Dear married friend,
I’m writing this, as you know, after years of counseling you and your spouse. I’m very tired as I write. You’re not the only couple I’m counseling, and sometimes after yet another hour-long talk with someone drowning in a horrific marriage, I sit dazed in my chair, wishing my pastoral days could be full of prayer, silence, and study rather than the noise and churning emotions of conflict resolution. I wish I could come to the end of the day and see my wife and children without lines of care scarring my face. I wish being a peacemaker didn’t require me to see so much of the evil of the world.
But that’s not why I’m writing. My hope isn’t that the conflict in your marriage will stop so I can enjoy more quiet. I want the conflict in your marriage to stop for you. I want peace for you and your spouse. I lie awake for long hours in the night, yearning for this for you before the Lord.
What breaks my heart is that it’s not difficult. You think your marriage is such a mess, and all I can see is how easy it would be for the conflict to stop and for you to live together in peace. All it would require is for you to stop playing God. I know you’re not willing to stop. But I haven’t given up on you, so let me tell you (again) what it would look like for you to stop playing God.
First, it would require you to admit that the war between you and your spouse is still going on because you’re in it. If you weren’t in it, it would stop, because it takes two to fight. What this means is: you’re sinning a lot, God hates your sin, and you need to stop. I’m not talking to your spouse, I’m talking to you – this needs to be said, because all you’re thinking about right now is how much your spouse needs to hear what I’m saying. Which brings me to a second point.
You need to put down your weapons. You need to drop your sense of entitlement, your feeling of being victimized, your checklist of demands, and your filing cabinet full of resentments. You need to shut your mouth and stop sniping; you need to admit to yourself that you enjoy spitting out those zingers that make you feel so powerful and right. You need to look at the walls you’ve built around your heart, your dramatic withdrawals from your spouse, your various schemes of emotional blackmail, and your ever-present jabbing finger of blame – you need to know that this stuff is antichrist, and any attempt to put it in a better light is sheer pride. How dare you hold this garbage up as somehow defensible in the light of the cross of God’s Son?
Third, you need to listen. You don’t listen. You may think you do, but you don’t. You’ve already sized up your spouse and rendered judgment. You don’t really care what’s going on in his heart; you don’t really care about all the hurt and need that lies beneath her sin. You don’t want to touch those needs or heal those hurts. All you see – all you want to see – is the sin; and your way of fighting sin is to sin. That’s insane. You’ve tried a thousand times to fight your spouse’s evil with evil, you’ve seen the devastation it brings to everyone involved, and you still go right back to it like a dog to vomit. I wonder sometimes if you’ll ever shut your mouth and really, really listen with your whole heart. But no, you already know everything you need to know: you’re an expert on your spouse’s motives, intentions, thoughts, and feelings. The gavel has banged, sentence has been rendered, and you’re kind of looking forward to carrying it out.
Fourth, if you would ever really listen, you would see a way to serve. Of course, you’ll have to get over the notion that when you serve, your spouse will suddenly morph into an angel. You don’t want to hear it, but being a servant means you often get treated like one; and it may take a long time, great sacrifice, and great pain to overcome evil with good. You’re afraid of pain; in fact, you’re controlled by your fear of pain more than you’re controlled by the love of God; and so you walk right past opportunities to serve your spouse, opportunities that are cryingly obvious to anyone who’s not as self-protective as you are. Actually – which is far worse – you often do see the opportunities but choose to ignore them. You might stop to ponder what Jesus thinks of this.
The reason for all of this is that you don’t trust God – and that, fifth and fundamentally, is your single biggest need if you’re going to stop playing God. You keep waiting for your spouse to change so you can love without having to leave your comfort zones. Your comfort zones may be the single biggest rivals to God in your life. You need to repent of your comfort zones. They are the enemy of love in your heart. It’s not safe to love. It got Jesus killed. It will get you killed. Then you’ll experience the resurrection life of Christ. God promises it. The question is whether you believe it. Don’t be too quick to think you do. If you did, you would start loving your spouse (the perfect love of God would cast out fear), and the fighting in your marriage would stop.
You know I’ll never stop praying for you, and I’ll never stop making myself available to you when you’re really in need. But I’ll tell you this straight up: Counseling doesn’t heal marriages. Repentance heals marriages. When you repent, things will heal. Dig in, and the war will drag on interminably. How I pray your war will not last much longer, for your sake, and for the sake of Jesus’ name.
I remain your affectionate pastor, etc.