Last week we talked about helping husbands and happy marriages. But what if a husband doesn’t help, even when you ask? What if you try to make your husband happy but your marriage is miserable?
A difficult marriage is a severe trial for many women, with pain that is ever present and deeply personal. We know that a single blog post cannot reach into the heart of a hurting marriage and untangle all of the unresolved conflicts or hurtful comments.
But there is hope and help for your marriage; and it is closer than you might think. As it says in Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”
Remember that God sees and that he cares. As we wrote in our hopeful Valentine’s posts, God is with you and he is for you. He is near. You can have hope in God, even when your husband has utterly failed you. God is using this trial to draw you close to himself and to lead you to put your hope in him, where it can never be disappointed again. You will be able to say, with Charles Spurgeon: “I thank my God for every storm that has wrecked me on the Rock, Jesus Christ.”
Seek help from your local church. The church is the best hospital for a suffering marriage. It is where God has told us to go when we need spiritual and relational care. If you are in a gospel-preaching church, avail yourself of the biblical counsel of your pastor or godly saints, for yourself and also for your husband if he is willing. Be prepared: the church’s help may be slower than you want or the process messier than you expect. But if the counsel comes from Scripture, you can have hope that the Great Counselor is present and at work.
Read good books on suffering.In the intensity of marriage trials, you need consistent nourishment for your soul. Books by sufferers for sufferers are a vital means of perspective, encouragement, faith, and strength. Three of our favorites on suffering that we’ve read and re-read and handed out by the arm full are Beside Still Waters by Charles Spurgeon, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering by Tim Keller (begin reading in section three), and A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper. Read little bits at a time. Read whenever you can.
May God grant you sustaining grace and may you experience joy, even in the midst of pain, as you look to the Savior who daily bears you up (Ps. 68:19).
“Let us mark well this lesson. If we are true Christians, we must not expect everything smooth in our journey to heaven. We must count it no strange thing, if we have to endure sicknesses, losses, bereavements, and disappointments, just like other men. Free pardon and full forgiveness, grace by the way and glory at the end—all this our Savior has promised to give. But he has never promised that we shall have no afflictions. He loves us too well to promise that. By affliction he teaches us many precious lessons, which without it we should never learn. By affliction he shows us our emptiness and weakness, draws us to the throne of grace, purifies our affections, weans us from this world, makes us long for heaven. In the resurrection morning we shall say, ‘it is good for me that I was afflicted.’ We shall thank God for every storm.”
I love Scripture’s honesty. I love how the biblical authors, inspired by the Holy Spirit, don’t hold back about despair, weakness, doubt, or fear. They don’t step gingerly around topics of pain or temptation or trouble. They are frank about the fact that life is hard.
So when the biblical writers speak to us of hope and joy and peace, we know these are real too. And in our depths of despair, we can take their hand and follow them out of the pit.
Take for example, the words of Jeremiah in Lamentations 3 that we are all so familiar with: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (v. 22-23). These words are spoken from the heights, a spectacular panorama. But how do we get there when we feel crippled by the trials of life?
The same way Jeremiah did.
Only a few verses earlier he writes from the deepest valley: ”...my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord’” (v. 17-18).
Can you relate? Hope, gone. Peace, gone. Happiness, so far gone, you can’t even remember what it feels like. What do we say to someone who confesses this? Do we recoil at their lack of faith? And yet here is Jeremiah, prophet of God, confessing that in his trouble he feels bereft of all of the blessings of the people of God.
Then Jeremiah shows us how he gets from the depths to the heights:“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope…” (v. 21).
His soul, which had taken its last breath of hope, was resuscitated by calling to mind who God is and what He does. He is faithful. He shows mercy, He does love. He does not forget. He sent His only Son who endured the agony of the cross, in our place and for our sins, and rose again, victorious. This I call to mind.
Notice that Jeremiah’s trial was unchanged. He didn’t get a phone call that the cancer was gone. He didn’t find his enemies on his front porch asking for forgiveness. He didn’t get hired. His child didn’t become a Christian. But he had something better.
He had hope. Hope that one day, even if it wasn’t until heaven, he would know happiness again.
The four of us were talking yesterday about several friends, and friends of friends, who are walking through sudden and significant trials right now. We are praying for them and asking God to bring comfort and strength. And we are mindful that many of you are experiencing difficulties today, some of them extremely painful.
In God’s kindness, Jerry Bridges was the guest speaker at our church yesterday and gave a soul-strengthening sermon on “Trusting God.” He opened with these words from our Savior, and some comments:
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:29-31
“The fact is, sparrows do fall to the ground. Jesus is not saying that they never fall. Jesus is not saying that we do not have difficulties or even pain. But what he is saying is that no difficulty, no pain, occurs in our lives apart from the will of God. God is absolutely sovereign in our lives. So Jesus makes the application here: fear not. Don’t be afraid. Because you are worth more than many many sparrows.”
Whether you are merely having a difficult day or experiencing a crushing trial, listen to this message, and may your soul be comforted and encouraged by the truth of God’s Word.
We are very mindful that there are many people who experience grief and sadness during the Christmas season. My sister-in-law Sharon is one of them.
On July 8, 2003 Sharon lost Dave, her husband of 32 years, to a brain tumor. We all desperately miss Dave’s joy, his impeccable sense of humor, his servant’s heart, and his delicious cooking. However, the intense grief that Sharon and her five children have experienced these past two and a half years is a testimony to the love they had for Dave, and his love for them.
And yet, through this unimaginable hardship, Sharon’s faith in God’s sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness has remained strong. She has truly grieved with hope. While not a day goes by that she does not desperately miss “Her Bud” (as she and Dave would call each other) she displays a selfless strength in serving others that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ.
For this reason, we asked Sharon to share about both the pain, but more importantly the comfort she experiences at Christmastime. We pray her thoughts will provide hope to those of you who have lost a loved one. And for the rest of us, may we extend discerning care to those we know who are grieving this Christmas.
I believe there is only one answer to the question of how I experience God’s comfort at Christmastime, and that is for me to be on my knees basking in and staying grounded in the Word of God. His words touch my heart and soul, as he is the ultimate comforter. And from him come all other forms of comfort, as well.
Of course, snags are everywhere this time of year. If you’ve ever driven through the mountains, you’ve probably seen signs that read, “Beware of falling rocks.” For me as a widow, the holidays can be full of “falling rocks” in the form of that invitation or Christmas card addressed to only one name, traditions that are no longer an option, having to pass by the men’s department no longer looking for that annual sweater or tie, or even getting a whiff of my husband’s favorite cologne in the crowds of shoppers. Like a thorn on a rose pricks the finger, these reminders of a love lost prick my fragile, already bleeding heart. The challenge becomes surfacing from the pain of the past and wanting to live joyfully in the present with a hope for the future.
Although I have yet to get through the season without heartache and tears, and this will be my third Christmas without my husband, my Lord is faithful to supply the needed comfort. I should add here that I must choose to be comforted, as the temptation can be to fall into the sin of self-pity. If you are a widow, you know you can feel the pain of loneliness even when you’re in a group—even a group of family and friends. Those who help me to surface from the pain are not afraid of my sudden tears that may spill over in an instant unexpectedly, as they realize that may be the only language I can speak at the moment. They respect my need to talk at length about my current grief, or my desire not to talk at all. They give me much-appreciated hugs and tell me they care. They sometimes share remembrances of my husband that make me smile through the tears, knowing the memories may cause pain but are certainly treasured. Comfort has also come in the form of e-mails and phone calls and cards, all with words of love and encouragement. This past Sunday, I was comforted by a word shared during worship from one of the pastors with an encouragement for widows and single parents.
I think it is important to note here that we should not assume someone is no longer grieving, or not grieving as much, because a number of years have passed. I am among those who, before I became a widow, mistakenly thought that the one-year anniversary marked the end of the grieving process, that somehow things became easier and got back to “normal.” Where did that idea come from? That’s not accurate. I believe grieving is actually a gift, a good and necessary gift, a process, and a journey that, because of the depth of our love, may last until I see my Bud again. And, yes, the severity of my grieving is increased during the holidays. But as I respond to the pain and embrace with gratefulness the comforts he sends, I learn endurance and perseverance; and I realize that everything is part of the process of sanctification. And I am overwhelmed—not by my grief—but by his love for me.
As mothers we are full of grief and mourning for the families who have lost loved ones and precious children in the Newtown tragedy. We have no words. We look and are appalled and lay our hands over our mouths (Job 21:5).
Two days ago, although it seems like a lot longer, our nation experienced an unspeakable tragedy, perhaps one of our greatest tragedies, certainly in my lifetime, in the shootings that took place at the elementary school in Newtown, CT. Over the past few days I’ve experienced what I’m sure we all have: a barrage of news and updates and images and interviews and condolences and speculations about what can only be described as a horrific tragedy. I’m sure we have all experienced, to different degrees, a range of emotions from grief and sadness and revulsion and mourning. And as we come in this morning as the church, as the people of God, beyond our own personal experiences, beyond what we would say here, this is also a national tragedy. As a nation we are mourning, as a nation we are grieving, as a nation we are grappling with these events. And it’s right, it is good for us to do that. It is right for us to share in national grief as people that God has placed in this country. That’s good, that’s right. But as Christians we are even more fundamentally, as Paul has reminded us in the letter we have been studying, we are citizens of heaven. We are those who have been transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. And so as we absorb and process these events it is important that that citizenship inform the way that we process, inform the way that we interpret, inform the way that we respond. And so we as pastors want to take just a moment to think with you about that. How do we respond? How do we process? What perspective does Scripture give us in a moment like this? And it is critical to ask those questions, because we are and will continue to be immersed in a national conversation. We are and will continue to be barraged with an array of interpretations from media to mental health experts to politicians and to those that we interact with daily, neighbors and friends and coworkers.
Scripture first informs our response. Our first response, in a moment like this, is appropriately grief. We grieve. We grieve with those who grieve. That is not just a Christian response, that’s a human response. As we see a nation grieving, we are beholding the image of God in people. When we see people who wouldn’t be Christians showing compassion, that’s the image of God in them, marks of God’s image, and we share that. As Christians we don’t only share that, we have even more reason to grieve with others and to sympathize with others, as we demonstrate God’s heart to others. Being Christians doesn’t immunize us from grief, being Christians empowers us to grieve authentically, and to grieve truly with those who grieve, to grieve at the presence of evil and sin, to reflect true compassion to others, to reflect God’s own heart to others. So Scripture informs our response. We grieve.
Scripture also informs our interpretation. Everywhere, every news channel: “Why?” How do we interpret what just happened in our nation? It was evil. Pure and simple. It was evil. Christians don’t have to flinch from that. Christians don’t have to fudge on that. Christians don’t have to spiritualize that. This was unspeakably evil. It was horrifically sinful. This was a profound violation of God’s law and completely contrary to his heart. We know that. We say that. And Scripture helps us further. Although this was evil, and although it was shocking, it’s not surprising. The unregenerate human heart, in rebellion against God, is as Jeremiah reminds us in chapter 17, desperately sick. “Who can understand it?” the prophet says. It’s beyond comprehension. And it is marvelous mercy that God in his common grace—through conscience, through law, through providence—restrains our sin so that this kind of thing is not common. But the fallen human heart is capable of much evil. So we are not surprised. Over the next days and weeks experts on TV will speculate about causes and offer explanations, none of which are going to be fully satisfying, none of which will provide authentic answers. This was an evil act and people get that. Evil cries out for an answer. People everywhere are grappling for an answer. But the only true answer will not be found in analysis. The only true answer is found in the cross of Jesus Christ. That’s not a cliché. On that cross, in an act of unspeakable evil, the murder of the sinless Son of God—in that act, God defeated evil by taking sins of rebellion, our sins, upon himself, by absorbing God’s just wrath against heinous sins, against all that would defile God’s good creation. So scripture helps us interpret.
Finally, Scripture opens our eyes to the opportunity that this is. National crisis like this provide Christians an opportunity to do what we are called to do—to bear witness to the truth. Not in a glib way, not in a dispassionate way that is unaffected by grief, and certainly not in a self-righteous way. But as we grieve, as we mourn the loss of life, we don’t do so without hope. There is an answer to evil. And it is the cross of Christ, Christ who came to put away evil and to set all things right. To bring as the prophets say, the righteousness of God. To set all things right. A righteous God, only a righteous God, can render judgment for acts like we beheld this week. Only he can ensure justice. And not only can God bring justice, he can restore. He only can heal, he only can set right. And so because of the cross of Christ, all of us, who if we are honest, we know we fall short of righteousness, we have an offer of forgiveness from a righteous God who came to remove our unrighteousness. And we have a Savior who came not just to judge, not just to forgive, but to redeem, to set right. There is mercy and grace and healing for all who believe in Jesus. And as tragic as these killings were, Christ’s power is even greater than the tragedy, even greater than the evil, even greater than the anguish. Ultimately, that’s where our hope as Christians lies. We long for answers that will satisfy, but we long in vain. Because God doesn’t give us precise answers. But what he does do, just as he did to Job, he offers himself. He has revealed to us in Scripture, and preeminently in his Son, he has revealed to us his character. And so we don’t know why this happened, but we do know that he is here and that he is good and that he is wise and that the is powerful and he is at work in the most horrific circumstances. He’s at work to bring about his redeeming, restoring, saving purposes. So we are going to take a moment now to pray that God’s hand would be at work in these circumstances and those affected by them. So pray with me.
“Heavenly father, in our weakness, and in our helplessness, we come to you in your all-sufficiency and your grace. Lord, in the wake of this tragedy, our hearts are deeply grieved, even from a distance. Our sensibilities are overwhelmed, Lord our nation is mourning. And so Lord, we pray, we pray for your mercy. We pray for abundant mercy to be poured out, Lord, especially on the parents and the families of those children and those adults. Lord we can’t imagine. But you can. Lord we have no words and we have no power, but Lord you have the words of life and you have all power. Lord, your word says you are near to the brokenhearted, and so Lord draw near we pray to those whose hearts have been broken and whose lives have been shattered. For those who know you, draw near as their Shepherd who comforts and restores. Lord, for those who don’t know you, draw near to reveal your mercy and your grace. Lord, for pastors and Christians who are there, in CT and connected to this tragedy, give them great compassion and great wisdom and great power to minister your love and represent your heart to this community. Lord, it is like a great wound has been opened in the soul of our country. Lord, bind up that wound in the way that only you can. In the midst of the national conversation and the speculation and all the recrimination, bring into all of this your grace, open our hearts to your perspective, open our lives to your gospel. Have mercy on us as a country. Lord, we don’t know, I don’t know all the ways to pray, but we do pray that you would be at work and active in every circumstance, in every conversation, personal and national. Be at work Lord. Father we can only pray that your gospel would be on the move. That hearts would be opened to your reality, eyes would be opened to your holiness, lives will be opened to your grace, to your gospel. Cause people to turn to you as the only answer to our questions, Lord, the only remedy to a tragedy like this. Let your gospel of grace rule and reign in circumstances, in hearts, in that community, and in our nation. Lord, you are the sovereign God, great and mighty and wise to use the greatest evil for your own sovereign and good and redeeming purposes. That’s who you are, Lord. So do that in these circumstances, for the good of all of those so deeply affected, for the good of our nation, for the spread of your gospel, and ultimately for the glory of your name. We pray all of this in Jesus name, Amen.”
“Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.”
(Psalm 55:17 ESV)
“When we are overwhelmed by our circumstances, our whole life tends to become disordered. This is one of the obvious signs that a person can no longer cope. But we do not always make the connection we should between these basic rhythms in our lives and our personal stability. David kept fixed points in his life. When everything else seemed to collapse, a basic strict was still left, and therefore recovery and rebuilding were still possible.
Remember that, when things overwhelm you and you want to flee. Keep up your basic disciplines and duties. They may seem pointless, like bones without flesh; you may lack the emotional energy to enjoy them or even do them with vigor. You may no longer have a taste for them. But you must not let them collapse. If you do, your defenses will be broken down, and rebuilding will become almost impossible.
It is too late to think about this when we feel overwhelmed. We cannot start to build foundations in the middle of a storm; it is too late. Make sure you have begun to build these basic disciplines now. David had obviously done that. He had built strong foundations. When the storm came, of course his instinct was to flee; but, as we shall see, that was not his actual response.”
Do you ever feel like you don’t know what to say to someone who is suffering? Are you ever tempted to avoid the person who is going through a trial? Do you worry about saying or doing the wrong thing?
In her second breakout session at the Sovereign Grace Pastors Conference, Nancy Guthrie offered some practical advice for how to serve the hurting. This is one of the most helpful talks I have ever heard on this topic and I hope every woman will listen, take notes, and seek to grow in love toward those who are suffering. Nancy offers six ways to walk with people through loss:
1. Overcome the awkwardness to engage
“Sometimes we see people struggling and we want them to come so quickly to resolution, to figure everything out. The truth is, as we minister to other women, we do want them to come to resolution, we do want them to come to some peace, figuring things out. But sometimes I think we are in a much bigger hurry than God is Himself. What a gift it is to other women to be willing to sit—not forever, but at least for a while. To just go, “Wow, this is hard isn’t it?”“
2. Make room for tears and sadness
“Don’t think tears are the problem. Tears are a gift that God gives us to help wash away the deep pain that we feel and experience from living life in the brokenness of this world. There are some things worth crying about. There are some people worth crying about.”
3. Go deeper than deliverance in prayer
10 purposes in the Bible for which God wants to use suffering:
4. Gently challenge sentimentalism and spiritualism with Scriptural truth
“If that is the fruit of the suffering in the people’s lives you minister to, that’s really good fruit: to know God as he is, not what we’ve tried to make him into.”
5. Anticipate the family pressure points.
“Grief puts a lot of pressure on a family.”
6. Help them turn the misery into ministry
“So often we think: when I get this figured out, when I feel better, I can turn toward ministering to other people. I want to say: The way we begin to feel better is to begin to minister to other people uniquely out of our loss.”
You can listen to Nancy’s message, “Learning to Walk with Each Other Through Loss” here.
So if the pain can’t be prayed away, how do we pray? If the answer from God seems to be “no,” should we keep repeating the same requests? Or should we just stop praying?
A friend and I were talking about this recently. We’d both reached this point in our lives. We had prayed those “righteous, rigorous, repeated” prayers Nancy Guthrie talked about, but the answer from God still seemed to be “no.” Uncertain of how to pray, we each returned to God’s Word, and in particular, to the Psalms.
When we feel like don’t know how to pray (and even when we think we do!) we must rely on the prayers given to us by God. Throughout the Bible, but especially in the Psalms, God has provided relevant, profound, infallible prayers.
Here we cannot go wrong. Here we can pray each and every word with confidence—certain that God is pleased to hear the prayers of His eternal Word, prayed in faith, in the name of Jesus Christ.
And these prayers are not lifeless or detached from the struggles and stresses of real life. They are waiting for us in the depths of human grief, confusion, and uncertainty; they pull us up to the heights of praise.
So when you can’t pray away the pain, pray through the pain. Pray through God’s Word. Pray through the Psalms.
“The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.” Psalm 6:9
“I wonder if anyone is this room has ever sensed that God has said “no” to you? You prayed for there to be reconciliation in the marriage and it ended in divorce. You prayed for resources and you were willing to work and yet still the house went into foreclosure or the business went into bankruptcy. You prayed for that child to turn toward you or turn toward faith and he has lingered in rebellion. You prayed for and begged God and believed God for healing and yet have had to learn to live with the discomfort or the disability. I know many of you know what it is to go to God with a righteous, rigorous, repeated prayer and sense that heaven is closed to you, that God has said “no” to you. Sometimes God glorifies himself by delivering us from the difficulty and sometimes he glorifies himself by delivering us through the difficulty that he does not take away from us.”
How do we respond when God does not take away the trial or the pain? We want to strongly encourage you to listen and learn from this wise woman’s experience of learning to trust in God’s Word through suffering.
“God alone can do what seems impossible. This is the promise of his grace: ‘I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten’ (Joel 2:25). God can give back all those years of sorrow, and you will be the better for them. God will grind sunlight out of your black nights. In the oven of affliction, grace will prepare the bread of delight. Someday you will thank God for all your sadness.” ~Charles Spurgeon
In the midst of the joy of having Jude and Sophie home, the single worst day was when I took them to get their first round of immunizations. They had no idea what was coming and of course they screamed in pain when they received their shots. What hurt me most was the look of surprise on their faces, like I had betrayed them or something.
I did everything I could to make it up to them. I must have said “I’m so sorry” a hundred times before we got in the car. I drove straight to the Ice Cream and Pie Kitchen and basically offered them the store. But for many days after, even when the pain was certainly gone, Sophie would still come to me and point to her shoulder and give me the most pitiful look. Jude would make a face whenever anyone said the word “doctor.” And I had no way to explain that it was for their good, because I love them, and not just a cruel joke.
William Wilberforce once observed his granddaughter receive a vaccination. It was following the untimely death of his daughter Lizzie, and as biographer Eric Metaxes explains, Lizzie’s daughter “gave her grandfather some consolation and prompted this rumination on God and suffering: “‘I was much impressed yesterday’ he wrote:
’...with the similarity in some respects of my own situation to that of [Lizzie’s] dear little innocent, who was undergoing the operation of vaccination. The infant gave up its arm to the operator without suspicion or fear. But when it felt the puncture, which must have been sharp, no words can express the astonishment and grief that followed. I could not have thought the mouth could have been distended so widely as it continued, till the nurse’s soothing restored her usual calmness. What an illustration is this of the impatient feelings we are often apt to experience, and sometimes even to express, when suffering from the dispensations of a Being, whose wisdom we profess to believe to be unerring, whose kindness we know to be unfailing, whose truth also is sure, and who has declared to us, that all things shall work together for good to them that love Him, and that the object of His inflictions is to make us partakers of His holiness.’” Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxes, pp. 270-271
How do we react when we feel the sharp poke of God’s providence? Unlike my new children who don’t know me very well yet and are understandably confused, we know God to be perfectly wise and loving. We have proof in the cross of Jesus Christ. And yet, as Wilberforce observes, we still respond with impatient surprise, quickly forgetting that whatever God ordains, no matter how painful, is for our good and His glory.
Jude and Sophie do not know that in my desk drawer lies a schedule from the doctor for many more shots in the months ahead. But these immunizations will protect them from serious diseases that could otherwise take their lives. We do not know what trials God has ordained for us to endure. But we can trust our Heavenly Physician because we know that “The object of His inflictions is to make us partakers in His holiness.”
I was having my devotions yesterday morning when I got an email from my sister to all our siblings—“I miss mother but…how happy I am to have you.”
And it hit me again, just how much I miss my mom. I could tell you all the things I miss about her, but that’s not really the point. I just miss her. I miss her being here.
It’s Easter morning and I am sobbing. I suppose it is normal to grieve more for loved ones on special days. And yet the Easter holiday also brings a special comfort. Because of Jesus’ resurrection, my mother’s sins were forgiven, she was given power to live a faithful life, and now she is with Christ.
As much as I miss my mom, I don’t wish her back. This Easter she is experiencing the power of the resurrection like never before.
“The sainted dead dwell in life; beholding the king in his beauty; “shining as the brightness of the firmament, and as the stars forever and ever.” They fade no more, nor realize pain. A wealth of love is theirs, a heritage of goodness, a celestial habitation….We may feel sad because they are lost to us, but while we weep and wonder, they are wrapped in garments of light and warble songs of celestial joy. They will return to us no more, but we shall go to them and share their pleasures…We would not call them back. In the homes above they are great, and well-employed, and blest. Shadows fall upon them no more, nor is life ruled with anxious cares. Love rules their life and thoughts, and eternal hopes beckon them forever to the pursuit of infinite good….Heaven comes nearer to us, and grows more attractive, as we think of the loved ones who dwell there.”