Clergy Couples: Reflections on Health and Well-being
Reverend Liz Faircloth DeWeese and her husband Reverend Don DeWeese are both LTS alums. We’re grateful for Liz’s candid reflection on what that means for their lives, calling and well-being. Liz pastors Central Christian Church, Kettering, OH.
Being healthy and well while living out your calling as an ordained clergy person, especially when you are married to someone else who is living out their calling as an ordained clergy person is not impossible.
But sometimes it will feel that way.
It will feel impossible when you are serving two different congregations in two different towns and you have to make a decision about which church the kids will go to for Christmas Eve? Or do you split them up? It will feel impossible when you have moved households for the fifth time in 8 years and it becomes and act of faith to put pictures on the wall. It will feel impossible when ministry consumes your partner, and you are consumed by ministry and the kid’s still need dinner and homework help. It will feel impossible when you are doing everything you can to teach stewardship and live out stewardship in your own life, but debt and finances are the stress just under the surface that make it hard to sleep at night. It will feel impossible when you and your partner are angry at each other and you’ve forgotten how to talk. It will feel impossible when you feel completely isolated because your friends and family live far away, and you haven’t talked to your mentors in awhile so you feel guilty reaching out, and you don’t want to dump your stress on your partner or even your friends, so you just bury it.
Here is the HOPE…”what is impossible for mortals, is possible for God” Luke 18:27. I’m not just proof-texting here. What I’m trying to say is, ministry is hard work. Being healthy is hard work. Being part of a clergy couple is hard work. Living out your faith with integrity is hard work. But it is not impossible. It will take intentionality. It will take integrity. It will take faith. And it will take love, but not Eros, or Philos. It will take Agape, which requires humility, compassion, trust, hope in what is good, forgiveness, an intent to move into conflict when you want to run away, gratitude.
So how do you set yourself up for success? Set your priorities. The church, and really any service organization will take over and consume your whole life if you let it. You have to set your boundaries and your priorities. What are the important things? Give the important things your attention.
Make sure that rest and delight in creation are a part of those priorities. God’s example of Sabbath teaches us that there is enough time for rest in six days of work. God rested and delighted in creation, so should you.
Be intentional about reaching out to your clergy friends and colleagues, whom you trust. Reach out when they need you. Reach out with life is good and not overwhelming. Then reaching out when you need them won’t feel like such a burden to either of you.
Make your marriage and your family a priority. Hold hands with your partner. Kiss your partner. Tell your partner you love him or her, even if you are mad at him or her. Don’t lie, but find that place inside you where your love is and authentically love him or her. Say you’re sorry, when you are sorry. Find places to bend. We started a bi-annual meeting with colleagues who are also clergy couples to set our marriages as a priority. Find ways to make your marriage a priority. It will help your ministry more than you know.
Practice Spiritual disciplines: pray, study, worship (without leading), tithe, serve, pray. Pray with your partner. Immerse yourself in what is sacred. Call on the power of the Holy Spirit to fill you and drive you. You cannot serve out of an empty tank, so make sure you are getting filled. Build relationships in your church that will not only enable your health and wellness, but will encourage you to take time to study, pray, rest, worship (without leading), tithe, serve, pray.
The text I quoted earlier “What is impossible for mortals, is possible for God” Luke 18:27, is Jesus’ response to the disciples when they ask him, “Then who can be saved?” The disciples asked this question in response to hearing the parable of the young ruler with a lot of stuff whom Jesus told to sell his stuff and give the money to the poor and he went away sad because he had a lot of stuff. Then Jesus tells the disciples it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Then the disciples ask, “Then who can be saved?”
What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.
The Ministry Life Choices Initiative (MLCI) will assist those in years 1-5 of ministry with developing habits and practices for sustainable ministry. The relationship will span the first few years of theological education and the introductory years as a congregational minister. The MLCI is a ministry of the Pension Fund of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in partnership with Lexington Theological Seminary.
The MLCI blog series is designed to promote conversation surrounding issues related to clergy health and well-being. The blog seeks to include and incorporate writers from a wide variety of ministerial contexts, seminaries and demographics.