August 2, 2017

Hope in Disappointing Marriages

Gary Thomas — 

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.”

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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40 responses to Hope in Disappointing Marriages

  1. Unfortunately my husband filed for divorce and I’m am going to have to hire a lawyer this week. I know this is the reason. He tries to find affirmation from me solely instead of God. He seeks from humans what He should be turning to God for. He still tries to get affirmation from his parents and he’s 46. Apparently two children ages 2 & 4 aren’t reason enough to try something to make it work. He won’t get counseling and probably hasn’t read anything I’ve shown him. I am relying on prayer and faith to move a mountain that he will have a change of heart. That he will hear the voice of God speaking to him and restore this marriage.

  2. You are right Gary, it doesn’t ease the pain, at the same time though this message does help you go through the pain knowing you are not alone in Christ Jesus. He is faithful, through any circumstance. He is the great restorer of souls. I find some comfort in what you’ve shared, thank you.

  3. Amen. My marriage was very difficult. My husband broke furniture and put holes in walls. I cried a lot but it drove me closer to my savior. And after many hard years The Lord answered my prayers and my husband began to change. My husband now cherishes me and I respect him. What a blessing to be growing old together and enjoying our adult children.
    If you’re in a difficult marriage cry out to The Lord. He is Faithful and True. He is Sovereign. He is a Rock. Don’t run away from a difficult marriage. Instead allow the Sovereign Lord to use a hard marriage to push you towards intimacy with Him. Now I have intimacy with Jesus and my husband.
    I am so glad that I did not give up on my marriage!

  4. Thank you. This is so confirming of what other godly people in my life are encouraging me to do right now. Jesus is faithful and true. No matter what, He has to be first above our spouses – there are so many little ways I’m seeing of how I’ve placed my husband and marriage ahead of God. Those choices have made our challenges even harder, but I can rest well in Jesus’s arms as my husband regardless of what my earthly husband does or doesn’t do. Fixing my eyes on Jesus and allowing him to fix everything else.

  5. Gary, My husband and I attended a “Sacred Marriage” weekend a long time ago. At the time our marriage was being smashed by sin against the rocks. He came reluctantly, I came broken hearted…and God began to work with us and rebuild each one of us. We leaned into Christ and He redeemed our marriage, taught us to forgive through His grace, and is continuing to reshape each of us into His Holy Image. Daily we are in awe of Christ’s love for us! We did nothing, simply bowed to Him and let Him guide us back to a pure love for each other. Your words today are true encouragement! Never in a million years did I think that our marriage would survive. With God ALL things are possible! Praise His Holy Name! Thank you for your devotion to serving God and all of us, His children.

  6. I really appreciate this blog post, Gary, thank you. Thank you for telling it like it is. So much of the advice out there tells hurting spouses just to try harder to love the hard-hearted, selfish spouse, and that in the end it will all turn around. I have learned the hard way that this isn’t true. Rather, what you are saying is true – sometimes we need to release our spouse into God’s hands and stop trying to fix everything on our own, and then to get the love we so desperately need from God himself, who never disappoints the way mere humans can. I love that you wrote “chase after God” because what I did for so many years was chase after my husband, which only led to heartbreak, when what I should have been doing all along was chasing after God!

  7. I just this week pulled out my copy of The Imitation of Christ (Kempis) to re-re-read. I think I will follow it up with Cook’s New Testament Holiness—– I really needed this reminder today. Thank you and the LORD God bless you for it.

  8. Thank you Gary for your thoughtful and biblical comments on a difficult subject. The chapter Loving Someone Who Doesn’t Care from “A Lifelong Love” nicely addresses this issue as well. Today’s message is also a good follow up to last week’s Supernatural Marriage post where you discuss how God can use ‘thorns in our side’ to our benefit through spiritual dependence on Him.

    I have read several of your books and “A Lifelong Love” continues to be my favorite. A friend recommended it during a major transition period in my life. It was not only helpful for our marriage, but spiritually challenged me and made me realize I needed to ‘change myself’ by drawing closer to God. This book is so rich with spiritual wisdom and practical applications that my wife and I plan on using it for our couples class this fall.

    God has given you a wonderful writing talent and it is my prayer that He will continue to inspire your work as well as open the hearts of those who read your messages. Our fallen world needs to hear more about true, biblical love and turn to the Lord for His divine help. Thank you and God bless.

    • Thank you Fred! I’ve heard similar comments about A Lifelong Love but it’s a crowded marketplace and that book never really found its way as well as Sacred Marriage and Cherish have. So when somebody like you singles it out, I feel like a parent who sees an underappreciated child receive an award–so thank you for that, and for spreading the word!

  9. I just can underline everything said in this blog! It suits the experience I made. One of my daughters asked me yesterday, considering all I went through with her father in my marriage, if I would say that I’ve had made a mistake marrying him. We both were astonished about my answer: it was “No!” – I could tell her that I cherish the good times and that the hard times and the experiences I made with my Lord during this time made me who I am now. And I am nearly surprised to say: I feel fine with myself (in most parts 😉 because I’m confident with other things in my life that went right, especially my children. And I can see the sheltering hand in all this Jesus had upon our family despite everything else going wrong! (Like it is said in Romans 8,28-39) Or how German Christians say: God is able to write on crooked lines! I never want to miss what I experienced with Jesus in these hard times. Like an African missionary said, who lost his whole family through AIDS, as he was asked, if he would want his family back when he had to give back all experiences he had made with Jesus during this time: “I hope I never have to make a decision like that. Because – I rather want to keep the experiences I made with Jesus!”

  10. Thank you. I have so proved this true in my life and marriage.

  11. Amen and Amen!!!! About 6 years ago I was sinking into a very deep, dark pit over my marriage. I was ready to call it quits. For “some reason” I, instead, chose to rededicate my life to Jesus and serve Him only. Without knowing or having read anything on cherishing, I chose to be a blessing to my husband without anything in return. It was hard. Very, very hard. Looking back now I can see the tiny baby steps of growth and a renewal along the way that weren’t obvious or plain to me then. We have a long way to go but we are no longer on the brink of no return, and for that I am grateful. God has done such a good thing in my marriage, and I am in awe of His greatness and faithfulness.

  12. Gary, You are so anointed and I love every blog you write. Thank you again for all of your wonderful spiritual advice and wisdom in my marriage. Jesus is certainly the only way to receive peace and joy and that always helps to restore a marriage. May Jesus continue to bless You and Lisa!!!

    • Thanks Janice. I hope to give you and Lawson an opportunity to share your powerful testimony in the not-too-distant future. To God be the glory!

  13. Refocus-Reclaim August 2, 2017 at 9:05 am

    Love this! Thank you for the encouragement!

  14. Thank you for this, I TRULY needed this today. My husband filed for divorce anyway, despite my praying relentlessly for my marriage and so now I am divorced and trying to figure all of that out.
    I am going to take your advice and seek HIM all the more because I am beginning to understand that seeking HIM is where I will find peace and rest for my heart and soul.

    • I’m so sorry, Chanacey, and I’ll hold out hope that perhaps there could yet be reconciliation. But I’m so glad to hear you’re running straight into the Healer’s arms.

  15. So deep. So true. Amen!

  16. Yes and amen to this post, Gary! A hard-hearted spouse drove me to the cross, where I discovered the TRUE Lover of My Soul. It’s the greatest redemption that came out of my very troubled and abusive marriage. Rev 19:11 is every woman’s dream, with our Saviour riding in on a white horse, whose name is FAITHFUL and TRUE. Even after my divorce, I walk around with a clear understanding that Jesus is my forever faithful bridegroom, no matter my marital status here on earth. He never disappoints!

  17. What hope you’ve given me in this blog!

  18. I needed this encouragement/ reinforecement this morning. After living in this type of marriage ( broken and dying) the divorce was final in May. I kept praying and to be honest I still am that the Lord will heal and restore and redeem but I believe he was resisting and quenching the Holy Spirit which makes me so sad.
    Even now he has cut me from his life and told me I was dead to him. Why am I still praying and hoping he will return to God and to me? Do you think I will ever hear from him again?

    • So sorry to hear of your situation…..perhaps he wasn’t really the man for you. God knows best!

    • Kimberley, I’ve seen marriages raised from the dead–even seven years after a divorce (read “I Do Again” by Jeff and Cheryl Scruggs). But that is clearly the exception, so one of the challenges of life this side of the renewed earth is living with uncertainty. Just try to use this as motivation to build up the true love of your life in Jesus. Up your reading, your sermon listening, your prayer walks, tell God you need Him like you never have before.

  19. How precious are these spirit infused words. Thank you!

  20. On the money! Life-giving words!! I needed to hear that so bad…!!! Reaffirms all of God’s whispers to me in recent times… I am grateful for His love, mercy and grace… and to you for you obedience in serving the body of Christ as you so relentlessly do. God bless you Gary, forever and a day!