Hope for a hopeless marriage

Another guest post by Angel Davis, my friend and collaborator in ministry. In this blog she shares how her marriage was transformed by her own decision to lean in and let God transform her life. This is Angel’s testimony:

Not much gets better after 36 years, but I’m happy to say marriage has.

That was my husband, texting with his brother on our anniversary. Those fourteen words are such a sweet gift to me. They are a testimony and a miracle, because there was a time when our marriage could only get better.

About halfway into these thirty-six years, I was ready to walk. Throw in the towel. Start all over with someone new who truly loved me. Someone who would understand me, invest energy in me and help me feel secure. I was sure I would never find these things with my current husband.

I had tried and he had failed.

What stopped me from walking? In a word, Jesus, who I now understand as the author of life and love. He gave me no easy out when I begged for one. He gave me no excuses when I manufactured plenty of them. “God, I’m a counselor. I help other marriages heal and thrive. I’ve tried everything in my own, and it hasn’t worked! The only solution is to leave.”

That argument made perfect sense to me, but True Love stopped me from walking out the door. Believe me when I say that isn’t how I defined it in those days. It didn’t feel like love to me at all. In fact, it felt more like punishment and it made me angry. “Fine, I’ll stay God, and now I’ll be miserable the rest of my life.” I felt bitter, rejected, unloved, dissatisfied, not understood — all fruits of a selfish spirit. I had no idea what True Love was or where it came from.

Oh, I thought I knew! I thought I knew what love was and what “fair” was and what I needed. After all, I’m a licensed counselor! I know all these things for other people. And I’m a student of the Bible. I ought to know for myself, too … right?

What I discovered was that while I knew a lot of things in my head, I knew almost nothing in my heart, where it counts. I had not had a transformational, personal encounter with Love Himself around the issue of my marriage. I had not surrendered that to the One who changes hearts, changes perspectives, changes lives.

Eighteen years later, so much has changed. I am still married to the same man I once wanted to leave, but inside this marriage I have experienced love I never knew existed. I have a sense of security and assurance I didn’t know before, and a deep peace beyond anything I could have hoped for. There is contentment. Satisfaction. Belonging. Acceptance. This was the payoff of staying in it and working the plan from God’s angle.

How did it change? You’d think (given my own vocation) we’d immediately get into counseling, but we didn’t. I went to counseling myself for a time and that helped, but I already knew the psychological truths. Mind you, they are good and some are very powerful and beneficial in managing life and making it more tolerable. But all transforming truth ultimately comes from God. He made the heart and only He knows how to care for the heart. So the real change was a heart change. As I leaned in and listened to the Holy Spirit, what I discovered was that I didn’t so much have a marriage problem as a heart problem.

Someone had to go first and in our case it was me. According to his plan and pleasure, God chose to call me first to step up and let him change my heart. As He lovingly hemmed me in, He took me on a journey of heart transformation that changed me permanently. And that change in me brought new life to our once dead marriage.

(Side note: Dead is definitely how I saw what we had. In the season before our transformation, I had diagnosed the marriage and pronounced it dead. As a trained and licensed counselor, you would think I had the insight for that and as a spouse the “right” to it. But guess what? Only the Author of Life can decide when there is no life left. Until then, we had a responsibility to live.)

Had I moved forward with my desire to run, I grieve to think of the tragedy, devastation and lasting effect that would have had on both of us and our children. If I’d done what my selfish heart wanted, today we’d be sitting on separate aisles at our daughters’ weddings, planning separate family holidays, splitting time with grandkids. Family vacations would be near-impossible, not to mention the heart damage — resentments, bitterness, and unresolved anger rippling through the entire family. I grieve to think of our children having to navigate new relationships with their parents, losing their childhood family, finding themselves as adults craving (just as I did) security and assurance.

Those hurts don’t end in adulthood. They are lasting. The world and the enemy of your soul (who cares nothing about your kids or grandkids) will convince you everyone will get over it and be fine. And in some small percentage of cases, that may be true. It is also true that in God’s economy, nothing is lost. In His mercy He redeems everything, even the worst hurts. He can make beauty out of ashes. Divorce is not the ultimate sin.

But dear friends, listen: only God can determine life. We don’t get to decide what is dead and what isn’t. We are not wise enough, smart enough or powerful enough to make that call. No matter how many degrees or how much experience we have, we are not the Author of Life nor the fountainhead of True Love. Only God gets to make that call.

Are you struggling in your closest relationships? Are you wondering if it is time to give something up for dead? Before you make that call, will you allow the Author of marriage and the human heart to have yours today? Will you surrender your expectations and allow Him room to do the deep transformative work only He can do? Here’s the assurance: he will do it, if you allow him, because he specializes in the restoration of things … even something as difficult as your marriage.

What learned from my experience is this: It only takes one person in the hands of a loving God …

Angel H. Davis is a Christ follower who lives in Athens, Georgia and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker specializing in healing prayer. Read more from Angel in her book, The Perfecting Storm: Experiencing God’s Best Through the Trials of Marriage. This is an exceptional resource for those who want to see transformation in their marriage.

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The Gift of Prevenient Grace (or, Lessons learned from the worst night of my life)

On the most difficult night of my life I stepped out of a house into the street and found myself by a terrible mistake in a car with total strangers. I was a young woman at the time, a student. Living on the wild side, I often found myself risky situations. This one took me over a line I didn’t intend to cross.

The incident turned into a nightmare and four hours later I was dumped out on a road, where I would pick myself up and begin the process of healing from a horrible assault, the memories of which would haunt me for years. It took seven years, in fact, for me to make it back to Christ and then only because someone asked me, even though I was not a practicing Christian at the time, to lead a college Bible study. By studying as the leader of that class, I rediscovered my faith and gave my life back to God. I accepted His forgiveness for a mountain of sin and in the process I found forgiveness for the ones who had hurt me.

At the time of the incident, I was on the front edge of a new dating relationship with a young man who would eventually become my husband. He wasn’t with me when I was assaulted but he was there within moments of my desperate, heart-broken phone call. Seeing me so broken created an anger that would torment him for years. How do you forgive people who so violently hurt someone you love?

Some ten years after that incident on a spring afternoon, Steve admitted to himself in what was an otherwise normal time of prayer that he was not able to forgive those people who had done such a horrible thing to his wife. He didn’t know what to do with this lack of forgiveness, so he decided to do what any busy, practical person does. He stuffed it.

But God wouldn’t let it rest.

In fact, it seems now, as we look back on it, that in that confession God was preparing my good husband to forgive. In October of that same year, he went on a spiritual retreat. During the weekend when he was invited to make a kind of personal inventory, he came face to face with this issue and found himself crying out to God.

Steve told God he was unable to forgive. He said, “Lord, if it is going to happen, you will have to do it. I can’t.” He says it was as if God answered him in that moment, saying, ‘Carolyn has forgiven them. Why can’t you?” Steve said he had to admit to God that he just couldn’t forgive. He didn’t have it in himself. He didn’t yell at God or try to justify anything. He just plainly acknowledged what was. “God, I can’t forgive them.”

Honesty is something God can work with. John 3 teaches us that anything in the dark belongs to the enemy of our soul. What we bring into the light becomes the property of Jesus. God works with honesty. In that moment, the Father answered Steve simply. “I was with her the whole time.”

It wasn’t a justification of what happened. It didn’t answer all the questions. But somehow, that truth was enough to allow Steve to let go of the anger and pain.

God knew, and that was enough.

Psalm 139 says, “O Lord, where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there; if I make my bed in the depths of Sheol, you are there. If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.” My husband, Steve, tells me — and scripture confirms it — that on a night when I experienced a little piece of hell, God was with me even then. When I was as far as I’ve ever been from a relationship with him — in the pit of my life, living in the darkest valley — God was still there. He never left me alone.

And this is the strength of his grace. It is that willingness of God to be there no matter what, so he can be there when we finally turn to him. Prevenient grace is that strong willingness of God to bear our stories of rejection and inadequacy, of dark nights and angry days and even our own stories of sin and shame. God’s grace is strong enough to bear the pain we’ve caused others as well as the pain of others that we feel. God is there through all of it. God has been there the whole time, watching, grieving the pain of it but in his strength, waiting.

And God knows what you are made of and God knows what you’ve been though. And that same God has never once given up on you.

Not even once.

Not even you.

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