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13th in a series on long marriages
Frustrated, Pastor Robert Hall walked into the hospital. He’d come to visit a dying church member but hadn’t been able to get the day off from his landscaping job. When he finally made it to the hospital, the man’s room was empty: He had already died.
“Something snapped in me,” Hall recalls. He told God, “I’m not doing what You’ve called me to do well. This is ridiculous.”
The pastor’s bivocational life was taking an enormous toll. Hall was working 50 hours a week, pastoring a small church, and raising three kids with his wife, Juanita. He had never been to seminary. He’d helped another man plant the church, but after a year, that pastor left. With around 40 people and a desire to do God’s will, Robert became the church’s pastor in 1987, working to support himself and his family.
But he was doing too much, and his anger threatened to blow up his marriage: Pride prevented his asking for help or receiving Juanita’s correction.
One night Robert reprimanded his son for speaking disrespectfully to his mother, and the boy responded, “Why not? You do.” Another time, the couple had a heated argument in a room at the church building. A parishioner heard raised voices and opened the door. Robert told him to get out, and the couple continued arguing. By then, Robert says, he felt for the first time like Juanita was not on his side.
“Until the man involved is willing to admit, ‘I’m wrong—I’m in sin—this is me that’s the problem’ ... it’s very difficult to find healing,” he says.
In 1993, a “self-confrontation” class from the Biblical Counseling Foundation opened Robert’s eyes: At one point, he started crying and said, “I’m an angry man. I am a terribly angry man.” He began memorizing Scripture to address his anger and asking forgiveness for the times he blew up at others.
Meanwhile, Juanita was rethinking what it meant to be Robert’s helper. She considered why she corrected her children: She loved them and didn’t want any to “grow up to be a bratty little kid that no one likes.” She realized she was not loving her husband well if she did not honestly correct his sin. She began graciously confronting him, beginning with, “Honey, you know that I love you. …”
Robert began pausing to pray and disconnect from work before he came home each evening. Once, he forgot and started complaining when he entered the house. Juanita asked if he’d prayed, and he said no and walked back outside. After praying, he came in and she greeted him as if he’d just arrived. “The kids are looking at us like we’re crazy,” he recalls. “But it worked.” He says his wife’s support and teamwork made a difference.
In 1995 the elders of his church, Calvary Rio Rancho, told Robert to choose between landscaping and pastoring. So Robert sold his part of the business, and in five years the church grew from 140 to 900 people. Today Robert, 73, serves as pastor emeritus. He leads the church’s Trail Life USA and American Heritage Girls programs and its school, Rio Rancho Elementary. He and Juanita, 70, are celebrating 50 years of marriage.