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Is My Wife's Job Harder Than Mine?

Last week my wife and I sat down and watched C.J. Mahaney’s keynote address from the Strengthening Your Marriage in Ministry event at Southern Seminary. His talk was titled “Marriage and Pastoral Ministry” and in it he shares with future pastors some of the lessons he has learned along the way and some of the very practical things he has done to ensure that his marriage remains strong even in all the trials and temptations of ministry. I am relatively new to pastoral ministry and being in ministry has required a lot of thoughtful adjustment to our lives and our relationship. Aileen and I found it a helpful talk, perhaps especially because we, too, have young children now and we’ve divided family roles much the same way the Mahaneys did. His description of their life together sounded a whole lot like our life together.

There was one thing C.J. said that generated a fair bit of discussion between the two of us. When talking about Carolyn, especially in the days when she was a stay-at-home mom with several young children in her care, C.J. said how he often commended her because her job is harder than his. He made this point stand out—Husbands, your role in life is easier than your wife’s and you ought to make sure she knows this. This is not an original sentiment; I can’t count how many men I’ve heard say this to their wives or how often I’ve read people commending this kind of statement: “My job is easy compared to hers.”

After we watched C.J.’s address, Aileen and I went out for lunch and I told her, “I don’t think your job is harder than mine.” I didn’t mean this as a judgment of how she goes about her responsibilities. I simply meant that in a subjective sense I don’t feel like it’s a true statement or one I could say with real conviction. She replied, “Do you think your job is harder than mine?” I don’t feel like that is true either. And as we talked I found myself expressing something like this: Our roles are so different, so complementary, that any kind of comparison is unhelpful. It doesn’t matter whose job is more difficult; what matters is that we each fulfill our role, our calling, with joy and with skill.

The fact is that I want to commend Aileen for what she does. She dedicates her time, her attention, her energy, to keeping this home and this family running. She is the one who takes the lead in getting the kids out the door in the morning, she is the one who arranges their lessons and drives them to the gym or the pool, she is the one who makes sure their homework is getting done, she is the one who takes the lead in keeping the house tidy and in preparing meals. I am not entirely uninvolved in these things, but in the breakdown of responsibilities, these are the ones that she has taken on and the ones she continues to take the lead on. Her life is not one of ease, but one never-ending responsibility. Her life is difficult enough that she has to battle to find joy and meaning in the middle of all of it.

As her husband I am in a unique position to see what she does and to commend her for it. My words of praise are more meaningful than anyone else’s because I see so much more of her than anyone else and because I benefit from every bit of her labor. Similarly, she is in a unique position to praise and thank me for what I do when I provide faithfully. I enjoy her praise more than anyone else’s and find more value in it because she is the prime beneficiary of my labor.

I want to commend Aileen for what she does. I want her to know that what she does has real value and real meaning. I want her to know that I love and respect her for it. But I don’t want her to compare her list of responsibilities to mine and determine that she works harder. I don’t want to compare myself to her and determine that I work harder. I don’t see any value there. I don’t see that this serves either one of us and I don’t see that it serves our children. I can affirm the value of what she does by declaring that her job is harder than mine, but value doesn’t come in making her feel that her life is more difficult. It comes when she is able to see that what she does is a calling from God, that it is a task that she does before the Lord, for the Lord, and to the Lord. Its value is not in its difficulty, or relative difficulty, but in doing it with joy and doing it for the glory of God.

I wrote this much of the article and asked Aileen to read it to her. She says that she agrees with what I’ve written, but wonders why she has to hear all of these affirming sentiments in a blog post. Touché. I still have so much room to grow as a husband, which I guess is why I am eager to hear from C.J. and from others who have experience they can share.

C.J.’s session is definitely worth a watch (or listen), particularly if you are in pastoral ministry. If an hour seems like a big commitment, feel free to fast forward to the 20 minute mark since the heart of the message does not begin until then; everything before that is classic C.J. preamble.