We were the young, fun, pastoral couple. People used to look at us and think we had it all together. Once when we were at some pastoral in-service meetings, a pastor friend of ours came up to us and said, "You guys are just the perfect couple." We looked at each other and smiled weak smiles. What he didn't know was that we had been fighting in the car all the way to the meeting and, only moments before, had pasted on our happy faces as we stepped out of our vehicle and walked into the building. This was normal for us.
There were probably a few intuitive souls in our congregations who detected all was not well in paradise. But our well-guarded ministry façade had most people fooled. Even family members had no idea we were struggling deeply and had been literally since our honeymoon.
Fast forward several years. We had moved to a larger city to plant a new church. With the full weight of responsibility resting on our family, the pressure was definitely rising in our home. At church we may have been sunshine and laughter but our marriage was characterized by anger, hurt, criticism and isolation.
We went to counselors — and gained some great tools from them. But our progress was only incremental. We never got to the heart of what was causing our problems.
Then the phone call came from a trusted friend with words I needed to hear: "Richie you are spiritually and emotionally abusing your wife."
That was hard to hear, but it opened a window in my mind to begin to see things as they really were. Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves in a very dark valley where our church was failing and so was our marriage. Timi left for several weeks as we sought to stop the hemorrhaging in our home. Just before she left, a couple that has walked with us for several years now sat in our home. Jerry looked at me and said, "Richie you're the key." I hated him for that because what I heard him say was, "Richie it's your fault." I didn't feel I could handle anything else being my fault at that point.
But before Timi would agree to come back, she wanted me to promise I would get support. So, under duress, I began meeting with Jerry for two to three hours a week to talk about what it meant to be godly men and love our wives. I began to ask God to change me — instead of HER! As He began to change my heart, a miracle began to take place in our marriage.
There were many months of struggle and fear and painful growth. But finally, we began to see fruit. One evening we were going into one of those conversations — the kind where there is only debris at the end. Richie went outside to complain to God. As he paced our wooded driveway, he felt an impression: "Richie you need to go back inside and LISTEN to your wife — you haven't really heard her." His response: "I'm too tired to continue, but okay, you'll have to help me." In the meantime, I was feeling sorry for myself on the couch when an impression hit me. "Is this really what's bothering you?" "Yes," was my grumpy reply. "Are you sure?" And I began to realize my need for humility and connectedness was far deeper than the criticism and harsh words waiting to spill out. Everything changed for both of us. We ended the evening united again because we listened to God and obeyed His instruction.
While we still have uncomfortable conversations and don't always see eye to eye (what couple does?), we now know that the Spirit striving within each of us will bring us back together. We definitely agree with Ellen White who once wrote, "Hearts that are filled with the love of Christ can never get very far apart," (Adventist Home, p. 94).
We continue to learn simple steps for staying on each other's team. One powerful tool is to simply share what God is doing in our lives, just as it says in Rev. 12:11, "they overcame by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony ..." We have dedicated our lives to sharing that Good News.