When I first read A. W. Tozer in college, his writings gave me freedom to pursue God and speak of God in a way that I thought was frowned upon during that time. Without me knowing, he became my dead theologian whom discipled me from afar.
Once I entered into a focused tutelage “under him,” I began collecting additional writings by him. In addition, I found two biographies to learn more about his life.
While his passion for God was deeper than I imagined, his dedication to his family broke my heart.
In learning from the positive sides of his example, I also sought to learn from what was lacking in his personal life.
I learned that there was no scandal. He never was accused of some type of immorality that discredited his ministry among his congregation. That was a welcomed example.
Tozer as a Family Man
What was frightening was his mediocre attempts at loving his wife and shepherding his children. They never seemed to be prone to rebellion or lashed out in anger, but they were dissatisfied. They were left wanting. They were lonely.
When reading Dorsett’s biography on him, I was floored at a comment made by Tozer’s wife about him after his death. They had moved to Toronto in the 1950s.
“To be sure, Ada had more freedom for her visitation and prayer ministry because the children were gone. And, while Aiden had fewer responsibilities as a pastor in Canada, he seems to have devoted little if any more of his newfound freedom to his wife of forty-five years. Prayer, preaching, writing, travel, and mentoring young men took up most of hi hours, leaving no time to develop the marital intimacy that they had both learned to live without” (158).
The State of the Family at His Death
On Sunday morning, May 12, 1959, Tozer’s chest pains sent him to the hospital.
“Ada spent several hours with him on Sunday, but at his insistence, she returned home that night to rest while he anticipated a good night’s sleep before the battery of tests scheduled for Monday morning” (158).
Aiden Wilson Tozer died at 12:45 a.m. that night.
He had just turned 66. Ada was 64.
“Now more alone than ever, she had little money in the bank. Never having known about the family finances, she learned upon Aiden’s death that he had routinely given half of his salary back to the church every month. Furthermore, he had eschewed seeking the provisions provided by the C&MA to build up a pension fund, and he had signed an agreement with Christian Publications in 1959 that relinquished his rights to royalties on paperback editions of Pursuit of God, Root of the Righteous, and Born after Midnight—his biggest-selling books with that publisher” (159).
When she did gather together what was available, she had $5,000 in life insurance and $7,000 in savings. Taking into consideration, that would come out to $107,000 in 2021. He didn’t leave her in the best shape to navigate life as a widow.
The Aftermath of Tozer’s Death
Tozer had encouraged his wife to reach out to Leonard Odam before he passed for help. It turned out that this widower and Ada found great joy in each other’s companionship and were married a year later.
“For ten years Ada and Leonard enjoyed life together. From all accounts, including her letters to friends, this second marriage brought Ada fulfillment, joy, and a sense of freedom she hadn’t experienced before” (160).
While all of these tidbits are difficult to read, I haven’t gotten to the clincher yet. Are you ready?
“During the years 1964 to 1974 several people who were close to Ada lovingly inquired about her happiness. Her responses were consistent:
‘I have never been happier in my life. Aiden loved Jesus Christ, but Leonard Odam loves me'” (160).
The Gaping Legacy
It is difficult to imagine a more loaded statement. I praise God that a wife of decades knew that her husband loved Jesus, but it pains me that she never felt loved by him.
Was he so bound up in ministry? Was he so enraptured with what he was learning?
How painfully lacking is his example if he loved Jesus so well but failed to love the wife for which Christ died.
Ministry leaders, in your pursuit of Jesus, be thorough in your approach. No area is off limits. Pay attention to what he highlights. And when you decided to marry and parent, God has given you a blessed responsibility and privilege that one of your highest callings would be that of complete and thorough integrity.
Live in such a way that your family has no doubt that you loved Jesus and them well.
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.