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Volume 14, Issue 6: Femina

Big Stinking Tangles

Nancy Wilson

Sometimes marriage difficulties are so tangled that it takes a lot of patience and faith to even begin the process of sorting them out and loosening all the knots that have accumulated. Just as with a ball of string that is full of snarls, it is tempting to just go get the scissors, cut out the mess, and start over. But in the case of a Christian marriage covenant, that is not the way out. (I am not speaking here of the exceptions allowed by Scripture for adultery.)

The flesh wants to ditch, bale, skip out, start over, get even, get a life, think about me, give up, and move on. But once disobedience gets on a roll, it only leads downhill to more and more sin, unhappiness, and misery until it finally crashes into a little heap somewhere. I've seen this more than once in real life. In fact, sometimes things are so messed up that a Christian wife deliberately sins in a flamboyant manner, just so the church or husband will be forced to excommunication or divorce or both.
Of course a biblical repentance is what is needed, but a heart that is overtaken in sin rarely wants to admit its own guilt. It is far easier to focus on the sins of the other, in this case, the husband, and there is usually plenty to complain about. A hard heart is a frightening thing to behold. It justifies disobedience by assigning all the blame to others. It grows more and more vindictive, unreasonable, and self-centered, if that is possible. A heart hardened by sin begins to embrace behavior that it once knew to be wicked. Compromise follows compromise, until it seems there is no way to bring the person back. Discussion doesn't work. A hard heart makes for a very muddled brain that does not respond to reason or pleading.
Only the resurrecting grace and power of God can bring about the kind of all-encompassing, all-out repentance that is urgently needed in such cases. A fleshly kind of "I'm sorry" won't accomplish anything. This kind of soul-destroying cancer requires a thorough removal that only God can bring about.
So, what can be done? First consider a few very simple preventative measures. Confess your sins on a regular, daily basis. Do not allow bitterness and resentment to get a foothold in your heart and mind. Of course in some marriages there will be many provocations. This calls for more love to cover a multitude of sins, more grace for forgiveness, more of the Spirit's graces of longsuffering and patience. But do not allow sin to get into your marriage in the first place. Be jealous for your relationship's health and beauty. Be slow to speak, as James says, and slow to be angry. Be quick to forgive, and quick to seek forgiveness. This is basic Christian living.
Secondly, be zealous to be the kind of wife who is more concerned with pleasing God than with being pleased by your husband. Sometimes, for one reason or another, Christian women find themselves married to ungodly men. Of course, this is a trial. But a faithful Christian woman can make the circumstances much better by being obedient, and a disobedient wife can always make things worse. This is one of my husband's regular exhortations to couples in this type of situation: things may be bad now, but you can always make them a whole lot worse.
What does the Scripture teach? Are you respecting your husband? Are you seeking to honor and obey him? Or are you nitpicking, backbiting, criticizing, complaining, and being generally unpleasant? A wife can become so focused on her husband's sins (and they are real), that she is blinded to her own. This is the time to go back to the first things. Seek his forgiveness for running him down. Confess to the children your disrespect and disobedience to their father. Ask God to give you a clean heart and the grace and strength to obey Him.
God is faithful. He forgives and cleanses and strengthens. He has promised He will never leave us or forsake us. But we cannot lean on His promises if we are indulging a hard heart and living in disobedience to His simplest commands.
There is no way to begin untying the knots of your marriage if you are the central knot, and often this is the case. And just because a wife repents, that is no guarantee that her husband will follow suit and repent as well. But it does mean that the process can begin. If only one person begins to put things right, there is hope that the marriage can be saved. Why else would Scripture encourage women to win their husbands without a word (1Pet. 3:1-6)? This implies two things: women are tempted to talk, talk, nag, nag; and husbands can be won. But God uses a quiet wife to work in the heart of a disobedient husband. This is His ordained means.
We cannot expect God to fix our marriage problems and bring about resolutions to our difficulties if we are not willing to obey His every word. We cannot brush off verses about honor and respect and winning without a word, telling ourselves that they just don't apply in our case. This is foolishness. Get back to the basics. Don't indulge sin. Don't tolerate it in yourself. Obey God in the little things and you won't be susceptible to big sins. In short, live like a Christian woman. Then you can ask Him to begin to untangle the mess of your marriage. But not before.

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