Surprisingly, my biggest challenge as a freshly married young woman working at a children’s home in Africa is not the oppressive heat, separation from family, or even lack of coffee shops.
I expected to surrender those trials to the Lord and willingly did so. (I wanted to be a good missionary after all!) My biggest challenge was, and still is, relinquishing my “right” to time with my husband.
Wait, what? Marriage means never saying goodbye, right? I thought so at first, but God made it very clear a few months in that marriage is not about us. Marriage is created by God, for God, a reflection of His love for and commitment to the Church. Although marriage is a beautiful gift from God, its purpose is not to create happy, carefree spouses. The purpose of marriage is to glorify God and reveal His character to the world. I learned this timeless truth during our baking show hour.
The Great British Bake Off Hour
I arrived home exhausted from another ordinary day in Africa: navigating the rock minefields that pass for roads, coping with energetic third graders, wondering if anything I said impacted them, and knowing the cycle would start again tomorrow. Thankfully the next hour was my own. Most afternoons, Nick and I would collapse on the couch with bowls of rice, mayo, tuna, and avocado (just try it) to watch an episode of The Great British Bake Off. For sixty blessed minutes, as the portable fan cooled our overheated bodies, we lost ourselves in a world of cakes, bread, and pastries.
I climbed the cement stairs to our door, trying to remember what episode came next. Is it Bread Week? Or maybe this week is Patisserie. Silence greeted me instead of the usual kiss from Nick. Oh right, he is probably still doing on-site maintenance with the short-term team. No problem, I can get lunch ready for us.
Lunch waiting, episode loaded, couch beckoning, everything set, but still no Nick. My patience ticked away with the minutes.
Prayer Versus Pastries
Finally Nick burst through the door. Hoping he would sense my irritation, I said, “I waited for a while, but decided to start eating since I had no idea when you would be back.” He was too happy about the day’s work to notice my barbed comment as he tucked into his food.
Around a spoonful of rice, Nick informed me that he was heading back out in ten minutes to pray with the team. No time for TV or tea! Oh, and I should come along. My hour of relaxation crumbled before my eyes. I tried to keep my face neutral and failed miserably.
“What about our time? You’ve been with them all day,” I complained. “I haven’t seen you at all! Why do you have to go pray now?” I was behaving like a belligerent child. Nick assumed the parent role and gently explained his logic.
I would have none of it. I refused to relinquish my claim to our time. For the first time in our marriage, my voice rose to a shout as I declared, “I am mad at you!!” Eyes wide, Nick stepped forward. I kept the space between us. I spat out ugly, horrible words about everyone and everything that came to mind. “Just go. Go pray. We will talk when you’re done,” I sneered.
Facing the Ugly
I flung myself down on the bed to sort through my mess of emotions. Anger at Nick melted into frustration with myself. Disappointment at the day’s events shifted into regret about how I handled them.
Click. The door opened. I hurtled into my husband’s arms. We made up. In the conversation following our reconciliation, we discovered a sacrifice families on the mission field must face. Our time is not our own.
My relationship with my husband is the most important relationship I have on earth. Our priority has to be God, not each other. Sometimes we must sacrifice what we want (time alone with each other) for something God wants.
We are still intentional about having “couple” time—every Thursday night is date night. We’re ready, however, to shift our schedule if ministry opportunities pop up.
Missions and Marriage
As Francis Chan writes in You and Me Forever:
If we don’t stare at God, we’ll spend our time staring at lesser things. Namely ourselves. This is a mistake lots of couples make. They spend a lot of time looking at themselves and each other but very little time staring at God. When this is the focus, they naturally begin to structure every aspect of their lives around the few years they have with each other on earth, rather than the millions they will spend in His presence.
My story reveals my natural sinful tendency to grasp. I found something great, grabbed hold of it, and labeled it Mine. I fixated on my time with Nick and could not give it up, even for a few minutes of prayer. Ouch. That is some blatant selfishness!
It is wonderful and appropriate to enjoy God’s good gifts. Yet I must never forget Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
I’ve tried to check my heart when I sense my possessiveness rising. I ask myself, Am I focusing on God and His mission? Or am I focusing on myself? Even during Bread Week, I want to focus on Him.
Molly Kozlarek serves in Eswatini with her husband, Nick.
Lovely photo of scones by Florencia Viadana on Unsplash