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Pray to God... and Row to Shore

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins Director, Marriage Recovery Center
  • Updated Aug 02, 2010
Pray to God... and Row to Shore

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"I keep praying that God will change my husband," the young woman told me in a recent counseling session. She was obviously in distress.

"What's happening in your marriage?" I asked.

"My husband treats me with disrespect," she said. "He's sarcastic with me, ignores me when I'm talking, and spends more time playing video games than listening to me."

"You sound very frustrated," I said. "I can imagine you must become very frustrated when this happens. How do you handle this?" I asked.

"I mostly pray about it," she said. "I talk to my friends and they tell me I need to just keep praying. They quote the Scripture where Peter instructs wives to be submissive to their husbands so that their husbands will be won over without a word." (1 Peter 3:1-4)

"That is a great Scripture," I said. "Peter goes on to say that your 'unfading beauty' comes from a gentle and quiet spirit. I don't think, however, that it means that women aren't also to speak truth at times. I don't think it means that you can't use wisdom to set boundaries when destructive things are happening in your marriage."

I went on to share another story I heard recently from a friend. Apparently there was a sign in an antique store where a fisherman was in a row boat being tossed around by the waves. The message for the fisherman was to have great faith and pray, but also row for his life.

I receive countless emails and phone calls from people who seem to want to simply pray for their life circumstances to change instead of praying and rowing to shore. In other words, pray for Godly wisdom and then take the action that seems prudent.

A recent email illustrates again this point:

Dear Dr. David. I'm married to an alcoholic. My husband's drinking has become worse every year. I tell my husband that he must slow down his drinking, but he tells me he has everything under control. I think he is in denial but he says I'm making a mountain out of a molehill. No one sees his problem but me and our children. They hate his drinking, but of course they won't say anything to him. I pray that he will wake up one day and realize the path of destruction he is on, but I'm beginning to lose hope that will happen. I don't want to do anything that would disrupt our home and would rather he come to see he needs help. I know that God is bigger than these problems and if I am patient He will bring solutions to me. Do you have any other ideas?

I'm sure we can all relate to this woman. We've all been in a place where we want to trust God to change a situation, whether it is a troubled marriage, a difficult job, an addicted spouse, or perhaps a habit pattern that destroys our self-worth.

One of the problems I see again and again is denial: DENIAL—Don't Even Notice I Am Lying. In other words, we want to believe that prayer is enough. We want to believe that personal responsibility is limited, and the issue will be solved by God if we have enough faith. However, this position denies our role in the process of change. When the problem persists, we wonder if God has disappeared. I offer the following thoughts for our consideration:

One, when in the sea of trouble, we cannot sit back and simply pray, as important as that is. We cannot put responsibility on God to take action steps that we must take for ourselves. We must pray, seek wisdom and then take action.

Two, we must face our denial. Denial of the severity of the problems keeps us safe for the moment—we don't recognize the depth of trouble we're in. However, our denial also keeps us from taking action necessary to solve problems.

Three, taking action does not minimize our trust in God. We are able to place our trust in God and take action, simultaneously. We are able to spend time on our knees, praying for guidance, and keep our feet moving. We are responsible for listening to the voice of God in our lives and responding to that still, small voice.

Four, Scripture is replete with examples of individuals who were courageous and decisive. Queen Esther took her life in her hands when, after fasting and praying for three days, she approached the king and shared with him her Jewish heritage and informed him of the plot to kill her Jewish people. She could have been killed, but was decisive in her action, saving herself and her people.

Finally, consider where you are too passive, waiting for God to do what you should be doing. Where are you frightened, refusing to confront someone? Where do you avoid setting a boundary, choosing instead to complain about your circumstances? Where have you harbored resentment instead of having a difficult conversation? Choose today to pray and row your boat!

I'd like to hear your opinions about passivity in marriage.  Please send your responses to and visit my website at

July 20, 2010

Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.