June 19, 2019

Never Surrender

Gary Thomas — 

A divorce lawyer recently posted an article arguing that the vow “till death do us part” is passé, unrealistic, and needs to be discarded. There’s no shame, he said, in knowing that it’s unlikely and “even rare” for marriages to last for a lifetime, so let’s stop with the pretense. He admitted children face some pain during divorce, but hey, divorce is already so common our kids need to learn that a broken family is simply part of the price you pay for growing up. Please, he pled, let’s dispense with the guilt-casting and moralizing and just admit that a lifelong marriage of fifty years not only isn’t realistic, it’s not even all that desirable.

This divorce lawyer is a blogger and author and I’m not going to give him one extra click of free advertising by mentioning his name. While his words might keep his divorce practice prospering, they are exactly the opposite of what non-abusive marriages need today.

I’m writing from the perspective of a man who just celebrated his thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. Like most couples, Lisa and I have lived through some tough seasons in our marriage when we weren’t sure we would make it. I shudder when I think about one particular season that, had Lisa and I given up in, our second two children and our precious grandchild would never have been born. I’m so glad we didn’t read that divorce lawyer’s article back then. Instead, I would want to read the following.

Never Surrender

There was a time when just about every citizen of Great Britain saw Nazi Germany as an unstoppable juggernaut. Even the most optimistic knew the outlook was bleak. France was falling far more quickly than anyone had anticipated. Britain’s once indomitable military looked vulnerable, and some even considered the horrendous possibility that if defeat was likely, perhaps it might be better to let the Nazi government in rather than suffer the consequences of opposition.

With a last gasp of determination, England elected Winston Churchill to be its new Prime Minister. Churchill all but put the country on his back and reset expectations with a famous inspirational speech: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat….What is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be.”

One speech was enough to get Britain going and to instill hope, but one speech wouldn’t win a war. They still had to fight. As Britain prepared itself militarily and industrially world events grew even more grim. The horrendous but now certain reality of a homeland battle, unlike any Britain had fought for centuries, was upon them. Axis planes and soldiers would invade British airspace and land. Even London would see violence. In fact, Buckingham Palace and its grounds would be hit over a dozen times.

Most experts didn’t think Great Britain could survive. The Nazi military machine was undefeated. Joseph Kennedy, the United States Ambassador to London, was adamant in his belief that London would fall, urging the President to prepare accordingly.

Churchill got back on the wireless and delivered another astounding speech: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

And they didn’t.

Britain’s victory gave the entire world hope that Hitler could be defeated. It preserved a crucial and strategic European base to fight back against the Nazi forces. If Britain had fallen the way France did, historians shudder to think what could have happened next.

As a pastor, I see spouses and individuals take up the vision for their families that Churchill cast for Great Britain. These spouses see the enemies of their family: addiction, lust, financial malfeasance, mental illness, physical ailments, a society hostile to their faith and deliberately lecherous toward their marital vows, and yet these spouses, sometimes together, and sometimes alone, rise up from prayer to proclaim, “We shall defend our family, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight our addiction; we shall fight for our children’s minds and hearts; we shall pray, fast, learn, grow, deny ourselves and build our souls so that we love instead of hate; forgive instead of resent; serve instead of tear down, encourage instead of taunt. We won’t allow money or pleasure, or selfish ambition to burn this home down. Though a thousand demons assault us, though our entire culture conspire against us, we will stand strong in faith, belief, and the grace of Jesus Christ.”

I know a husband who had to sell his house and quit playing golf when he found out how much secret debt his wife had accumulated. It would take years, not months, to crawl out of that debt, but he wasn’t going to let that debt tear his family apart. He didn’t destroy his wife’s reputation by gossiping; some of his buddies just thought he had become too lazy to get up for those early Saturday morning rounds. He had made a vow to keep his marriage together and he was going to keep it. He hadn’t made a vow to sustain his golf handicap, so he put first things first.

A wife nobly helps her husband fight his depression. She knows he didn’t “choose” to be depressed, but when a husband is depressed, one of the things he often can’t care about is…you. It’s a lonely battle, and when your spouse doesn’t seem able to even appreciate you for fighting it; in fact, when he suggests you’d be better off without him so why don’t you just leave, it would be easy, so easy, to blame God for not healing him and go your way. But not this wife. She’s in it to win it and shows the Churchillian determination to depend on God and keep her family together.

Another wife would tell you she probably shouldn’t have married her husband. They got pregnant before they even talked about engagement, and she thought she was doing the right thing to go ahead and get married. Their baby daughter ended up having some special needs. Two more children followed. There was a brief separation, but when she saw how her already troubled daughter felt even more insecure as her parents drifted apart, this wife doubled down on her marriage and has lived the life of a modern-day saint. Does her husband cherish her? That’s not really his thing. Do their recreational interests match up? Not even close. Is he as into God as she is? He accommodates her belief without truly sharing it. So many reasons to leave, so many reasons to quit, but one reason to stay: she made a vow, and she is keeping it. The friends who know her better than I do call her one of the strongest believers they’ve ever met.

I salute these individuals and couples. Like Britain, their victory isn’t just for themselves; they inspire the rest of the world. Their example gives hope and courage to other families that sometimes, when things seem entirely hopeless, when it feels even foolish to believe you can win, victory at great cost is still an option:

“We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be; we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

To all those still fighting such a war in their kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms, I salute you and pray God will strengthen you in the midst of your battle.

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18 responses to Never Surrender

  1. I wish that divorce lawyer and others could have been at my son’s wedding last weekend. During the reception, they did an “anniversary dance,” in which married couples took the floor and only exited when the emcee gave the notification: “Anyone married less than __ years, please leave the dance floor.” The emcee went through 5 years, 10 years, 15 years, and so on. Several couples were still dancing at 25 years, and two couples remained past 45 years. The wife of one of those couples said this about their 46-year marriage: “It takes a lot of work…but we’re best friends.” That long marriage is doable—difficult sometimes, but doable. Thanks for showing that, Gary! What an inspiring post.

  2. Amen pastor Gary.It is not easy and I am giving up.I am trusting God to restore and heal my marriage.I am learning,praying,encouraging home.
    We are having our 10th anniversary in Aug.I trust that we will have many more.

  3. Thank you for a beautiful post. I dug in. I knew something was wrong. He wasn’t himself. I prayed, served, & held tightly to God as my husband was very distant & sometimes cruel in our counseling sessions. I had no idea of his struggles, nor did his friends. My husband took his life 3 years ago. I’m not sure how to reconcile it all, except to say God holds me close. God gives me peace that I served & loved my husband well❤️

  4. Hi Gary,
    How appropriate your post was today. My husband and i have been together for 50 years. Last night a small incident occurred that could have been so easily handled, but my husband didn’t make any effort to fight for our peace or happiness. I thought about it today and realized he never does! His motto is “manana” and he’d rather relax than do anything else. I am SO TIRED! Tired of always being the first to say, “I’m sorry,” when my negative response is to his being in the wrong. I so want to please God. After all, Jesus said if you love me, keep My commandments. His commandment to me is to honor my husband, but i honestly don’t know how to do it!
    Sorry, i’m just ranting here. We haven’t given up, but i don’t know if it’s because we both keep fighting (the enemy), or if it’s just me. Please forgive my pity party. (Not a pretty sight!)

  5. Manwithoutamap June 19, 2019 at 11:24 am

    37 years and I am so thankful that we got here. I can’t say that either my wife or myself have always fought for our marriage the way we should have, and did a lot of damage to each other along the way.

    We never really had a Churchill attitude. I guess if I had to describe it in military terms, our marriage was more like trench warfare in World War 1, with each of us firmly dug in to protect ourselves. At best, it could be called a 20 year stalemate or a truce.

    Still, not giving up was enough to get us to where we are, so I am thankful.

    While I have not seen it listed in the bible, I am pretty sure we have the spiritual gift of enduring.

  6. Yesterday my hubby and I celebrated our 53rd anniversary. My parent divorced when I was 10, and no one ever talked to me about the divorce. I was determined never to marry if divorce were a possibility. However, God had a different plan in mind.
    Three children and 10 grandchildren later, has it all been easy? Definitely not! But we made a vow to God on our wedding day that we intended to keep. So we’ve hung in there and worked hard during the tough times and enjoyed and worked hard in the good times.
    One of our sons wrote us a letter a number of years ago thanking us for breaking the pattern of divorce in my family. That’s a letter we have treasured.
    Thanks for this blog in particular.

  7. We almost didn’t make it. Five years ago I was figuring out how to get out but then God intervened and here we are approaching our 22nd anniversary. The healing journey was slow and sometimes quite painful but now I marvel at how happy we are together. Now when I see people walking away from there (non-abusive) marriage I want to tell them “you’re missing the best part!!” To stand here on the other side with this man I have spent over half my life with and deeply love is the most precious gift, especially when I remember that I almost threw it away.

  8. Karen Hoffmann June 19, 2019 at 8:04 am

    Thank you for this article. It is very encouraging!

  9. Thank you Gary.
    I needed that.
    I’m currently in the battle of my life and Satan is loving it. He loves to separate us with lies and deceit.
    I shall defend our island!

  10. Fight the good fight of faith… Endure hardness as a soldier of Jesus Christ…finish the race set before you.. Faith is the victory that overcomes the world…. Lead on my Shepherd lead on…. Lo He comes quickly

  11. Amen!

  12. I totally get how it is to fight for your marriage by yourself. Been doing it now for more than 7 years. It is an incredibly tough war and one that won’t be won.any time soon. When your spouse’s heart is hardened and disconnected, all you can do is keeping putting one foot in front of the other, pray constantly and hope God will come through!

  13. Your compassion shines through. Thank you for your prayer, wisdom, honesty and challenge.

  14. This is really good….however I always have a hard time balancing a post like this, when there is serious amounts of emotional abuse. Such as a husband sees you as an object or there is absolutely no oneness in the marriage. You have access to nothing unless he deems it fit. Recently divorced, definitely had the Churchill attitude and did everything I could to try to fight for marriage because I do think divorce is horrible and marriage is best.

    Even after divorce….I still think it is horrible! I know I made the right decision. it is not an easy decision and divorce life is not easy either, I have much to be thankful for. I still find divorce life to be emotionally challenging for myself and the children but staying would have been emotionally deadly! So it was the lesser of two evils.

    I as long as I did because I have the Churchill attitude and become I thought I would be married forever and I never wanted to break a covenant!

    • That is why he specifically says in this article non abusive. I too believed firmly in staying and only left five months ago after the intervention of our church. You just don’t always see the hard as abuse but God was definitely not being honored by my son and I being emotionally and financially abused and neglected. If he fails to wake up and change we will end up divorced but it’s certainly not an outcome I ever anticipated. But I know God loves me more than he doesn’t like divorce.

    • Deborah Collins June 21, 2019 at 8:45 pm

      Believe me I understand completely. I am in a verbally and emotionally and spiritually abusive marriage of 34 yrs. This is in no way what God intended for a marriage. Actually it really isnt a marriage! My feelings do not matter to my husband. There is no marriage to fight for. My husband turns into a demon many times. There are many many people like me in churches but the pastors and leaders dont get it. What we are going through. God cares more about us then a divorce! When a spouse has a personality disorder it only seems to get worse as time goes on.

  15. I remember when my husband and I went through a truly dark period. I thought we would not make it out. But God is always and ever faithful. We have been together twenty-five years now and I do not regret fighting for my marriage. That period in our life only strengthened us in the long run and prepared is for battles with cancer and empty nest. Truly God does everything for our good and His glory.

  16. Today happens to be our 54 anniversary (to The same woman, my husband loves to add). How appropriate for your blog to post this morning as we prepare to celebrate each other. 30 years ago we nearly destroyed our marriage but thanks to God’s faithfulness and the presence of Jesus in each of us, and much strife as well as support from godly friends, we have victory and a beautiful connection like never in the first 25 years. Different than those days and oh so much better. Keep writing for marriage the right way and God bless you and your family. Anonymous.