When my college boyfriend (now husband) Eric told me he was changing his graduate school plans from law school to seminary I was surprised, but surprisingly unresistant. I certainly had no idea what I was getting myself into. As I adjusted to the idea, I explored his desire to attend seminary before he felt a real call to pastoral ministry. I will never forget what he shared about why he needed to study God’s word full-time for four years – because he felt it was the only thing he could do. I’m so thankful that in the four years he has spent at Westminster Seminary California, God has made his calling stronger and clearer.
Seminary is an intense, immersive period of study for students. It commands more hours than most full-time jobs and is far more emotionally, spiritually, and mentally taxing. But if God has called your husband to ministry, a seminary education is an absolutely irreplaceable step in that process. He will provide the physical and spiritual resources you need to get through it. As a spouse, you can enhance the experience or hinder it.
As I consider my years as a seminary spouse, I want to challenge you to consider this time as real life practice and preparation for gospel-centered service at home, at church, and in the world. Please, please, please don’t resist or resent it. Enjoy it, benefit from it, be supportive of your overwhelmed husband, and learn everything you can. This is not just his time to study, it is also your opportunity to learn from the faculty, and from a unique community of fellow students and their wives involved in the same journey.
I have learned more lessons than I thought I would from our time in the Westminster Seminary community and I thought I’d share just a few in reflection.
1. His mind is engaged in study (his ‘work’) even when it doesn’t look like it.
When we first got married and Eric’s second year of seminary started, I was working hard at a new job and found it difficult to reconcile that his work sometimes involved him sprawled on the couch with books and coffee while I made dinner and did laundry after being in the office all day. I was jealous when he spent time and money going out to lunch with a professor or fellow students, while I ate a sack lunch from home. It took me until nearly the end of his time at seminary to respect and understand how much important education happens outside of the classroom and library. It was not just indulgent selfishness (and we quickly worked out a way to split household chores). But I know that the friendships he has made with the faculty and his fellow students at Westminster are going to be the fuel, encouragement and edification for years of ministry to come. It is for this reason I would urge anyone considering seminary to attend a small seminary, on-campus. The experience is indescribably valuable.
2. Listen first, ask questions next, offer criticism last and sparingly.
I have learned to listen carefully as my husband explains a new concept or exegetical insight from his classes, because I finally realized that his being able to communicate ideas to me allows him to gauge how well he understands the material. It is also my opportunity for theological education and spiritual edification. It has prepared me for a lifetime of learning from him as a spiritual leader both in our home and in a future church.
Especially for couples that come to seminary without a background in the Reformed tradition, it is important to ask questions, seek clarity, and be teachable. Encourage your husband by participating in family worship with an eager heart as you both work through the kinks of your own preferences, habits and schedules.
From painful personal experience, I also learned the value of offering constructive criticism sparingly, carefully, and never the same day as the sermon is preached. Most guys feel drained and disappointed by their weaknesses immediately following their sermon, so encourage first and often by sharing what you learned, how you were fed, and especially, where you heard the gospel clearly.
3. Allow for and encourage his mental energy and time away from studies to pursue hobbies.
Eric realized in his third year his need for an outlet away from seminary. Because I work at WSC, we both spend all day on campus. He learned he needed a break from studies and the seminary community to pursue other interests. For us, this meant he pursued a few hobbies on his own and a few we share (archery, backpacking, and gardening, to name a few).
4. Seminary involves sacrifices, but it is only temporary.
These next two, three, four years will test your faith in a sovereign God, your choice of spouse, your spouse’s choice of career (err, calling). It may test all the things you thought you knew about the Bible and church, and it will test your sanity. You will make enormous sacrifices to attend seminary. You’ll wonder how many more books can possibly fit in your tiny apartment. Or why on earth he needs ALL of them. You will wonder why his professors are torturing him with so much work. There will be a temptation to resent other seminary couples who have more financial aid, better or cheaper housing, fewer semesters left in their program. There will be a temptation to give up when the going gets tough. Seminary life may not be comfortable, but it does not last.
As we have both learned in seminary - in and outside of the classroom - the gospel is not about us, it’s about Christ. And seminary is about learning to make Him known. There is no greater privilege for your husband than to spend these years getting the tools for a lifetime of studying the Bible. Which is why, looking back on my three years in Escondido as a seminary wife, I have deep gratitude to God and to Westminster Seminary California for keeping the gospel at the center of all they do. It was all worth it.
Katie Chappell is the WSC Admissions Coordinator, and soon to be proud wife of one of WSC's 2012 MDiv graduates. These reflections were prepared for a Westminster Women's Fellowship event celebrating graduating women students and student wives, in April 2012. You can find her on Twitter @ktchppll.