Yesterday’s Q & A ended with the question: “What does it look like for [a wife] to follow when her husband is not following the Lord?” We thought the best way to answer this part of the question was to illustrate with a story from a woman in our church named Carol.
Carol personified the modern career woman. Divorced and single, she was the only woman among eight men in a high-level sales position for a major American corporation. Her responsibilities included oversight of a ten million dollar annual sales budget. She was competent, aggressive, and in charge. In her words: “The world was right in front of me.”
In her late thirties she met and fell in love with Howard, and after living together for a year, they decided to get married. By Carol’s estimation, she and Howard had a great relationship. Their marriage was “based on mutuality.” They both worked and made good salaries. They shared equally in household chores. Howard, who helped run his family’s business, was supportive of Carol’s career. He always encouraged her to go after the sale, the bonus, or the raise. “We’re working together,” he would cheer her on. “Go get ‘em Carol!”
But when Carol started attending our church with her neighbor Diane, she observed marriages that squarely collided with her worldly understanding. What’s more, she found herself curiously attracted to whatever it was that made these couples so different.
At our church, Carol saw husbands and wives who appeared happy to be there and happy to be there together. She perceived genuine love and affection in their marriages.
From the pulpit she heard biblical teaching on manhood and womanhood. She learned that men and women have equal value in the eyes of God, and she began to admire the divine wisdom of complementary roles in marriage.
As Carol visited one of the small groups and formed friendships with the women, she watched them willingly submit to their husbands’ leadership. She was struck by the peace and joy that this submission produced, and she was amazed by the way these women talked about their husbands—always with honor and respect. This attitude was in stark contrast to that of her other friends, who relished their men-bashing sessions.
Soon Carol found herself longing for a marriage like the ones she was observing. “I am a saleswoman,” she explained, “and I appreciated a product that works. When I went to church, I saw hundreds of women whose lives were a testament to the product of submission. I saw that the product worked, and I wanted that for my marriage.”
Carol eventually put her trust in Jesus Christ. But Carol’s husband, Howard, although happy for Carol, was more interested in his weekend recreation than in going to church. However, Carol grasped the truth of 1 Peter 3:1. She believed her godly conduct would affect Howard more than any words she might say.
Here’s the rest of Carol’s story in her words:
“When I gave my life to the Lord, it was a huge change. This was the greatest thing that had ever happened to me. But I knew I could not force my experience on Howard. I couldn’t coerce him or make him change. This was so different from my sales background of taking control, manipulating, doing things in my own time and in my own way. I had to retrain myself and let the Lord work in Howard’s heart. I had to be very patient. And I knew change needed to start with me.
I saw God’s plan for us as wives. We are to be our husbands’ helpers. So I began to let Howard lead. I had to acquiesce and do things differently. I learned to have faith in God, and as I submitted to the Lord, submitting to my husband became much easier.
I began to say things like, ‘Howard, whatever you decide,’ or ‘You can make that decision.’ I stopped overreacting when we had challenges or putiing pressure on him to come up with the answers. I would just tell him that I would be praying about it, and I was fine with whatever happened.
While we used to share domestic responsibilities, I now took charge of the home. I tried to make it a warm haven for Howard. When he came home, instead of a list of chores waiting for him, he didn’t have anything to do. I found a lot of joy in taking care of the house and not burdening him with additional responsibilities.
There used to be bitterness and tension when Howard would go out fishing, golfing, or skiing. But now I began to freely release him. I knew I couldn’t just grit my teeth and say, ‘Have a good time’ and seethe as he went out the door. I really had to have joy in my heart that he was having a good time. And the more I released him to do the things he wanted to do, the more joy I had.
I also began loving on my husband. I would write him notes and leave them on the bathroom mirror or on the car windshield. I went overboard on loving on him! My non-Christian friends were like, ‘What is up with you, Carol, warming up his car in the morning and letting him go out all day on weekends?’
But I knew that I could turn to God whenever bitterness crept in. I also knew that I could call my friend Diane. ‘Carol,’ she would remind me, ‘trust in the Lord. Remember, be joyful.’ Diane would always refer me to Scripture. The women in my small group were also praying for me and setting an example for me to follow.
And every night I would pray. I wanted my husband to know the Lord. yes, there was anxiety. I was anxious fo the Lord to intervene. But I was learning to trust Him. I prayed and I prayed, and God heard.”
Carol’s submissive conduct began to prompt change in Howard’s life:
“Howard didn’t say anything, but he started changing. He saw a peace in me, and he became more relaxed. And because I was releasing him, he became more apt to stay home or come home early from playing golf.”
As Carol patiently waited, God softened Howard’s heart. he started visiting church with Carol, and almost four years later, he repented and believed. Carol now marvels at the transformation in Howard’s life:
“Today Howard loves and trusts in God, and he is very involved in the church. He is on the take-down crew, the sound crew, and leads worship for our small group. He is in a Bible study with one of the pastors. At home the change has also been dramatic. Howard has stepped up to the plate. He is the leader of our household. He makes decisions based on what is best for our family, and he is not afraid to do it. We truly serve a faithful God, and I am convinced that he hears our prayers. He will answer in His time.”
Adapted from Feminine Appeal, (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2004), 135-146.
Carol’s story is not only a testimony of God’s grace in changing her heart and life, but of the power and influence of her submission on her husband’s life. Through prayer and patience, Carol was a daily demonstration to Howard of the beauty of God’s plan in marriage. And God was faithful to change Howard’s heart so that he is now leading in the home for the glory of God.
I trust Carol’s story is an encouragement to every woman with an unbelieving husband to persevere in obedience to God. May you ultimately trust the faithfulness and goodness of God for your husband and your marriage.