“For better for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part…”
Every once in a while, I begin a piece of my story like this, “We should be divorced.”
Yes, there’s always a pause, but I’m not being dramatic I’m prefacing what comes next to show what God does. For what God does in a woman like me and in a man like mine, is the only reason we are still married–it’s the only reason we have been bound together tighter and tighter instead of being ripped apart.
I start it that way sometimes because people ask how our marriage is so good. And this is part of its truth—according to all the data out there, we have gone through all the major life crisis that typically separate couples (except for infidelity). Within a singles years’ time, we graduated from a Master’s program, moved across the country, started a new job, got pregnant unexpectedly, watched my mother die, gave birth, suffered from severe post-partum depression (to the point of nearly being hospitalized), started at a new church, knew no one, and had no physically present support system.
It was a lot.
The year that followed our 3rd child’s birth, I honestly don’t remember. It’s more like my kids magically grew up a year and I can’t tell you even how they survived it. I have spaces of feeling, more like an awareness outside of myself, in my memories of this time, and its a lot of PBS kids, a lot of anger, a lot of fogginess, a lot of “just leave me alone”, a lot of my 4-year-old feeding the 2-year-old snacks, a lot of wondering why he still loved me because I was not loveable at all. Not only was I not really there, but what was there was passive, separate, distant, unkind and angry–really, sinfully angry.
When Josh talks about this time, he tells me he truly wondered if his wife would ever return to him—but more so, would she ever return to God? He knew he couldn’t force or change anything for me, and he knew God was dealing with me. His only job was to love me. It was a very sacrificial love those couple of years. He now jokes that I was in the woodshed with God, and he could hear my screams of rage, but he trusted there was no safer place for me to be than with Him—our/my good, pursuing Father.
Still, why are we together? Why did those years bind us instead of build seeds of resentment and mistrust? Besides saying, “It was God,” how can we tell our story in a way that points to Jesus and shares how Jesus did what he did through and in us?
Because Josh’s choice at the time to love me in sickness and in health, for better or worse, MATTERED.
My husband’s choice to dive deep into what love was for me, what Gods love for him was, and to trust his wife to God while resisting bitterness without knowing the outcome, MATTERED.
Josh’s choice to truly love me when it was not being returned, MATTERED.
Our choices of obedience do make a difference.
Why this surprises us I’m not always sure, but God’s promises in His call to obedience are good, and eternal, and certain.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ…Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:1-10
“Love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Cor. 13:4-7
“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake OF YOU who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, SO THAT YOUR FAITH AND HOPE are in God. 1 Peter 1:20-21
“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because Gods love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Romans 5: 3-5
Do you see the promises? Do you see the call of obedience fully flowing out of God’s love for us? Do you see where our hope comes from and how our obedience grows the hope we need to endure and rejoice and reap the benefits of suffering?
Josh’s choice to love me the way he did for such a long period of time, has benefited our marriage for all the years that followed those 2 years. Once my mind had cleared with the help of medicine, and I began to be really, really be angry at God, I was no longer “just” suffering, I was actively disobeying, rebelling and shoving my fist in Gods face. Instead of rejoicing in my suffering, of lamenting well, of waiting and running with obedience in order to gain my prize of endurance and hope, I turned away as furiously as I could. And yet Josh loved me.
He chose to take each characteristic of love from 1 Corinthians 13 and focus on how he could love me that way for a few weeks at a time—even though I was not returning it. I couldn’t believe he loved me that way, that well. I couldn’t believe he didn’t demand more from me, he didn’t push me.
Looking back, it’s clear Josh trusted me to someone else when I made it incredibly hard for him to do that. But God used Josh’s choice to love me by leaving me to Jesus, to speak to me to say, “This is how I love you. This is how I love him.”
The trust, hope, and nearness Josh’s choice gave to the rest of our marriage will never lose its power of goodness to us. This is a gift from God. This is a blessing from Him in which He used a faithful son to speak love to a faithless daughter. For we are first and foremost, sons and daughters of our good Father, not husband and wife. Our union is special, but it does not and should not come before our relationship with our Savior, our true Hope.
So, as we tell our stories, tell about the “what if’s” as well. And when you share those, those dangers you missed, those pitfalls you were rescued from, speak of God as the Rescuer, God as the Savior–but don’t miss out on the opportunity to also share how you saw Gods promises of blessing and provision and goodness (even if it’s not the kind you expected or wanted) hold true through your obedience. We don’t need to fear sharing obedience. It is a sweet call God cries aloud to us, for His call of obedience comes out of Himself, He the very Being of Love. We can trust Him with our obedience and the certain hope that flows from it.
So, my practical pieces to offer for your encouragement-
- Your own walk with the Lord deeply matters. Not just in the moment of suffering, hurt, hardship or temptation, but the down times from those as well. Being in God’s word daily so you can know Him, so you can hear Him, so you can grow your trust of Him, builds the foundation for the choices you will make when that shock of a lifetime comes.
- Specifically growing your relationship with God in believing in His goodness and sovereignty, will grow your trust in Him and His work in your own, and your spouse’s life.
- Knowing and believing the Holy Spirits power in your life will help you trust and rely on the Spirits working in your spouse’s life. This frees you from attempting to be the one in command, from controlling, from abuse, from feeling utterly disappointed that you are the one having to choose to love sacrificially over and over. This may be a daily decision you have to make for a very long time. But you will be held and empowered by the Spirit.
- Times of blessing, or rest, of seeing and hearing God clearly and fully, are times to soak Him in, to grow in unity, to share, to choose practices that grow your marriage. Down times in life are not just pleasurable, they are powerful in their potential to grow unity, nearness, intimacy, joy, fun… So, use them well. Don’t allow those times to be ones where you coast, where you lose touch, for the strength you build here, will help you be more faithful when suffering or sin does come.
- Finally, study 1 Corinthians 13 (and other passages on what Love actually is) together and separately. Make a plan for how you will not only learn and study the attributes or fruit of love, but also how you will practice implementing those fruits. Some of them will come naturally and easily to you, others will not. Be ok with those tough ones making you uncomfortable. Find out which ones are most important to you spouse and be willing to share which ones are most important to you. Plan to be in this for months, not days. There are nine fruits listed in Corinthians, pick 1 a month to study and practice it in your speech, in your actions, in how you remember, in how you communicate, and see what grows in 9 months.
Questions? I’d love to hear them.
***Clarification: just want to be sure that as I’ve talked about this, I am specifically referring to my own disobedience during this time, and not calling my depression disobedience. I have written about this before and shared about my own journey with depression in greater detail elsewhere. This was not the point of this part of the story, but wanted to be sure this wasn’t misunderstood. There was absolutely a spiritual aspect to my depression, but it was absolutely a physical issue that caused it.