I was visiting with a good friend of mine Sunday evening and we got into a discussion about the many roads life takes us down. As she discussed her life and some of the challenges she’s faced over the last 20 years, she said that one of her greatest difficulties has been having an unbelieving husband while she has tried, stumbled, and is now succeeding in living a Christ-centered life. This topic especially caught my interest because so many women at SheLovesGod struggle with this same challenge. So I asked her a few questions about what she did and what she’d do differently looking back in hindsight.
One of the hardest things that people face when they become converted and their spouse does not is the fear of losing their spouse if they become this new person. Friction and fear often occur when one spouse is trying to live a Christ-like life while the other is disinterested, unsupportive or even antagonistic. Often when faced with this crisis point one thinks, “What if I change my life, follow Christ and then my spouse doesn’t want me anymore? What if I change so much that s/he thinks I’m boring or rejects me completely. I can’t bear to lose him/her!” If we give in to these fears and thoughts, we may give up or even retreat away from God completely.
What complicates matters is that in today’s society worldly habits are the shaky foundation upon which many marriages are built. What do you do if activities that center on unhealthy substances, improper entertainment, or bad habits are the glue in your marriage? What if one spouse decides s/he wants to cease these activities? Will the other spouse leave? Will this rip the very core of the marriage?
My friend who had been through these challenges told me that the best answer is to “face the lion.” If you’re afraid you’ll lose your spouse if you change and follow what God is telling you to do, be honest with your spouse! Be direct. Say, “Look, I’m making certain changes in my life right now and I don’t feel comfortable with x, y, and z activities anymore. But, I’m scared for us. I’m afraid that we’ve built our marriage on these activities and if I don’t do these things anymore with you, you’ll pull away and I’ll lose you. But these changes in my life are very important to me.”
She went on to explain, “Fear of losing your spouse is just Satan’s way of halting your progression. He convinces you that your spouse will leave you if you change and live the way God wants you to. So, if you ‘face the lion’ Satan loses his hold.” As Jesus said, “Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)
She said, “What have you really got to lose here? If you’re honest, then your cards are out there on the table. Your spouse knows your hopes and your fears. You have made a stand and you are now free to give them to God to deal with. This will either force your spouse to ask himself, ‘Wow, is our marriage really built on only these shallow activities?’ or he may not even care. But either way, now you know. You can stop sidestepping and avoiding the real issue in your marriage. If God is really what you want, what have you got to lose?”
The following are some ways my friend suggested for following through with your commitment to follow Jesus Christ even when living with a spouse who does not believe as you do.
What do You Really Want?
All of this comes down to what do you want more? Until you realize you want God in your life and want to do His will, you’ll struggle with all this. But even once you decide to follow Jesus Christ, life doesn’t suddenly get easy. All those challenges will still be there. All those temptations will still be present and may even be heightened because Satan says, ‘You think you can do this? No way, you don’t have what it takes!’ It takes resolve and determination to change old habits. And it takes the courage to make a stand — over and over again. But God will never leave you nor forsake you when you have the courage to stand on his side of the line.
Decide Ahead of Time
You simply must decide ahead of time what you will do in the face of any temptation. You have to think ahead to what you will say when someone tries to convince you that it’s ok to do something you know is wrong. How will you react? What will you say? By predetermining your reaction, rehearsing it, it will flow naturally from you when faced with the challenge.
Remember that Nature Hates a Void
When we give up any activity or habit, we must replace it with something positive. That might be running, walking, or even envisioning the person you want to become and the life you want to live. Prayer and scripture study are indispensable fillers for the void.
As critical as it is to fill the void in your personal life, it is just as critical to fill the void in your marriage. If a marriage is built on improper activities, then replace them with activities that build your relationship without destructive consequences. Spend time together, rebuild the romance, go on picnics, hiking, whatever. But, fill the void. And in the end, your marriage will be stronger and better for it.
You can’t go into all this with a “holier than thou” attitude. You can’t go in with the attitude that you’re so much better than your spouse and that they are bad and evil for wanting to continue a destructive lifestyle or a life without God. Let your spouse know that this is something that is important to you and that you realize it may not be important to them. But, you can still love and respect them unconditionally.
If at all possible, pray together. Sometimes you may have a believing spouse, but he may not be as interested in spiritual things as you would like. He may not be as committed as you would like to be yourself. Praying together is the first step in growing together spiritually. My friend says that “if a couple can’t pray together then there is some serious problems. There’s too much gunk there in your relationship that needs to be resolved.”
Bringing God into your life doesn’t destroy a marriage. Selfishness, fear, and betrayal destroy marriages and none of these come from God. The only way to have a happy and fulfilled marriage is to put God at the center. And the only way that’s going to happen is if at least one of you takes a stand. Many times through your faithfulness, your prayers and your example, your mate will come around. But remember, if you do not try there is no hope. So have the courage and face that lion!
Marnie Pehrson is a wife, mother of six and consultant who helps talented professionals discover, define & deliver their message to the online world. She is the author of “10 Steps to Fulfilling Your Divine Destiny: A Christian Woman’s Guide to Learning & Living God’s Plan for Her” and may be reached at www.pwgroup.com.