If marriage conferences make you ill because your spouse doesn’t change; if marriage books and blogs like mine frustrate you because while you want to improve your marriage your spouse doesn’t and won’t; if you feel disconnected from your spouse and you seem to be the only one who notices or cares, what then?
You have an opportunity for a difficult but rich spiritual journey. It’s not one anybody would likely choose on their own. At first it isn’t very sweet but in the end it can take you to a spiritually prosperous place.
Thomas a Kempis wrote that “You will quickly be disappointed if you seek comfort and gain from others. If, however, you seek Jesus in all things, you will surely find Him.”
As a pastor who works with real couples, I’ve become a realist. God can heal, but sometimes people resist healing. God will convict but sometimes a spouse will harden their heart. You can tell someone the truth but that doesn’t mean they’ll stop lying to themselves. I have great hope and optimism because of God. If a couple will cast themselves on Him He will do mighty, even amazing things. But sometimes one spouse will quench the work of the Spirit.
If there is no marital comfort to be found, find solace in spiritual comfort. Disappointment can actually lead to a good thing when it forces us to pursue more intimacy with God. When we look to people to notice us, affirm us and appreciate us we’ll have mixed success at best or perhaps even zero success. But when we seek God, we enter the realm of certainty. Jesus promises us, “Seek and you will find.” (Luke 11:9)
For whatever reason, when I was a young boy I felt insecure and alienated, like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I grew familiar with feeling ashamed, incompetent and bothersome. But that pushed me toward God so hard that there were some rich spiritual experiences even early on. I didn’t just want God, I needed God. Looking back, I wouldn’t change what pushed me into God’s arms because what I found there was far superior to youthful success, affirmation or even self-esteem.
I can’t tell you what your next step should be in regards to your disappointing marriage, but I can tell you what your first step should in regards to your life—chase after God until He rains down His affirmation, acceptance, mercy and love, until you realize that what is happening to you breaks His heart even more than it breaks yours. Sometimes, with some people, this can take a while; God may even seem resistant, but persevere. You have this promise from Luke 11:9-13:
“So I say to you, ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. 10 For everyone who asks receives and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks the door will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (CSB)
Then, when God has enveloped you with Himself, you can act with renewed courage and discernment. I’m not telling you to give up on your marriage or to stop trying. I’m telling you to renew your love affair with God. Give yourself a break from your disappointments by leaving human expectations behind and waiting on some heavenly consolation.
If the car battery is dead, continuing to turn the key only drains it a little bit more. At some point, you have to seek a different source of power. If you have been continually and persistently disappointed looking left or right, start looking up for the new charge.
This is not to minimize the pain and hurt you feel over a broken or dying marriage. I’m not pretending that it will ever stop hurting or that this will “make everything better.” I’m just saying that in the midst of your hurt, this will help, at least a little.
Thomas a Kempis adds these words: “Life without Jesus is a relentless hell, but living with Him is a sweet paradise. If Jesus be with you, no enemy can harm you. He who finds Jesus finds a rare treasure, indeed, a good above every good, whereas he who loses Him loses more than the whole world. The man who lives without Jesus is the poorest of the poor, whereas no one is so rich as the man who lives in His grace….Of all those who are dear to you, let Him be your special love.”