By Cheryl Magness
Hard as it is to question our own roles in life, it can be even harder to watch someone else struggle. A reader contacted us recently to say, "I would appreciate Godly advice on how to be an encouraging wife to a husband unsure of his calling/vocation/job in life."
What a wonderful question. God bless you for asking it.
I married at twenty-two, young by today's standards. My husband was twenty-three, and we both went through years of vocational exploration before settling into long-term careers. My husband is a musician, and when we first married, he was completing his Master's degree and "gigging"--playing cocktail piano at restaurants and hotels. Later he added part-time college teaching and part-time church work to the mix. He even sold pianos for a while.
A turning point came when he was offered a full-time college position at the same time as he was offered a full-time church music position. He had to make a huge decision. He decided to go into church work, and we moved from our home state of Texas to Illinois, something I would have never imagined I would do. About twenty years later, something else I also never expected happened. He was let go from the church job he had held for almost thirteen years, and found himself facing unemployment, at which time we went through the vocational questioning all over again. If he could not get another church position, what would he do? He was out of practice with jazz and pop piano and had few remaining connections in that sphere. He had not taught college in over twenty years.
He researched options and decided to pursue training leading to certification as a funeral home director if he did not find a church position. Ultimately a church position did come, so the backup plan was unnecessary. But I find myself able to empathize deeply with anyone who is going through this sort of instability. It is hard, and my heart goes out to you and your husband as you walk the uncertain road of professional vocation. Here are a few suggestions that I hope will be helpful to you.
1) As your husband is going through this phase of his life, it is important to give him space. He needs time to think, and he sometimes needs to do it on his own. Let him know you are there for him as a wife and a friend, but try not to bombard with questions and what-ifs. If he needs to take a walk without you in order to clear his head, allow him to do so. If he is not always willing to share with you his innermost thoughts on what he is facing, don't take it personally. He is the head of the household, and sometimes he needs to fill that role on his own.
2) As he is struggling with whatever the vocational crisis is, whether it's simple questioning or something more serious, do your best to hold down the home front so as not to add more to his plate. This is not to say that you should never ask him for help. He is the head of the household and your helpmeet, and he is called to be there for you and the children, if there are any. But if the frustrations of your own day are trivial in nature, consider whether it might be best to spare him from them. Perhaps he wants to hear them because they will help him get his mind off his own troubles. But if you sense that he has had enough in the frustration department, it might be best to share yours with a girlfriend rather than with him. Try to be a port in the storm for him rather than another squall.
3) This one probably seems like a no-brainer: listen. But the trick is listening constructively. Make sure your listening is not passive, as when a child is going on and on about this or that and your brain starts to numb and you smile and nod while tuning him out. Your husband needs you to listen actively and be a partner in his thought process. Ask questions that show you are listening and that are also helpful in moving the conversation forward.
4) At the same time, as you are listening and investing, don't burst his bubble. If he has an idea which sends you into spasms of doubt, don't immediately point out everything that could go wrong with it. If you give him time to work through the idea he will probably figure it out on his own. It is important to for him to be able to roam freely through ideas as he tries to zero in on the best one. In writing we call it brainstorming. Allow your husband the freedom to brainstorm and consider even those things that seem outlandish to you. It's a necessary part of the process. If he does seem to be settling on an idea that you think is awful, try to ask questions that will help him to see the pitfalls rather than pointing out all the pitfalls yourself. Ask, "Have you thought about . . . ?" or "What would you do if . . . ?"
5) For your husband, as for you, vocational uncertainty can be extremely unsettling and lead to insecurity, loss of self-esteem, and doubt about one's own abilities. At this time, your husband needs you to build him up, as a person and as a man, in other ways. Compliment him. Express your faith in him and his abilities. Look for opportunities to highlight his strength and masculinity. Let him know that you need and want him in every way. I trust the reader will understand.
You haven't indicated, dear reader, how old you are. But whether you and your husband are just starting out in life or whether you are facing this in middle age or beyond, I think the advice is the same. I hope these suggestions are helpful, and I pray God's direction for your husband and for you as you walk this road together.
Cheryl is the sister of ten, daughter of two, mother of three, and wife of one. She was an English teacher in a past life but is currently getting a bigger return on her music degree than her English one. Her husband is a Lutheran cantor. When not accompanying one of his choirs, she can most often be found playing piano in the community, homeschooling her youngest, or caring for her aging mother. She blogs at A Round Unvarnish'd Tale.
Title Image: "The Open Door" by Peter Ilsted