Emotionally Abandoning Spouse For Ministry

Some people protest that God alone meets all our needs. They believe that the Lord doesn’t need to involve a spouse to remove our aloneness. Philippians 4:13 is often quoted, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” They sing hymns such as, “Jesus Is All I Need” that celebrate God’s total sufficiency. They firmly insist, “I have God, and God meets all my needs. As a result, many are emotionally abandoning their spouse for the sake of ministry figuring God is all they need.

God IS the Source For Meeting Our Needs

Teresa and I wholeheartedly believe that God is the ultimate source for meeting all our needs. We understand both biblically and experientially our deep need for God. Nothing else —not possessions, not position, not success, not another person —can fill the God-shaped vacuum within each of us. God alone brings peace and order to the human heart. Yet God revealed a wondrous mystery in the Garden. In his unsearchable wisdom, he has chosen to partner with us to remove the “not good” of aloneness in our spouses. He is still the source for taking away the “not good” of being alone in our marriages, but he desires to enlist us as his colleagues in the process.

How About the Single Person?

What about people who are not married? Is God’s design for removing aloneness thwarted in those who are single? Absolutely not. God’s wonderful plan for removing human aloneness is fulfilled in three divinely appointed relationships. For those who are married, the marriage relationship is God’s primary means for removing aloneness. But some people do not marry, and some marriages do not continue. In such cases, loving family —parents, children, grandparents, and siblings —is a divinely provided relationship.

…And for those who for some reason are without close family, God’s “safety net” for removing human aloneness is his body, the church. Jesus declared, By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35). God has graciously provided marriage, family, and the body of Christ so that no one should suffer the “not good” of being alone.

God Changes Our Heart

At age twenty-one, I was fully aware of my personal need for God and that is when I trusted him as my Savior and when his Spirit began rapid changes in my heart and life. As I began to grow as a Christian, I generally accepted the idea that I needed other people somehow. But I firmly believed that my only real need was for God. And I assumed that if others —including Teresa —would just become more spiritual, they would not need me!

This view skewed my understanding of God’s design for involving me in removing Teresa’s aloneness. And I certainly didn’t understand God’s desire to remove my aloneness through Teresa. Since God had not found in me a colleague to care for Teresa, the oneness she and I sought was elusive, and the blessing God desired and deserved from our relationship was limited.

The Pursuits of Spiritual Pursuits

As growing Christians eager to do God’s work, Teresa and I poured ourselves into spiritual pursuits. I memorized large portions of Scripture. I became deeply involved in ministry to students, and I led discipleship groups. Teresa became deeply involved in her own ministry, which reached thousands of women each year. Eventually Teresa and I conducted marriage seminars together. In our efforts to please God and serve others, our primary focus and priority was on ministry. I left Teresa alone. By placing our children and our ministry before our marriage, Teresa left me alone. Although our church viewed us as the ideal ministry couple, we continued to silently endure our relationship. We were very active and very busy, but very alone.

Focused on Ministry

In those years I was so focused on my spiritual life and ministry that I had little time or attention for my family. Teresa was left with the responsibility of caring for our two daughters, Terri and Robin, and our young son, Eric. Occasionally she would lament to me her desire for a more loving husband and a more devoted father for our children. But my attitude said, “Teresa, you don’t need more of me to have a fulfilling life; you need more of God.”

It is true that a relationship with God is to be primary in each of our lives. We are to trust Christ as Savior, yield to his Spirit, and obey his words: “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38, NLT).

Our Neighbors are Important

Had Jesus stopped there, we might conclude that all we need is a relationship with God. But Jesus went on: A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the other commandments and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments (Matthew 22:39-40, NLT). In Jesus’ eyes, relationship with our neighbors —literally our “near ones” —is as important as relationship with God.

As we set our hearts on loving God completely, He desires to enlist us as His colleagues to remove the aloneness of our near ones, beginning with our spouses. Teresa and I often call this the Great Commandment marriage —loving God with all your heart and loving your spouse —your nearest near one —as yourself (also see Ephesians 5:28).

You Are to Be God’s Colleague

Removing aloneness is fundamental purpose of marriage. Are you showing yourself to be God’s colleague, actively involved in the process of removing your spouse’s aloneness? Is your spouse less alone today than he or she has ever been? This is an important biblical measure of a successful marriage relationship.

It is clear throughout Scripture that God, for reasons known only to Him, has opted to fill our longings for oneness through love relationships with both Himself and other human beings. God is totally sufficient in his provision. Yet He has chosen to share some of His love through the three relationships He has ordained: marriage, family, and the church. If we are not fulfilling the Great Commandment in our marriages, our families, or in our churches, the result is not good.

Misunderstanding God’s Design

…My skewed perspective of God, human needs, and relationships convinced me that I needed only God in my life to have a successful marriage and fruitful ministry. My misunderstanding of God’s design to remove my aloneness through him and Teresa fostered an unhealthy and unbiblical self-reliance that robbed our marriage of intimacy.

Furthermore, my attitude heaped condemnation on Teresa, communicating to her, “Ministry is my top priority, and it should be yours too. When are you going to grow up so you don’t need so much of my personal time and attention?” One day, in my frustration to pressure Teresa to become as intense as I was about my ministry, I confronted her in the kitchen with an ultimatum. I said, “Teresa, if you don’t come along with me in serving God, I’m going on without you.” Then I walked away.

Teresa’s View

Teresa explains her reaction to my statement.

“David’s pointed words pierced me like a lance. He left me standing in the middle of the kitchen wondering exactly wheat he meant. Was he talking about leaving me physically through separation or divorce? Was he talking about giving up on me spiritually and emotionally? He could not have known the terrible pain those words caused me. And it only got worse.

“As David continued to lose himself in ministry, he did leave me every way except physically. I was alone and floundering while my husband filled his life with his top priority: the ministry. As a result, I became increasingly aloof and independent I tried to play the ‘ministry wife’ role, but the more he pulled away into his work, the more I buried myself in activities at home with our children.”

Self Doubt

Teresa suffered tremendous self-doubt induced by the painful messages of my self-reliance. She often thought, “Maybe if I were more spiritual or sensed a deeper call to ministry, I wouldn’t need David’s love, acceptance, comfort, and encouragement so much. If I just had more of God, I wouldn’t miss him so much when he is away doing ministry.”

I expected Teresa to deal with her needs in a self-reliant manner just as I did. I chided her for not being spiritually independent. The more involved I became in the ministry, the more uncomfortable she became living in the fishbowl of congregational scrutiny.

Teresa Explains:

“As a fairly new Christian, I was still deciding what I believed. I was battling false with guilt and self-condemnation over how insecure I felt in the ministry. Someone once made the thoughtless remark, ‘I would never have believed you were David’s wife. You don’t seem to be as spiritual as he is.’ By this time I had developed a bubble of self-protection against the pain in my marriage and other relationships. I became extremely self-reliant in my own world. It was important to me to shut out the pain I experienced in my relationship with David and other Christians. I had mastered the skill of not feeling, not hurting.”

False Self Reliance

We had falsely equated self-reliance with spiritual maturity and emotional strength. As a result, our love for each other grew increasingly cold. We needed to change our twisted view of God’s design for marriage. But more than a renewed mind, we needed a humble heart.

The solution to self-reliance is humility. It is humbling for us to admit that we have needs we cannot meet on our own. And it is equally humbling to acknowledge that we are helpless to remove our aloneness apart from depending on God to minister to us. It is also humbling to involve other people in our lives, as he desires. Hunkering down in a foxhole of self-reliance and just waiting to become more mature will not remove our aloneness. Maturity and strength in our relationships come only as we humbly depend on God to minister his grace to us. This often comes through our spouse.

This article comes from the book, “Never Alone” by David and Teresa Ferguson, published by Tyndale House Publishers. It’s unfortunate, but this book is no longer being published. You can obtain it through used book resource centers. We hope you are able to do so because this is an excellent book!

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Filed under: Pastors and Missionary Marriages

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50 responses to “Emotionally Abandoning Spouse For Ministry

  1. What happens when it’s the wife that’s away? My daughter-in-law has discovered mission trips. She just returned from a week in Jamaica; she’s currently out of town at a special meeting until late tonight. She goes to a Helps ministry every December and now she’s talking about going to Panama next September. She’s also the Praise and Worship Director (her parents are the Pastors). All of this is wonderful, but my son is finding himself alone with their 5 children more and more.

    He works a stressful, full time job as a corrections officer. Whenever she leaves, I step in and help with the kids, but I gotta tell you, it’s getting old. It’s like nobody ever gives any thought to the people that are left behind to care for the children. Maybe WE would like time to get closer to God. But my son and I are always busy with the children. I used to do more in the church, too, but honestly, we’re both just watching the kids now. I’m actually finding it difficult to go to church anymore. But I also don’t feel like I can say anything. I have a friend who is a pastor. She came to one of,our services and noticed that our time was taken up minding the kids. She asked me “when is it your time to worship”? I don’t know what to do. I feel bad even complaining to complete strangers.