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.

Christ will redeem what seems like will never happen

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Tonight after 13 hours at the hospital, I walked out my back door with my dog Lukas, and we made our way, as usual, the half acre back to where the chickens and goats were already roosting and chewing their cud under the stars. While I was filling up their empty water buckets, despising the fact that it’s still 95 degrees at 9 pm (this summer seems like it will never end), I found my thoughts drifting toward hopelessness.

“How long?” was turning into, “It’s never going to happen.” At that moment I remembered Joseph. I wondered if he felt like it was never going to happen that he would be lifted up and his brothers would bow to him. I wonder if he thought it would never happen that he would get out of prison.

And then I remembered that it did happen. And I remembered that Jesus did raise from the dead. And I remembered that redemption always happens for the people of God. Nothing is for nothing in Christ. Christ is redeeming all my pain, all my loss, all my long days and short years. Christ is redeeming what seems like will never happen.

For 26 years I’ve prayed and pleaded with God to give my husband a heart for Jesus. And for 16 years I’ve pleaded he would give my sons a heart for him too. Two years ago, my youngest son professed his faith in Christ and was baptized. A week ago Sunday my oldest son confessed his faith, and on the eighth, I’ll baptize him. Like the first little buds of spring after a long winter, or the first fresh breeze of fall after the dog days of summer, redemption is busting up out of this long tear-soaked ground. Redemption is coming!

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits…
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy – Psalm 103:1-2

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.

My Psalm

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How long?
How many more days do I have to cry bitterly
asking you how long?

My heart is sick
my hope is deferred
my heart hopes
for what I can’t conjure.

How long must I try to find a quiet
place to get away from the constant
strain of this yoke pulling me one way
when I’m trying to follow you another?

I am your lily among thorns
torn and worn
weary
still
reaching
for a place that doesn’t hurt.

How long?
How long do I have to wait
for him my love to requite?

What if it’s eighty years?
What if it’s tomorrow?
What if I die in this sorrow?

Only one I know
that can make love
out of death grow.
And that’s you Lord
Nail scarred, hands and feet,
standing in the strength of
death’s defeat- My Lord!

When they asked who’s my one

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You’ve been my one since
that day in the car
when I was trying to teach you
the things Jesus taught me
at 16.

And then we got married.

And, when I was hungry for a feast,
where the good news is served
like roast beef and potatoes,
and the bread and wine
are broken and poured
so I can remember
I am one
of his,
you looked at me
like I was speaking Japanese.

You were my one then.

And for 25 years of walking
with you,
even walking away
from you,
even then I prayed
“God please!
Let him feast!”

Because you are my one.

And now,
when it seems we’ve crossed through
more battles than Gandalf
and find ourselves in
an okay place-
flat
and wide,
no hill in sight,
and I’m tempted to
stop walking with you
and go find a mountain…

you’re still my one.

And one day,
one day I believe
he’s going to make you his.

Even if he doesn’t
let me reap
what I have sown in grief,
far be it from me
even if you’re far from me
to give up praying
that he would make you one of his.

“I will betroth you to me in faithfulness
and you will know the Lord.”

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).