything."
After sixteen years of marriage, her announcement shocked me. God was indeed still on His throne, but all was not right with the world. At least not with my world.
I mentally shelved those six projects I'd planned to tackle and sat down on the floor, ready to listen.
Evidently, I had missed some major danger signals being given to me by my most important church member.
It was only Tuesday and I was suddenly feeling terribly unproductive. Some days you just feel like a total failure as a husband.
Language of the two-by-four
Without saying a word, I simply looked at her, opening the door for her to speak.
Recently I had preached, "When a dominant personality whacks you up the side of the head with his communication style, sometimes the only language that will get his attention is a four-foot piece of pine. Sometimes you have to learn to speak two-by-four."
Apparently Joy had been listening to that particular sermon.
"Our friendship is broken," she sobbed. "I have been avoiding conflict. For years. I've been going along to get along—for years—but I'm done with that. I'm speaking up now. I have been dishonest with you through my silence.
"I've got nothing left. No energy to cope. Not with the church. Not with you. Not with this." And she held up an unfolded shirt.
As a pastor who had counseled others—I am ashamed to admit this—I had operated on the premise that counseling was for "other people." You know, wimps and people with a lack of faith. If I ever got in a bind, all I had to do was simply practice what I preached. Pride goeth before a minister's marriage crisis. Suddenly my illusion shattered.
In my wife's contorted face, I saw mirror images of my pride and arrogance. And they were ugly.