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Does Ministry Kill Marriage?

The other morning I got up early to write, but while waiting for the coffee to brew, I turned on the TV. Big mistake. As I clipped through the channels, I stopped to watch the movie Freedom Writers. Again.

My friend Anita first encouraged me to see this movie, starring Hillary Swank and Patrick Dempsey. At face value, Freedom Writers is another one of those inspirational movies about an idealistic teacher who heads into a tough school and turns the students' lives around. In this case, she does it (among other things) by encouraging her students to keep journals.

It's a good movie. Well done. Powerful and moving. Especially for anyone who believes in the power of the written word.

But what gets me most about this movie is one little scene—one that shakes me and leaves me troubled and wondering.


At a point in the movie, Hillary Swank's character is left by her husband. He's never understood why she's working so hard for her troubled students, doesn't like the time it takes, and just can't accept what she feels is her calling. So he packs his bags and leaves.

While many other scenes may be more poignant, more tear-jerking, and more central to the plot, this little scene stays with me because I've seen it happen to so many women I know. Women who have followed a calling (followed God!), who have poured their hearts, minds, and souls into a ministry, only to see their marriages fall apart.

In some circles, the women are blamed. They have neglected their husbands, they're told. It's no wonder the men leave. Or stray. (Yet in these same circles, were the roles reversed—were it the husband pouring his heart, mind, and soul into ministry—women are expected [praised!] to endure this same neglect.)

Of course, this isn't true in all marriages. I know other women in ministry who've sustained wonderful relationships, whose husbands cheer and support them. Putting up not only with "neglect" but giving up much more so that their wives can follow a calling.

These are husbands who follow in the footsteps of Joseph who, as Carolyn Custis James writers about, gave up everything—his home, his family, his business, his pride—to follow Mary and her calling as Jesus' mother. Certainly it is because of his willingness to do this that God considered him a righteous man.

But my mind goes back to the others—the women who've followed God and it cost them a marriage. Or so it seemed.

And I'm curious about your thoughts and experiences. Has your own marriage taken a hit because of ministry? Have you known others whose has? Or, on the flip side, how have you seen marriages flourish from ministry involvement?

July28, 2010 at 9:01 AM

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