By: Jenni Walker
“Behold, I will do a new thing. Now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)
“There are moments that the words don’t reach, there is grace too powerful to name…” (It’s Quiet Uptown lyrics, Lin-Manuel Miranda)
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I love being married. I. LOVE. IT. It probably helps that I am married to THE Bryan Walker who not only mows the lawn without being asked, is a prayer warrior, and keeps me laughing, but who also says “I love you” every time before he hangs up the phone, opens my car door like a gallant gentleman, makes me feel heard when I talk or share a story from my day, and gently wipes my tears when I cry.
Kind of sounds like a fairytale, doesn’t it? Like I said, I love being married to this man! Yet I can tell you that in the dynamics of our marriage over the years, there have also been some times of tremendous transition and difficulty, many that we faced together but also a few in which we were not-so-together. In one of her letters to her engaged daughter Valerie, Elisabeth Elliot writes that one day if she found herself facing something unexpected or difficult within her marriage, that in those times she needed to remember that “you married him for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, and those tremendous promises took into account the possibility of radical change. That was why promises were necessary.” (Let Me Be a Woman) No matter how wonderful our husband is or how prepared we might be, life can throw us curveballs and present us with unexpected or unwelcome difficulties. What are we supposed to do in the times that we find our marriage is in the midst of them?
TWO KINDS OF DIFFICULTY
There are two common kinds of difficulty faced within marriage. The first involves difficulties that couples choose to face together such as the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job, unexpected transitions, illness, communication about finances or family, etc. When a husband and wife lean on one another in the midst of these kinds of difficulties and face them together, they are truly living out their vows in unity and in ministry to one another. They go through the challenges as one, as “heirs together of the grace of life,” leaning on the Lord and on each other. How much easier the ups and the downs of this life are to walk through hand-in-hand with our God-given spouse!
However, there is also a second kind of difficulty that can be lonely to face and at times even scary or heart-wrenching. This kind of difficulty involves times when one or both spouses experience unreconciled discord within the relationship. What is a woman to do if the dynamics of her marriage are going in a direction that causes pain, uncertainty, disappointment, disunity, or even just an unspoken distance between her and her husband? I am old enough now to have seen women firsthand walk through times when their husbands began questioning their faith, not attending church, battling pornography, withdrawing from family after an unexpected job transition, becoming consumed by isolating depression, choosing to prioritize hobbies over family, or even harboring secret sin or addiction.
It is this second kind of difficulty that I would like us to take a hard and honest look at together today. What are you supposed to do if there is an area of disunity that seems irreconcilable? If you are inwardly unsettled about something with your spouse? If you feel that the leader of your marriage is not acting as such? If you witness spiritual, physical, or financial stagnation or compromise? Or there is an area that you just cannot seem eye-to-eye? These sorts of situations can create an unsettling, often painful strain in marriage, and we can find ourselves experiencing a very real foreboding feeling (that can sneak up so suddenly!) that we are alone in certain parts of our marital union.
As a wholehearted woman who is fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and who is courageously on-mission for His purposes in your life and in your marriage, there are several powerful decisions you can make in the midst of difficulties that may be causing ongoing tension or pain between you and your husband:
1) HOPE IN GOD
“Why are you cast down, O my soul? And why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” (Psalm 43:5) In even mere moments of difficulty and misunderstandings with our husbands, how easy it is to grow disquieted in our souls! In these times, big and small, we must be intentional to put our hope in the Lord in that area, to not lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6), and not allow that one area to produce negative attitudes or responses that seep into other areas of our marriage.
I remember in my own marriage that my husband’s and my convictions about what to watch on television and how much time doing so varied a lot early on. We knew this going into our marriage and had already communicated about it even during our premarital counseling. My husband grew up in a family where the television was on most of the time in the background and family time on weekends often involved going to the movies together, while I grew up in a home where we got to choose a single half-hour show to watch on weekdays and maybe (maybe!) one full-length, family-friendly movie at home on the weekend.
This led to a stark difference of opinions in how we used our time when home together when we were first married and in what we both felt comfortable in our conscience about watching. I remember a few conversations in particular where I felt frustrated because I felt like what I was communicating was not being understood or received, and Bryan in turn felt hurt because he felt as though I was criticizing his upbringing, his family, and his decisions about his time usage. In those times, we worked hard not to get offended or to speak in disrespectful ways to one another. But even with well-intentioned communication, I have memories of us sitting there feeling like there was a distance between us on that topic – and that feeling was scary. Usually it took an hour or two of listening, biting our tongues, offering affirmation, and even just agreeing to disagree as we finally kissed and made up. But even so, some of the moments in the middle of a disagreement like that made us both feel somewhat alone.
Now here we are a few years later, and it is amazing how God has helped this to become an area of agreement. I have become more flexible in my willingness to just relax together with some Netflix or a movie and have also worked to embrace more of the games that are important to my husband to watch during football season. In turn, Bryan has some convictions now about what he watches that he did not have when we first got married, and we also have been developing the intentional habit of not turning on any shows until a designated time in the evening on weekdays.
While this example of finding a consensus about television usage may sound trivial, there were times that it felt anything but that. I truly had to make the decision when we did not see eye-to-eye to not grow frustrated but to choose to surrender the outcome to the Lord. I had to choose to put my hope in GOD! No matter how strong a marriage is, one of the scariest parts is the fact that we cannot control the other member of the marriage. I had to remember that my husband does, indeed, love the Lord and seeks God through His Word and time in prayer. It was up to God to work on the two of us in this area, and I had to leave the rest up to Him. No matter the nature of the difficulty you might be facing, you can always put your hope in God!
2) WITHOUT A WORD
I remember several years ago sitting at an Olive Garden in Bloomington, Minnesota with Allie, a dear childhood friend. We only see each other an average of once a year and had a lot to catch up on. I recall that we were sharing how important we both felt it was to be encouraging to our husbands and to lift them up even in times when we might feel frustrated about something. In a beautiful display of transparency, she shared with me how her husband had stopped regularly going to church for a while and how she felt she needed to keep honoring and loving him even in that uncertain time.
1 Peter 3:1-2 advises wives specifically about what to do in a situation like this, saying “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe your chase conduct accompanied by fear.” (1 Peter 3:1-2) Allie chose to walk through that time in her own marriage with a quiet strength. She could have despaired, nagged, or given ultimatums about his church attendance. But instead, she put this command from 1 Peter into practice, to fear the Lord, and seek Him above all else and to PRAY for her husband! (Check out the rest of ALLIE’S STORY HERE: http://wp.me/P8h8cl-8Z !) In times like these, when the man we know and love may struggle with issues of faith, morality, and priorities, our decision to continue to love and honor our husbands can be a powerful tool that God uses to work in their hearts. As 1 Peter 3:2 reminds us, it is “without a word [that husbands] may be won by the conduct of their wives, when they observe [their] chaste conduct accompanied by fear.” Not sure what that “chaste conduct accompanied by fear” is supposed to look like? I suggest starting with Romans 12:10-12: “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing In hope, patient [and persevering] in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer.”
One more thought: This is not about a formula but, rather about a state of the heart. It is painful to see a spouse withdraw from the Lord or to begin to make even small compromises. We looked in part one of this topic (found here: http://wp.me/p8h8cl-8A) at how our role as wives is not just to be timid and silent but to support, honor, and encourage our husbands, and even to initiate discussion with them about a variety of topics. But if you have already prayerfully, lovingly, and honestly tried to communicate about a topic with your husband and have not been able to come to a consensus and you both still disagree, or he begins making choices that demonstrate compromise, lack of focus, or disordered priorities, what are you to do? Pray for the state of both of your hearts! I can tell you that very rarely does true heart change come from ongoing nagging, fretting, or chastising from even a well-meaning wife. (Would that produce heart change for you?) Pray about how to communicate effectively with him to be sure, but when you find yourself seeming to hit a brick wall or he is not receptive, bring it to the Lord. Seek to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit about your conduct in your marriage, keep a humble heart, and remember that 1 Peter 3:1-2 is not only a command but a promise!
3) ENDURANCE AND ENCOURAGEMENT
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6) No matter what, in both the smooth and the difficult times, receive endurance and encouragement from the Lord first and foremost. Keep pressing in to relationship with one another. As much as depends on you, do not withdraw affection, love, or companionship from your husband even if your heart is feeling the pain of some sort of difficulty between the two of you. And when either of you is experiencing a personal difficulty such as a job loss, ongoing demands of childrearing, unexpected transitions, and on and on, grab hands and walk through those times together!
It is also important to have a community of believers who we can lean on for encouragement and support as well. These can be like-minded friends, trusted family members, pastors and mentors, or even professional counsel. Some problems in marriage are short-lived, while others are stickier and can be more difficult to overcome or have long-lasting effects. It is important to use wisdom as you navigate through these times while still loving and honoring your spouse. (Note: In more extreme situations such as abuse, threat of divorce, unrepentant infidelity, terminal illness, mental health challenges, or even loss of a spouse to divorce or death, it is incredibly important to seek both godly and professional counsel! Do not put off seeking help for you and for your marriage!)
And no matter what, continue to persevere and to receive encouragement from the Lord and His Word. Do not let your heart grow hard in response to pain, disappointment, or uncertainty. Yesterday I read an article that a friend of mine posted on Facebook that explores how easy it is to start to justify unloving responses to our spouses such as tearing them down with our words, letting bitterness or resentment to fester, refusing to forgive even after a problem has been resolved, and so on. The author of this particular article (found here: http://www.faithwire.com/2017/08/05/the-one-thing-guaranteed-to-end-all-marriages/) points out that “it’s work to see your spouse as a gift and to be diligent to treat them like one…even when, or should I say, especially when, they don’t deserve it. It’s work to defer your own preferences, your own agenda, and your own feelings in order to pursue unity.” But doing this kind of work as we receive endurance and encouragement from the Lord (Romans 15:5-6) helps to keep our hearts soft even in painful times in our marriages.
How do we do this? Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” Meg Wallace, author of the article I was reading yesterday, sums up well for us how to keep a soft heart, to receive encouragement from the Lord, and to foster a spirit of unity, saying: “Look carefully for what might be deeper. Is there loneliness? fear? shame? rejection? Ask God to give you a heart that seeks to truly listen, love, repent, forgive, pursue, and serve first. Ask Him to fill you with all joy and peace and to give you resolve to love like Jesus does.” (Meg Wallace, www.faithwire.com) No matter what, keep loving your husband with the love of Jesus, the kind of love that is only in His strength – it is only His love that never fails!
In closing, marriage is designed to be a beautiful picture of God’s love and grace to a world in desperate need of Him. It is also a day-in, day-out opportunity for ministry as husband and wife to love, honor, and cherish one another. But the members of a Christian marriage are also two sinners saved by grace. Even in the midst of the dynamics of difficulties that can be faced in marriage at times, both big and small, it is that grace sustains us! Ultimately, we cannot do marriage on our own – we need God and we need our spouse! If you are in the midst of something difficult between you and your husband right now, don’t do the despairing shoulder-shrug and think to yourself, I guess this is how it is going to be. Keep a hopeful and humble heart, keep relying on the grace found through the work of Jesus and on the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, and remember that our Lord can make a way even when there seems to be no way!
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