Back when my husband proposed to me, I didn’t think about how hard marriage would be. Honestly, I didn’t think at all. I was swept up in the romance as this sweet man knelt before me, rose in hand, promising to love me for the rest of his life. Actually, I’m not sure he even said that. If my memory is correct, he asked, “Do you want to marry me,” and I said yes. We didn’t talk about commitment, the strain of merging two very diverse lives, or any of the other problems we came to face after.
I was young, naïve, and had no idea the work, humility, and growth it would require to join two lives. I also didn’t realize how completely ill-equipped and ill-prepared I was. I discovered very quickly, through a nearly failed marriage, that I couldn’t love my husband well, in my own wisdom and strength. Half the time, I didn’t even have the gumption to try. I was too focused on myself, too filled with pride and insecurity, to create the type of relationship I longed for.
Although I tried. I followed plans and read books and cajoled and pestered and begged. And prayed, oh, I did a lot of praying—that God would change my husband. Because, you see, I was convinced our mess was entirely his fault. If only he weren’t so selfish or prideful or distracted, if only he spent more time at home, or talked more … I had quite a list, one I perpetually reviewed but we never seemed to progress toward.
Eventually, before my daughter‘s fourth birthday, in fact, my husband and found ourselves sitting in a divorce lawyer’s office, ready to end it all. Neither one of us wanted to be there, but we hadn’t a clue how to unravel the tangle of hurt and distrust we’d created.
That evening, I left frustrated with myself, with the state of our marriage, with the prospect of a shattered family, and angry with God. I knew divorce wasn’t His will. Therefore, I determined He wanted me to remain miserable for the rest of my life.
A few nights later, while my husband worked the graveyard shift and my daughter lay upstairs sleeping, I sat in a dark, silent living room, feeling completely alone. Not just alone, but trapped in my loneliness. “God, I give up,” I said. “I can’t do this anymore.”
Though at the time, my words were more flippant than heartfelt, God answered, and He began to turn things around. He helped me connect with some strong Christian women—and disconnect from some perpetually unhappy ones who soured the way I viewed my life. But even more importantly, He drew me closer to Himself and shifted my focus off of my husband and onto Christ and myself.
First, He zeroed my gaze on my Savior. He reminded me of the depth of His love and care, of what He’d endured for me. In this, He helped me understand I was to love my husband, first and foremost, out of love for Him. On particularly tense days, when our arguments seemed to outnumber our smiles, I may not have felt my husband deserved anything from me, but Christ deserved my all, my full surrender.
Second, He showed me all the transformational work He longed to do within me. As I sat there in His presence, my heart laid bare before Him, He spoke tenderly to my soul—words of wisdom and insight, and often, conviction. In the light of His grace, as I began to set all my finger-pointing aside, clarity came. I realized, yes, my husband had room to grow, but so did I.
God wanted me to focus on growing into the wife and mother He created me to be, entrusting my husband to Him.
And so I did. Surrendering my hurt, my wisdom, and my husband to my Father wasn’t easy, but it was freeing. And healing. Healing for me and our marriage. The more I released my grip, it seemed, the more of God’s power was unleashed within me.
The power to hold my tongue when angry words fought to come out.
The power to see good when everything around me felt hard.
The power to forgive when seeds of bitterness tried to grow.
The power to trust.
The power to love.
The power to hope.
That was over twenty years ago, and God has done amazing things in my heart and within each of our hearts. I can honestly say, we’re closer than we’ve ever been. Those arguments that used to occur daily are now rare, and much shorter-lived. The hurt? Gone. And in its place, love, enduring, inconquerable, love. Not because said or did the right thing or figured this whole relationship dance out but rather because we surrendered to the One who had. The One who formed us, who loved us, and fought for us.
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.