I was so nervous to have this conversation. Our field leader was popping over for tea and to map out our first year back in Ireland after home assignment. My husband had a clear vision for what his role would entail and I was in a slight panic.
It’s not that I didn’t know what my role would be. It was that I was about to surprise even myself.
Ten years ago, when we first joined our organization and excitedly planned out the entirety of our overseas career, I was full-speed ahead. I was a young mother, yet still envisioned a “parallel role” for myself, where my husband Matt had his ministry and I had mine. Maybe our work would coincide, but more likely they would diverge and complement.
Our organization firmly supported the wife’s decision to choose her role in ministry. Though my husband was the “primary employee,” they appointed us as a married couple, embraced both of us as ministry workers, and our churches commissioned us both to full-time service.
We were “all in,” together.
This worked pretty well for approximately 6 months in country. In the throes of culture learning, we were treated and acted as equals. But with two little ones now in tow, pursuing a ministry role outside of the home was unsurprisingly difficult. Then, less than a month before I was to start working with a ministry I was passionate about, I found out I was pregnant. I knew (without anyone ever having to tell me) that I wasn’t going to be “all in.” I was having a third baby, and I was going to slowly moonwalk away from the role I had envisioned for myself.
Almost simultaneously an opportunity appeared for us to join a new effort. Even though my husband would be taking the lead, we’d both be expected to contribute. Immediately, he said yes for us both. We soon found ourselves committed to a work we didn’t expect, leaving him frustrated and me hiding my pregnant self under bedcovers claiming morning sickness at 6pm to get out of going. It was uncomfortable and ill-suited. It was hard and we were unhappy. I removed myself from the role that was thrust upon me, and together we plunged into a deeper one of marital and ministry crisis.
How did we get here?
1) We thought making a plan would ensure we’d stick to it.
In prefield training, we filled out a nice little form on “wives roles.” It was never a question that my husband was the point person, but as his “+1,” I had some flexibility. We both agreed on what our perceived roles would be and we even signed on the dotted line to make it look super official.
Then we threw it out the metaphorical window.
When he volunteered me for something, I chafed at the assumptions. When I ended up pregnant, I got angry with him for not holding up his end of the bargain. My parallel role looked more like sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days than tilling soil for the Kingdom.
2) We were too anxious to fulfill roles others chose for us.
I think both singles and married couples can relate to this. We are so readily and happily available to do the work we’ve been waiting years for, we may find ourselves jumping in with both feet without more than a precursory glance towards prayer and counsel.
When Matt said yes for us both, I recoiled. Where was my role in this partnership? And how did the church see me? Are we really two for the price of one, and if so, who is the one holding the lien on my worth?
3) I didn’t seriously consider the role I was already in.
The truth is, my 24/7 role is that of Mom. We had itty bitty ones and though I needed a dose of life outside the four walls of our cluttered semi-detached house, I was still their primary caregiver. Like it or not, we came prepackaged with roles. And in my rush to find a role in the culture, in the ministry and outside of our family unit, I was placing an unrealistic burden on myself as a “cross-cultural worker” when being a “cross cultural wife and mother” is already pretty darn hard.
Which brings me to 2013 and that conversation with our field leader.
“We’ve prayed about it and we think God is asking me to stay home and care for our kids…” <insert long pause> “and that’s it.”
The role I still secretly held on to was making way for a new one: cultivating a thriving family after an extended season of upheaval. I could have gone full-speed into a formal ministry role, but God was asking me to – this time, willingly – surrender that vision for another one. He was encouraging me to rest in Him in the roles He had already set out for me, and to wait on Him for new ones, in His timing.
But the times, they are a-changing. Those three little ones are now all in school and a role shift is about to take place again. I don’t know exactly what it will look like, but I know myself and my limitations better, and I know now that it’s not the role that matters. It’s not even the task at hand. It’s the One who longs for me to sit as His feet and listen.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says.
He will show me what is better. And I can’t wait.
How is it going for you in balancing and fulfilling your roles?
Are you struggling to find the time to do the one thing that is necessary? To sit at His feet and listen? Can we offer you a warm invitation to slip away for half day to do just that? Velvet Ashes has crafted an online retreat just for you, right where you are. And guess what! Registration opens later today! Check back for a special 2nd post today!