Today is my 13th Anniversary. 14 years ago today, my wife and I got engaged. I remember then the conversations we had that led up to our actual wedding. We talked about where we were going to live. We talked about how many kids we were going to have. We talked about what we would do for a living. Over the last 14 years only 1 of these things we agreed upon has actually come to pass. We agreed that 3-4 kids would be wonderful (I have four). We intended on living near my family since most of my family were in one area and more importantly, there was a good strong church right there we could worship with. Interestingly enough, the only career path that was really discussed was the one my wife told me she would never be. She never wanted to be a preachers wife. Within one month of our wedding I was preaching every Sunday at two different churches. Before we were married 6 months I had accepted the offer from the Southside church of Christ in Mattoon, IL to work with them. And since then, I haven’t really lived near my parents or any of my family for that matter. Most of the time I see my family when I have to go home for a funeral.
Last week I wrote about the isolation that often comes from being a preacher due to the spiritual constraints he unfairly places upon himself (and sometimes the church places upon him). This week I want to talk about the isolation a preacher feels because he is often so far from home.
I realize that not every preacher lives far from his family. However, it is not the norm. Most of his who have made the sacrifice to make our living via preaching the gospel say long goodbyes to our families. In the nearly 13 years I have been preaching the gospel I have lived in 4 different states (Iowa, Virginia, Missouri, and Illinois). While 2.5 of those years I was relatively close to my family, I have never lived close to my wife’s family. So that you understand the hardships. When a parent gets ill and ends up in the hospital, we can’t just jump in the car and run down there and sit by their side. While my wife’s mother has grown weaker and weaker these last couple of years it has put a strain on our family most don’t experience. My wife can’t sit with her mom all afternoon and come home in the evening. A trip to her home requires budgeting, me requesting (and receiving) time off so that we can can down there, hotel rooms, etc. It is no easy experience.
Holidays are another thing all together. Many in America travel for the holidays. They go to their parents’, grandparents’, siblings’ home and so forth. In a small church, what I have typically preached for, going home for the holidays is a rare experience. You see, you need someone to preach for you and teach classes for you while you are away. When everyone else is out of town, guess who stays behind. That’s right, your preacher does. He stays behind. He prepares his sermons. He visits those that need visiting. In the last 10 years I have been either to my parents or my in-laws’ home on the holidays twice. Once for thanksgiving and once for Christmas (although I should add that the Christmas trip was actually for a funeral). My eldest son, now nine, has never had a birthday with any of his grandparents. My eldest daughter now 12 has had 3. My youngest son, now 7, has had one. In fact he was 3 before he had met both sets of his grandparents. My youngest daughter, now 3, has had one.
The scariest thing of all is that I know what is coming. One day, I will move to work with a another church and my daughter will say, “Daddy, I don’t want to go. This is my home.” I will have to leave her behind. And one by one the same thing will happen to each of my children. (I know of one preacher whose children lived in California and Texas while he labored in Virginia. He told me he rarely got to see his kids). So long as I continue to preach this is my reality. I accept it. I am happy to.
I don’t say this in a sense of complaint. I say this so that you understand what your preacher gives up for you. Remember that his family is most likely not around the corner. I say this so that you will remember the next time you are celebrating your kids birthday with your parents that your preacher’s kids aren’t. I say this so that you might be a little more compassionate towards him and his wife. I say this because the reality is, for the preacher, you ARE his family. God’s family is who he ends up being closest to. Include him into your life, because he likely has already included you into his.