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