The (Unexpected) Path to the Heart & Soul of Marriage Ministry
A Hope for the Helpers Blog
By Paul & Debbie Pierson
While attending an AACC conference, we heard John Townsend say that many churches have a divorce care ministry and some offer premarital counseling. But according to his observation, there wasn’t anything generally offered to the couples in between those. Then he said it was like sending an ambulance to the bottom of the cliff but never putting a guardrail at the top. After that statement, we looked at each other and decided we wanted to be a guardrail.
As soon as we returned home, we submitted a request to be a 501c3 (nonprofit) that would coach marriages. We had been influenced by Larry Crabb in our own journey for years, so it seemed appropriate to call our ministry “Life on Life.” Since the life we had experienced with Larry proved transformative in our journey, we thought maybe we could impact others with our story. It has been one of regret, reflection, and redemption.
We believed in looking at what God was up to by sharing with others what was happening IN us. We shared our journey with addiction, anger, codependency, and loss of intimacy in our marriage. While we were attending a conference to learn more about how we love, we found class materials for Heart & Soul of a Real Marriage. When we picked up the workbook, we learned immediately it was based on the work of Larry Crabb, written by someone who studied under him. It was everything we were saying when we met with couples. But now we had the “picture” for how to fit together the “pieces of the puzzle”!
We began teaching from this book 10 years ago in a class setting. Initially, we thought we were “teaching” Heart & Soul but came to learn we actually were demonstrating it. Each week we brought our own stories with which the class participants could relate. We spoke honestly and vulnerably about our failure & our revelations. It has been our story that gives others hope that maybe their story can be different.
We had a couple come up to us after class once to tell us that they had already called their lawyer for a divorce. But they felt they didn’t have anything to lose if they tried one more thing for their family (four kids, ages 12 & under), so they signed up. She said, “When you guys told us that the first 20 years of your marriage were crap, we looked at each other and said that maybe we were giving up too soon.” They came to every class for 11 weeks and, by the end, took divorce off the table. They are still together. This is one example of WHY we do what we do to help families.
This work is done in community, not with knowledge alone. By sharing our stories of the ups and downs in our marriage, our vulnerability provides a safe place for others to be honest with their journey, which encourages us as well. It is like Larry always said – my spirit pours into yours, and yours pours into mine. We come away from those conversations enriched and enlightened in more ways than any agenda would satisfy.
When we are weary, we also reach out to our peers, and we share what we feel is pulling us into despair or regret. We admit we do not feel we have what it takes to be in any position to share. We know we need perspective outside ourselves when we feel unworthy. And we have experienced those times through tumultuous times with friends or family. This is when we humble ourselves and ask those we respect who also have had times and training with Larry Crabb to help us by listening to our suffering so they can offer their reflection on what God is up to.
When we think back to when we first started to teach, one of our fondest memories is when one of the couples who has experienced the class asked us if she could bring dinner over every Thursday before we taught. She ministered to us by nourishing our bodies and our souls before we poured out our spirit with the people attending the class.
What has helped us in serving others is the time we spend talking beforehand about what we will focus on for a lesson. Since we have always said we will keep it real, we don’t share the same “stories,” because God is up to new revelations in our lives. We have had the privilege of rowing right along with those we are meeting or teaching. We realize over and over we won’t arrive in this life.
Some couples want ways to manage one another rather than looking more deeply at what’s happening in their relationships, and when that’s not what they hear from us, they leave. At times we’ve felt overwhelmed by our own weaknesses. When things have been hard, God has met us in His Word and through trusted friends and couples whose lives were touched by our classes, and we can’t get away from the truth that there was a larger story happening in our journey.
“We can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit.” Romans 5:5, The Message
When we believe this – when we trust His TRUTH – we can continue to sit in our weakness , darkness, doubtfulness. God is more than enough!
“School of Spiritual Direction & Next Step alumni Paul & Debbie Pierson have been married for over 48 years and have 4 adult children, 3 “in-law kids,” and 8 grandchildren.” Certified marriage coaches, they lead Life On Life.