The topic of marriage has been on my mind lately for a couple of reasons, one exciting, one disheartening. First, on Wednesday, June 21st, Nathan and I will celebrate 14 years of marriage (hopefully it’s clear this reason isn’t the disheartening one!). This is a milestone we almost didn’t reach (more on that in a minute), so each anniversary is super special. The other reason I’ve had marriage on my mind lately is due to the startling announcement made last week by Lysa TerKeurst, President of Proverbs 31 Ministries, that she and her husband of almost 25 years are divorcing because of his continued unfaithfulness and substance abuse. When something like this happens to people like them, it demands that we sit up, take notice, and reevaluate our own marriages (or our future marriages, for those who are unmarried).
It’s no secret that a solid, God-filled marriage gets targeted by Satan and his schemes more than anything else, because it’s marriages like these that are the biggest threats to him. So much goodness and kingdom building comes from a strong, God-centered marriage, and Satan–coward that he is–gets scared of the power that that kind of marriage holds. If your marriage is anything like mine, then at some point during it, you’ve likely discovered this fact for yourself. And I don’t mean this in a negative way at all, but if you haven’t discovered this yet, you will.
Despite the horror stories we’d heard about the transition into the first year of marriage, that was NOT our story. Our first year was full of excitement, newness, and fun. Lots of fun. And, maybe more importantly, it was naturally easy. Between getting our first apartment and then home, decorating for and celebrating each of the holidays for the first time as a newly married couple, and all the life in between, we were having a blast. By year two some of the newness and ease had worn off, but things were still going really well…mostly. Then, year three struck, its newness and the ease both having completely evaporated. Even to us it was almost surprising, because up to this point, our relationship had always been so easy, so effortless. We had never had to purposefully love and communicate with each other. Unfortunately, for us, it was through this unguarded door of poor communication and unintentional neglect of our relationship’s foundation that Satan found his way in. John 10:10 warned us, but apparently, we needed to learn this lesson for ourselves: “The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy.”
And destroy is exactly what he did…almost. Just a few months after our third wedding anniversary, Nathan and I separated. Shortly thereafter, we decided (with me leading the charge) that our marriage was too broken to repair. Here’s the nitty-gritty truth about Satan: he’s not just a thief, he’s a “replacer.” He had slithered his way into our once super-happy marriage, and instead of just stealing our joy, he replaced it. In place of joy, we got sadness, insecurity, and isolation. In place of the contentment that we once owned, we got discontentment, avoidance, and blame. In place of the love, we got Satan’s lies and hearts filled with resentment. So, after a couple of mid-separation talks, we planned one more face-to-face meeting, its purpose being to divide up our stuff prior to legally filing for divorce, a last-ditch effort to help ease the other’s hurt.
I’m sure that you currently have lots of questions floating around in your head:
Why didn’t you try counseling?–Oh we did. We went before separating and during our separation. We went to joint counseling sessions and individual sessions.
What went so wrong?–Everything and nothing. There was no affair, no substance abuse problems, no monumental event that broke us. So my answer to what went so wrong? Satan. Plain and simple. He kept us withdrawn from each other, constantly resentful of the other’s distance and increasing solitude. He stole our intimacy and eroded our friendship. It never got ugly, and we always sincerely cared about the other’s happiness (in your nasty face, Satan!), but our marriage was in pieces.
What changed?–The person to whom we looked for answers and healing. Nathan and I both believe that those therapy sessions helped us tremendously. Those of you who know me personally won’t be shocked by my confession that I’m a talker (I know…jaw-dropping!). Nathan, however, not so much. I’ve heard him tell others, though, that because he knew he was expected to talk and share during our hour-long therapy sessions, he found himself beginning to open up about all sorts of things. There were things he mentioned in our sessions that I’d never heard before, feelings I didn’t even know he had. Thankfully, he’s kept this up in the years since; he talks to me about his thoughts and feelings and is an active contributor to the dialogue in our house. Even with all that good stuff happening at therapy, though, it wasn’t enough to save us. Why? We were trusting a human being, a flawed human being, and expecting him to say or do something magical that would heal us. Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen. It wasn’t until we stopped expecting our therapist to have the answers, stopped expecting the other person in this marriage to fix us, and started putting all our trust in God’s divine intervention that things turned around. I can literally remember saying to God, “Ok, fine. This is yours. I’m tapped out. I have no more solutions, no more avenues of cure. If this is going to get fixed, You’re going to have to do it.” And in that moment, God answered, “No problem. I’ll not only fix it, but I’ll heal you both completely and make it better than it’s ever been.”
And guess what–that is EXACTLY what He did. With the past 11 years, each one has brought us closer together. We’ve gone through some tough stuff (how’s six years of infertility struggles for tough?! But we’ll save that for another post). Throughout each year, though, God’s promise remained true: every single potential pothole has been smoothed over so that our marriage has grown stronger and our love deeper. God is good, y’all!!!
Now, having said all that, let me say this: since this near-divorce, we have not offered our marriage up to chance. As he always does, from the moment when we got our relationship back on track, Nathan has led by example. Because of that, we began and continue to live our relationship with purpose and on purpose. WE DO NOT EVER WANT TO GO DOWN THAT ROAD AGAIN, but we aren’t stupid enough to think we can’t/won’t. Want this same thing for yourself but not sure where to turn? Ephesians is a wonderful book that instructs Christians how to have the correct mental and spiritual attitudes; it even contains great scriptures full of proven marital advice. But of all the goodness you’ll find in it, chapter 4, verse 27 just might be the best. Want to know how to divorce-proof your marriage? Start here: “Leave no room or foothold for the devil [give no opportunity to him].” Man! So much easier said than done, but so VERY worth the time to make an effort to do.
Good marriages don’t happen by chance; they are intentional. They contain two people (and frequently just one really unwavering spouse) who are determined to wage war against Satan together, starting with their individual attitudes. So, ladies, you know that silent treatment you give your husband when he’s ticked you off and you WANT to be mad? Think that’s what earns blessings from God and strengthens your relationship? Nope. You know that bad-mouthing of him you do to all your friends and your mom and your sister and the mailman? Think that’s “just venting” and really isn’t a big deal? Still nope.
And, fellas, think that bottling up all your thoughts and feelings is “just how guys do it,” and won’t really cause you any relationship problems? Wrong. What about that lady at the office who’s just sooooo much easier to get along with than your wife, who thinks you’re smart and can do things right the first time? Think it’s ok if you just let your mind consider what it might be like to be married to her instead? Wrong again.
We are all failures–at relationships, at marriages, at life–without God. (Hopefully) We know this. While it’s admirable to ask God into your marriage and rely on Him to help you to be for your spouse the kind of support He designed you to be, we are foolish to stop there. We need to get angry at Satan’s infiltration into our marriages! We need to get fed up with his lies and destruction! We need to be DETERMINED not to let Satan’s schemes ruin our relationships! THIS MEANS WAR, SATAN!! And with God planted firmly in the center of our lives, individually and jointly, WE. WILL. WIN. Don’t wait for your spouse to get on board. Start it yourself. I feel pretty confident that God can take care of him/her if you’ll just take care of your heart, your mind, and your actions.
“Look carefully then how you walk! Live purposefully and worthily and accurately, not as the unwise and witless, but as wise [people]…” —Ephesians 5:15
“Therefore, be imitators of God [copy Him and follow His example]…and walk in love…”–Ephesians 5:1-2
Please pray this with me:
Dear Lord, thank you so much for your blessings and for the gift of marriage in my life. Thank you for all the ways You continually bless me through my marriage and my spouse. Lord, I come to you today asking for Your guidance and protection. Help me to love my spouse in the way in which You so knowingly designed. Help me to be the vehicle through which Your love is best shown to him/her. Protect us, Lord, from every single scheme which Satan uses against us. Let each one fall uselessly to the floor, under our feet. I love you, God, and I expect blessings within my marriage because we choose to make you an integral part of it. Thank you for hearing me and for protecting, also, the marriages of all of my friends and family. It’s in Your Son’s name that I pray. Amen.
Philippians 2:3–“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather in humility value others above yourself.”