If you read my last blog post, you’ll know we had a teeth situation on our hands. It was a doozy, more of a doozy than we knew because when they put our sweet little daughter (who just happens to turn into a werewolf at the site of a dentist) under to remove her rotten tooth, they found 5 more deep cavities, so deep the dentist had to fill them and CAP them all.
The bill was bad, but could have been much, much worse no doubt. So right when I’m settling into the “bad, but could be worse, there’s a payment plan” mindset, we get a call from the tax guy. Guess what? We owe. And not a little bit.
Since we married almost 12 years ago, we have sought to avoid debt like a plague, knowing how much it can hinder a family, particularly a family in full-time vocational ministry. We’ve been blessed beyond measure with generous scholarships from our schools and denomination, and have worked our behinds off to pay in cash always, driving Craigslist clunkers my husband has lovingly and patiently made work for way longer than they should have.
But sometimes, things happen. Teeth and taxes happen. In a matter of a few days, I found myself panicking under what felt like a mountain of unforeseeable, and therefore unplanned for, debt. Every moment my mind was not occupied with something, like planning Sunday’s service, feeding the kids, or checking in with a sick parishioner, I was immediately sucked back into the panic, like an inescapable wormhole. I felt agitated, irritable, angry.
Sunday morning rolled around. Because Sunday is always coming when you’re a pastor and not even a mid-week financial meltdown is going to stop it. My husband, Tommy, was putting the last touches on his sermon for the morning while I got ready. I’m putting off applying mascara because tears are streaming down my face as my mind pummeled me with panic. What are we going to do, Tommy? What, I ask you?
And ever so calmly, as if I had just inquired about the weather, he stood up, came behind me, and gently said, “We’re going to practice what we preach. God is the owner and provider of all. Now live like it.”
A couple years ago, Tommy and I along with our church’s leadership team developed our church’s 5 core values that will help us live into our mission of loving God and loving people. One of those core values is: “We Practice Extravagant Generosity: God is the Owner and Provider of all, so we give back to God what God has given to us.”
For two years, we’ve have repeated this phrase, week after week, in hopes of shaping our people to live into the truth faithfully. God is generous; don’t buy into the lie of scarcity. God provides; live in full trust. God is a faithful giver; give generously.
And yet, with all my preaching and teaching, when the moment of crisis came, my response was fear. Fear and a quick retreat into scarcity. What I needed in that moment was my pastor. I needed my pastor to come alongside me and remind me who I am and what I am to be about. My pastor just happens to be my husband.
Co-pastoring is a strange world, I tell you what. I’d venture to say there is nothing quite so amazing and yet at the same time horribly hard than to pastor alongside your spouse. Nine years into this gig and we’re better at it than we used to be, but we still occasionally have angry whisper-fights in the back office about how to handle such-and-such.
It only takes about 5 minutes of interacting with us to notice that I am the louder one, the one with the words, that one that, in spite of being less than half his size, takes up more space in the room. Tommy is the quieter one, slower to speak as he thinks through every angle of a situation, always keeping the big picture in mind. And those who have no other framework or language to describe us and our unique position as co-pastors would probably say I am the one “in charge.”
But they would be wrong. I am not in charge. And neither is he. We have taken seriously the command of Paul in Ephesians 5, to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. There are days when I challenge Tommy to remember who he is and to live into his call and his identity. And there are days when he does the same for me, reminding me who I truly am and namely ever so gently the ways in which I am betraying my true self in Christ, and my call.
It sounds all beautiful and lovely, but sometimes, it is the exact opposite. Sometimes, my pride roars up and lashes out at his admonitions. Sometimes he sneers and snarks at my reminders. It is hard to pastor your spouse, and perhaps even harder to be pastored.
Work in progress, as always, but I must say, I am grateful for my pastor. I am grateful for his ability to see through the fog of my panic and point me to Jesus. My heart overflows with thankfulness for his willingness to say hard things to me when it is almost certain that I will raise my porcupine quills in his direction (I’m working on it, ok?) And I think, even when his own pride stings and resentment rises to the surface when I remind him to refocus his vision a smidge, I think he is grateful for me too, his pastor.
And so to Tommy I say: Pastor me, Beloved. Pastor me as we journey together, not just as co-pastors, co-laborers for Christ, but as simple Jesus-followers walking hand in hand. Pastor me that I might be shaped ever more closely into the image of Jesus. And I will do the same for you.
(Epilogue for those who care: the tax situation was resolved, thanks be to God!)