SOURCE: Discipleship Journal/Dawn Yrene
Quiet miracles happen even in the most tumultuous unions
“Divorce isn’t the unforgivable sin,” my friend hinted, not so subtly. I had just expressed my deep remorse over marrying a man with whom I had little in common.
Kevin and I had been proof that opposites attract. He was the wild type—a tattooed, leather-clad biker. His first love had been his Harley until he had met Christ, six months before meeting me. To be honest, Christ and the Harley still vied for first place. His closet was filled with bike parts, and the motorcycle “herself” rested in the middle of his living room when not in use.
I, on the other hand, was a straight-laced evangelical who listened to Christian music, worked a Christian job, and spoke Christianese. I had my own idols, though, and at age 26, marriage was becoming one of them.
Kevin and I met at a Christian singles’ retreat. Both of us were there because of a roommate’s persuasion. By the end of the retreat, I had found a new friend in Kevin, “but that’s all,” I assured myself. We were too different ever to be more: I was having a tough time sleeping in a tent, but I had seen him napping while sitting on his motorcycle. This was a true biker!
When Kevin asked for my phone number, I was surprised. Our next outing was a rainy Fourth of July fishing trip. We arrived back in town soaked but with a pleasant memory. Kevin talked little, but when he did, it was often about the Bible. He had a refreshing realness about him. He was a baby Christian, and as babies tend to do, he brought a fresh perspective to life—especially my spiritual life.
We began attending a Bible study and praying together. After a few months, he proposed. Yet despite all the good memories we were making, we were also beginning to disagree often. I assured myself that marriage would make us “one” on issues such as childrearing, spending, and the many other significant differences between us.
As any married person could have told me, that wasn’t a logical assumption.
Till Trials Do Us Part?
Marriage magnified our differences. Kevin’s focus on me began to take his eyes off Jesus. My hopes for a blissful marriage and a friend who would always be there did the same to me.
Sometimes we idolized each other, looking to each other to fill the empty places we should have let Christ fill. We also fought regularly. Though Kevin could say sweet things, he also knew how to make me feel low—even abused. I was surprised to see myself, the “good little Christian,” becoming hateful and vengeful. I began pondering my friend’s advice. After all, Christians aren’t perfect. What if I married the wrong person? Why stay married if it’s all about fighting? Why stay imprisoned when a simple divorce could mean freedom? Why be unhappy?
Amid all my questioning, a still, small voice kept reminding me of what I had prayed shortly before meeting Kevin. “Lord, instead of looking for a man who fits my list of wants, give me to a man who needs me as his helper, as Adam needed Eve.” Despite our differences, Kevin needed a helper, and the helper God had selected was me. And I needed Kevin—to balance me, challenge me, and cause me to trust God. Through the painful trials of marriage, God was purifying me, teaching me to obey even when it wasn’t comfortable, and rewarding me in quiet ways only I could see.
Nearly 13 years and five children later, my difficult marriage has brought happiness I never imagined and pain I never knew I could endure. Kevin has a growing relationship with Christ, as do I. Idolatry has been replaced by awe over God’s forgiveness. Brokenness and thankfulness have replaced abusive language and behavior. Answered prayer has turned a marriage that was an embarrassment to God’s kingdom into a testimony of His power.
Kevin and I are still more like black and white than gray. We need Christ to hold us together. But our roller-coaster ride has shown me that, contrary to worldly opinions, there are good reasons for staying in a difficult marriage. Here are several of those reasons.
WE ALL HAVE PRISONS. Many situations can make us feel trapped: a nagging temptation, a tormented past, sickness, poverty, loneliness—or a difficult marriage. The Apostle Paul showed us what to do when there’s no way out: While in prison, he worshiped God (Acts 16:25). Being bound to an incompatible spouse doesn’t have to stop us from thanking God, experiencing peace, and receiving the His good gifts daily.
Divorcing my husband would ultimately be exchanging one prison for another. Bitterness and unforgiveness would create their own kind of trap. As Richard Lovelace wrote long ago, “Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.” Could I, like Paul, rejoice in my prison cell?
DIFFICULTIES MAKE US BETTER PEOPLE. We all hate suffering. But without it, who would we be? Looking at the lives of two biblical kings, a father and son, we get a glimpse. David lived a life of warfare, moving from one battle to the next. Yet at the end of David’s life, he worshiped so joyfully that he ignited a revival throughout Israel.
His son Solomon, in contrast, received from his father a productive and peaceful kingdom. He enjoyed peace, wealth, and whatever he wanted. Yet Ecclesiastes suggests that Solomon’s easy life led him to depression, cynicism, and weak faith.
DIFFICULTIES STRENGTHEN OUR PRAYER LIVES. The Bible makes it clear that God wants people to stay married. Yet He hasn’t made marriage particularly easy. It’s only by crying out to God in our inadequacy that difficult marriages can change and grow. During our darkest moments, the psalms remind us that God understands our feelings and will help. In my marriage, the times forgiveness has been hardest have also been the times I have seen God’s rewards in the most amazing ways. Isaiah 64:4-5 says,
No eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. You come to the help of those who gladly do right.
My marriage is undeniably better when I pray for my spouse. With this incentive, I’ve learned to pray for everything from simple blessings such as God’s mercy and peace in our house, to complicated requests such as how to communicate in a way Kevin will understand. I’ve even learned to pray things I don’t really want to pray, such as for me to recognize my sin and for God to change me into the wife Kevin needs.
STAYING MARRIED TEACHES US HOW TO FORGIVE. If there’s one thing marriage has taught me, it’s how to seek and grant forgiveness. Kevin, who had suffered through two divorces as an unbeliever, recently told me how freeing it is to be able to ask forgiveness and receive it. In his previous marriages, the word forgiveness was never mentioned. I’ve also learned firsthand the truth of Christ’s words in Lk. 7:47:
Her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.
When I truly forgive Kevin for hurts he regrets causing, his love for me grows. In the same way, I love him more when he sets me free from the debts I owe him.
Often it comes down to a simple choice: Will I hold on to bitterness, or will I love Jesus enough to put another person’s needs before my own—even if that person has wounded me to the core? Will I be kind to a spouse who doesn’t return my kindness because the Lover of my soul asks me to, or will I bail out? If I put my spouse in the place of God, then when he utterly fails, I may give up on him, even despise him. But if he is a gift from God—a part of my walk with Christ—someone who can test my love for God on a regular basis, I will be able to forgive even when he seriously disappoints me.
THERE’S A WAY THAT SEEMS RIGHT…BUT ISN’T. A difficult marriage can seem like a mistake—but it may not be. A spouse may be the best person to teach us to die to self (Mk. 8:35). Males and females have different needs and wants when it comes to sex, communication—even TV preferences! In marriages where the list goes much further, including preferences in food (health versus junk), holiday traditions, denominational affiliations, and cultural backgrounds, divorce may, at times, seem to be the right choice. But Prov. 14:12 says that sometimes what seems right leads to death. Kevin’s and my differences have caused many tears, especially in trying to raise happy, emotionally healthy children. But if we trust God, we can believe that divorce, while it may seem logical at times, would only destroy the good results God wants to produce in us.
FEELINGS THAT HAVE FADED MAY RETURN. Some couples find that bitterness and resentment have made it impossible to love one another. But Jesus said, “All things are possible with God” (Mk. 10:27). Both Kevin and I have reached low points where it seemed we could never love each other again. Miraculously, our union has become such a team, such a friendship, and such a wonderful romance that we feel unworthy and amazed at God’s ability to restore. Utter hatred can become passionate love when we submit those feelings to God, and obedience overrides the desire of the moment.
MY MARRIAGE SHOULDN’T BE MY ENTIRE LIFE. God has jobs, talents, and good works (Eph. 2:10) planned for each of us. In a bad marriage, God may bring relief through an outside occupation or a specific calling. He may use our hurts to minister to others who suffer. Focusing only on our marriages—good or bad—can cause us to miss out on the good God wants to do through us and for us in other areas of our lives.
I CAN CHOOSE TO SEE THE GOOD IN MY SPOUSE. Every situation and person has good and bad aspects on which we can choose to focus. First Thessalonians 5:18 says to give thanks in allsituations.
When I wanted our yard fenced a few years ago, Kevin and I disagreed. He didn’t feel we could afford it. I wanted protection for our kids. Finally, he put up a six-foot chain-link fence—after I had told him I didn’t like chain link.
Years later, when I look at that fence, I can feel angry at my husband’s choice or thank God that Kevin sacrificed his time, sweat, and money to keep our children safe. I can also remember that men and women often think they’ve communicated clearly, when the opposite sex heard a completely different message. Maybe Kevin didn’t realize that chain link was that big of a deal to me. Maybe it was on sale. Maybe he tuned out during that part of the conversation. When marriage is tough, there’s still an opportunity to find my spouse’s good qualities and thank God for them—despite the imperfections.
Marriage by the Book
In an age in which counselors tell us to get out of “poisonous relationships” and even well-meaning friends say divorce is OK, I can remember the words of an old, yet living book. I can remember that it’s not really about my marriage to a man, but to the Bridegroom. If I love Him, I’ll obey by loving my spouse. In doing that, I find—strangely—that my difficult marriage can become a delight. And while God doesn’t promise that, He does ask if I am willing to die so that I can find real life in losing mine. I must admit such obedience doesn’t come easily.
Thankfully, Kevin’s Harley no longer resides in the living room. He sold it a year after we married to pay bills from our daughter’s birth. Now, we have a pet rabbit and five rowdy little children in its place. Lately, Kevin has been browsing the internet for another motorcycle. I don’t know what I’d do if he brought it into our living room. But with God’s help, we’ve made it over enough hurdles that I hope we wouldn’t let a little thing like a Harley in the living room get in the way of a happy marriage. With all our differences, we make too good a team for that.
In fact, I’ve come to believe that differences and difficulties are a recipe for truly great marriages. Differences may make marital harmony more difficult to achieve. But when two people with varying strengths come together, wanting to obey God and allowing Him to be strong where they are weak, the marriage that results becomes a powerful force for good in this world and a great reason for unbelievers to believe.