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Posts tagged ‘suffering in marriage’

Q&A: Is an Abused Spouse Called to Suffer for Jesus?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

This week one of my coaching clients shared that her Christian counselor told her that her role as a godly wife was to submit to her husband’s abuse and quietly suffer for Jesus.  She was told that setting boundaries was unbiblical and asking her spouse to change specific behaviors for her to feel safe or rebuild trust was demanding.  Is that true?

Does scripture encourage a spouse to patiently and quietly endure harsh and abusive treatment within her or his marriage?

The passage that we usually turn to support this thinking is found in 1 Peter 2:133:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith.

The entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but let’s see what Peter teaches us about how we suffer in a godly way as well and when we should patiently endure suffering.

First, let’s look at how Peter tells us to handle ourselves in the presence of abusive people.  Peter is clear that believers should be respectful of others regardless of how we are treated. Often in destructive marriages a spouse who is verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own.

Instead of responding to mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband, and God by her building resentment as well as her explosive or sinful reactions to his abuse.

We must help her choose a different path. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus, who, “when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22,23).

Second, Peter explains when we should endure abusive treatment.  He writes, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure?  But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.”

The good Peter is talking about here is a moral good, a doing the right thing kind of good.  Although in this passage Peter specifically advises us to submit to authority, Peter himself was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been ordered by those in authority to stop.  Peter refused to submit because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19;5:17-42).

In the same way when a wife refuses to submit to her husband’s sinful behavior, or stands up for her children who are being mistreated, or refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report, or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself,  she is doing good even if it doesn’t feel good to her spouse.

Her behavior honors God, protects her children and does what is in the best interest of her spouse.  (It is never in someone’s best interests to enable sin to flourish.)

When a woman takes these brave steps she will suffer.

She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her.  She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse.  She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken.

That’s exactly the kind of suffering Peter is talking about.  He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all.  Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.

When we counsel a wife that God calls her to provide all the benefits of a good marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her, or violates their marital vows we’re asking her to lie and pretend. This is not good for her or her marriage.

This counsel also reinforces the abusive person’s delusions that he can do as he pleases with no consequences. It would enable him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways, which is not good for him, for her, or for their family. That kind of passivity does not honor God.

Peter concludes his teaching with these words.  “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19 ESV).

If we encourage a woman to suffer for Jesus, let’s make sure we’re encouraging her to suffer for doing good rather than to suffer for staying passive or pretending.

Marriage Q&A: What If I Really Try, But Things Don’t Get Better?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Are You Living by Faith or by Fear?

Today’s Question:  I have read some of your blogs and done some of your suggestions. But what I experience from my husband when I act in the ways you describe is rage, anger, bitterness and resentment and it’s not because I didn’t say it right.  It’s because he’s not getting his own way and it’s becoming too much for me to handle (it’s been 25 years).

I believe the next step is to seek a counselor who can help us both communicate better, respect each other and then allow my husband the gift of consequences if he chooses not to work on these issues.  I signed up for a mutual relationship, not a servant master relationship and I plan to hold him to his word, lovingly.

I believe from my experience with my husband that he will not cooperate with anything and will give me the ultimatum, “Take it or leave it. You have the problem.”

What do you think?  Speaking up terrifies me because I don’t know what could happen and rocking the boat causes a lot of anger, not just in our marriage but in the whole family.

Do you have anything to offer besides trust in the Lord, pray, don’t be afraid or be anxious for nothing.  I know these wonderful truths, but even Jesus cried and exuded blood from his pores, even Moses was scared, even Abraham doubted when he walked the journey to place Isaac on the altar.  All of these emotions are part of being human, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have faith. My family is very dear to me and I’m afraid that if I put my foot down it will only get worse.  Is it wrong to just want peace and rest?  I know God won’t give us more than we can handle, but I am so very tired and I’m afraid of the outcome.

Answer:  You are right – we are human and we all have real and raw emotions when we live in stressful situations where there is continual conflict, bullying and disrespect.

Your letter indicates you are conflicted about this change you want to make.  On the one hand you say you are very tired of living this way and are ready to make a serious attempt at real change. On the other hand you are very afraid that the change you desire won’t occur and by standing up to him, things could get worse.

I was just reading today in the psalms. It said, “My soul has dwelt too long with one who hates peace. I am for peace; But when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:6,7 NKJV).  Your situation reminds me of many marriages where one person wants peace, but when she or he finally speaks up, it just causes more drama, more hatred, more conflict.

You’re right. Just because you finally take a stand and say “I didn’t sign up for a slave/master relationship” doesn’t mean that your husband will be willing to move toward a more mutual marriage. As long as he’s the master and you’re willing to be the slave, it works for him.  However, perhaps he’s just as frightened of change as you are or just as unhappy.

So you ask if there is anything I can offer besides the standard trust God and don’t be anxious?  It’s sad to me that we don’t find the comfort and healing in God’s word that he wants us to but I understand what you are saying.

But here’s what I want you to know.  God designed marriage to be a mutually loving and respectful relationship, not a slave/master one. Because that is God’s will for marriage, know that he is on the side of the oppressed when one person takes power over another and uses words, money, physical force or the scriptures to dominate and control the other.

When you respectfully speak up against injustice and oppression in a marriage (or any- where else for that matter), know that God is on your side.  If the other person refuses to listen, the gift of consequences can be a painful but helpful reminder that he or she will not reap the benefits of a good marriage when they sow discord and selfishness.

Sadly, when we are in close relationship with people (as in marriage and family) when one person receives painful consequences, often the entire family also suffers.  That’s what you fear and rightly so.

So I think the next step you’ll need to ask yourself in this whole process is do you want to live in fear – fear of staying or the fear of leaving, or do you want to live in faith (whether you think it wise to leave or stay)?  Faith that God knows your story. Faith that God is bigger than your story. Faith that God has a plan for your life and he is your helper in times of trouble.

It’s interesting to me that the psalmist says both, “I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:11), and “When I am afraid, I will trust God” (Psalm 56:3). There are times our faith is so big we don’t feel fear. Other times, we are so filled with fear we will be overwhelmed by it if we don’t trust God.

I pray you choose faith, even when you feel fear.

Marriage: Does God Want Me To Suffer?

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Leslie Vernick

This week’s topic is one that underlies most Biblical counsel women in destructive marriages receive. It is something that we must understand if we are going to wisely deal with a destructive spouse. It is the issue of suffering

Suffering is universal, and we will all experience it at some point in our lives. Although most of us would never willingly choose suffering, the Bible clearly tells us that it is used by God to help us see him more clearly (1 Peter 4:13), to help us be done with lesser things (1 Peter 4:1-3), as well as to help us mature in our character (Romans 5:3-5).

Over the past weeks, I’ve been deluged with e-mails from women in terribly destructive and abusive marriages, and the common theme in each of their struggles is this question:

Is Christ calling them to suffer by patiently and quietly enduring harsh and abusive treatment within their marriage?

The passage that is usually cited by church leaders to support a “yes” response is found in 1 Peter 2:13-3:22 where Peter writes to believers who face mistreatment for their faith.

There is much to say about this passage and the entire book of 1 Peter has to do with suffering, but I want to focus only on a few points to help us understand what Peter is trying to teach us about suffering especially for women in destructive marriages.

Peter anticipates that the new believers will be persecuted for their faith. Therefore, instead of talking about the normal mutual household duty codes between slaves and their masters and husbands and wives that Paul already covered in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3, Peter zeros in on where the relationships are not mutual or reciprocal. Peter wants to talk about what Christians should do when the government or slave owner misuses his power or is abusive or when a husband is a non-believer and isn’t following the mutual household duty codes that Paul spoke about such as “husband’s love your wives as Christ loved the church.” To a non-believing husband, those words would hold no weight.

First, Peter is clear that believers should be respectful to all persons, not because the person deserves our respect, but because they are created in God’s image and, for that reason alone, we choose to honor them regardless of their behaviors towards us. Often in destructive marriages, a woman who is regularly verbally battered or emotionally neglected or abused starts to lob some verbal bombs of her own. Instead of learning to handle such mistreatment in a way that honors God, she dishonors herself, her husband and God by her reactions and responses.

Peter strongly cautions us against that kind of behavior and, when we try to keep our mouths shut in the presence of such provocation, we may indeed suffer. In fact, the psalmist talks about his struggle with keeping quiet in Psalm 39 when he says, “I will watch what I do and not sin in what I say. I will hold my tongue when the ungodly are around me. But as I stood there in silence – not even speaking of good things – the turmoil within me grew worse. The more I thought about it, the hotter I got, igniting a fire of words.” (Psalm 39:1-3)

Second, Peter reminds us that God sees our mistreatment and is pleased with us when we bear it without retaliating. Peter encourages us not to pay back evil for evil by reminding us of Jesus who, when reviled, did not revile in return. When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:22-23). In not retaliating or executing our own revenge, we may suffer, but we can do so knowing God is pleased with us.

Third, Peter says, “For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.” It’s important that we understand that the good Peter is talking about is a moral good, a doing the right thing kind of good. It may not necessarily feel like good to the other person.

For example, Peter himself suffered for doing good when he was flogged after he refused to stop preaching about Christ even though he’d been told to cease. Peter refused to submit to the authorities (even though he said we’re to submit to them) because in doing so, he would have to stop doing good (Acts 4:19; 5:17-42).

[W]hen a wife stands up for her children who are being verbally abused, refuses to sign a dishonest income tax report or calls 911 when her husband is threatening to harm her or himself, she is honoring God and doing her family good.

She will suffer because it’s unlikely that her husband will view her actions as good and thank her. Instead he will get angry, defensive and retaliate against her for what she’s done, but that’s the kind of suffering Peter is talking about. He’s speaking about suffering for doing good instead of being passive or fearful or doing the wrong thing or nothing at all. Peter is saying that when we do what is right and we get mistreated for it, God sees it and commends us.

Lastly, when Peter writes that unbelieving husbands who refuse to obey the word can be won by the conduct of their wives when they observe their respectful and pure conduct, he’s saying that our actions and non-verbal attitudes are far more influential toward winning our husband over to Jesus than our words are.

He’s right, but I don’t believe Peter’s instructions preclude a wife from respectfully implementing appropriate consequences (her respectful and pure conduct) that hopefully will influence her husband to look at his destructive behaviors differently and repent, coming to Christ in the process.

Counselors and pastors often advise a wife that God calls her to suffer in her marriage while continuing to provide all the privileges and benefits of marriage regardless of how her husband treats her, provides for her or violates their marital vows. This stance only reinforces the delusion of the destructive spouse who believes he can do as he pleases with no consequences. Marriage does not give someone a “get out of jail free” card that entitles a husband to lie, mistreat, ignore, be cruel or crush his wife’s God-given dignity.

To believe otherwise is not to know the heart of God.

The alternative interpretation, that a wife should stay passive and quiet and do nothing to help her spouse see the damage he is causing his family, harms him. It enables him to stay blind to his sin and colludes with his destructive ways which is not good for him, for her or for their family.

When a woman takes these brave steps of implementing consequences, she will still suffer. She may suffer financially as her husband sits in jail because she called the police when he hit her. She may suffer the censure from her church when she separates from him because of his unrepentant use of pornography and verbal abuse. She may suffer with loneliness, retaliation from her spouse, or disapproval from her friends and family for the stance she’s taken.

My colleagues, Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, write in their book, How People Grow:

Sometimes people have difficulty understanding when they should suffer and when they should avoid it.”

A person in a difficult relationship may endure abuse thinking that this is part of the path of suffering when actually this suffering can injure her soul and also help her abuser stay immature.

Peter reminds us, “Let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (1 Peter 4:19)

Why Stay in a Difficult Marriage?

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.

Staying Power

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.

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