In September my husband and I will have been married for 25 years. And that’s no testimony to our skill, secrets or practices. We’ve done just about everything wrong. And making it this long is no guarantee that we’ll make it another 25 years. When our friends ask how we’er doing, I tell them our marriage is healthier than it’s ever been. Nevertheless, the past tries to swallow me in a mire. And my previous attempts at holding tightly to our vows- as though they are the grace that saves me- have proven my idolatry.
Listening to Rachel Welcher yesterday on a Grace Covers Me podcast by Christine Hoover I heard a few things that struck a chord with me. Rachel is a woman who has at least in part walked a mile in my shoes. In listening to her story I echoed amens and scratched down a bunch of thoughts. Here’s five I thought were beneficial for all marriages:
- Just because you’ve done everything right, doesn’t mean everything will turn out right. Describing how she met her now ex-husband, Rachel, she talks about how she tried to do everything, “by the books.” She did what she was taught was wise and godly in dating and picking the right person to marry. Yet her marriage still ended in a divorce she didn’t want. She brings up a great point: There’s a prosperity gospel theology undergirding the idea that if we do all the right things our marriages will turn out great. It’s not true. You can do all the right things and God’s will for you can be suffering and even divorce. Like Rachel, I too wrestle with how it works theologically that God can hate divorce and it still be somehow part of his sovereign will that you walk through a divorce. I may not understand but it’s true. The fact that we will suffer and experience blessing even in walking through things God hates does not mean we shouldn’t make wise decisions in dating and marriage. Our motivation is not freedom from suffering. Our motivation is love of God. We obey because we love God, not so that God will bless us. For the Christian the blessing in suffering in a hard marriage or even in loosing your marriage is that God is near to you.
- Living with the looming possibility that your spouse might decide that the two of you are just too different now. Rachel talked about the torture of living in this limbo state where you know your spouse is considering a divorce. It’s interesting to me that we who have experienced this uneasy limbo in our marriages attribute our lack of control of the destiny of our marriages to our hard marriage situations. God has taught (is teaching) me over the years that no marriage is a guarantee. The truth is even the best and healthiest of marriages could be completely destroyed by one or the other’s decision at any time. Living in a marriage with an unbeliever these 25 year has taught me to live with open hands to God’s will. 1 Corinthians 7:12-16 gives specific help for believers married to unbelievers who want to leave the marriage, but the message in that chapter is also for all marriages: Let go of clinging to the shadow of marriage (vs. 29-31). Rachel’s description of the torn feeling of whether to focus on being a wife or, “… prepare for inconceivable heartache,” is a reality for people in hard marriages. But it’s also a reality for any marriage. Rachel’s friend’s advice,”You won’t ever regret loving him too much during this time,” is good for every marriage. As Rachel said, “While you’re married, your heart’s in your marriage.”
- It’s not your responsibility to convince or save your spouse. 1 Peter 3 has been a go-to passage for me these 25 years of marriage. As I wrote in my piece at Desiring God, my desire to win my husband to Christ with my Christ-changed life is something, by God’s grace I will try to do until I die- whether we’re married or not. But Rachel talked about how the message some people delivered her way was that if she did the right things she might be able to save her husband. I know what she means. Over the years I’ve heard the same message. Maybe you should invite him to such and such. Maybe he should read this book. Maybe he should go to that movie. Have you taken him to that church? Would he go out to poker night with me? I’ve tried everything to “win” my husband in my own power. But Peter’s call to seek to win your husband is a call to be a light not a call to be your husband’s savior. I know the pressure Rachel speaks of, but I think the message of 1 Peter 3 is that even if we loose our spouses to divorce, while we are married, we should give our hearts to loving God and loving our husbands in such a way that desires to win them to Christ.
- Living with shame in your marriage. Rachel talks about how her divorce was her identity for a season after she lost her marriage. I feel like I’ve wrestled with that recurring climate in my marriage for 25 years. When you’re in a hard marriage that’s been hurt by each other’s sin, divorce, differences of faith, etc., the pain can be so overwhelming that it’s the key landmark by which you identify your life. But the shame of brokenness in our marriages and in our lives is not what Christ wants to leave us with. We can take our shame to him and learn to live out of the identity of who we are in Christ. The brokenness in your marriage doesn’t define you. Christ does. I have to feed myself that truth daily, several times a day, in season and out of season.
- You must be fueling your own relationship with God. Rachel mentions having been in the midst of privately writing essays on Job for two years when her husband filed for divorce. She was able to draw on what she knew of God during that terrible time because of her time in the scripture. Whether our marriages are broken by divorce, differences of faith, past sins and failures, or just the everyday sins and failures that make lifetime companionship with another person hard, we, like Rachel, can be steadied through the various seasons of our life knowing God can allow us to suffer and be good at the same time. But to know this kind of steadfast love we must feed our relationship with God by being in his word. Meditating on it day and night. Wrestling with it. Praying it. Daily.