To my fellow seminary wife

Forgive me for a moment as I write to a fairly small group of readers: my fellow seminary wives. Feel free to read along even if you aren’t a seminary wife. Many of these are life lessons whether in seminary or not. But this is a group of women that I hold a lot of love, appreciation, concern, and respect for. There is something unique about this time of life that knits our hearts together.

As we come to the end of our seminary career, I wanted to take a few moments to share some things I’ve learned along the way.

Everyone’s path is different

A seminary career of a couple with no children looks vastly different from that of a family with several children. A family working a full-time job and taking classes on the side looks vastly different than someone working multiple odd jobs around the primary job of classes. Some come in with their way paid. Most have to struggle their way through paying the school bills and keeping food on the table. Some go through seminary quickly. Others slowly.

Whatever your situation, remember that it is unique. It’s easy to look longingly at another family’s situation and wish it were ours. But each family has his own unique challenges and advantages that come with their particular path. We have gone through seminary very quickly. While looking back we would do it this way again, there have been a lot of challenges along the way. It’s been intense and there has been little break, but I have utmost respect for those of you that are still plugging away after years of doing this. It isn’t easy, and I admire your perseverance.

Whatever your situation, avoid comparing your path to someone else. It will only breed discontentment.

Communicate

If I could give you one single thing to work on during seminary, it is communicating with your husband. Seminary is hard on marriages. Plain and simple. So much so that at the beginning of seminary during the orientation that both husbands and wives were asked to be at, the school administrators took time to warn us about guarding our marriage during this time.

Marriage takes hard work no matter what, but the combination of academic, family, and financial pressures piling on a couple can feel very heavy at times. And there will be times when you feel like you are going to break under the pressure. This is the time to figure out how to communicate with each other again. Whether you thought you had it figured out before or not, you may be going back to the basics on learning to communicate. Do the work. It’s so worth it.

Our first semester we muddled our way through classes, work, and family life including a newborn. Silas was two weeks old when we arrived so to say I was hormonal and exhausted would be an understatement. We were hanging in there, but we weren’t thriving. A little over half way through the semester it all came to a head. A good head. The kind of breakthrough that you regularly need in a healthy, thriving marriage.

The way we communicated and functioned as a couple no longer worked exactly the same now that we were in a new phase of life. It was time to figure it out again. You can be married for years and not have a thriving marriage. Make sure your marriage is thriving. That means relearning how to communicate and work together as a team over and over again. Seminary will put this to the test, but make every effort to not let this single thing be overlooked.

Cultivate your own mind

Don’t let your husband be the only one thriving intellectually and spiritually during this phase of life. While he might be doing the formal education, you need to be cultivating your own mind. The subject matter may vary widely from your husband’s, but keep your mind active and learning.

Not only will it help you thrive as an individual during this time of life, but it will also make your marriage stronger. As your husband is growing and changing as a person, you need to be growing and changing as well. Make time to read, learn, and grow your mind.

God gave you a mind to think, learn, and cultivate. Don’t sit back and watch your husband doing all the learning. Your learning will look different, but go to work and let this be a time that you look back on of intense growth for you personally.

Be strong

Finally, be strong. Strength comes in many different forms. Don’t forget that. Strength may sometimes take the form of quietly bearing under heavy pressures. But strength may also take the form of looking your husband in the eye and graciously but courageously telling him that the family is breaking and something needs to change.

You will need a lot of grace to walk through this time of life. You will need forbearance. You will need to learn to do without certain conveniences of life. You will need to forgive freely. And you will need to learn to freely and quickly ask for forgiveness.

Being a strong woman requires great wisdom. This is the kind of strength that can only come from seeking God’s wisdom. You will need a lot of strength during these years.

And you will fail.

The first time the words, “If it weren’t for your education dreams, this wouldn’t be a problem” came bitterly out of my mouth I shocked myself. We were in this together. We both believed that this was the good and right choice for our family. How in the world did those words even cross my mouth?

Your own sin will shock you. That’s a good thing. Learn to cling to the cross of our Savior who died for words like mine spilling uncontrollably from my heart and mouth. You will know God’s grace more through your own failures than you have ever experienced before. Repent regularly and freely accept God’s forgiving grace.

God has shown Himself so faithful to me and He will do the same for you. Love your God. Love your man. And let God’s grace cover each day of your seminary career.

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Comments

  1. Keren says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Johanna! I guess I’m not technically a seminary wife anymore, but this flooded my mind with many of the situations, lessons learned, and struggles we went through during those years (two graduate degrees), including, full-time seminary, full-time work, part-time work, plugging away slowly at seminary, no kids, two kids, multiple pregnancies, living off of hardly anything, and others.

    These in particular stood out to me in what you wrote:

    “Strength may sometimes take the form of quietly bearing under heavy pressures. But strength may also take the form of looking your husband in the eye and graciously but courageously telling him that the family is breaking and something needs to change.”

    “A seminary career of a couple with no children looks vastly different from that of a family with several children. A family working a full-time job and taking classes on the side looks vastly different than someone working multiple odd jobs around the primary job of classes. Some come in with their way paid. Most have to struggle their way through paying the school bills and keeping food on the table. Some go through seminary quickly. Others slowly.”

    “Whatever your situation, remember that it is unique. It’s easy to look longingly at another family’s situation and wish it were ours.”

    Likely, our future may hold further years in academia, though when and where is still unknown. My life situation by that time will be vastly different from my early years as a seminary wife, but tucking this away for then and learning from it now, too. Because, like you said, “Many of these are life lessons whether in seminary or not.”

    • Johanna says:

      Our next step involves more schooling, but I’m already realizing that it will still look quite different. Always re-learning and adjusting to new situations and family needs, I guess!

  2. Sharon says:

    Yes, yes, yes. I remember those seminary days so well…and in just 5 more days I am starting my grad school journey and have my husband and 5 kids supporting me. Good reminders for me-thank you.

    • Johanna says:

      Wow, Sharon! What a great step you are beginning! I hope it is a great season. Way to go doing grad school with 5 kids!

  3. Thanks for this. Really great reminders. My husband is working towards another degree and yes, I can definitely agree with every one of these statements – especially it being hard on a marriage! Love your reminder to thrive and re-learn how to communicate. By God’s grace, that’s what we’re aiming for.

    Life is an adventure – adding seminary, kids, and ministry into the mix makes it not unlike a roller coaster. So, I can either do the white-knuckle thing, or just trust God, throw my arms up, and yell, “Wheeeeee!” ;)

    • Johanna says:

      I hope that it’s a great experience for you all — even if it will most definitely have it’s challenges! Enjoy the ride!

  4. Laura Gaunnac says:

    Hi, Johanna! I am Elsbeth Rodger’s mom, and I have been reading your blog for a while now, ever since my seminary-wife daughter recommended it to me. I really appreciate this article because it helps me in knowing how to pray for Jeremy and Elsbeth, as he slowly works his way toward his seminary degree. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Lou Ann says:

    Excellent advice, Johanna! I remember working hard (both of us) and basically living for Saturdays, so we could make up for the week of almost not seeing each other. We made it through, and with our marriage intact, but it wasn’t an easy part of our lives. Glad to have it behind us! It’s not easy to be thriving when you are just trying to work and survive. I loved your emphasis on a good attitude and dealing with sin.

  6. Oh, Johanna… this made me cry!! Because it spoke to that deepest part that only others in the same situation truly understand. It’s just what I needed to hear, and in fact, I’m going to print it out and keep it in my Bible for those days when things are horribly challenging and communication is at its worst and I long so deeply for this transition to be over. THANK YOU. You have no idea how much it helps (actually, you probably do, otherwise you couldn’t have written it).

    • Johanna says:

      Elizabeth, I DO understand! Hang in there, my friend. This season will come to an end. ((hugs))

  7. Remley says:

    Having just finished our first year of seminar, I want to say a big “Thank you!” for writing this. I can’t count how many times this past year this has all been relevant. I’m book marking this so I come back to it when the summer Greek course picks up. :)

    • Johanna says:

      Congratulations on making it through one year! I hope the rest of your journey is full of blessings!

  8. Sarah Beals says:

    I am not a seminary wife, but so much in this post can relate to any stressful time as well. I agree that a wise woman learns on her own and also ministers to others on her own. Sometimes the tendency is to sit back and just watch what our hubby is doing, like a spectator on the sidelines, and then we feel resentful that life/ministry seems to be all about “him.” I’ve learned that when I take the initiative for my own “happiness” and seek ways that God is opening doors for me, I am more “others focused” and in tune with what God wants from me. And yes on the refiguring out how to communicate during different seasons! We just went through a transition with teens, and it came down to this: we needed time to just be alone together–time for me to lean on Peter and hug him as we watched a movie. Unrushed down- time was the prescription. (I know! WHAT’s that?? ;) ) It was necessary and helped us a great deal. Congratulations to Brian! Onward, to the next stage!! :)

    • Johanna says:

      “unrushed down time”– totally can relate to needing that! Thanks, and yes—onward we go. ;-)

  9. Naomi says:

    “It’s easy to look longingly at another family’s situation and wish it were ours. But each family has his own unique challenges and advantages that come with their particular path. ” Such a great reminder. I’m very thankful for the way the Lord has blessed our 3 years of seminary life together thus far. Looks like we have 3 to go, so we’re half-way there!! :)

    “The subject matter may vary widely from your husband’s, but keep your mind active and learning.” This too has been very helpful! And I have found that keeping my mind active and learning has helped us a lot in our communication and understanding of one another. We both have things we are excited to share with each other. We LOVE learning!

    So far the Lord has only added one child to our home (though the loss of our first presented its own struggles and lessons), but that is certainly an added weight in the mix. David says he thinks could handle more kids during seminary, just maybe not the morning sickness the precedes the kids ;-) .

    “But this is a group of women that I hold a lot of love, appreciation, concern, and respect for. There is something unique about this time of life that knits our hearts together.” YES!
    I have been exceedingly grateful for the immense support that we have through our church family. Some of the pastors’ wives hold monthly “seminary wives” meetings that have been invaluable to me during this time. We are given so many resources and encouragements through this journey. I treasure our rich times of fellowship, encouragement, growth, and prayer together. I certainly have my “I-wonder-what-life-beyond-seminary-is-like” moments, but by God’s grace I really do treasure this time of growth and bask in all that God is giving us through it. Thanks for the encouragement to stand strong and be humble through this season of our lives!

    • Johanna says:

      That’s great to have a good support network. That is one of the huge blessings of seminary, I think. While there are trials, for sure, the camaraderie and friendships are one of the huge blessings!

  10. Johan says:

    I just visited your blog through tgc. I just wanted to say thank you for your blog. ps never told anyone thank you for their blogs before… :)

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