When my husband and I met, we knew one of us would have to give up our calling: acting in Chicago for him, or teaching in China for me. Due for time back in the states, I gave up China. And because of the nature of marriage and parenting three children four and under, he lay stage acting on the altar as well. Like the story of The Gift of the Magi, I sold my hair to buy him a watch strap and he sold his watch to buy me a comb.
Many years before, a wise married friend and mother of four warned me, “Love is sacrifice.” My best friend, who married at 19, described marriage as a way for God to “chisel us down.” Neither sounded very sexy to me, so I vowed to steer clear of marriage.
Then I met this incredible man.
While we were dating, I wrote him a letter from China (which I then scanned and emailed), confessing my fear that one day I’d be trapped in a tiny Chicago apartment in the winter with an infant. Although I longed to have children, I feared losing myself in the process. Two February’s later, I stood jostling a newborn while staring out the drafty windows of our vintage Chicago apartment, wondering what happened to my life.
True love involves mutual sacrifice. Love is the montage of running tedious errands for one another, making love when you’re tired, knowing when to stop talking and when to start listening, changing throw-up sheets together at 3 a.m., squeezing hands under the table during stressful family visits, giving one another a night out or a morning to sleep in. Both spouses make sacrifices for one another in what feels like a relay race as we pass the baton down the field, each doing the hard work of moving the team forward.
I admit I now roll my eyes at romantic comedies. In a card for newlyweds, I’m more likely to copy Philippians 2 about Jesus doing nothing out of selfish ambition than I am to write Solomon’s words about many waters not quenching love.
After a mere six years, I still believe in the magic. But it’s not what you think.
The mythical phoenix smolders in the flames, ascending from the ashes, exquisite and new. As we die to ourselves, we, too, rise from the smoking cinders, purified and reborn. This is the path of the cross and the antitheses of what Hollywood would have us believe about love.
In loving we die; in dying we live.
We fall in bed at night and pray the daily sacrifices are doing purifying work in our souls. The kids wake us before dawn, and we swing our legs out of bed, begging God for strength, patience and unconditional love for these tiny, volatile humans. We hope Jesus is carving away excess clay as we are sculpted and formed into more beautiful creatures in the hand of our master artist.
But does this mean we each give up what feeds our soul unless it is compatible with marriage and family? Or do we “Eat.Pray.Love.” or “Wild” our way out of here to find ourselves when we begin to feel the stirrings of discontent?
Our husbands fell in love with our whole selves—including those quirky, creative, pre-marriage passions of ours. So a good man will scramble for solutions for us to be women of wholeness, living out the God-given callings that make our souls sing.
This year we are experimenting with making space for us each to pursue our unique callings. My husband is doing his first play in seven years. Seven weeks of evening rehearsals, four nights a week and a month of weekends after that for very little pay will likely stretch the seams of our home life. Yes, Jesus fills and fulfills him, but God also created him to come alive on the stage.
For me, we are always on the quest for diversity as I drag my family to international student dinners at the nearby college and delight in terrifying my children with the fact that I speak another language. We also made adjustments in the budget so I have a few hours a week to write. And my husband—my personal editor—often creeps over to me, soft-eyed, after reading something I’ve written; having had a glimpse into my soul he wouldn’t have had otherwise. Writing and the call to love people of other nations are a part of me he fell in love with in the beginning. And it’s worth making space for even in this season.
Are we afraid of growing apart? Yes. We’ve seen too many couples drift apart as they’ve cultivated hobbies and passions away from their spouse. We’re aware of the risks.
But what if we are like two hands playing the same piano music? One hand dances along the black and white keys of the bass clef while the other plays different, yet corresponding notes on the treble. Sometimes a hand will rest while another plays fervently, other times they carefully keep pace with the one another in a slow, strong melody. As we follow our callings in tandem, the music—no longer a single hand doing all the work—rings out with the richness of harmony as each hand contributes its unique part. What if living out our callings in marriage is like that?
When we got married, we thought we were giving up our callings. What we didn’t realize was that in gaining one another—following the sacred call to marriage—our other callings would shift and turn. These sub-callings are more fluid than we once thought, adapting to marriage and home life in creative ways. But they are still a part of us. And as we pursue what makes our souls come alive, we complement one another in compelling ways that bring a smile to the one who brought us together to begin with.
How have your callings shifted since you got married?
If you’re not married, what do you think you’d be unwilling to give up if marriage required it?
In general, how has the concept of “calling” changed for you over the course of your life?