This post is part 20 in a blog series that I have entitled “the wilderness between legalism and grace,” in which I share how I came to realize that I had an incorrect view of God and self and how I became free of the system of legalism whereby I was trying to earn God’s favor. You can view all of the posts in the series here on the series landing page. In this post, I talk about what it’s like to be in a different spiritual place than that of your spouse.
I’ve spent the last 19 posts telling you my spiritual story – my journey – and how legalism affected me, how God opened my eyes to the problems within my heart and the problems of my belief system.
My husband has walked a similar journey, but there were many times along our path as a couple in which our spiritual journeys looked nothing alike.
This is something you don’t hear about very often. We hear and read so much ideology about “good marriages” that it almost seems like if you just do xyz, follow such and such a formula, follow the rules of “love” and “respect” that all will be well, God will be honored, and you won’t disagree all that often.
I think that while all of this is well-intentioned, real life looks a lot different than that most of the time. You can do almost everything right according to the marriage books and still be out-of-sync and in a different spiritual place from your spouse.
It’s a road. It’s a journey. It’s a pit. It’s a paradise.
And the thing about marriage – any marriage – is that you are two different people, and there will be times when your faith feels like it’s gone dark and his has not. Or when he is full of doubt and you are lit up with a new grasp of grace.
No one told me that it is possible to feel a little unequally yoked even if you started out with a shared faith. Even if you’re both Christians. Even if you begin the whole thing with a united picture of God. (From Unequally Yolked at Deeper Story)
I have found this quote to be very true at multiple times within our marriage. While we started out very much in the same place, with the same beliefs, over the last five years it hasn’t always stayed that way – especially since we spent three long years apart.
There are many decisions that we made together. Like in the fall of 2011, when my husband asked me to leave the church we were attending because my needs weren’t being met. But, as he was still on the other side of the world, he left it up to me as to where I would go next, at least until he came home from Afghanistan.
I visited around but eventually ended up at the Christian church where I had been attending MOPS since the beginning of that year. It was like no church I had ever attended in my entire life. They had a praise and worship band (complete with drums and electric guitars), the dress was casual, women wore pants, and they used the ESV from the pulpit. They also only had a Sunday morning service – the rest of the gatherings took place in in-home small groups. It was a whole new ballgame – maybe even a different planet – of Christianity.
I attended from the middle of November of 2011 until my husband came home at the end of that year, a timeframe of about six weeks.
What I found there was amazing. Healing. People reached out to me with love. Strangers I barely knew invited me into their home for Thanksgiving Dinner. The preaching and music spoke to me in ways I’d never felt before. It was all so new and a little bit scary, but it was wonderful.
When my husband returned and had had a chance to recover from jet-lag, we visited this church together. I didn’t say much…but I held my breath hoping for a positive reaction.
What I saw in the corner of my eye was the opposite.
He didn’t like it. The music was too loud for him (especially having just returned from a combat zone), there were too many people, and the pastor just had to take THAT service to talk about the building program instead of preaching a normal sermon.
“I promise, he’s not usually like that!!!”
Russ didn’t want to go back. I didn’t verbally express my disappointment, but it was there. And it was hard. I felt like I was right on the brink of breaking those ties with legalism and moving forward into something different, but he wasn’t there yet.
Within a few weeks we had found another independent, fundamental, King James only Baptist church and together made the decision to attend there. (I will be sharing more about this in my next post.)
The whole time we were there I struggled. Sometimes, I even felt “held back” a bit, yet I knew it was my responsibility to follow my husband’s leadership for our family.
Eventually, just about a year later, circumstances led us away from our conservative church and right back to the church he didn’t like the first time he visited. We attended there for four months before moving here to North Carolina. And he loved it.
I share this because I doubt I’m alone in having to go through this.
I want to be very clear here. I don’t feel like I was or am any better than my husband. Any “more spiritual” – or even closer to God. I had just come to see things a lot differently than I had when we first got married, and my husband hadn’t come to those conclusions yet. We were still walking the same direction, but at slightly different speeds on slightly different routes.
And that’s okay.
I’d like to share some advice for those of you who might find yourself in this situation – not because I did things perfectly – but because, over time, I did see God work and bring my husband to a place where we are now much more in sync.
1. Be patient. God’s timing is not always what we want, but I promise, it is always best. I would have been very happy if Russ had loved that church right off the bat like I did and we had started attending there. But it wasn’t time…for either of us. God still had an awful lot to teach me and show me before he was ready to take us both, united, away from legalism and into a different place. Maybe it feels like you are stuck and it seems like the easy way out is to blame your spouse – but if God hasn’t led your spouse to move forward into a different direction, then maybe it’s because God still wants to do some things in your life and your marriage, right where you are.
2. Don’t underestimate your influence and be careful not to manipulate him into being where you want him to be. Women, we are far more powerful than we realize. I probably could have badgered him, preached at him, or made his life miserable while I waited for him to “catch up” to where I wanted him to be. I may have even been able to convince him to try that church again earlier than he did. But I did my best not to. I tried to keep my feelings under wraps and let God’s voice be louder than mine.
…part of trusting this God and part of obeying him is participating in his plan for our relationships. For married women, running ahead of our husbands shows them we don’t need them, shows them they can’t lead us, that we are faster, deeper, and love God more. If you’re married, know that making our husbands feel inferior is not God’s will. -Jennie Allen Anything chapter 9.
3. Look for God – even in your current situation. If you feel like your spiritual needs aren’t being met because of your current situation, but don’t want to run ahead of your husband’s leadership – get creative about finding other ways to have those needs met. For me, that meant attending PWOC, MOPS, and other Bible studies at other churches. Listen to music that comforts your soul. Make friends with people who can encourage you. Read books and blogs that can help you recover and keep perspective. And don’t forget that even though you may be frustrated at the legalism around you – God is STILL there with you. You don’t have to wait for your spiritual surroundings to improve to heal and find grace. Grace can be found wherever you are – you only have to open up your eyes to see it.
4. Submit, to both God and your husband. Yes I said it. The “S” word. I’m not going to delve into a long discussion of what Biblical submission is and what it is not. But I will say that I believe it is important, and that it can do far more for your marriage than trying to convince your husband of the dangers of legalism ever will. When Russ told me he didn’t want me going to PWOC because “we’re Baptists, not protestants” – I didn’t go. Three years later, his heart had changed and he let me go, and my life was changed because of it. I truly believe that God honored my respect for Russ. Include him in your decisions. Make sure he’s okay with you attending Bible studies at other churches, and if he’s not, then don’t go. If he doesn’t want you listening to certain kinds of music or wearing certain kinds of clothes, even if you disagree, you’ll be better off submitting to him than rushing ahead and doing your own thing. (And you just might want to ask him before you go out and buy an NIV Bible…just sayin…) God can work miracles through your obedience. I’ve seen it happen.
5. Don’t underestimate the power of praying for your husband. I’m not very good at praying (just being honest here…). I don’t do it often enough. I don’t have a regular prayer schedule and struggle with making time to pray. I am more a pray-by-the-seat-of-your-pants sort of girl – the kind of girl that is really glad that the Holy Spirit prays on my behalf because I’m hopeful that it makes up for all the times I don’t pray.
But I have prayed for my husband. I have laid hands on him while he’s sleeping with tears running down my face begging God to do a work in his heart and life. I have prayed that God would make him discontent with the status quo of legalism. I have prayed that Russ would lead us into a place where the spiritual climate was more healing and accepting.
None of my prayers were answered overnight. See #1.
But many of them were answered over the course of the last two years, and Russ has walked his own journey away from legalism. Somewhere along that journey, those separate paths converged, our hands were joined again, and we walked together into a better place.
We still disagree about a lot of things. We still have our own spiritual walk, our own demons to shed, our own battles to fight. And that’s still okay.
Please understand – I’m not saying that you should never be vocal about what God is teaching you, never talk to your husband about things that bother you, or just blindly and mindlessly follow him and completely ignore everything you are thinking and feeling. You are still your own person and God is teaching you things. It’s okay to have differing opinions from your spouse. What I AM talking about is grace, respect, patience, and not running ahead of the work God is trying to do in your husband’s life.
Marriage is beautiful but it’s not always easy. I hope this post has given you some perspective for those times when you are out-of-sync with your spouse.
Have you ever found yourself in this position when your spiritual journey doesn’t look like his? How did you approach it? How do you think submission, prayer, and patience helped you and your marriage? And what did you do in the mean time?
To view all the posts in this blog series, visit the landing page.
Next post, part 21: “Well…it feels comfortable…”