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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Calling, Day 6: Marriage and Calling

jenmichel@me.com

We married when we were 22. That was sixteen years ago today, and what can I say about traveling so long through life with someone you have never once considered that you didn’t love? The steadfast sweetness of this relationship is not so much pizzazz but a kind of rhythmic goodness that I have learned to count on. Yesterday, Ryan walks through the door, and when I find his eyes, we smile. Coming closer, we hug, kiss, and it’s a scene our children are used to. Whenever those moments of embrace stretch longer than normal, there is the collective, “Ew, gross!’ and “Love scene!” and “Black-masked love birds!” that our children pronounce with the apparent horror of having to witness their parents’ tenderness. (And secretly, of course, they’re just happy to know all is well with mom and dad.) Marriage is unbelievably funny. It keeps unfolding, year after year, surprising you with the things about yourselves and about your relationship that you've never before noticed. I find there to be more surprises than I anticipated, even though Ryan and I are so unbelievably well-paired, compatible in most everything. We fight rarely, finding it usually easier and more natural to agree.

But calling has been for us one of the most challenging aspects of our relationship. Because we function as a unit, there is an essential kind of agreement that we must always reach about our priorities. But because our unit is made up of two very different, component parts, it takes willingness, listening, and ever-increasing surrender to hammer out this agreement and release one another to our respective callings.

Together, we are called to love each other and make this marriage work. Both of us realize that all other callings enfold themselves in the vows of richer, poorer, better, worse. Secondarily, we are also called to love and nurture and discipline our children. And beyond the confines of our family, Ryan and I partner together to be neighbors in our geographical community and active participants in our community of faith. Gratefully, we both share an eagerness to faithfully serve in all of these ways.

Individually, however, we are called to much different things. Our time in Canada has confirmed for Ryan that he is meant for leadership in the corporate sector. He leads humbly and confidently, wishing to embody the servant leadership model of Jesus. But I can attest that it has not always been easy for me to release him to this calling.

After he had finished eight years of actuarial exams, he announced that he wanted to do an MBA, to which I promptly and definitively said, “Absolutely not.” I dug my heels in, reasoned to myself and maybe to God that Ryan was asking too much. It wasn’t so long ago that I remembered the weeks after the birth of our first child, Audrey, when Ryan came home from work, ate dinner, and disappeared to the local library. For a long time, I resented that he sat for that actuarial exam, which came on the heels of the birth of our first child, its own cataclysmic shifting of our universe.

I did so much alone those years of exams. And I felt now that they were finished that I deserved to have him home. I did not want to share any more of his time. Graduate school was a firm NO.

Or was it? Because I can remember one Sunday worship service where I felt God speaking to me on this very subject and asking of me this very pointed question: “Would you hold Ryan back from the things that I have called him to?” And I guess if you put it that way, God, the answer is no. No, I wouldn’t hold him back.

And yes, six months later, we had moved from Ohio back to Chicago into the home of my in-laws, me just three weeks away from delivering our third child. And yes, there was to be more aloneness on my horizon as he worked and did graduate school in the evenings.

I can be honest to say that I have at times harbored resentment about the weight of Ryan’s calling that I’ve been forced to carry on my shoulders. But the resentment, while it might be natural, is misguided. Why should this responsibility surprise me? We always bear the weight of our partner’s calling on our shoulders, and this is exactly how it MUST work.

To which I now say that I have asked Ryan to bear some weight for me. To do this. To write and this year, by God’s grace, to finish a book. He sent me to a week’s long writer’s retreat this past February, staying home from work six days by himself with the children, getting kids to school and dinner on the table. Last fall, when I told him that I felt nudged towards more writing, I told him I would need a cleaning lady to free up some time. It was done. And while I often feel selfish to ask of him anything, I know that is part and parcel of the interconnectedness of marriage and calling. We grow in intimacy as we grow in dependence, mutually needing each other.

And calling, while it’s a giving, is also a receiving. In marriage, I believe it’s receiving the support (material, physical, emotional, spiritual) from our spouse to fulfill the giving that has been required of us elsewhere.

By unexpected providence, we’ve hit a sweet spot at sixteen years. Ryan has a position at work that well suits his calling. And his work, which has brought us to Canada, has given us the opportunity to send our children to a school we like and feel confident in. And this decision, freeing me from my former responsibilities to homeschool, grants me the time to write.

I am extraordinarily grateful for this current confluence of calling, these rivers of responsibility, which for now, placidly run alongside the other.

Happy anniversary to my husband of sixteen years. You are the only man I’ve long admired and loved.