Five years ago today, my wife and I started dating. Life was a lot simpler back then. I was working on my bachelors degree to prepare for ministry. She was finishing her education degree. As our dating relationship developed we had slowly begun to develop a five year plan in our minds. We seemed to have things figured out pretty well. Everything made a good deal of sense. We were quite happy.
It’s been five years since then. Much has changed within those five years. Plans have been reevaluated. Directions have been shifted. Dreams have taken on different form. There has been laughter. There have been tears. There has been love. There has been pain. It’s been a struggle. During these last five years there are some things I have come to learn.
1. Life is hard. It just is. It’s something you think you understand until you realize it with firsthand experience. When people tell you life is hard they can’t place the emotions they have experienced from that statement onto you. You cannot understand what they mean by that phrase until you personally go through the emotional rollercoaster that this truth brings.
2. Life is wonderful, too. There is so much of it to live and experience. I have seen souls saved, my child born, and exciting new adventures taking place for me and my wife. Life is full of excitement. The excitement requires there to be the hardship, but it is worth it. It’s a powerful experience. I would take the hardship for the joy that I experience any day.
3. Ministry hurts. I once had someone tell me that they were prejudiced towards any pastor who did not also have a job in “the real world.” They didn’t know what they were talking about. Anyone in ministry sees and experiences just as much real world as anyone else. Even during my years of college ministry, I experienced the very real aspects of life. Ministry just hurts. It hurts seeing people you care for and help go through difficult circumstances and even major moments of crisis in their faith. It hurts seeing people you minister to lash out and try to cause pain towards you. It is a lonely experience at times.
4. Ministry is powerful. Powerful when put into God’s hands, that is. It is incredible to be a part of a process that God is orchestrating. Being a tool used to help others in the capacity that ministry allows is an absolutely incredible experience. It can be easy when you experience the negative of the ministry to be fooled into thinking it outweighs the good, but that is just not the case. I have experienced plenty of hurt in the last five years of ministry, but if I could go back to the beginning I would still have chosen ministry because God made some good happen from it, and He loved me enough to give me a front row seat in that process.
5. Not everyone will like you. There are just too many personalities with too many different philosophies for every single person to like you. That’s ok. It doesn’t necessarily mean anything against you. Sometimes it is on them if they are unable to set aside their petty differences with you. You don’t need to be loved by everyone. If you speak what you think then people will disagree with you sometimes.
6. Close friendships are worth keeping. Even distance has not kept me from some of my closest friendships. Many times they were the friendships that supported me and my family during times of difficult and strife. Having them has been crucial to our sanity at times.
7. Plans change. We didn’t expect to be back where we are now. We didn’t expect me to be going back to school so soon. There was a lot of guilt that went into much of our decision making because it wasn’t part of “The Plan.” We’ve learned more now that our plan is for whatever God leads us to do. Sometimes that means going down a path we did not originally anticipate.
8. God is the first priority. It sounds cliché, but it is true. Nothing else will match up right if this is not taken care of first. I have heard it said that God should be your only priority, and if that is accomplished then everything else will fall into place. I can understand where people are coming from when they say that. Seriously, don’t place your relationship with God in second place. It won’t get you anywhere.
9. Family comes first (after God). Even in college, ministry was a crazy balancing act. It was complicated to balance ministry and time with this girl that I was falling in love with. As we moved towards marriage I found myself asking some of my professors that I was closest with how to manage this balancing act. The answer was similar. They all said that it was a constant struggle, but if they could go back and do it over again they would have put the greater focus on their family every time. I always heard the horror stories of those in ministry who would be divorced just a few years in because family was never the priority. People won’t always like this. People will think your first duty is to ministry. People will have trouble with the fact that you put an emphasis on your own family at times rather than them. If you aren’t ministering to your own family, then you are doing something wrong. Understand that it will be a balancing act. Most of the time neither side will feel like they have enough of your attention. Be patient with yourself and realize that you will make mistakes on it.
10. Marriage is tough. As I said before, the balancing act is tough. Marriage is complicated, and when you throw parenting into the mix it becomes even more complicated. It requires constant time and attention. It requires pushing towards growth. You need to learn how to suddenly live your whole life with another person. It’s weird. It’s awkward. There will be times where nothing will seem to make any sense. Find comfort in knowing your spouse feels the same way sometimes.
11. Marriage is beastly wonderful. It is just fun. For as tough as it is it is just lots of fun. Parenting has somehow managed to make it even more fun. These relationships in my family are the ones I spend my most time cultivating because they are the ones that matter to me the most. It will require sacrifice at times. You will give up a lot for your family, but it has been worth it every step of the way. They are just worth it.
12. Love has played a role bigger than I ever would have imagined. I love my wife now more than I thought I could have five years ago. I love my son more than I could have imagined. I love those I minister to. I have learned to love those who cause me grief and heartache. I have learned to love the good and the bad. I have learned that love carries me through.
Five years ago today…. Happy anniversary, sweetheart. What an adventure it has been.