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Help the Helper

Of all the types of internships that have ever been created, I would put student teaching up there with the most difficult and frustrating. Many who will read this will agree, having experienced it themselves or through a loved one. So why in the world would I, at 22 years young with no teaching experience whatsoever, choose to make my then girlfriend’s student teaching experience even MORE difficult?

Let me set the scene.

It’s late in the evening on a weeknight. Jessica, student teaching in a 1st-grade classroom, is sharing with me some of her frustrations and stressors from her day. It’s clear to me that there are certain problems that are bothering her. So I did what I thought was right: I tried to fix it. “Jess, I know you disagree, but it’s her classroom, so you need to do what she says.” “I know that they frustrate you sometimes, honey, but they’re first graders. What did you expect?” “Maybe you should talk to your own first-grade teacher. She could help!” Needless to say, these “suggestions” did not sit well.

Clearly, in my immaturity and ignorance, I did not yet have a full understanding of what my role was in helping my partner.

In ministry, we spend so much time thinking and praying about how we can help our students, congregations, and co-workers grow in Christ, that we can forget about those in our immediate sphere (spouses, kids--even ourselves!). There are many ways that the Holy Spirit may work that growth, but the way it is described in 1 Peter may resonate with those in ministry in a significant way. Peter tells us that it is through trials “that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold...may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1:7).

As one relatively new to ministry (still in my first year, in fact), I do not feel anywhere near qualified to speak on the topic of trials and challenges in ministry. But I know they are there. And that they are many. And I do trust that the Lord works intricately through those trials to grow us, mold us, shape us--and to constantly remind us in Whom we should place our trust.

And that’s the key point; the truth that I did not realize in my immaturity when I tried to “fix” Jessica’s student-teaching problems.

It’s not my job.

It’s the Lord’s work to refine us in the fires of the trials that we as ministers of the Gospel face. It’s the Lord’s work to teach us lessons from mistakes. And thank the Lord that it is! We humans would no doubt just make it worse.

Now, this begs the question: then what is our spouse’s role in helping us grow? As the Lord would have it, I believe that question is answered with the original married couple in ministry, serving in the garden of Eden. God describes Eve’s role (and Adam’s as well) when he says in Genesis 2, “‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’”

Don’t be a fixer. Be a helper.

Jessica and I received an excellent nugget of marriage wisdom during our pre-marital counseling, and it can be paraphrased like this: “Facts go with facts. Feelings go with feelings.” Meaning, when one of us is sharing feelings of stress, frustration, etc., we are not looking for the other person to list off what we should do to fix the problem, or what we shouldn’t have done in the first place. And conversely, there are times where one of us is trying to get to the bottom of a matter or to solve something, so it’s more helpful for the other person to leave their feelings aside at that moment and respond appropriately.

Facts go with facts. Feelings go with feelings. All the while looking for the right way to best serve our spouse as a helper.

What has been sketched out so far sounds at best idealistic. And of course, we know that no marriage exists in the ideal. Even with the knowledge and awareness of the “facts with facts, feelings with feelings” advice we received in pre-marital counseling, Jessica and I have screwed that up countless times. And so to help our spouses in ministry grow in Christ, we need to be prepared to do what are perhaps our two most important jobs as Christians: forgive and pray. And often!

For how can we be expected to move on from the trials that refine us if we can’t be forgiven for what may have caused those trials? And why would we not seek the Lord’s wisdom, comfort, and help as often as we can? To not use these dual tools of forgiveness and prayer would be to waste our best tools in helping our spouse.

Of course, the Lord’s goodness is immeasurable, and He is able to help us grow in so many other ways than just through our spouse. One of our greatest joys in being a part of a married couple in ministry is getting to hear praise about our spouse from other people, be it a colleague, student, parent, or parishioner. God is at work in growing and nurturing through those conversations too.

We as Lutherans are pretty good at knowing who is at work at all times, and who is causing the growth to happen. But there is a difference between knowing and trusting, and we fail at the latter constantly. But thanks be to God, because there is forgiveness through Christ for every failure of trust, and for every time we try to insert ourselves into a role where we don’t belong. As His Word reminds us, “The heart of a man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

May God bless you as you walk the steps He established for you, and thanks be to Him that in marriage we don’t have to walk them alone.

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