By Melissa Parnell
(Editor’s Note: Melissa is the wife of Jonathan Parnell, author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary. Many men who enter seminary have a wife and often children. We wanted to hear how Melissa was able to maintain her faith during those grueling years.)
It was a miracle — is a miracle — that my husband and I both stayed Christian in seminary. In reality, it’s a miracle that any Christian stays Christian every day. We know that Jesus is the one behind our salvation from start to finish, and in all the in-between, which included for us five years of theological education.
Most of that education happened in a land far away from where we both grew up, far from our family and the close friends we had made in college, and far from our church and the key relationships that we counted on for encouragement and prayer. Looking back, it’s hard to believe we stepped into that situation with anything but fear.
I remember how Mark 3:34–35 landed on us the days before we set sail for school. Jesus said that his family was made up of those who do the Father’s will. We knew we had to bank on that. We knew that’s all we’d have — a lot people we had never met but who (if they did God’s will) would be our family. That’s what happened, too.
I could tell you many more markers along the way in which God proved his faithfulness to me. Like in the conversations my husband and I had about how difficult life at home was getting with two small children and how I felt like he was always in a book. That’s how I felt, so that’s what I shared (which was a miracle), and he heard me (another miracle). He saw my needs. He loved me. He put his book down when our girls wanted his attention and he gave me nights out whenever I needed them. And when I started having complications with my third pregnancy, our son who was born six weeks premature just less than a month before finals, my husband stopped studying and bombed Hebrew. It was tough, but I had never felt more loved by him.
God, in his kindness, worked in these situations and opened my eyes to see his faithful hand in action. His faithfulness was an anchor when I felt homesick. It was an anchor when winter lasted four months longer than I wanted. He was my anchor.
There were times when my heart felt so cold and blind and exhausted that, quite frankly, I didn’t care what God was calling us to do. I just wanted to get the schooling over. It didn’t matter where we were going, I just wanted to get out of the classes and homework and deadlines. But God was faithful. He was patient with me. He was steadfast in love. He wasn’t put off by my frustrations because he had an irreversible claim of love on my life. He kept me — is keeping me. He opened my eyes to his nearness, to his immeasurable grace toward me in Jesus. It was a miracle. That’s how I stayed Christian while my husband was in seminary.
When I think about how this looks on the practical, real-life level there are three main things that come to mind. These are a few means of grace that I recommend to others wives, whether they’re flourishing through their husband’s study, or struggling to hang on.
1. Remember God’s promises
From the beginning, God set out to make himself a people, a treasured possession (Deut 7:6). He has shown us his love, demonstrating it to us most vividly in the death of his Son in our place (Rom 5:8). Jesus died the death we deserve, he conquered the grave that should swallow us with no return. He now reigns and is utterly, eternally committed to our good.
His words are fixed and powerful and bring forth life (Psalm 119:89–93). He has promised to bless us all the days of our lives. He is strong enough to turn even the worst of circumstances for our good (Gen. 50:20). And not only that, he has put in our hearts a fear that will keep us from ever turning away no matter what waters we pass through (Jer 32:40). In Christ, we can’t make God love us any more, or any less (Rom 8:37–39). The Father who did not even spare his own Son will in him give graciously in all things (Rom 8:32). We are his. He who began his good work in us will bring it to completion (Phil 1:6).
Read his word. Remember his promises. Retell them to yourself over and over and over. Cling to what Jesus has secured for you through his life, death, resurrection, and continual reign. You are so very much his, powerfully his. You have all you need to survive life in seminary in him.
2. Surround yourself with gospel community
Make sure you are in a local church, where the word is faithfully preached, the ordinances are rightly observed, and you are surrounded with Christ-centered community. Even in the midst of our most chaotic moments, things felt hopeful because we had brothers and sisters around us who loved us and graciously pointed us to the gospel. They helped get our eyes off our struggles and standards and wants, and they consistently reoriented our aim to be about knowing Jesus and making him known.
3. Communicate, pray, communicate, pray
I couldn’t count the times we had repeated conversations about how we felt. Some went good, some didn’t. They certainly weren’t cookie-cutter conversations. But the most obvious grace to us was the simple fact that we kept talking. Brick walls in our communication didn’t stop me from trying to explain how I felt, nor did it keep my husband from trying to hear. It was in this place, in the nitty-gritty details of our marriage covenant, that God’s love felt especially sweet. We found safety there. I knew he wanted my honesty, as raw as it was at times. I could process what I was thinking and he could handle it. And somehow, this simple, unremarkable reality did so much for us, particularly for me.
But not only did I open up to my husband, I opened up to my Father. I told God how I felt, what I was going through. I prayed about my worries, often like the psalmists—confused, desperate, and hungering for hope. I learned to recount God’s faithfulness, to remember what Jesus has done, to know I was sustained only by his grace, which was a miracle — is a miracle.
Melissa Parnell is a wife to Jonathan and a stay-at-home mom to four delightful (most of the time) children. She is a Minnesotan with a Southern-accent who majored in English at the College at Southeastern in Wake Forest, NC. She loves anything by C. S. Lewis and is allergic to Winter.
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