Drowsiness ensues as I lay in my bed wondering whether or not I will say goodnight to my husband before the nocturnal demands overtake my exhausted body. BUZZ! goes the dryer. I’ll get it tomorrow.
Cheerios are scattered across half of the living room floor with the vacuum standing as a borderline between the clean and the unclean. An ounce of curdling milk sits at the bottom of a forgotten bottle while the rest of the dishes sit divided: some in the dishwasher, some in the sink, and others on the counter. Tiny outfits, burp rags, and blankets piled in a basket; they are clean but somehow haven’t managed to make their way into a dresser drawer. These are just a few evidences of life with two kids under two.
Just a little while ago I sat on the couch, rocking a fussing baby, knowing that sleep must be imminent. I struggled to calm her. Swaddling, rocking, shushing; but I relinquished and sat back down to unhook my bra while my trembling child grunted and moaned. Dread crept into the corners of my mind as I realized sitting down to nurse my babe meant I had to sit there, looking at the undone-ness that was my house while sitting across from my husband doing his school work. Then, there was a brief silence broken by the turn of a page. His seminary reading ensued.
The minutes disappear before my eyes without a solid memory of their content. Somehow and suddenly it is very late. Drifting in and out of wakefulness my body has given up but my mind is still actively fighting the conflict of interests that haunt my life. Of course, in a church going and seminary community family comes first, family must come first. I know that we do what we can to make that true in our lives but enough is enough. It can’t. Family can’t come first. No matter what people say about family coming first the truth is that it’s almost impossible. In the darkness of my room I mourn the death of this fantasy. Then, out of my drained mental state comes the command: just survive. Instead of people saying family should come first they should say make sure your family survives.
Survival is what I can hope in God for. It’s difficult to understand what it means for family to come first. The very thought leaves room for interpretation. We were never promised an easy family life. There is no magical number of minutes that daddy must spend with each child in a day and no magical step-by-step process to make sure a wife feels loved and cherished all the time. We know what we read in Scripture. Passages like Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, 1 Timothy 3 and others give brief instructions for how we are to handle marriage and family. They are brief because they don’t speak to the specifics of seminary life – the nitty-gritty of the day-in and day-out. Young families with full-time jobs, studying full-time and doing homework just means that family life is going to be hard.
So, even though this church going, seminary community wishes to make sure their students put family first, I think I know better now. They are wrong. If we put our family first, there would be no seminary education. The husband would support his family with his full-time job and then be home in the evenings to leisurely read books with the kids, he’d pray over the table every night when sitting down as a family for dinner, he might even help vacuum the other half of the cheerios on the floor, and he’d watch movies and eat ice cream every night with his wife just to simply enjoy her company. So much of my heart wants that perfect image of family life coming first. I battle with myself over this every time he walks out the door to go to class, or work, or when he texts me to say he’s staying late to finish an assignment, or when he is up till 2:00AM writing a paper. It is then that I battle bitterness and loneliness. I want him to be home to see his daughter’s first coo and to watch his son learn to cherish his baby sister by a simple act of putting a fluffy little turtle on her lap to try and comfort her when she cries. Instead, he’s in the library reading.
Let me not forget to say that not only does our family have to make sacrifices, but my husband has to sometimes sacrifice work and yes, even his schooling. It would be great if he had the availability to work over-time and earn extra money, but he doesn’t. He is limited in his job because it has to be flexible with school. Sometimes it means taking a sick day to finish a paper or take a much needed family day. Sometimes it means handing in an incomplete writing assignment, rushing through an online quiz, skipping some reading and doing poorly on the exam. Sometimes he just has to be okay with mediocrity because his son needed him, or his wife, or the car broke down. Every day is different. Some days work comes first, and that’s okay for that day. Then other days, family comes first and no homework is accomplished. Other days school comes first and we celebrate later for the good grades on midterms. The truth is, everything must be sacrificed to some degree. There is a constant battle of figuring out what is to be sacrificed, when, and to what degree as well as what negative and positive consequences will result.
But I know better. I know that these sacrifices we make will be worth it. If I remember, even if it’s just a tiny moment while I drowsily lay in bed waiting for my man to come kiss me goodnight, that God brought us here for a reason, that this seminary experience will strengthen us and prepare us for ministry, the battle stops and I move on. This happens countless times throughout any given day. If we survive this battle, then God truly is good. We are sacrificing a lot, and we sacrifice it because we believe in something greater than our family, greater than work, greater than an A. We believe this seminary experience is one small piece of it. And that’s just it really; it’s about the experience of seminary life. It’s about survival. The education is a bonus. If we survive this season with a faithful and meaningful marriage and with respectful, grateful children then praise be to God. Without this experience I wouldn’t be battling bitterness or loneliness at times, we probably would take each joyful moment together as a family for granted, and we wouldn’t be learning how to balance all of this like we are now. It is clear that this experience is beneficial to our sanctification. God is good and he knows what we need.
This gives me hope. I have hope that on the other side of these difficult years will be meaningful ministry. Not just ministry outside our home either. I cannot wait to see my husband teach doctrine and theology to our children. If we do any ministry at all, that will be it and it would be worth just that. I have hope that on the other side of this season, we will have compassion and understanding with a church family who battles the temptations we are facing during this time. There is nothing new under the sun. I have hope that when ministry outside the home starts to weaken us because it is taking precedence, we will be able to fight that battle well because we are being trained for it right now. Mostly, I have hope because of what God says in his word, Romans 8:28-39:
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This gives me such great hope.
The lights from the living room that once peered through the cracked open bedroom door vanish followed by the sound of running water. He’s brushing his teeth. He must be so tired, maybe even more than me. I am almost ready to join dreamland with my children since both have been asleep for a while now. The bed shakes and I feel a warm body snuggle to my back. He kisses me gently and then says a short goodnight prayer. Tomorrow is a new day, a new battle awaits, new joys waiting to be had, new sacrifices to be made, and new hope given every morning.