This is the second part of a two-part post on how to survive seminary as a couple/family. The first part is Mark Snoeberger’s perspective as a husband. What follows below is an answer to the same question from the perspective of Mark’s wife, Heather.
The seminary years that Mark and I shared were a blessing from God that we would never trade. Like every situation in life there were challenges (and much of what I share below is not unique to seminary couples), but seminary brought specific demands and opportunities to our family that are not shared by all couples. You’ll hear echoes of Mark’s comments in mine. That’s OK. I would be worried if I said something completely different. But I hope that I can bring a new “angle” to the question that can connect with some of the seminary wives that might be reading this blog.
First, I had to realize that seminary wasn’t my husband’s hobby. I grew up in a non-ministry home where my stepdad’s time was split between his work and his family. He sometimes did things by himself that didn’t involve the family, but they were hobbies. And if those hobbies started to rob the family of his time, he would scale back. When I married Mark, I had to get used to the fact that my husband’s life had something extra in it that wasn’t a hobby. When he studied late and lingered at the library he wasn’t stealing time from me and the kids. He was on a quest for something that was bigger than me or us—something that one of my early mentors, Claudia Doran, often calls his “high calling.” And I needed to embrace his calling. I needed to find my delight in making sure that he was “respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Prov 31:23). Before I was married, I used to read that verse as advice on the kind of husband I needed to find. But then I realized that the point of this passage is actually the opposite: it is instructing me to be the kind of woman that causes people to respect my husband. What a sobering responsibility I have! As a ministry wife, I have a significant role in determining whether or not my husband will succeed in his ministry. I can either impel my husband to a place of honor and fulfillment or consign him to a life of shame and frustration—and we will both share the consequences together.
Second, I had to learn not to be a “needy” wife. Another mentor, Daisy McCune, faithfully taught me this by both her words and example. She exhorted me not to put unnecessary pressure on my husband by asking him to do things for me that I could do for myself. I should not demand that Mark do “equal time” in grocery shopping, doing the dishes, or changing diapers. Further, she encouraged me to go beyond the normal “wife” duties in order to lighten his enormous load—things like pumping gas, taking out the garbage, shoveling the walk, or even the dreaded trip to Jiffy Lube (Yuck). That was what it meant, she said, to be a helper who is suitable or appropriate to the specific needs of my husband. My life was to revolve around him and not the other way around.
I also had to learn not to need all the things that my wealthier peers had. I never felt this “need” as sharply as some, and I thank God for that. Mark and I never knew wealth, so we never had to “cut back” like some seminary couples do. We never had to downsize the home, sell one of our cars, choose a smaller cable/phone package, or give up going out to eat on Friday—we didn’t start out with any of those things, so we never felt the pain of losing them. I also naïvely assumed that everyone shopped at thrift stores and carried around a box of coupons. I have to confess, though, that I sometimes did feel the bite of envy. But it was during those times that I was humbly chastened by the generosity of God’s people in the church. And now, in our depressed economy, I feel strangely well-equipped to minister to people that suddenly have less than I.
Third, I found out that seminary was an incredible opportunity for our whole family to learn about God. I grew up hearing my stepdad “talk shop” at the dinner table. I remember thinking that he was the best welder repairman that General Motors had ever employed. It was interesting work and I was glad he did it, but the technical skills that he explained weren’t very useful to my own career or life development. But when Mark “talks shop,” I am regularly reminded of the enormous blessing it is for me and for our children. It’s not only an opportunity for us to participate in his world, but also an opportunity to learn about our God. Mark has often told me that I am his best student, and I hope I never lose that status. And having two boys grow up hearing Dad discuss his “work” around the dinner table and having the opportunity to interact with those discussions has been a unique privilege for which I am immeasurably grateful.
Finally, seminary became for us an incredible opportunity to cultivate biblical love. Someone humorously told me when we first arrived at seminary that I should say goodbye to my husband because I wouldn’t see him for the next four years. That is the worst thing anyone can ever say to a newlywed seminary wife and, thankfully, I found out that it wasn’t true. I knew I might not see Mark as much as wives with a 40-hour-a-week husband, but I also knew that I could not put marriage on pause for four years (or as it turned out, after three masters degrees and a Ph.D., fourteen years), tie a knot at the end of the rope and hold on until it was over. And so we decided right away that we needed to figure out a way to maximize every minute we had together. He stayed up crazy late to finish his assignments, so I followed the advice of another mentor by rising early enough to get myself ready and to share a quiet cup of coffee with him. The boys and I also had (and continue to have) as one of our principal goals to have everything ready when Dad came home. If there was a big crisis, we had it before he arrived so that when he walked in the door, the mood would be celebratory. We don’t always succeed, but we try, and I believe it’s made our relationships stronger. We also decided that we would cultivate diversions that would give us opportunity not only to do things together, but also to interact meaningfully. For us it has been board games. And remarkably, with a few exceptions, Mark has played a game with one or all of the family members every day of our 18 years of marriage.
I never once felt neglected or ignored by Mark during seminary. Working full time and going to school full time, he had every excuse to ignore us. But he always found time (usually by sleeping very little) to enjoy our company and to display truly sacrificial love.
In summary, I would like to encourage the modern seminary wife to welcome this stage of life and to embrace your husband’s noble goal as your own. May God give us grace to bring our husbands good and not harm all the days of our lives so that they can attempt great things for our great God.