The One Line I Wish I Had Never Written

At the beginning of my book, Gospel-Centered Womanhood, I described my reality as a new wife and mom.  The things I was struggling with, the things I was learning.  But in sharing all that, there is one line I wish I had never written.  I wrote this one particular line as though it were the correct paradigm for a wife.  But only now I know that I was missing so much.  There is this one line describing my new wife reality; it is on p. 11 in my book and reads like this:

Staying home full time, laying down major ministry projects, and following my husband in his various pursuits truly became a crisis of belief for me.

When I wrote that line, I was still developing my understanding of marriage.  At the time, I was still heavily influenced by my background having grown up in and spending my young adult years in male dominant streams of Christianity.*  I believed that I was meant to lay myself aside to follow my husband in his pursuits. 

I don’t agree with this any more.  I have a much more synergistic, team understanding of marriage now than I did back then.  I have a deeper “co-heirs” theology about husbands and wives now.[1]

But before I go any further, let me assure you that I align myself with Biblical concepts of marriage.  It is Biblical for a wife to submit to her husband.  Just as it is Biblical for a husband to lay down his life for his wife.  Both are acts of surrender to each other.  Both are ways of listening to one another.  Both are ways of valuing one another. 

But I have learned to not focus only on the Biblical ideas of wifely submission as the primary teaching on marriage.  I have learned to take in what the rest of what the Bible says about marriage.  The truth that husband and wife were designed for oneness with each other.[2] The truth that husband and wife were given the mandate to do meaningful work together on this earth.  The truth that God’s mandate was not given to Adam alone to later have Eve follow him in it, but instead it was given to them after they were together.[3]  The truth that husband and wife are heirs together of all spiritual things in Jesus.[4]  We miss so much when we limit our Biblical teachings on marriage to submission and respect only.  We miss the overarching message of togetherness, mutual surrender, and equal worth and calling as presented throughout the Bible.

So, yes, I believe in a wife submitting to her husband expressed by respecting and trusting him just as much as I believe that he is called to lay his life down to love his wife well.  And I also believe that the husband and wife are of equal worth and value with gifts, calling, and purpose that are meant to be intertwined into a oneness that reflects the Divine.  A synergistic dance of two people with powerful purpose as they reflect Jesus together on this earth. 

So back to the line I wish I had never written.  I used to think a wife was called to follow her husband’s calling.  While never explicitly expressed this way, I had somehow absorbed during my time in various churches that a wife’s gifts, calling, and purpose were secondary to her husband’s.  I cannot even fully express how wrong I now believe this is. 

I no longer believe that the wife’s gifts, calling, and purpose are secondary to her husband’s.  Nor do I believe that the husband’s gifts, calling, and purpose are secondary to his wife’s.  I am learning to embrace the truth that God puts two equal creations in marriage to work together on a combined life.  He talks about oneness as the ultimate marriage reality. He talks about concepts of mutual surrender, not one person as the primary personality in the marriage to which the other becomes secondary (whether husband or wife).  He talks about equality as spiritual beings, which would only lead to an understanding of the wife and husband as equally gifted, equally called, equally purposeful.  So, it follows that in His design, the ideal would be that the two people in a marriage would interweave their gifts, calling, and purpose to create a “new” trajectory, with both people expressed and living fully as they were created to live. 

Of course, there will be seasons where one person’s gifts or call is more expressed given life circumstances and stages, but it should not be forever at the complete cost of the other.  It should be agreed upon as a connected season where both persons are working toward the one person’s gifts/call for the agreed upon time, purpose, or goal.

The best marriages have two full and whole people who are very much together, connected, and one.  This, I believe, is God’s design. 

I regret misrepresenting this design, potentially leading other women down a path toward pursuing second-class status in their lives.  I was still learning back then.  I still am.  And I hope I will always be growing in a deeper understanding of God and how He designed our lives to be. 

End Note:
To read more about what all this looks like in real life, I recommend reading these passages in the following books as well as a particularly impactful blog post (link below): 

Anything by Jennie Allen, “A Letter from Zac,” pp. 193 – 197

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker, “Brandon’s Take” pp. 42-43 (original edition), pp. 39-41 (second edition)

Freefall to Fly by Rebekah Lyons, pp 189 – 190

“Being a Husband Who Unleashes His Wife” by Zac and Jennie Allen (click here)

* As an aside, as a single woman in these streams of Christianity, I did have male leaders who both affirmed and made space for my gifts and callings within the Kingdom and specifically in their respective church bodies.  For that I am very grateful.  

[1] 1 Peter 3:7
[2] Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:8
[3] Genesis 1:28
[4] 1 Peter 3:7


When Marriage Isn't Working

This post is a more honest post about marriage.  The real stuff.  Not fluffy.  So read on only if you dare, you’ve been warned.  All marriages struggle at some point, but almost no one talks honestly about it or how to get through it.  So here’s my attempt. 

Six years of marriage, three kids, and more than a few major life stressors in that short time took a toll on our marriage in a way that neither of us saw coming.  All of the sudden we could not find common ground, we had difficulty connecting, and we were just on edge with each other for a good portion of this last year.  We had lost each other in it all.  This was more than just a season of struggle…we were lost within our marriage…we couldn’t find the friend we had known in the other.  These were some of the darkest days of our marriage to date.  In the midst of it, the days were increasingly difficult and the gap between us only widened as time passed.  Time itself does not heal. 

We were lost within our marriage.    

Then this past September, breakthrough happened. Through a chain of events, some brutal honesty, the prayers of trusted friends, combined with truly listening to each other, to the whispers of the Spirit, and to the words of an insightful counselor, Jesus took all that had been crumbling for months between us and made something totally new. We had to stop and accept the other person and who he/she had become.  We had to stop and acknowledge the stressors for what they were, recognize that many of them were outside our marriage relationship and not our marriage itself, and find common ground together to face them.  We had to acknowledge and accept the hard things we do each bring to the table of our marriage.  Neither one of us is the problem, but because we are (quite opposite) human beings, we bring our own sets of struggles, challenges, and hard things into our marriage.  We had to renew grace for the other’s challenges and also acknowledge that we needed grace for our own challenges. 

And we had to silence the lies the enemy was whispering in the dark: that we couldn’t make it together.  The enemy is a tricky one…just when you are about to tip over the edge, he prods you, hoping you’ll fall and blame everything and everyone but him.  But Jesus is greater.  When we looked to Jesus, He caught us before we fell over the edge.  He sat us back up and spoke truth that comforted and connected us.  

Just shy of a month after that breakthrough (that lasted and changed our marriage forever), we had the opportunity to leave all three of our kids with my mom and brother.  We got to go into “the city” (a.k.a. Oklahoma City) for two nights.   And while we were there, we felt again that friendship that had been such a strength for us.  We remembered what good friends we are. We had the time and the space and the energy to reconnect into the relationship that we felt like we were losing.  We were able to truly see each other and remember that we did really like each other. 

Over the last few years, I have become convinced that no marriage is exempt from struggle.  And if it appears that a couple seems to never struggle, chances are that one or both persons have never faced underlying (human) issues.  You can go twenty years living around one another and accommodating each other, ignoring glaring issues in your relationship and having almost everyone around you convinced that you’ve got a great marriage, only to crash later.  Or you can struggle from day one, wondering if you will ever get on the same page.  Or most commonly, you can be married with seasons of ease and connection intermixed with seasons of struggle.  The greatest, strongest, longest marriages fully face those struggles, learn from what’s there, and allow Jesus to take what’s difficult and totally restore it to become a place of life and strength for the couple. 

If you are going through a difficult season in your marriage, I would encourage you to…

Be Honest
Be brutally honest with yourself about what you see happening.  Pray over what you see and ask the Spirit for insight and help. 

Own Your Own Mess
Face your own weaknesses and challenges that you are bringing to your marriage. Acknowledge them, own them, and recognize that those things can be hard for your spouse.

See Your Spouse as a Regular, Human Person with Struggles
See your spouse’s weaknesses and challenges from a perspective of grace.  Sure, you may need to work through some of the hard things together to come to an agreed upon solutions, but work to give your spouse as much grace as you long to receive. 

Identify Lies
Identify the lies that the enemy uses to trip you up.  Write them down on a piece of paper where you can see them.  Ask Jesus for the truths that counteract those lies.  Giving space to lies from the enemy can quickly take you down a slippery slope in your marriage.  Stay alert to places he lies to you about yourself, about your spouse, and about your marriage. He will take any opportunity he can to create a wedge between you and your spouse.*

Identify Outside Stressors
Identify outside stressors for what they are.  What outside stress factors are taking a toll on your marriage that are not actually your marriage itself?  Pray about what you can do to lift some of the stressors to give your marriage more space and attention.

Get Help
Seek insightful voices to help you along the way.  Whether that be wise and trusted friends or a counselor (click here for an excellent article on pursuing marriage counseling), you will need other voices speaking life into your marriage at times.  Seek those trusted voices early rather than when it’s almost too late.

Most of all, know that you are not alone.  Marriage is amazing and hard.  It is a beautiful reality that requires so much more than you ever expect, especially if you want to be truly connected to your spouse, living as one.  You will constantly be living in vulnerability and honesty and giving grace and learning and growing and being transformed and becoming one…and it will be so worth it. 

And if you need a soundtrack for seasons of struggle, might I suggest these songs as a start:

“Mess is Mine” by Vance Joy
“Stay Alive” by Jose Gonzalez
“Farther Along” by Josh Garrels
“Nothing I Hold On To (Live)” by Will Reagan & United Pursuit

As a Last Resort
As a very last resort, if one person in the marriage is consistently unwilling to work toward resolving the issues and/or if that person is characterized by unrepentance of his or her sin in the marriage, it may be necessary to separate until or unless that pattern changes.  Seeking support of trusted, wise, and prayerful friends as well as insight from a gifted marriage counselor is recommended for seasons of separation to prevent bitterness from growing. 

* The spiritual battle is real in life, just check out the following passages.  Marriage is often a focus of spiritual attack because our marriages so comprehensively affect our entire selves and lives.  Recognizing the spiritual battle over our marriages is vital. 

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.  I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10:10 (ESV)

Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12 (ESV)

And in John 8:44, the devil is described as a “liar” and the “father of lies.”


Marriage, Sabbath, and Struggle: A Few Honest Words about the Past Few Months

A while back a few of you asked for a Sabbath year update; however, those requests were right in the midst of some upheaval that I couldn’t put to words yet.  But now, I can look back at those months with more clarity. 

As most of you know, we took a “Sabbath Year” that started last October 1st of last year.  We set a full year aside to rest and reset as a family.  Val left his faculty position at In His Image Family Medicine Residency and took a part-time hospitalist job at a local hospital.  We hired house cleaners to make my load lighter.  And for a few months after Silas was born, we ate a lot of take-out to simply allow me to rest.  The beginning of our Sabbath rest coincided with my recovery from a C-section and the entrance of a new person into our family; so, all of our rhythms as a family were shuffled and reset.  And it was needed.  Somewhere last winter, we set even more defined rhythms that benefitted everyone.  Val and I worked together to make sure each of us had time alone every day.  This was especially valuable for me!  And for a few months, life felt new and smooth and awesome.

In fact, so much of what happened in our lives from October to March completely redefined our family.  Everyday rhythms were reset to healthier patterns.  Val and I were a stronger team than ever.   Our parenting was smoother than ever.  And our kids were doing better than ever.  Happier.  Sleeping better than ever.  Peace in our home.  My greatest hopes for our little family were beginning to be realized. 

Then, somewhere in March, life began to feel funky.  Life struggles surfaces.  Marriage struggles surfaced.  Old and new struggles were coming to light.  Many separate events and circumstances culminated in the matter of a few weeks adding unexpected tension, stress, and struggle to our marriage. Val and I began having such a hard time connecting with each other.  Conversations, life circumstances, frustrations, and hurts were leaving us both wondering why we couldn’t get on the same page. Some days it was really hard to remember that we were each other’s best friend.*      

As time passed we were able to connect the dots between what had seemed like lots of small, isolated incidents into one larger picture.  It seemed that there were a few major themes running through our struggles.  Things that at the height of our hard days we weren’t able to see, but as we stepped away clarity drew the commonalities of each isolated moment together to expose much broader themes.

Plus, we were able to clearly see that there was a spiritual element to all that had surfaced.  There is a real spiritual battle against any two people staying connected, married, and one.  Lies from outside spiritual forces tempt us to believe the worst about ourselves, our spouses, and our marriages.  When we stop to actually see this, we realize that the real battle is often not with each other but is in spiritual realities against spiritual forces.**  Val and I were able to see some of the specific places of spiritual attack that came sweeping in simultaneously with some of our struggles. 

On top of all that, both Val and I were each individually growing into healthier individuals.  As we were both learning how to navigate our newer, more whole selves, we were often clashing with each other, causing friction as we stepped into the awkward dance of learning how to be together as changing individuals. 

My friend Jacci Turner shared a few words in a guest post she wrote for “Life as Worship” a few years ago that echo the same feeling, words that I have held close to my heart during this season of change.  To quote Jacci:

“I thought I’d start by talking about what oneness is not. Oneness is not a lack of change. David has people come into his counseling practice all the time and say, ‘My wife/husband isn’t the person I married!’ David’s response is, ‘Thank God for that!’ I mean really, can you imagine how tragic it would be if a person never grew and changed over the course of their marriage?

People grow and change because that is how God created them. He wants us to evolve into people who are more loving and unselfish. He wants us to learn and think and change. The key in marriage is staying connected with each other as we grow and change. You have to learn to love your constantly evolving spouse, not some outdated idea of who you want them to be.”  (Click here to read the post in its entirety.)

In addition to these words that I held to, a good friend recently sent me an article with a quote that captured exactly what has been happening with Val and I:

So, to stay married, you have to commit to keeping up with the other person’s changing, and keep asking God for the grace to love whoever they become.” (Click here to read Mike Donehey’s post in its entirety.)

So, there we were, facing many little struggles, fighting a spiritual battle, all the while trying to learn how to adjust to our newer selves.  As we saw this, I began feeling shame related to struggling so badly in the midst of our Sabbath Year.  I felt like it was “bad” for us to struggle when we were supposed to be “resting.”   As I prayed about it, I sensed God showing me that it was because of the Sabbath that our struggles were coming out.  That some of these struggles would never be seen if we hadn’t slowed down this much.  That it was in this stillness that God could actually heal us, change us, and grow us.

As I shared this with Val, he explained it in imagery.  Our reality was like dirty water that had been stirred up and then was allowed to finally settle.  The turbid water stills, all the sediment falls to the bottom, and for the first time you can finally see what and how much is really there.  As long as we were spinning in our life, the struggles and core heart issues never could truly settle out.  But as we were stilled, we were finally able to see them.  As we took what had settled out to Jesus, He was/is able to handle that “sediment” and purify the water of our reality.   

In the end, the struggles and the spiritual battle and the learning each other have been more valuable than if we had just continued on in old, familiar but messier patterns. 

This is our Sabbath Year.

Even our marriage is being reset.

So, what’s your story of change in marriage?  How you have accepted your spouse as he/she has changed over time?  Even better, how has your spouse accepted you as you’ve changed over time?

* It is so vulnerable to say that there are times when Val and I struggle in our marriage.  While it's totally normal to struggle sometimes in marriage, it's not common to talk about it.  So sharing it feels almost as though we're the odd ones, as though we're the only ones who struggle to connect sometimes (even though I know that’s not true).  So, I am choosing to share about our real life to not only normalize struggle, but also to normalize hope…hope that God works with our struggle to bring about something new.  That something new can be found in Him, even in marriages where we are having a hard time getting on the same page.  As Jen Hatmaker says, “All due respect to the Resurrection, but two-becoming-one might be the greatest miracle ever (For the Love, p. 73).”

** John 10:10, Ephesians 6:12, 1 Peter 5:8