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For Your Marriage

Josh and Stacey Noem have been married for almost 20 years and have three children in middle school and high school. They blog about parenting and their adventures as a family.

I Belong to You

I’ve been away from home for the past few weeks working in the heart of a nuclear power plant.

We are saving money for a down payment on a house, and with all three kids in school, it is not a huge stretch for our family to allow me to take on a side job like this for a few weeks at a time. It is a tight schedule for Stacey to get them to school and pick them up, and squeeze her workday in between, but we’ve been making it work because it is a good way to build up some savings.

When we were newlyweds, I did this kind of work on a few occasions. I am on a crew that travels to nuclear power plants while they are shut down for routine maintenance. This crew specializes in cleaning a specific part of the reactor. I’m joining the crew to work on two reactor sites near our home in Indiana—one job we completed earlier this month and another begins next week.

The pay is very good, and there is lag time involved as each site has to train everyone on procedures and safety measures. This allows me time to keep up with my regular freelance writing. Plus, it is interesting work, with interesting people.

Still, it has been every bit of the disruption to family routine that we expected it to be.

I remember having a very strange sensation when I left for the job, pulling away from our house in a rental car. I was all by myself—I had no one else to consider in deciding my route or if I had to stop for a bathroom break. I didn’t have to think about how to keep children occupied for a few hours in the car. I was on my own, and it felt weird.

When I got home, I had the distinct feeling that I was stepping back into an important identity. After being on my own, it felt good to be swimming with the current of family life again, helping our kids with homework and assisting Stacey with dinner planning. I remembered that I belong to these people.

Of course, I hadn’t forgotten that I am a husband and father while I was away, but my experience was not tethered to those realities in any way. Finding those lines of connection again felt fresh and familiar. Those lines are constraining in a way—I can’t make my own decisions about how to shape my day because I am responsible for and to four other people. Those lines are also freeing and fulfilling because they are the lines that anchor me to my truest and deepest identity.

I think all parents and spouses fantasize about life without the routines and responsibilities of family life. It was an interesting contrast to skip around without being tied to family rhythms for a short time, but it also felt shallow. I felt like I was pretending, and the freedom I experienced was empty. I had the distinct impression that it would quickly get old.

Absolute freedom is an illusion—every life has its constraints. We are free, though, to choose the kind of restraints we use to shape our lives. For those of us called to the vocation of marriage and family life, those restraints are simply the threads that weave the fabric of family life. Restraints seen in this light become less like chains and more like wings. I know the constraints of marriage and family have transformed me and taken me to new places.

It became clear to me in the past week that my family helps me become the person I was created to be. They call out of me patience and compassion and service—love, in a word—and this love calls me to goodness, to become a clearer reflection of the image of God.