Two nights ago, Stasi was in an accident. She was making a left- hand turn, hit a patch of ice, and slammed into a parked truck. The impact blew out the passenger window and pretty much destroyed the door of our car; thank God no one was hurt.

She called to ask me what to do. I am ashamed to admit how quickly I started jumping to conclusions. I wanted to blame her for going too fast; I wanted to chastise her for not using four- wheel drive. Good grief. My poor wife is standing out in the cold, shaken, asking me for help, and I’m leaping to accusation like a prosecuting attorney.

My only comfort— it is a sick sort of comfort I’ll admit— is that I’m not alone in this. When crisis hits and something shakes us to our foundation, we all start grasping, clutching, and looking for someone to blame or someplace to hold on. Like people do when they are drowning. Panic overcomes us; we rush to blame or to speculation or to a box of doughnuts.

Before you make another move, you need to ask yourself: Why is it hard right now?

Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t start making unexamined agreements. We’re going down. He doesn’t love me. It’s my fault. We should never have gotten married.

Slow down for a second. Your interpretation of what is going on will shape everything that follows— your emotions, your perspective, and your decisions. If you are mistaken, you will wander way off course and pay a great price. Take a deep breath. Put down the gun. Ask yourself, Why is it hard? What is this about?

I [John] remember the first time we went whitewater rafting as a family. It’s a pretty exhilarating thing to do— careening down a raging river in a small inflatable raft, dodging rocks, plowing into standing waves, intentionally throwing yourselves into conditions that the Boy Scout Manual tells you always to avoid. Water was crashing over us constantly, and I’m thinking any moment now our little lifeboat is going to swamp (inflatable raft implies therefore deflatable, right?). “Do we need to start bailing?” I asked the guide, who seemed unaware or unconcerned about the volume of water pouring in. “This is a self- bailing raft. It’ll flow right out,” he said as we hit another wave. Okay. This is normal. No need to panic. It's flowing right out. It’s flowing right out.

The hard and even scary times might be normal. Wouldn’t that be a relief to know? We are going to be okay.The hard and scary times might be signs of something more serious. Wouldn’t you want to know that as well? We need to deal with this.

Catch yourself. Don’t jump to conclusions. Walk with God. Why are things hard? Scripture gives us any number of reasons for rough waters; each of them requires a different response.

Transformation

Whatever else might be going on, you know God is using your marriage to forge your character. You also know by now that the log in your eye makes it hard to see anything clearly. So even if the primary cause for the crisis lies beyond you, it is best to start here. For too many years of our marriage, I [Stasi] lived in a posture of fear. I thought that if John had a problem he wanted to talk about, it meant something terrible about me or about us. If we ignored it, maybe it would just go away, or better yet, magically fix itself. If I turned a blind eye to a tense situation or skirted around a painful subject, everything would be okay. You know, the “Queen of Denial” and all that. Just like I tried to fool myself to believe that food eaten in secret didn’t count, I was an ostrich with my head in the sand hoping that problems in my marriage would go away if I just did not look at them too closely.

In his love God used trouble to get me to look at my fearful way of handling life, and the reasons beneath it, in order to set me free. Whatever else their reason, whatever their cause, God will use the hard times to expose our sin. Our spouse’s sin as well. It is best to begin by asking him, Lord, what is being exposed here? What are you after? Notice your reaction, your emotions, your inner thought life. Notice what you tend to do. Though other issues might be at play— are almost always at play— this is a good starting point. Accept your own transformation.

Warfare

You live in a world at war. Spiritual attack must be a category you think in, or you will misunderstand more than half of what happens in your marriage.

Think of it as gas on the fire. There may be a real issue between the two of you—unresolved anger, a hidden addiction, misunderstanding. That is the “fire.” But it gets blown out of proportion, or it becomes irresolvable because the enemy has leapt on the issue prodding, provoking, and distorting. That is the “gasoline.”

You’ll find it surprisingly helpful to bind the enemy when things get hard or crises strike. The enemy may not be the cause of it, but you can sure bet he wants to take advantage of the situation. Kick you when you’re down. Pray against the ways the enemy might be involved; bind him from your marriage. Get all of that off of you so that you can see clearly.

Ignore the presence of warfare, and you will find it very hard to see your way through.

Brokenness

A friend of ours has an eating disorder; she has had it since she was sixteen. Her husband— a devout Christian— has tried in vain to help her. “You’ve just got to be more disciplined, sweetheart.” He made her write down everything she ate in a day. She continued to lose weight. He made her eat in front of him. She couldn’t. He got angry. “You just need to obey God.”

You would not ask someone with a broken arm to swim the English Channel. So you can’t demand the broken to live as if they were whole. Discipline is not the issue; apply discipline and you’ll make it worse. What is needed is healing. Sometimes the craziness in our marriage comes from deep brokenness in us or in our spouse. But we’re so embarrassed by it we try to hide it as long as we can. So God uses troubles to flush us out of hiding.

What we need to ask him is: Where is the brokenness, Lord? What is this all about? And, just as important: Where is healing to be found?

Seasons

Marriage has its ebbs and flows; that is just the way it is. As sober ol’ Ecclesiastes says, there is simply a time for everything, “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). There will be times when you are close, and times when you could not feel farther apart. For no other reasons than that is just the way these things go. We don’t really like winter much (so why in heaven’s name do we live in Colorado?), but winter comes like it or not.

People have their ebbs and flows, too. If one of you is walking through a dark valley personally, of course it affects the marriage.

But it is not about the marriage. This is really quite relieving. However, if you can’t allow for ebbs and flows, if your marriage must always be “happy,” then you will turn what is simply a low season into something worse. You can whip a rain shower into a typhoon.

If you can’t allow room for your spouse to have ebbs and flows, take personal struggle, turn it on you, and then you really will have a mess. It’s like picking a scab; keep your hands off and it will go away.

Check in with God—Is this simply an “ebb,” Lord, or are these signs of something else?

The World