She was 22, and I was 26. We were both clueless but head-over-heels in love. We got married on June 27, 1981!

Patti and I celebrated our 38th anniversary this year over a quiet and simple dinner together in Atlanta. Two years ago we celebrated big with a dream trip of a lifetime to Italy.

When it comes to your marriage, it doesn’t matter if you celebrate big or small, it’s all about the experiences and memories you create together.

We’ve been in full-time ministry our entire marriage which has included:

Two kids, one Son-In-Law, three dogs, three states, three churches, four mortgages, and several sets of braces later, we are still in love. Candidly, it’s not always easy. But the joys and blessings are so worth it. Oh, did I mention, our first grandchild is on the way?!

What a great adventure it has been, and with much more to go!

No marriage is easy, but ministry brings with it a set of unique pressures that if not navigated well, you can lose your way.

Far too many of my ministry colleagues are no longer married or in ministry.

Our marriage is certainly not perfect, but it’s really good. I desire to encourage you with a few things we’ve learned along the way.

5 lessons to help you go the distance both in ministry and in marriage.

1) Let it go.

Most arguments between a husband and wife are about dumb stuff, little things, and stuff that doesn’t matter. But that doesn’t prevent the argument, does it? Let it go.

When we were newlyweds, I discovered that Patti slept on the left side of the bed. I didn’t understand there was a difference or why it mattered. Of course, I launched into my lawyer like inquisition, presentation, and closing arguments. When I finished, she just looked at me and said, “That’s your side; this is mine.”

And we’ve been just fine for 38 years. That’s when I began to learn just to let it go. Patti has done the same for me countless times.

Whenever a couple experiences marital problems, in nearly every case, it comes down to grace, love, and maturity.

In marriage, grace allows you to forgive, love allows you to serve, and maturity allows you to accept that it doesn’t always go your way. 

Grace, love, and maturity together build the foundation for a great marriage. The better you can let the little things go, the better you can handle the few big things that genuinely require your full attention.

2) You are responsible for your own happiness.

You are responsible for your own emotions.

For example, no one can make you angry; it’s a response you choose, either intentionally, or because the situation overwhelmed you. Either way, it comes from within you.

Yes, I know, you can each push the other’s buttons, behave in unkind ways, and in general, drive each other nuts at times.

In fact, James 4:1-2 says we quarrel and fight because we don’t get what we want. 

But you still choose how you will respond. In your marriage relationship, you are responsible for the emotion you choose in the moment. It’s not always easy, but you still have a choice.

In the same way, no one can make you happy. Your spouse should undoubtedly do things that are loving and kind, and hopefully, your response is some mixture of joy, gratitude, and happiness. But it’s still your responsibility and comes from within you.

3) Enjoy the intimacy of prayer.

Patti and I don’t pray together every day. We focus on our personal prayer lives first and don’t often have time for both. But we have enjoyed powerful prayer together thousands of times over our thirty-eight years.

Prayer is incredibly intimate. There is a spiritual bond through prayer that is indescribable and helps make your marriage relationship indestructible.

We have prayed for everything from issues of spiritual warfare to healing for our children. We have prayed countless times for the church, the staff, and God’s vision.

We also pray for each other, and we’ve learned it’s tough to remain angry with someone you pray for consistently.

4) Never make marriage and ministry a competition.

Couples who are married and in ministry carry unique pressures that most couples don’t experience.

You are expected to carry a certain spiritual decorum, your character is expected to be above reproach, your kids aren’t always permitted to be normal kids, and of course, your spouse must play the piano. J

Particularly in a smaller to mid-sized church in one day, you can be a teacher, counselor, financial administrator, chief intercessor, missions representative, wedding or funeral officiator, social media expert, coffee barista, strategist, HR person, visionary, hospital chaplain, IT guru, and occasional plumber.

This unrealistic expectation can create pressure and tension at home, that if left untended, can cause marital problems. Don’t let your relationship get caught between your call to ministry and your commitment to marriage.

If you must choose between your marriage and your ministry, choose your marriage.  Hopefully, you will never have to make that choice.

If you sense a competition brewing between your marriage and ministry, make some changes so your marriage can breathe and become healthy. It doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition.

If you are struggling in your marriage, get professional help now, before you lose your marriage. Don’t wait.

5) Make family a big deal.

None of us live a mistake-free perfect life, but we can, with God’s help, come close to a regret-free life. Among your list of no regrets, you will want your family at the top.

Family is a work in progress. It’s never done, and the highs and lows mix together to create your story. Make family fun, not perfect. Family is messy, that’s okay. It’s about a heart-level connection and sticking together.

Family is about helping each other.

Fight for time with each other. Talk often. Laugh much!

Create ways to sit and talk to each other. My family has read and discussed books together for years. It’s a great way to make time for meaningful connection. These days we play games when we get together.

Create traditions and memories. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

That’s one of the things I love about Patti. She makes our family fun. She laughs easily and makes the holidays really special. And now, when she puts 3,000 lights on the Christmas tree, I just smile, and make sure the tree has plenty of water!