When Your Spouse Doesn't Believe
- 2004 8 May
Early in our marriage, my donkey was an unbelieving husband. I thought I was riding pretty well as a brand-new believer. I faithfully attended church with my three-year-old daughter. I joined a Scripture-memory class, taught children's vacation Bible school, and prayed up a storm. The problem was on the home front. I was wretched to my donkey husband, attributing every problem in the universe to his stubborn heart.
I got stopped in my self-righteous tracks one Sunday when I heard God's voice from right out of my donkey's mouth. Having arrived home from church with Lauren, I found Steve still unshaven and in his bathrobe, still plunked in front of the TV watching a ball game. He looked the same as he had when I'd left him, only now he was hungry.
"What's for lunch?" he asked flatly.
I didn't even answer but marched in the kitchen to slap together a few hamburgers and some green beans. I slammed the plates and forks onto the table. Lord, why do I have to put up with this? I railed. Why hasn't he changed? Look at him! Is he ever going to become the man I want him -- You want him -- to be?
When the three of us were seated at the table, Lauren offered a simple prayer of thanks for the drab food. Steve had the nerve to ask, "How was church?"
"It was wonderful," I replied coldly. "You would have known that if you'd been there."
"I don't think I belong with those people. I'm not like them," he answered quietly, adding almost kindly the words that froze me in my tracks. "You know, if I were you, I'd feel guilty."
"Guilty? Me, guilty?!" I exploded, slamming my hand on the table. (Lauren quickly exited to the living room to watch cartoons). "How can you say that? You're the one who doesn't believe! You're the one who stays home! You're the problem, not me!"
"That's true," he replied softly. "I am a pagan, and I'm behaving exactly the way a pagan is supposed to behave. But you're the Christian, and you're not loving."
I was stunned, speechless. Quickly, I cleared the table, threw the dishes in the sink, ran up to our bedroom, and locked the door. On my knees, I cried out to God, "Lord, You know that's not true! Look at everything I've done to follow You, to pray, to commit myself to You. Now this. It's not fair! You know he isn't right, don't You?"
The silence from heaven was deafening. With a sick thud in my spirit, suddenly I knew that God agreed with Steve. I was an unloving wife. In fact, I was a miserably critical woman, always comparing him with the other women's husbands who I thought were strong Christians, loved their wives more, went to church, and lived the way they were "supposed" to. Now what was I supposed to do?
Softly, God's voice spoke to my heart: "Virelle, what is it you really want?"
Wiping my tears on the bedspread, I answered simply, "I just want him to believe in You, Lord. That's all."
"Can you thank Me now for it, even if he doesn't believe for thirty years or you never get to see it?"
"Oh, Lord, that's not what I want!" But that's what God offered. Would I take it or not? "Okay, Lord. I'll try to learn how to let that be enough for me," I cried some more.
"Then love him now," God whispered with great kindness, "as if he were already the man you want him to be, the man I want him to be. And thank Me for the answer even if you don't get to see it. It will come in My time."
That was it -- a gut-level exchange in ten minutes or less. God went right for my jugular vein, my will. He left me limp and honestly sorry for being a rotten Christian at home.
"This is my commandment," Jesus says (John 15:12, ESV), "that you love one another as I have loved you." I had a barely trickling stream of love flowing in my life when what I really needed was an ocean. I had to learn the hard way that God's love has nothing to do with sentiment or warm fuzzies. In fact, love is often more like work. Love costs time given when it's inconvenient. It trains us to be silent, or at least kind, when misunderstood and to be patient with those who are weaker than we are in body, faith, or mind. It's impossible love made possible when God fills us with Himself.
When I first confessed to Steve that what he said was true, he thought it was just another ploy to get him to go to church. Learning to love again took work. I had long stopped considering how to be a loving wife to my husband. I started very small -- by bringing him coffee while he was shaving. Then I worked on my tone of voice and the attitude that dictated it. That was much harder, and I found myself coming back into the room often to say I was sorry. Most important, God reminded me regularly to be thankful that He was at work in my donkey's life and He didn't need my help -- or my words.
I don't know what changed first, but over the months that followed, my formerly donkey husband turned into the object of my deep affection once again. Our marriage, though unequal in faith, became happy again. I stopped asking Steve to go to church, stopped witnessing to him or setting him up. Instead, a sweet older man, a Christian who'd ridden a few donkeys himself, invited Steve fishing, and God, without words, hooked Steve's heart with His perfect love.
Decades have passed since God taught me a whole lot I needed to know about how He works. Now when I find myself asking "What about me?" I'm much more likely to remember an idea I believe God gave me about prayer several years ago. A light went on in my head one day: Why not write down all my most impossible prayers and give them to God, especially the ones that look too hard even for Him" I wrote out ten "impossible" prayers on a 3X5 card and put it in my Bible. Ever few days, I'd bring out my list and pray through it: "Lord, whatever You can do with this would be great! We need a miracle!"
Then I began to thank God just for listening to me, for taking on my concerns as His own. I thanked Him for His answers whenever they matched my plans or not. And one by one, He did give me answers. Sometimes I loved them; sometimes I didn't. It's been eight years since I began that experiment in prayer. Every year, I refine my list, recording answers as they come in. I'm still waiting on quite a few, but more than half, perhaps closer to three-quarters, of my "impossible" prayers have been answered. Most important, my trust in God, expressed in a thankful heart, has ballooned. I'm far more content, even loving, than I used to be -- even though I still have a long way to go.
Excerpted by Donkeys Still Talk: Hearing God's Voice When You're Not Listening © 2004 by Virelle Kidder. Used by permission of NavPress/Pinon Press. All rights reserved. For copies of the book visit www.navpress.com.