How can marriages thrive in the midst of suffering?

A Q&A with Jeff and Sarah Walton

June 9, 2020

Editor’s Note: This Q&A is not intended to apply to marriages where abuse is present. 

Will you tell us a little bit about the hardships your marriage has faced? 

Sure, I’ll (Jeff) do my best to condense the past 15 years. Less than three years into our marriage, we welcomed our first child into the world. All was going well until he spiked a fever and was hospitalized with a severe infection at 7 weeks old. After five days in the hospital with terrifying, inconclusive reports, we were sent home without answers. We thought it was an isolated incident, but over time it turned into years of life-altering neurological challenges that have forever changed our family’s lives. Every day, we helplessly watched as our sweet, smart, funny little boy would turn into someone else, displaying behavior that was extremely difficult to control and navigate. Countless consultations, tests, and evaluations left doctors shaking their heads, and all we were left with in the end was an increased financial burden, a stressful home life, and growing fears for him and us.

Along with that, Sarah’s health was rapidly declining, and with each of our four children that she bore, she was increasingly unable to function through her chronic pain and illness. On top of that, an ankle injury that she sustained in high school has now led to five surgeries and an inability to do much of what she loves anymore—and is taking her ability to walk.

As our son’s disorder continued to intensify, and as Sarah grew sicker and our younger children began to exhibit their own chronic pains, my job as a consultant to orthopedic surgeons often kept me from being home. Our marriage began to suffer under the weight of it all.

In 2015, we were led to a group of doctors who connected Sarah’s many symptoms to Lyme disease, and over the following year, the growing symptoms in each of our children led to testing that revealed the illness had been passed on to each one of them. The medical community gave us conflicting advice and very little support, but the growing neurological and physical ailments in each of our children were impossible to deny, and became increasingly confusing and expensive to navigate.

When we were at our lowest point, convinced that we couldn’t endure anything else, it became clear that I could no longer sustain my on-call job. So I left it behind, along with half of our income. We sold our dream home and downsized to a smaller rental home. A year later, my new company began to struggle, and suddenly I was without a job—leaving us with no income at all.

Our family was in crisis. Most of our time spent together as a couple consisted of doctor appointments, navigating challenges with our son, soothing crying and hurting children, discussing what treatments we could afford, healing from each of the nine surgeries undergone between the two of us, dealing with Sarah’s chronic pain, and stressing about our draining finances, all the while being too exhausted to address the tensions that were building within our marriage. We were both broken and both wondering where God was and why he was allowing such deep and layered suffering. As we endured one loss after another, we found ourselves battling despair and hopelessness, and being confronted with deep questions of faith that neither of us had faced before. We were surviving, but we—and our marriage—were hanging on by a thread.

But we’re still here. Still together. And, somehow, God has not only held us together, but he has used these trials to strengthen our marriage in the process.

What were some of your greatest temptations durings those hard times? 

I’d say that the greatest temptations have been two sides to the same coin: to either turn against each other or look to each other to be the answer to the trials we’re facing. Trials have a way of squeezing us and drawing our sin to the surface—sin we were once able to keep hidden behind comfortable circumstances. But when we’re both feeling the pressure, it’s tempting to take our disappointments, pain, and fears out on each other, rather than acknowledging them and taking them to the Lord. However, we’ve also been tempted to have the opposite response, and look to each other to be our primary source of comfort, security, and hope, rather than the Lord. 

Not surprisingly, both temptations come when Christ isn’t in his proper place in our marriage. But by God’s grace, he has grown us to come more quickly to Christ in our pain, sorrow, and need, depending on his comfort, strength, and hope, rather than each other. And when we look to Christ as our Savior and Provider, rather than to each other, it guards us from both turning against one another and expecting something that the other can’t give. Although these temptations will always remain to some degree, God has grown us to see each other as a gift that we’ve been given to walk this hard road together. 

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your marriage? And what would your advice for couples be as they face this unusual strain? 

On one hand, having been through many years of deep suffering, we found ourselves not as thrown by the challenges of the pandemic. However, on the other hand, it also further complicated many of the challenges that were already there (job loss five months prior, special needs, chronic illness, etc.), while adding new challenges to the mix. Needless to say, like most, we’ve been thrown into uncharted waters. Because of that, it was easy for misunderstandings to happen as we navigated new roles, new pressures, and new unknowns, tempting us to grow impatient and short with each other. 

As painful as these seasons can be, they can also end up being some of the sweetest seasons of learning to rely more fully on Christ for our every need, and experiencing his comfort, provision, and peace.

However, what God has been showing us and what we’d encourage other couples to see in this unusual time, is that God is not surprised by any of this—and he is at work within it. Rather than viewing our lives and marriage as if they’re being tossed wherever the wind blows, we have to remember that God is sovereign over both, and is able to guard and even grow our marriage through them. Instead of fixing our eyes on what feels impossible or what we can’t control right now, let’s allow this season to drive us deeper in God’s Word and prayer, asking him to provide for what we need, both in life and our marriage relationship. As painful as these seasons can be, they can also end up being some of the sweetest seasons of learning to rely more fully on Christ for our every need, and experiencing his comfort, provision, and peace. 

Friends, as our earthly securities are shaken, it will either lead us to anger and despair or it will cause us to seek a firm and lasting foundation to set our feet upon. Therefore, if you or your marriage feel unstable right now, I encourage you to take your eyes off of each other, off of your circumstances, and fix them on the promises of God through Christ, who promises to be faithful—even when we can’t see it in the moment.  

During the lowest points of your marriage, what has helped you turn from sinning against one another and turn back to loving one another? 

The turning point in our marriage came after we had exhausted ourselves by trying to change each other. By God’s grace, he gradually opened our eyes to the futility of our efforts and, rather than fixating on each other as the sole problem, we each began to plead with the Lord for healing, change, and growth in our own hearts. And in the areas where we each had felt hurt and misunderstood, we prayed that God would open each other’s eyes in his timing and as he saw fit (although neither of us knew the other was praying the same prayer!). Although it wasn’t overnight (and it’s still a process), a profound work of healing began in our marriage. Our conversations became more fruitful, our hearts began to soften for each other, and God began opening both of our eyes to areas that we had been blind to. 

Sometimes couples just need to have fun together. What have you done to enjoy your marriage during hard times? 

We’ve needed to work hard at not allowing suffering to define our relationship. Since our trials can feel all-consuming at times, it’s easy to lose sight of the friendship that initially drew us together. Therefore, we’ve needed to be creative in keeping fun and laughter in our relationship. One way has been to find ways to laugh and enjoy each other outside of our typical conversations of life’s challenges. For example, we try to make it a priority to go out on a date and set aside a certain amount of time that we won’t discuss any of our challenges or other heavy topics. And because we often feel like a deer in headlights when we suddenly step out of the chaos, we often bring along a set of cards with lighthearted questions about likes and dislikes, traveling, childhood memories, etc. We’ve found this to be incredibly helpful in reminding us to laugh, enjoy each other, and gain perspective outside of trials.

By and large, what has helped your marriage weather the storms you’ve been through? 

The truth and promises of God’s Word. If he is good, then we have to believe he won’t waste this. If he is faithful, then we have to believe he will carry us through what he has called us to. If he is sovereign, then we have to believe he has purposes beyond what we can see. If he loved us enough to save us, then we have to believe that he is only allowing this pain if he has something greater for us in it—and one day, he will fully redeem and restore us in his presence. 

By God’s grace, he has held us up and enabled us not only to survive, but to see the good gifts he has given us along the way. Though it’s been harder than we ever imagined, there have also been moments of laughter, sweet memories, and undeserved gifts. Somehow, in each moment of each day, God has helped us press on, has held our marriage together when we haven’t had the strength to fight for it ourselves, and has taught us to find joy, even within the sorrow. And by his grace, he continues to hold us up each and every day, despite many of our circumstances remaining the same. He continues to teach us that our hope is not found in this world or in our marriage—it is found in Christ alone. And as he loosens our grip on the things of this world and drives our faith roots deeper into the truth of his Word and the hope of the gospel, he has grown in us a steadfastness and joy in the life and marriage he has given us. 

What would you say to the couple whose marriage is hard or failing to live up to their expectations? 

First of all, I’m so sorry. There are so many incredibly difficult circumstances that couples are facing—whether that be from outside trials pressing in or difficulty within the relationship itself. I pray that those who find themselves in a difficult situation or marriage will seek wise and godly counsel and support, because we aren’t called to walk through this alone. 

But in the end, the central truth to remember is this: Our relationship with Christ is not dependent on our spouse. It’s quite the opposite, actually. Our relationship with our spouse is dependent on our relationship with Christ. That truth doesn’t guarantee a perfect marriage, but it is the source of hope for our marriage and even more, it is the hope we can rest in, regardless of the state or outcome of our marriage.

Brother, sister, let your marriage be a place where you learn more of who God is, rely on him, and press on in faith as you move toward the day when you will see Jesus. Let it be that when you get there, you can look back at your marriage as one that endured through trials, where you clung to Christ, encouraged each other, displayed Jesus, and came to see and know the unending faithfulness and goodness of God—together, through the storms.

Check out the Walton’s new book, Together Through the Storms

Sarah Walton

Sarah Walton is the co-author of Hope When It Hurts and Together Through the Storms, and the author of Tears and Tossings: Hope in the Waves of Life. She and her husband, Jeff, live in Colorado Springs with their four children, where they are members of Cross and Crown Church. … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24