Dear Weary Wife,
We haven’t talked face to face, but if we could I’d hug you and tell you not to give up or give in! I know it’s hard. I’ve been in what I call an “even if” marriage for 24 years: “Wives, even if you’re husbands don’t believe, submit yourselves to them and try to win them over by your godly lives!” (my paraphrase). I get weary. I wake up feeling like nothing is ever going to change in my marriage. I get discouraged. I start looking at the giants in our relationship and stop looking at the faithfulness of God.
I know what it’s like to wake up on Sunday morning to get ready for church knowing my husband is staying home, and I’m taking my two teenage sons to church alone. I know what it’s like to listen to a sermon on marriage and feel like half of it doesn’t apply, because my husband isn’t a believer and doesn’t consider what it means to love his wife like Christ loved the church. I know what it feels like to pray and sing and cry in the bathroom with the fan on, because if I did it in the open, he might mock me. I know the constant tension of trying to please an unbelieving husband and Christ.
“I get discouraged. I start looking at the giants in our relationship and stop looking at the faithfulness of God.”
God knows too. Through Paul, he says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:14–16). He knows there’s a very real, constant division in a marriage with an unbeliever. Where he designed marriage to be a one-flesh union, we feel like two completely different beasts linked together by a hard, abrasive, heavy yoke.
But God does not leave us hopeless.
Three Truths to Protect Against Hopelessness
With divorce being so common in our culture, it can feel terribly tempting to give up on our hard marriages. In insane moments, we may be enticed to give in to our husbands and their worldview and leave the church, as though anyone else has the words of life besides Christ. But Jesus has a better way. As you and I follow Jesus in our marriages, let’s call to mind three truths that will help us to neither give up walking by faith or give in to faithlessness.
1. God is faithful.
It takes time to see this in our own lives. As I look back over 24 tumultuous years, I see the steady hand of God faithfully bearing me up through it all. If you haven’t been walking with God long, it might be harder to see God’s faithfulness in your own life, but the Scriptures are full of witnesses testifying to the faithful ways of God to his people.
Open your Bible and listen to the witnesses. Listen to Daniel in Babylon testify that God hears our prayers. Listen to Esther testify that God has placed you where you are for such a time as this. He hears our cries.
Unlike other “gods,” the God of the Bible doesn’t need us to prop him up, and he doesn’t grow weary of us when we trust in him. Let the trials and troubles in your marriage help you build your own testimony of how faithful God is to you. When you’ve wandered and betrayed his love, he was there to draw you to repentance with his kindness. Don’t walk away from the good God is faithfully working for you through the temporary sufferings of your marriage.
2. God supplies a way for us to win our husbands.
“I know what it’s like to wake up on Sunday morning to get ready for church knowing my husband is staying home.”
I haven’t always believed this. I didn’t think I should try to do anything to win my husband to Christ. He was just going to be who he was going to be and there was nothing I could do about it. John Piper’s sermon “The Beautiful Faith of Fearless Submission” changed that for me. In that message he pointed out what I had missed in 1 Peter 3. As Piper put it, “Submission does not mean avoiding every effort to change a husband. The whole point of this text is to tell a wife how to ‘win’ her husband.” God has given us his grace-supplied way of trying to win our husbands. It’s not by our hairstyle, fit body, or clothes. We’re to try to win him by the very thing that may drive him away: our godliness.
Follow Christ’s example: know that you are God’s child and not man’s slave, and submit yourself to the sin-laden man you’re married to. Show him the grace you’ve received. Speak the truth in love and humbly stand in your faith. It’s easy to lose sight of the goal. The goal is not a happy marriage or a nice husband. The goal is running the race of faith Christ has set before us with perseverance. It’s been 24 years and my husband is still not a believer. But as long as I have breath, and with the grace God supplies, I will seek to win him to Christ. Even if we never see our husbands believing, our efforts to win them are not in vain. They are seen by God and will accomplish the purpose he has for them.
3. Losing your life in marriage gains it.
Jesus said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:24). You may lose your marriage to your unbelieving husband. If you love Jesus and follow him, your husband may not want to stay married to you. But don’t give up on your marriage and divorce him, or give in to your flesh and live for worldly passions.
“It’s been 24 years and my husband is still not a believer. But as long as I have breath, I will seek to win him.”
Leaving your husband would be evidence you are clinging to marriage as though it can give you life. But if you and I let go of demanding that our marriages give us life and live for Christ, even if it means we lose our marriages, we will be keeping a testimony of Christ in marriage that honors God and is a life-giving witness to our husbands and families.
If you are living in an “even if” marriage, call to mind God’s faithfulness to you. Seek to win your husband by the beautiful aroma of Christ in you, even if he smells death and rejects you. Open your hands and lift up your marriage to God. Don’t try to squeeze the life out of it, even if he leaves you. Give the grace you have received, even if he doesn’t receive it. God is faithful. He thinks your hope in him is beautiful. And he works for those who wait for him.