photo by andy.w2008A.W. Tozer is one of my spiritual heroes. I'm now in my fourth decade of reading his incisive, literary books and essays, and have greatly benefited from his other-worldly perspective. Sadly, Tozer did not attain hero status in the eyes of his wife.
A portrait of the marriage of A.W. and Ada Tozer is chronicled in Tozer's biography, A Passion for God by Lyle Dorsett. Tozer's entry into the "deeper life," the place of mystical communion with God for which he was so respected, was birthed in the living room of his (then future) Mother-in-law. The young Tozer received the baptism of the Holy Spirit as a result of this woman's influence, an enduement of heavenly power that would launch him into a fruitful, lifelong ministry as preacher, prophet, and penman for God.
Ada was a lovely and very suitable marriage partner for the young, serious, and largely untrained preacher. Possessing a godly family heritage, she was both literate and wise. One can easily see how her gifts complemented her husband's drive and desire to be self educated and effective in using pulpit and pen.
It is unclear to me whether Ada and A.W. were ever truly soul mates. From the beginning, it seemed that A.W. had one burning desire: to know God. Everything else was incidental. In reading the early history of their marriage I almost felt out-of-breath as I traced A.W.'s course. He accepted calls to preach at the drop of a hat and sometimes Ada was left behind to secure her own passage as best she could manage. The telling of the story made me feel as though there was never time for them to focus on each other or build a strong marital foundation.
Through the decades, Ada seemed always to be two steps behind A. W. She had to secure transportation to church services as best she could by depending on others, since her husband refused to purchase an automobile. Sometimes she walked a considerable distance to church and arrived shivering from the cold, harsh Chicago winter.
Struggling with the elements was only a small part of what Ada had to deal with. Being the one partner who was always home with their seven children, her management skills were honed to the maximum in order to stretch a "half sized" paycheck to cover daily necessities for the growing brood. Why was this popular preacher's paycheck only half sized? Because A.W. disdained money. He usually returned half of his paycheck back to the church and often refused pay increases.
Most likely, A.W. Tozer was never purposely ill-intentioned toward his wife and family, but he was so singly focused on spiritual matters that his managing of practical matters bordered on insensitivity. How do two people thrive in a marriage when, for years and years, they live and move and breathe in entirely different spheres, when one is feasting on living ideas and stimulating conversations and the other is left to feast on macaroni and cheese day after day?
If Ada did not thrive, she survived. She had too much dignity to complain openly or denigrate her husband. She "made do" on cheap food, by begging rides or taking public transportation, and to her credit even extended herself to others less fortunate than herself. But by all accounts, her life exuded a marked lack of joy.
Meanwhile, A.W. was thriving in his sphere of ministry. He spent countless hours on his knees in prayer, purportedly the secret to his heavenly perspective, his powerful preaching, and his prolific writing. Young people, especially college students, benefited greatly from his ministry and he had countless speaking and conference engagements.
As I was considering the contrast between husband and wife's circumstances, it struck me that the rich writing that I have hungrily devoured was purchased at the expense of Mrs. A.W. Tozer, all of which leads me to ask: could it have been different? If the Tozer's had enjoyed a sizzling marriage, would his focus have shifted? Would his brilliant spiritual perspective have been pulled down to mediocrity? Dare I ask....would it have been better for a man like A.W. Tozer to remain unmarried?
Because I am a pastor's wife, or perhaps only because I am a woman, my sympathies are aroused and I am indignant for Ada Tozer. My mind envisions how wrongs might have been remedied and inwardly I scold Ada's insensitive husband. Then the counter arguments present themselves; great things are achieved at great cost. Both members of the marriage sacrificed themselves in different ways, and as this biography reveals, even the greatest and best among us are still only flawed earthen vessels.
A.W. said, toward the end of his life, "I've had a lonely life."
Hauntingly, Ada's recorded words were very similar: "No one knew what a lonely life I had."
There is a sense of sadness when one reads those words. Surely the difficult circumstances were not insurmountable, surely God intended joy in the midst of such circumstances. Why did they fail to penetrate the loneliness, to share the joy?
My personal experience leads me to believe that loneliness can be endured if there are sure occasions of emotional connection to look forward to. When those connecting times wane, I think that the human soul seeks to build a protective shell around the heart, a shield against the pain of loneliness. A vicious cycle is established---it becomes increasingly difficult to bridge the barrier between two beating hearts. The story of A.W. and Ada Tozer gives me renewed impetus to keep and hold sacred regular times of connecting emotionally with my beloved. Youth can rely on spontaneity, but as the years go by and responsibilities increase it takes a purposeful effort to guard spaces of time set apart for strengthening the tie that binds.
I am left with a profound sense of gratitude to both A.W. and Ada Tozer for their sacrifices and gifts that continue to strengthen my spiritual life. I am also left with the great certainty that in spite of the joy they may have missed in this life, there is a Biblical guarantee that
"Those who sow in tears
Shall reap in joy"