Honest reflections about marriage and mission work when dealing with the anxiety and depression

  • Abby Clayton

Healthy Support for Marriage and Ministry

Since we’ve begun this blog, it’s struck me how in delving into the personal, we seem to engage with something of the universal. So many people have got in touch with us, to share stories, to connect, and it’s been so encouraging. There is something about honesty that is contagious; honesty begets more honesty. And there is something liberating about healthy and appropriate confession.

I’ve been reflecting lately on the call to love, the requirement of love, the invitation to love, and the description of love found in Scripture. 1 Corinthians 13 pulls no punches on what love must look like; it’s the sort of love that requires grit, and grace, to practice. Marriage demands the love of this sort, the love that blooms through the flowering of romance and attraction, and blossoms into a committed, decisive, daily practice.

Marriage is held in such high regard by scripture and is used as a metaphor for the way Christ loves the church, and the church loves Christ (see Ephesians 5 for details). Not only is marriage descriptive of the nature of our relationship with God, but it is a distinctly missional practice, modelling this relationship with God to a watching world.

It’s funny really that we don’t seem to strategically teach on marriage in churches. We seem to have missed the memo on how key a metaphor they are in scripture, and how much opportunity they provide for the nurturing of faith, growing in discipleship, and maturing in Christ. Teaching on marriage seems to mostly happen in marriage prep, and whilst that is marginally helpful, the teaching is really needed when you are a few years in and starting to face the challenges of loving over the long haul.

It’s no surprise that marriages are such hard work, given that two highly damaged and damaging individuals try to become one. We’ve often joked that before we got married we thought we were fairly loving and considerate people, and then we got married and realised how selfish we both were. And then we had kids and realised even more how selfish and broken we are! Marriage, and the potential of family life, provides opportunities of increasing gravity to see our brokenness and to deal with it.

The bond of love that unites both people can provide a strong and safe enough context for healing to take place, discipleship to happen, habits to change, and tender kindness to grow. It is hard work but there is also a sense of huge opportunity. Men and women have the opportunity to model in their relationship the way Jesus and His followers love each other. Marriage can become a context of growth and maturing. Discipleship is a domestic affair, whatever ‘home’ or ‘family’ looks like. In the daily decisions to love one another, we know God and make Him known.

I find it interesting that, given the enormity of what is involved in marriage, less is provided by way of support and investment to couples who are in full-time ministry. The challenges are enormous, and their marriages are as challenging as the rest of ours.

The demands of ministry are often personally costly, and if there are mental health challenges present too, it can become the perfect storm for marital struggle. But if marriages are so central to our witness, and a key place of discipleship, we need to make much more of them.

We need to pay greater attention to them, better resource them, and encourage each partner to contribute towards growing a marriage that reflects the lofty description of love that 1 Corinthians 13 describes. It needs to move up the agenda when we check in with missionaries and care for our ministers. It needs to become a place of mutual accountability, encouragement and challenge for all of us.

A few practical suggestions for how to support marriages, in general, but especially those in ministry:

· Make sure they get an annual holiday, away from their work; if they can’t afford it, generate the funds for them

· Be friends to them – the type that go out for drinks and don’t talk about the job

· Pray for them, and, in particular, their marriage. They’ll likely never ask for that on a prayer update

· Encourage them to engage in accountability and mentoring with older couples or wise guides

Marriages, and relationships in general, are robust, powerful, and fragile. They need investment and looking after. Let’s not just wish well but work for the good of those who are married and struggling, or married and working together, or married and battling mental health.

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