Learn from my mistakes

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I’ve been married for over 26 years to a man I deeply love, a man who doesn’t love Jesus with me. Through our hard marriage, God has helped me see the error of my ways and led me in better ways when it comes to loving my husband.  This morning, one of the typical tests I’ve faced, and frequent mistake I make, came up. My husband was watching a YouTube video and said, “Hey, did you know a bunch of Christians believe the earth is flat?”

My first instinct was to roll my eyes and argue.  I didn’t think before I spoke this morning, or even pray. I just started laying into how ridiculous it was that he was getting his information about Christians from YouTube. I tried to win an argument with him and then walked away exasperated, wondering if I’d ever get to experience the joy of worshiping Jesus with the man I’ve loved since I was 17.

Here’s a married-to-an-unbeliever life hack for you: When your unbelieving spouse wants to argue with you about unimportant or controversial issues, you may be tempted to try and win an argument. Don’t do it. Jesus shows us a better way.

This morning, while I was pouting in my bedroom after arguing with my husband about faith, science, Christianity and credible resources for information, Jesus’ words came to mind.

“…as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:35

Getting ready for today’s Thanksgiving feast, asking God, “How long?!” for the seven billionth time, God’s word gently and powerfully reminded me there is a way to love unbelievers: The way Jesus loved me!  In that passage in John, Jesus was about to suffer the condemnation of all my sin, and all his disciples’ sin in his own body, and he bent down and washed feet, even the feet of the one who would betray him. He didn’t love them by arguing with them about petty things. He loved them by serving them and bearing the pain of their sin in his body.

There is no magic argument that will win your unbelieving spouse, relative or friend to Jesus. There is no Petri dish of circumstances you can create that will grow faith in them. If your spouse or child or neighbor or friend or relative bends their knee to Christ and worships him it will be an absolute miracle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything. You and I should do what Jesus leads us to do and what the Bible tells us to do and then offer up our faith and obedience to God, praying he would light it on fire, and save our loved ones.  We should follow Jesus example, and with his power at work in us, put down our arguments (even if we could win them), and instead just vulnerably love and serve the unbelievers we are in relationship with.

We must love our spouses well, and entrust them to God.

Today after confessing I’d been a jerk, I told my husband, ” I love you. I wish you believed Jesus and followed him with me. I don’t want to argue with you… What time do you want to eat our feast?!” It’s vulnerable and tender to speak the truth like that. But it’s the way Jesus loves.

Yesterday I received my copy of the winter edition of The Joyful Life Magazine: Treasure. In it, there is an article titled: Marriage: When the Yoke Is Unequal.I wrote it. Sometime in early 2020 the Daily Grace podcast will publish a podcast interview with me on this same subject.  I never wanted to grow up and be a woman who wrote and spoke about my hard marriage. I wanted to be an author, or an archaeologist. I thought I’d write children’s books or poetry or dig up old things out of the dirt. I didn’t think I’d dig up treasures out of the ashes of my life and write or speak about them. But here I am, blogging, writing and speaking about my mistakes, what I’m learning and the treasures and trials I’ve found as I bend my knee to Jesus under this unequal yoke.

I hope these blogs, articles and the coming podcast will help you follow Jesus in your circumstances. I hope they’ll give you courage.

Where the beauty of God is found: Meditation on Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! -Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 ESV

Last summer, after a week long vacation with my family on the Mogollon Rim in eastern Arizona, I found myself pouting as we drove away from the beauty of Pine, Fir, Spruce, hidden lakes, quiet, sites of elk, bear and deer in the wild, and a visiting hummingbird on our cabin porch every morning. I knew we were heading back to the hot desert valley and “real” life where the everyday issues that arise from marriage, raising children, work, housekeeping, bills, friends, neighbors, family, church, etc. were going to have to be faced. My husband drove and I wallowed in pity as I stared out the car window watching the high elevation scenery give way to desert. Hot tears broke through and I found myself giving in to all my faithless thoughts. I squeaked out a prayer, “Help me Lord. I don’t want to go back.”

As I sat there crying and praying, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “Sheila, you’re looking for beauty in nature and quiet, but I want you to find beauty in laying down your life for others. Relationships with others is where I’m at.

1 John 3:26 says, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Yes all creation is pointing us to the majesty and power and beauty of God (Psalm 19:1-2), but only in the beauty of laying down our lives for others, being the ones who help our friends up when they fall, do we find the greatest image of the majesty, power and beauty of God: Jesus! Jesus laid down his life for us (John 10:11). He is the Friend of friends. He didn’t avoid people or the messes of relationships to reach some nirvana or peaceful place alone with God. He laid down his life daily in the hard things of relationships and ultimately at the cross giving us an example. And in his resurrection, giving us the power to follow his example.

Sometimes one feels better than two because it’s less messy. But the truth is we were not made to do life alone. In the pain of relationships we have the power of Christ in us, and his love compels us (2 Corinthians 5:14) to lift each other up and walk with each other through hard things. This is the evidence in the church and in the Christian’s life that we belong to Jesus. “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35).

Father, help me to surrender my life to you. Give me eyes to see your beauty and experience your peace not in isolating myself, but in following Jesus- laying down my life for others.

When you feel like you’re endlessly marching around a wall

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“Now Jericho was shut up inside and outside because of the people of Israel. None went out, and none came in. And the Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given Jericho into your hand, with its king and mighty men of valor. You shall march around the city, all the men of war going around the city once. Thus shall you do for six days. Seven priests shall bear seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark. On the seventh day you shall march around the city seven times, and the priests shall blow the trumpets. But Joshua commanded the people, “You shall not shout or make your voice heard, neither shall any word go out of your mouth, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.” -Joshua 6:1-4,10

This story has always caught my attention.  If I had to put it into my own words: God told Joshua to tell all the people to march around a wall where a bunch of strong and powerful men had locked themselves inside. He said, “Don’t make any noise, just keep marching until the day I tell you to yell.”

I mean of all the things God could tell his people to do to get at a prostitute and her family out of a city of proud and strong people.  March around a wall?  How mundane. How boring. How redundant.

I’m sure there were conversations back at the camp at night after days of walking around the wall of Jericho in silence.  I’m sure there were those who wondered, “Why in the world are we doing this?”

Do you ever feel like you’re living this life of faith, doing what God tells you to do, and it seems like you’re walking in circles?  Do you have a person or people in your life that you long to see surrender their hearts to Jesus, but year after year goes by and there’s no response? No change. No desire to come to church with you. No willingness to talk with you about the gospel. They seem perfectly and firmly shut in, keeping your Jesus out.

I do. And I start to get weary.

Today, I drove into the driveway of my house, the grey skies and dormant yellow grass leaving a dull hew on the visage of my normal veiw of home. I shut the car off and sat there for awhile, looking up into the thick cloudy skies, and muttered a prayer of fatigue.  “Lord, how long?  How long am I supposed to keep…”  My prayer was interrupted by the verses above ringing in my ears.  “Yes Lord, how long am I supposed to keep marching around these walls?” I surrendered.

The Holy Spirit searching my thoughts before I spoke them, knowing my doubts and slowness to believe, helped me remember that eventually those walls came crashing down and Rahab and her family were saved.

I love a man who has resisted my desire for him to know Christ for 25 years. And for 25 years the Spirit has continued to give me my marching orders: Keep dwelling with him. Keep loving him. Keep bearing with him. Keep serving him. Keep worshipping me while he watches what the King James Version of the Bible calls, “… the conversation of your life.”

One day the walls are going to fall. Just as Jericho’s walls fell, one day the walls around the heart of those I love, those God has commanded me to stay the course with, are going to crumble at the sound of the instrument God choses to bring them down. And on that day I am going to be overjoyed.

So now, while I sit in my driveway on a cold, grey day, feeling weary of not seeing God bring down the walls yet, I chose to praise him.

Beloved, don’t grow weary in doing good.  God is using your life to save others.  Keep marching. Keep following Jesus. At the right time, whether he uses your mouth or another’s, he’s going to destroy the proud walls that are keeping the guilty from their rescue.

 

Sermon notes: Stay married like you’re not. Stay single like you’re not…

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Today my pastor preached from a section of scripture that stirs up all kinds of conversations and historical prudish or bizarre teachings about sex, marriage and singleness.  Despite the potential for dangerous interpretation, he did a great job of bringing the truth to light.  I was keenly interested in this message because the section of scripture is a section I have gone to many times for wisdom and help in my own difficult marriage.

‘This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. ‘

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

I’ve thought a lot on these verses because at a glance they can be misconstrued and when you’re in a hard marriage the Tempter can spin them like an escape clause.  But the truth, as my pastor spoke today, is that marriage is a shadow of Christ and the church. Jesus is the substance!

I jotted down several quotes from today’s sermon, one that struck me and got me thinking even more about the temporariness of marriage and singleness and how we should be holding these gifts with an open hand is this:

“Not everyone is meant to be married. But no one is destined for loneliness. We are all made for gospel community.” 

There is something beautiful and metaphorical about marriage that cannot be grasped and idolized or idealized without it slipping through your fingers.  There’s also a deep beauty in singleness that almost speaks more about the age to come in God’s kingdom than marriage does.  I want to think this through more and write about it more, but for now, I’ll focus on the marriage part.

A week ago in my community group we all told our marriage stories.  Of course when the group started and I realized they were going to go around the circle and I would be last, I thought seriously about excusing myself and leaving.  I didn’t want to tell my marriage story and I certainly didn’t want to do it last.  And as I listened the anxiety about sharing the story that has been the furnace that has purified my faith just got worse.  Everyone had a nice story. They met at a party. They had a few rough patches but they were each other’s best friend… ugh.  Not me. That’s not my marriage story.

Culturally I have a marriage story that most people would say I should give up on.  The culture scratches their head at my story or accuses me of being co-dependent (which I have been and that would be a fair accusation for most of my marriage).  The church has waivered between encouraging me into deep toxic co-dependency under the guise of biblical womanhood or submission and Christlikeness, or joining the culture in finding a loophole for me to get out of my less than lovely marriage. But when I look at Jesus and the church- the historical church and geographically scattered church- I hear a whole different message.

“You’re marriage is just a shadow Sheila, hold it with an open hand.  Stay married like you’re free.  Like you aren’t bound to this man by law but by love. Love him like you have nothing to loose.”  Easily misconstrued I know. But try to listen for the nuance here. Try to hear what the Spirit would say to us through Paul’s controversial words.  He’s saying we should stay married like Paul stayed a prisoner after his chains were loosed in Phillipi.

Remember that story from Acts where Paul and his traveling companion Silas were thrown into a prison (think dungeon, not modern max security facility) for delivering a girl enslaved and possessed by demons (because she was annoying… that’s what it says!). That ruined the business plan of these human trafficking people enslaving and using her tormented soul to make money, so they attacked Paul and Silas and threw them in a Roman dungeon, set gaurds to watch them and shackled their feet to the filthy ground.

At midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing. Yeah, that’s a whole other meditation. But when they were seeking God and praising him with their blugeoned bodies, the passage says their fellow prisoners were listening.  I just imagine, the sounds that must have normally come from such a dark, tortuous place.  Singing and prayers must have caught everyone’s ear.  And it caught God’s too, cause an earthquake happened just then and Paul and Silas’ (as well as the other prisoners) shackles were broken and all the prison doors were opened.

And Paul and Silas took their freedom and ran!

NOPE!

No they did not. In fact, they stopped the guard from committing suicide and showed him that they weren’t going anywhere.  They were free, but they chose to stay for the sake of the guard’s salvation.  (Acts 16:25-40)

Jesus taught this. When Peter pressed Jesus for money to pay taxes, Jesus asked, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:24-27)

Jesus was teaching a truth for those who have been born again by the Spirit of God: we are free!  But like Paul wrote to the Galatians, we don’t use our freedom as an excuse to sin, we use it to serve and love one another.

This is true in marriage too. Paul isn’t suggesting that we should have open marriages or that we should abandon our spouses when he says, “…from now on let those who have wives live as though they have none.”  He’s saying stay married and don’t cling to your marriage for life.  You’re not bound, like Paul and Silas weren’t bound, by law so much as you are bound by love. Let the love of Christ compel you to stay in your marriage as a child of God free from the culture’s bonds. Use your marriage, like you use any of the “dealings” of in the world.  Not for your own vices, but for building up your spouse, being a light and a voice in their life that draws them to Jesus.

One day all our marriages won’t exist anymore.  We’ll stand before the one who betrothed himself to those he called to be his own from before the world began. And there the thing we’re trying to cling to in our marriages here will be in our grasp, fullfilling our desire for consumation of love and friendship.

Stay married like you’re not married Christian.  Stay single like you’re not single Christian.  Because soon you are going to meet your Bridegroom.  And until then, he is drawing your spouse, your neighbors, your friends at church and work to himself through you.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Galatians 5:13

What my unbelieving friend and I have in common: doubt

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My husband is my friend.  For almost 25 years we’ve shared a bed, a home and all the dirty humanity we can’t groom or hide in those shared spaces.  And although we don’t share a worshipful response to Christ, we do have something very much in common: doubt.

I listened to the end of a podcast called Hinge the other day.  I need to go back and listen from the beginning, but it in essence it’s a series of podcasts where two friends- one an athiest, one a pastor- look to find the answer to the question: Who is Jesus?  What struck me about the last episode of that podcast was how much the two of them were actually alike in their exploration of that question.  They both had doubts.  They both had unanswered questions.  The difference was not that one had all the answers and the other didn’t, or that one even had a strong faith and the other didn’t.  The difference was that one confessed he was captivated by this Jesus he heard about, and despite his doubts, he was convinced that Jesus is who he said he is and the other confessed he was not captivated- he just couldn’t believe.

It has helped a lot over the years to listen to my husband’s doubts and questions and explore my own, being honest with him about them.  I used to tend to get defensive when Jesus got brought up (ususally cause I felt mocked). But the more I have listened to my friend’s thoughts, the more I can say I understand and let go of the things that don’t really matter.

I’m just now learning about the Enneagram, but I’m sure I’m a 9.  And 9’s avoid conflict.  I definitely do that. Being married to a man who gets energy from conflict and challenges all the beliefs I’ve held dear, has helped me to learn to deal with conflict and seek the peace I want for myself and my husband.  It’s good to be challenged by people who don’t agree with you.  And that’s a very hard thing for me to say.

Jesus said, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Conflict (tribulations) is inevitable. I can’t avoid it. And most definitely in as close a relationship as marriage it cannot be dodged.

If I seek peace by avoiding conflict I’ll never find it.  But in the conflict with my husband there’s a peace, a shalom, a wholeness Jesus gives that allows me to meet my husband where he is.  I pray that these years of work Jesus has been doing in me will be a witness to my dear friend of the realness of Christ.  And I pray Jesus will one day meet with my husband in one of our honest conversations and wrestlings over just who this Jesus is.

 

God’s sovereignty and bridges

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We went to the gym as a family today.  It’s a new stage of life for us.  Both of our sons are now tall young men.  My husband is the resident personal trainer and all things fitness in our family.  If it were up to me, we’d all just put on flip-flops and go for a long walk with the dog, stopping frequently to notice tiny flowers growing in crevices. I’m not a fitness junkie by any means, but being married to one, I’ve learned to enjoy the benefits of exercise.

My husband and are polar opposites in personality and we don’t share a worshipful response to Christ.  Sometimes it feels like we have nothing in common.  But after 25 year I’m learning to see the common grace and bridges between us. Places we can meet and enjoy together.  The gym is one of those.

Last week I declared Sunday nights family night.  An action in response to the convicting words of my sister.  In telling me a story about a family member, she brought up eating together once a week at the dinner table.  She wasn’t aiming her suggestion at me, but it was aimed right at me.  We hadn’t eaten a meal together at the table for years.  Here we could surely find a 6 by 3 foot bridge to bring us together.

I easily fall into the trap that says, “There’s no point in saying anything. Nothing’s going to change anyway.” So telling my husband and teens Sunday nights are to be reserved for our family at the dinner table at 6pm, was an invitation from my familiar enemy, reminding me he was set, ready to snare me when my plans all fell apart. But thanks be to God, they all showed up at the table and we actually laughed and had a meal together.  It was really good.

Today’s sermon at church was about this very thing: the sovereignty of God.  It was hard to hear to be honest.  My 25th wedding anniversary is approaching and through much turmoil, my husband and I are still married, but he continues to reject Christ. “I’m just not interested in all that Sheila….” I’ve heard it many times. I cried most of the sermon. My pastor talked about Jacob wrestling with the man of God.  I thought about God’s sovereignty, my husband’s unbelief, our 25 hard years together and my heart swelled with grief.  “How come you won’t just do it Lord!” I pled.  “Why won’t you set your love on him now? What if you never do?”

My anger was exposed at the proclamation of the gospel of the all powerful, pierced hands that saved me.  My angry heart threw a fit and raled against my Savior’s power and omniscience. And then I felt the place where he makes me limp.  I felt the pain of knowing I can’t wrestle with God and leave unchanged. He is God.  I am not. I don’t understand.  I want to give up, but what in the world does that mean?  Give up what? Hope? For what? What I can do in my limp to make things the way I think God should make them?

I left church with puffy aching eyes and burning throat.  Sunglassess covering my anger before I got out the door.  I couldn’t come up with an answer that satisfies by the time I drove home so I laid down like a child and slept.  I thought, “God, what else can I do?” as I resigned my body to the helpless state all flesh requires.

I woke up thinking about the bridges between my husband and I, and that today is Sunday- family night- my enemy mocked my hopes. God hadn’t poured out any magic while I slept.  He’s not my genie in a bottle.  So I got up and went for a bridge. “Let’s go to the gym guys.”  Everyone balked.  It’s become easier for everyone to stay in their own elelctronic-device corner. But they came.  They got in the car and we went to the gym.  We all did the same workout. Together.  At the end, my husband frustrated with our youngest because he wouldn’t do the exercise the right way, threw his hands in the air and said, “Son, you don’t know what you’re saying.  I know the right way to do this. You don’t.”

And that was it.

That was God’s answer.

“I know the right way to do this daughter.  You don’t.”

In the car on the way home I turned to my angry son and said, “Do you believe dad wants what’s best for you son?  Do you agree that he knows more than you about working out?”

He nodded a surrendered yes and then threw in a, “But he’s not doing what he’s telling me to do!”  Still wanting to get a satisfactory answer for his complaint.

“But if he knows more than you, and he wants what’s best for you, can you just trust him and do what he says?”

And then I took the while-you-drive Deuteronomy 6 opportunity.

“It’s the same with God son.  We don’t understand why he’s doing what he does or why he tells us to do or not do certain things, but he’s God. He knows more than us.  And he’s good. He’s got our best in mind. So we can trust him.”

That’s when my husband piped in, “One thing though son, I’m not God.”

Hello!  Hello Sheila!  Dope slap to the forehead moment. Are you listening??!!

I guess I’ll keep going to the bridges and trusting that my Dad knows more about men’s hearts than I do.  And he’s good.  I can trust him.

Lord, you know. You heard me this morning. You met me in that car. You taught me through my son.  And you spoke through my husband.  Please let the words sink in. 

A theology of loving your unbelieving spouse

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A Facebook friend recently asked a question after reading my piece about the 8 words. Her question in essence was, “How does God want you to love your husband when he doesn’t share the same love of Christ you have?”

I’m not a seminary graduate, but as my pastor says, I am a theologian.  We all are, he says. We may be bad theologians, but we all believe something about who God is or what God does and says, and that’s theology.  Of course my nearly 25 year marriage to a man I dearly love, who does not love Christ with me, is a long enough walk down this road to test what I believe about God on this subject.

So from my theological understanding of marriage in the scriptures, the husband and wife relationship, above all relationships speaks of the ultimate purpose of all human beings- to be in a covenant relationship with Jesus Christ. Christ laid his life down for us (the church) in love so that we could be united with him and say, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” To be in such a bond with Christ is the fulfillment of human existence.  When a husband and wife don’t share a love of Christ, the brokenness in that relationship is so apparent that the way you love your unbelieving husband or wife looks more like the way you love any person who doesn’t believe and less like the way Christ and his church love one another.  In other words you loose the intimate union and live in a separate but together state. Paul put it this way:

‘Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”‘ 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

In a marriage where Christ is not the mutual highest object of affection and hope, the couple have no lasting intimate partnership, no fellowship, no accord, no portion together, no agreement.  There is a separation where there should be oneness. This doesn’t mean the believer and unbeliever have nothing in common. And it doesn’t mean there isn’t grace for both of them.  There is common grace and common ground between the believer and the unbeliever.  But there is not partnership or union at the deepest level of identity, hope and joy.  They don’t share the same love.

Now, this doesn’t mean we should “go out from their midst and separate from” our spouses.  Paul makes that clear:

‘To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. ‘ 1 Corinthians 7:12-17

There is no common love of Christ in a marriage between the unbeliever and the believer. But there is a holiness.  The fellowship and oneness intended to grow out of mutual love for Christ is not present.  But a set-apartness is.

There is a way in which you “come out from among” a marriage to an unbeliever that doesn’t mean divorcing or leaving them.  You are set apart, and so are they, and so are your children.  There is a mission, a ministry, like that of the missionary setting his love and life on a people group who do not know Jesus.  The aim in a marriage to an unbeliever is not a united front to pour out your mutual love of Christ on others.  It is a calling on the believer to not go the way of the unbelieving spouse’s idols and pseudo-saviors. It’s a calling not to join them in loving the world, but to come out from among them and let the love of Christ compel you to lay down your life to win them to Christ.

I know some will say staying in a marriage to an unbeliever to win them to Christ is not a good reason to stay married.  I say that is exactly what the scripture says is the reason a believer should stay in the marriage. For, “For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” (‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭7:16)

Does that mean if your spouse doesn’t become a believer or wants out of the marriage you’ve failed?  No!  God may use your faithfulness to save your spouse, or he may not. But if the ubnbeliever is willing to stay married to you it’s a really great possibility that’s totally in God’s hands and worth investing your life in.

Staying in a marriage to an unbeliever with a missional heart to win your husband or wife to Christ is right. And it is not a manipulative or enabling or unhealthy co-dependent emeshment.  Loving your husband or wife with a desire to win them to Christ is not self-preserving or sin-enabling.  Loving your husband or wife with a desire win them to Christ may be the very thing that causes them to no longer want to be married to you.  You have to hold your marriage with an open hand.  The goal is not to prevent loosing the marriage.  The goal is glorifying God by loving your spouse.  You may loose your marriage and win your spouse to Christ.  Or not.  You don’t stay in the marriage and love your spouse so that you’ll get the outcome you want.  You stay in the marriage and love your spouse because the love of Christ compels you.  Love of God supersedes love of spouse, even as the reason for your faithfulness and vulnerable love towards your spouse.

Does that mean the believer’s love for the unbeliever is not real because it is not the fantastical romantic love we idolize?  No!  The love a believer has for his or her unbelieving spouse is very real, very Christ-like, if it is compelled by Christ’s love, not fear of loosing the spouse, not an insatiable need for the spouse to fulfill you. And in this way, loving an unbelieving spouse is a good example for how even believing spouses should love one another.  We all, in all marriages, have to bear the pain of the other’s sin.  No Christian husband or wife will fulfill you.  Only Christ does that.  As C.S. Lewis influenced me to say, if I find in myself desires which this marriage can’t satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another “marriage.”   That truth applies to all marriages, to believers and unbelievers.

This could really be a long post.  Um, it already is a long post.  So I’ll try to respond more directly to the question that spurred this on.

Q- How does Christ (my heavenly Husband) ask me to love my husband who doesn’t share my same love?

Response- With open hands (1 Corinthians 7).  With laid down life (John 15:13). With willingness to loose my marriage (1 Corinthians 7:15).  With willingness to stand opposed and willingness to submit myself (1 Peter 3:13-17).  With hope in God, not in husband.  With fearlessness of many frightening things (1 Peter 3:6). With faith that I am here for such a time as this.  With prayers that God will bring my beloved to his senses and save him (2 Timothy 2:25-26). With hope that the labor Christ is working in me to love my husband is not in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).

5 helps for hard, I mean, all marriages

adult beverage black coffee breakfast
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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.”
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

These 8 words: My beloved is mine and I am his

man and woman holding hands while walking on bridge
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Sheila Dougal-8

“My beloved is mine and I am his…” Song of Solomon 2:16

So the people who know these things (at least the ones I’ve heard) say the Song of Solomon is about a husband and his wife.  It’s a love story.  Others say its about Christ and his Church.  A love story.  I say yes.

These eight words:

My
beloved
is
mine
and
I
am
his

are deep calling to deep for me.  Echoing waves of, “So be it!” rise from a cavernous thirst when I read them.  I ache deep, longing for the fulfillment of those 8 words.

My marriage isn’t easy.  I know, probably you would ask, who’s is?  It’s foolish, and evidence of my self-centeredness, but sometimes I feel like my marriage is harder than the average marriage. We don’t share the same love of Christ.  We have scars.  And walls. And chasms of distance.  Sometimes we’re close and enjoy the common grace poured out on us.

Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”

And I say, if I find in myself desires which this marriage can’t satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another “marriage.”

While Jesus walked here his observers and critics questioned why his disciples didn’t fast like John the Baptist’s.  Jesus answered their skepticism with an allusion to an ethereal marriage:

‘And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast. ‘ Matthew 9:15

But it won’t be ethereal.  It will be very real.

What Solomon pictures in the love of the woman and her beloved is a oneness even the best marriages here can’t fulfill. There is a oneness, a unity, a belonging one to the other that is to be tasted of in marriage and consummated when we see Jesus- our beloved who has redeemed us and called us his own.

My beloved Jesus is mine.  And I am his.  And that is a truth beyond capturing in words on a blog.

‘Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. ‘ Revelation 19:6-8

‘”Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. ‘ Ephesians 5:31-32

Our wildlife sighting adventure in the Apache Blue Range Primitive Area

IMG_7264I saw a black bear cub today. I caught a brown Trout. I went to New Mexico and back into Arizona on a fire road through a spot on the map called Blue, Arizona.  I saw the white Blue Cowbells in the meadows next to the stream that is the Blue river. I saw bull and doe Elk and several of their young.  I walked the bed of the windy Blue and parked a chair along it’s banks to watch my boys roll up their pants and stick their bottoms in the air searching for crawdads. They say they caught a grand-daddy!  I walked over a set of stairs put in place by citizen conservationist from the 1930’s to lead the way to a hidden area of petroglyphs along the rocky formations next to the Blue.  And I ended the day watching my sons catch and release Apache Trout from a hidden lake tucked away in a hole surrounded by Pine, Spruce and Aspen trees.

Tonight’s our last night at Hannagan Meadow Lodge. We haven’t taken a family vacation in 6 years and this is only our second family vacation, so I don’t have a lot to compare it to. But it’s the best so far!

Every year I usually take the boys to Oregon and Redding, California to visit family. They usually stay for a month with my sister, but this year we broke tradition and the boys went to ZONA camp at Biola University for a week and we all (husband included) went on a much needed family vacation to the beautiful high country in Eastern Arizona. And I am so glad we did.  I wrote 4 poems here. Took up watercolors (I won’t quit my day job) and wrote a list of observations at several places we visited. The time out here has been inspiring, refreshing, quiet and adventurous at the same time.

Hannagan Meadow Lodge, where we rented a cabin, is at 9000 feet elevation along the historic Coronado Trail (a.k.a. Devil’s Highway- it used to be labeled Hwy 666) in Arizona’s Blue Range Primitive Area. About a five minute car ride from Hannagan Meadow is hidden Aker Lake.  I painted two of my water colors there and wrote two poems there. You drive down a forest service road into a valley were at the bottom is a natural, small lake, tucked all around with green grass, Pine, Spruce and Aspen trees. There’s a simple wooden sign at the lake instructing fishermen: Single barbed hook and artificial lures, catch and release only. Aker is full of Apache and Brown Trout as well Greylings. My boys took a fly fishing lesson the first day we were there from Wendy, a pro-angler and sweet, intelligent, strong, active woman. So glad she taught my boys.  Now their hooked!  They want to get their own fly fish gear.

There is so much more I could tell you about this trip. I told my husband I want to write a memoir about it. But I’ll leave you with a list of wildlife (I don’t know all their scientific names, so some of this list is just a description) I personally observed in the past 72 hours. As well as some pictures from our wildlife siting adventure in the Apache-Sitegraves Blue Range Primitive Area.

Black and white butterflies

Monarch butterflies

Bright orange butterflies

Black/white swallows?

Finches with yellow breast

Bull elk (4 of them)

Cow elk (I lost count… more than 20)

Baby elk

Mule deer

Big-horned sheep

Swallows (and their babies in a nest on our cabin’s porch)

Hummingbirds

Brown Trout

Apache Trout

Chipmunks

Grey squirrels

Dragon flies

Red breasted Robin

Bald eagle

Vulture

Wild turkey

Black bear cub

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