By / Oct 13

At the point in ministry where I googled “burnout,” Kyle and I were not taking weekly time to rest. For years, we consistently rejected God’s invitation to put work and ministry aside, slow down, and receive refreshment. It’s no wonder we were falling apart. When I look back at this time, I’m mortified at our pride in believing we could color outside God’s lines without consequence.

And yet, so many pastors and pastors’ wives I speak with think they are the exception to the rule when it comes to Sabbath rest. They feel guilty for taking time off, doing something fun, not answering the phone, taking a nap, or going on vacation. Some don’t even entertain the idea of time off because they feel (or perhaps want to believe?) they’re essential or irreplaceable within their church. Some don’t want to face imagined criticism from their congregants. Some wives are waiting for their husbands to take the lead in this area, and some husbands are being pushed by their wives to work harder or to “fix” the problems she sees in the church.

But what does God say? He doesn’t simply invite us to rest; he commands it. He indicates that life and ministry will go better for us and be more fruitful if we stop work and rest at regular, consistent intervals. There must be no guilt in obeying what God has commanded; guilt only indicates a false belief or idol. And even if someone in the church doesn’t fully understand, the example of saying no and observing a Sabbath rest is in itself a powerful sermon about first allegiance and being a biblical and healthy disciple of Jesus.

How we choose rest 

I’ll share with you what we do to receive God’s gracious gift of Sabbath rest, but it is in no way prescriptive. The way we rest has shifted according to our season of life, our children’s ages, and our work. We’ve experimented with Kyle taking different days of the week off and with what we do on those days until we’ve found a rhythm that works for us. Currently, we have three boys in school, so Kyle takes Fridays off. Fridays are sacred days in our home. He and I don’t do household chores, check email, answer our phones (although Kyle does check his caller ID, in case it’s an emergency), or cook. Instead, we often go out for breakfast, take a long walk together, read, and nap. Sometimes we drive to a nearby town and window shop or play tennis in our neighborhood.

When our children were younger, we’d switch off doing activities to recharge as individuals. He would take the kids for a long walk, giving me time in the house by myself, or I’d keep the kids at home while he’d go to a coffee shop to read a book unrelated to work. We’d also save up our credit card points so that once a year or so we could send each other off to the nearest big city for a stay in a hotel and a personal retreat.

It’s far more important, however, for you to consider how you rest or Sabbath than it is to consider how we do it. Your husband may be reluctant to take a day off because of the pressure he feels. How can you encourage him and help him rest?

When we first started making rhythm adjustments in our marriage and family, adding in Sabbath rest was the most uncomfortable change, because it meant letting work and ministry sit unfinished. That’s hard to do when you’ve been running at full speed for years. Common sense pushes us to finish the work and then rest, but in ministry, the work is never finished. We have to purposefully set it aside.

In addition to discomfort, I personally felt guilty on our Sabbath day. When I considered why, I recognized that I tend to idolize productivity and performance. These things aren’t bad, but when I take them to the extreme, I am acting from a belief that I know what I need better than God does. I act outside God-designed limits and set myself up for consequences later.

As Sabbath rest has become normal in our life, Friday has become our favorite day of the week. The Lord renews us, and we can see how God’s provision of rest has enabled us to endure and persevere in ministry. I no longer wonder if we’re going to make it in marriage and ministry, because we’ve carved out space to connect with God and one another.

Friend, are you receiving the care of the Lord through Sabbath rest? It is absolutely one of the best gifts he gives.

This article is an excerpt from Hoover’s new book, “How to Thrive as a Pastor’s Wife,” from Baker Books. 

By / Jul 11

Your wife feels lonely after two years of COVID-induced isolation. Your husband was recently laid off and feels rejected and insecure. Your wife struggles with depression and is having a particularly rough day. Your husband just lost his father, and his heart is bleeding. Your spouse is emotionally suffering. What do you do? 

In a broken world that only seems to be breaking more with each passing day, the question is important. How do you minister to a suffering spouse who is riddled with heartache, hopelessness, anxiety, angst, disappointment, doubt, or despair? A spouse who is overwhelmed, overworked, or overstressed? A spouse who is battling fear, guilt, shame, exhaustion, grief, or a plethora of other soul-testing emotions? 

What do you do when your spouse is suffering on the inside?

What not to do

First, let me share three things not to do:

1. Fix. Don’t put on your relational tool belt and offer quick fixes. It makes your spouse feel like a problem to be solved, not a person to be loved. It’s dehumanizing. It certainly doesn’t mirror the way that God treats us in our emotional distress. He rarely gives us quick fixes. He meets us in our pain, links arms with us, and walks with us through our suffering. Do the same for your spouse. 

2. Make it about you. It’s easy to make your spouse’s emotional pain about you. How does the pain make you feel? What impact is the pain having on your life? How did you possibly contribute to the pain? STOP. Stop making your spouse’s suffering about you. It’s impossible to love your spouse well when your eyes are fixated on yourself. Adjust your lenses, and focus on your spouse. Not on you. 

3. Make it not about you. It’s also easy to check out when your spouse is hurting inside. Why do we check out? We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to help. So we walk away. Don’t. Stay connected. You are one flesh with your spouse (Gen. 2:24). Just like shedding a hurting body part is not an option, abandoning your hurting spouse is not an option.

What you should do: BLESS  

So what should you do when your spouse is in emotional distress? Allow me to provide a step-by-step framework. I call it BLESS. It stands for Be, Listen, Empathize, Speak, Solve. Before I explain, I want to share three disclaimers:

First, this is a framework—a rule of thumb. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all formula. Every spouse is different. Every situation is different. People are complex. Life is complex. It won’t work for everybody—just most people in most situations.

Second, order is important. If you go out of order, you may frustrate your spouse at best or cause additional emotional damage at worst. 

Finally, you might only do the first one, two, three, or four steps. That’s okay. Not every situation calls for all five steps. Be prepared to stop at any point in the process.

Be: Sometimes all your spouse needs is your presence. Not your listening ear. Not your words. Not your actions. Your spouse only needs to know that you are there. You are not going anywhere. Your shoulder is there to cry on. Your hand is there to hold. You are there to hug and be hugged if necessary. You. Are. There. 

I suspect this might be tough—to simply be present without saying or doing anything. It is. It requires self-control. It requires patience. It requires you to relinquish control and know that God is God (Ps. 46:10); that his love and sovereignty are ruling and reigning over your spouse in that moment. It requires you to surrender your spouse into Christ’s hands, which are far more capable hands than yours.  

Listen: If your spouse speaks, close your mouth and listen (James 1:19). Concentrate on what is being said; not only the words but also the body language. Don’t think about what you are going to say. Don’t think about how your spouse should feel. Don’t think about how to make the pain go away. Don’t think about anything except what your spouse is saying. Just. Listen.

Empathize: If, and only if, you’ve thoroughly listened to your spouse, you may now open your mouth. What should you say? Precisely what your spouse said—in your own words. In other words, empathize with your spouse. Speak what you heard back in a way that makes your spouse say, “Yes, you get me.” If you aren’t sure what your spouse just said, ask questions to gain clarity. 

Why is empathy important? It makes your spouse feel known—the first half of the core human desire to be fully known and fully loved. It lets your spouse know that you are tracking, that you care, and that you are, once again, 100% present. It’s healing. It’s restorative. It says, “I know you, and you are worthy to be known.”

Speak: If, and only if, you’ve been present, listened, and empathized with your spouse, it may be time to speak words of life into your spouse’s heart (Prov. 18:21). You might share a passage of Scripture. You might offer a nugget of theological truth. You might give a word of encouragement. You might even (and tread lightly here) tell a joke! The point is that your words should be specifically calculated to build up your spouse (Eph. 4:29). They should infuse life. They should revive, refresh, and restore. They should heal your spouse’s heart.

Solve: If, and only if, you’ve been present, listened, empathized, and spoken life-giving words, it may be time to offer advice. Perhaps you suggest a list of action items that will assuage your spouse’s pain. Perhaps you point out ways that your spouse is unknowingly and unintentionally exacerbating the pain. Perhaps you offer a gentle admonishment if you see sin in your spouse’s life. Again, be careful. You don’t want to unintentionally wound your spouse with an ill-timed solution. One helpful tip is to ask if your spouse wants a solution. If the answer is yes, then proceed. If not, put your tool belt back in the closet. 

Conclusion

Be. Listen. Empathize. Speak. Solve. In that order. It’s hard. It’s unnatural. It takes discipline. You might not see immediate results. But that’s okay. It isn’t about results. It’s about love. It’s about incarnating the love of Christ and about being a blessing to your suffering spouse. 

Questions for reflection

  1. Why is it so hard to enter your spouse’s emotional pain without offering solutions? Why is it so hard for you to listen without speaking? What in your heart prevents you from following the sequential steps of BLESS?
  2. Have you ever been in a state of emotional turmoil, and somebody offered you a trite platitude or a quick fix? How did that make you feel? 
  3. Psalm 139 tells us that we are fully known and fully loved by God. He sees and understands us and still loves us. Why is this so healing? What can you do to make your suffering spouse feel this way?
By / Mar 17

It was 1996. I was 23 years old, and nothing could’ve prepared me for our first years of marriage. Married life was new and wonderful, but I was caught by surprise at how inept my leadership was and how different my wife and I were. I was not prepared for the disagreements, the fertility issues, the financial pressure, the stress. What might we have done differently? How could we have anticipated some of the problems and planned ahead? 

In our society, many see cohabitating before a later-in-life marriage as the solution — a trial run before the big commitment. And it’s happening in the church, too. The prevailing thought is that getting married without living together first — as Woody Allen quipped in his 1969 interview of Billy Graham — is “like getting a driver’s license without [getting] a learner’s permit first.”

Research challenging culture’s embrace of cohabitation

A February 2022 Wall Street Journal article by Brad Wilcox and Lyman Stone captures the thought around this conventional wisdom. “[T]he majority of young adults believe that living together is a good way to pretest the quality of your partner and your partnership, thereby increasing the quality and stability of your marriage.”

Yet according to Wilcox and Stone, recent research challenges this assumption. Citing a survey of 50,000 women, Wilcox and Stone identify a significant exception to the trial-run perspective: “There is a group of women for whom marriage before 30 is not risky: women who married directly, without ever cohabiting prior to marriage. . . . [A] growing body of research indicates that Americans who live together before marriage are less likely to be happily married and more likely to land in divorce court.”

There are good reasons why couples should share rings before they share house keys. Why? Wilcox and Stone offer three arguments against cohabitation. First, experience in cohabiting often leads to experience in breaking up — a pattern that may be more easily repeated in marriage. Second, experience in cohabitation may encourage comparison of a spouse with former roommates. Judging a spouse with a “you’re not as good as” mindset may more easily lead a couple before another kind of judge. Third, living like husband and wife, without being husband and wife, calls into question the uniqueness of marriage in the first place. What’s the difference — a ring, some papers, tax benefits? Any relationship of love is special, right? 

The right kind of practice 

But while Wilcox and Stone acknowledge that one’s religious loyalties may also play some factor in the longevity of a marriage, they missed one vital reality. The advocates of premarital cohabitation are essentially affirming the mantra that probably hangs on the wall of nearly every music instructor on the planet: “Practice Makes Perfect.” This is true — because what we do (“practice”) indeed shapes us (“makes perfect”). Even our environments exert their own kind of shaping influence. We are, after all, talking about co-habit-ation. Living together is habit-forming. 

Yet any good music teacher will also add this correction: “The right kind of practice makes perfect.” Apply Malcom Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule” to the wrong guitar fingering, and you can have prodigy-level mastery of a mistake. Instead, you have to know the proper goal toward which you’re striving. 

The reality that Wilcox and Stone don’t cover — the truth that the Bible teaches — is that marriage is designed to be a loving and life-long commitment (covenant) between a husband and wife (and as Christians, we would add: “before God”). As I mentioned above, nothing could have prepared me for marriage — except marriage. The nature of the goal determines the nature of the preparations. The right kind of practice makes perfect. 

Cohabitation is not like marriage. They are different in essential nature. When a couple live together, there’s a shared mailing address, a shared bed, shared utility bills, shared furniture, and shared groceries. But there’s not shared commitment. And without this commitment, you’ll have shared living arrangements but no true analog, or preparation, for marriage. 

Cohabitation and marriage are also different in their results. Living together without marital commitment feeds the need to perform. Each potential spouse is always on audition for the big show. After all, there’s no pretest without a test — without evaluation. The so-called “freedom” of cohabitation forges its own kind of chains — the shackles of performance. If I mess up, this could be over. In contrast, the commitment of marriage aims to free each spouse to serve and also to fail. These divergent results mean that cohabitation is incapable of providing real preparation for marriage. 

The instinct to want to practice for marriage may be genuine for some, not wanting to repeat the marriage failures of past generations. But cohabitation isn’t the way to go about it. Instead, you should publicly enter into a covenant relationship that officially blocks all the easy exits, that clearly forbids all rivals, that frees the other person to make mistakes and still be loved, and that commits to all of this for four or five decades or more. It’s not easy, but with practice and fully dependent on God’s grace, it will get better over time. 

By / Feb 10

A happy and healthy marriage is one of God’s sweetest gifts to us. And one of the best ways to nurture your marriage is through the power of prayer. In their new book, 5 Things to Pray for Your Spouse, Michael and Melissa Kruger help you to pray bold and biblical prayers for your husband or wife that will strengthen and enrich your marriage. As Nancy Guthrie says in her forward:

There is a great deal we can do for our spouses. But there is so much that only God can do, so much that only he can develop, and so much that only he can provide. So we pray. And as we pray instead of worry, pray instead of complain, pray instead of strategize, we find that God is not only doing a work in our spouse, he’s doing a work in us too.

The book makes a great wedding, anniversary, or Valentine’s Day gift. It covers 21 prayer themes, and each one includes five prayer prompts from a particular passage of Scripture. You’ll be equipped to pray deep and effective prayers for your spouse’s character and spiritual walk, for your life together as a couple, and through challenging seasons.

Below is a sample passage from the book — five prayer prompts for handling conflict in your marriage based on Ephesians 4:25–32:

Father, if we have conflict with one another let us . . . 

1. Speak truthfully.

“ Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (v. 25)

In every quarrel there is always the temptation to exaggerate the other person’s sins and downplay our own. Pray that God would allow each of you to speak truthfully in the midst of conflict. Also, ask the Lord to give you the courage to speak the truth, even if it’s difficult or awkward, knowing that it’s better to be honest than to suppress the truth and let bitterness grow.

2. Reconcile quickly.

“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (v. 26)

When conflict is left unresolved sometimes it can become entrenched. As a result, some conflicts can last days, weeks, and even years. Pray that any conflict you face would be resolved as quickly as possible. Ask for grace to be the first to apologize, the first to forgive, and the first to move toward the other person.

3. Put away bitterness.

“Get rid of all bitterness.” (v. 31)

If conflict occurs over the course of many years, bitterness has a way of setting in. Spouses can begin to resent one another if they have been hurt over and over again. Pray that the Lord would prevent a root of bitterness from taking hold in your marriage. Ask the Lord to reveal in what ways you might need to apologize to your spouse for past wrongs.

4. Be kind.

“ Be kind . . .  to one another.” (v. 32)

Praise God today for his kindness to you — even though you did nothing to deserve it. Ask God to give you a heart that is tender and affectionate toward your spouse, demonstrated in simple acts of kindness toward them each day. Pray also that the Lord would show you tangible ways to do good to your spouse, even if they are not always good to you in return.

5. Forgive one another.

“Forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (v 32)

It’s hard to truly forgive those who wrong us. Sometimes we may even want to withhold forgiveness. Rejoice that Christ forgave you when you were undeserving. Pray that God would give both you and your spouse a heart that recognizes how much you’ve been forgiven so that you can, in turn, freely and readily forgive one another. 

By / Nov 3

Our hearts are never fully prepared for a drastic change. But loss does that to you — it changes your course. Over time, the once raging grief finds a softer place to live, but when special days or holidays approach, those wounds can be reopened. As a widow, that loss and change stings every inch of your life and is certainly amplified during the holiday season. Each date on the calendar and special occasion screams the absence of your loved one. 

Even though it is painful to grieve, it’s not harmful. Grief is the process that leads to healing. We must walk through it, but as believers, our journey is accompanied with certainty and assurance. We have God’s promises to cling to as we grieve. His promises aren’t simply a wistful hope: the promise is Christ. The cross is a constant reminder that we are never forsaken or alone in our grieving. 

I would like to offer some practical advice, first to the widow or widower and then to local churches to help those who have suffered a loss not just survive the holidays, but thrive during them.

To the widow or widower

The loss of a spouse is disorienting and seems impossible to make it through. But the Lord is faithful to walk with you every step of the way. There are several things I’ve learned as I’ve navigated the loss of my husband — especially during the holidays — that have helped me grieve, heal, and grow. 

Carve out time to grieve, privately if needed. Holiday get-togethers are special, but they will be emotionally difficult. It is joy and sorrow hand in hand. It’s joyful to celebrate with family and see one another, but there will always be the backdrop of loss looming. Set aside private time in your schedule to grieve what needs to be grieved. 

Slow your pace. Slow down. Too many activities only add stress. Do whatever you need to in order to reduce extra stress by remembering the holidays are a season, not just a day. Spread out your visits and responsibilities over days.

Communicate. Talk with your family sooner rather than later about the schedule. Let them know you need your pace to be slow and easy. Tell them you may need alone time, and reassure them that your absence will only be temporary. 

God understands. Remember that although no person will truly understand the weight of the significance of your loss, God does. We serve a God who sees and knows every crevice of our hearts. He not only sees it, but his mercies are sufficient to meet our grief with strength. Lean into the grief, and take it to the Lord. You need his Word more than ever, so get into it, and meditate on it. Rediscover the joy of the Lord this holiday season!

To the local churches 

Your fellow brothers and sisters suffering from loss need you. They need the community, care, and comfort God designed you to offer. Though the holidays are busy for you, too, please don’t miss the chance to hold out the hope of Christ. Here are a few ways I was ministered to by the body of Christ.

Engage the bereaved. What an opportunity for ministry. First, know that tears are a gift from God. They help us release emotional grief. Too often, we avoid engaging the bereaved in an effort to help them avoid tears. But not acknowledging the loss of a widow or widower hurts more than crying ever will. So, engage those who are hurting. Isn’t that what Jesus did? Sit down, look that widow in the eye and say, “How are you”? Then, listen. If he or she cries, let them. Remember their loved one together, share stories, and mostly, just listen. There is nothing more Christlike than loving one another, and one of the most loving things you can do is mourn with those who are mourning. 

Encourage with the Word. Time doesn’t heal, but our God does. Send encouragement from the Word. Human words are good, but God’s Word is best. Send cards, texts, or emails of with Scripture. God grows a faith that gives new life by revealing himself in the midst of our deepest, most painful places. And we most often experience him through his Word. Be a life-giving Word-giver this holiday season. I promise it will nourish a broken soul. 

Equip widows or widowers to be ministers. As a widow, I have been entrusted with suffering toward a divine purpose: to minister to others and comfort those who need comfort (2 Corinthians 1:4). Encourage your widows to minister to one another. The goal of grief in God’s hands isn’t healing — it’s holiness. Holiness is healing plus purpose. God can use your widows and widowers to minister in your church like no one else. Remind them of Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Equip them slowly and gently, as they are ready. Don’t be pushy; just watch for where God is working and help them see it too. 

Hebrews 5:8-9 is one of the most profound verses as it relates to suffering. It says this, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” Christ didn’t need to learn obedience, as if he wasn’t doing something. He willingly submitted to the experience of suffering in the flesh and experienced persevering in obedience. He tasted death on our behalf and made the way for our deliverance. For those who are approaching the holidays under the cover of grief, this gives great hope. Our suffering Savior has made a way for us to hope in the midst of our hurt and minister to those around us. Cling to God’s Word this holiday season and remember the joy of your salvation. I am praying for you.

By / Jun 9

When we encounter abuse and grapple with the evil it perpetrates, many people often wonder, “Why doesn’t she just leave?” Sometimes the question comes with the judgment “It’s her fault if she doesn’t” The question is better framed as “Why is she choosing to stay?” There are 4 reasons why I have seen women remain in abusive marriages. As we consider each, I will suggest things Christians can do to support victims.

1. Victims can struggle to see the severity of the abuse or the danger they are in. 

This is very common since oppressors use a cloud of confusion, blame-shifting, and manipulative tactics to maintain control. The result is that victims believe the abuse is their fault, isn’t that bad, or doubt their own memories. Or sometimes, victims wrongly attribute their husband’s behavior to stress, alcohol, problems at work, unemployment, or other factors. Discerning the presence of abuse is hard for everyone- harder for those living amidst it.1Men can be victims of domestic abuse. Male victims will have an even harder time seeing the abuse and getting others to recognize it. Hence, they will face even greater barriers to getting help.

Victims need our help to understand both the dynamics of abuse and the specifics of how they are playing out in their marriage. Here are a few ideas on how to patiently and gently share these critical insights. 

  • You might help a victim track incidents of abuse by keeping a log or encouraging her to journal. 
  • Lead her to see that the abuse always serves a purpose for her spouse- like when he flashes anger, he gets his way. 
  • Show her where scripture calls abusive behaviors sinful and speaks to how oppression violates God’s design for marriage.
  • Complete a safety assessment with her to discern her level of danger.2https://www.dangerassessment.org/uploads/pdf/DAEnglish2010.pdf

It can take months, even years, for her to see what you see, so continue to find creative ways to guide her to make an accurate assessment of her situation. 

2. The victim lacks family, community, and church support

They have likely floated the idea of leaving to their trusted circle or have heard teachings frowning upon divorce. The result is that many victims fear that if they separate from their spouse, their faith community or friends and family will judge them. Not only is it difficult for victims to lose friends and familial relationships, but the disapproval of others often results in paralyzing shame. Sometimes victims already find themselves alone since abusers work to isolate their victims. Being devoid of community means she will not have the support she needs to meet future challenges like single motherhood, income loss, divorce, and healing from trauma. Or worse, suppose her faith community has imprinted on her heart that seeking a divorce is sinful. In that case, she will fear that leaving means even God will not come to her aid.  

This is where faithful friends and church leadership can step in. They can help her search God’s word for what it says about his hate of oppression, his promises to rescue his people from oppressors, examples of godly people (David, Abigail, Paul, and Jesus) fleeing danger or teaching on when divorce is biblical. 

Not only is the church equipped to help her answer her spiritual questions they are also able to bless her with the needed resources and personal support. Diaconal funds are one way a church can help. But they can also provide things like babysitting, prayer support, intentional friendships, or needed guidance with surprises like car repairs. When churches lovingly participate in the rescue of a victim, it showcases the Lord’s heart for her. It also puts it on display for her children and other victims who are similarly wrestling with staying or leaving. 

3. Leaving is the most dangerous time for a woman

Victims instinctively know that if their abuser senses he is losing control, there is the potential for him to go to extremes, which can even mean killing her. In one study, researchers interviewed men who murdered their wives. It found that threats of separation or the act of separation were the precipitating event. Moreover, victims might not just fear for themselves. Many abusers have threatened to kill themselves, the children, or a beloved pet if she leaves. Find out what she is afraid of by asking her directly what she thinks will happen if she goes. You can help connect her to a Domestic Violence expert or shelter.3Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in making connections (www.thehotline.org). You can also find a safety plan in my book, Is It Abuse? They can develop a plan to remain safe both while she remains in the home and if she flees abuse. When there is the potential for danger, leaving can mean going into hiding or taking months to plan. All of this is daunting; hence some women choose not to take risks and remain with their abuser. If she decides to stay, continue to care for her, keep reviewing her safety plan and remind her you are willing to help if there is a day she wants to make the choice to flee. 

4. Leaving abuse is extremely difficult and costly. 

Usually, victims agonize and pray over what to do for weeks, if not months and years. Fleeing abuse brings victims new and intensified challenges with their income, children, stability, and other relationships. So, after thinking over the potential costs to them and their children, they choose to stay. Here are a few reasons why:

  • Financial challenges (Their abuser might control the finances, provide the only income, or have destroyed her credit.)
  • Many women fear leaving their children alone with an abuser as joint custody is usually awarded. Additionally, they may fear of losing custody or anticipation parental alienation
  • The belief that two-parent households are best for children
  • They feel that the good times outweigh the bad times. 
  • They have nowhere to go or lack resources. 
  • The effects of trauma on a victim (depression, anxiety, PTSD) might be overwhelming.
  • They have hope that their spouse will change.
  • They believe that divorce is not an option.
  • Fear of not being believed or that the justice system will not rule in their favor

Seek to understand why a victim is choosing to stay. It is easy to think, “I would never put up with that!” or “I’d be out of there.” But until you live under the crushing terrorizing reality of abuse, you really do not know what you would do. Every choice comes at a steep cost. In some cases, you might be able to help ease the suffering, for instance by helping her find a job or housing. If a victim chooses to stay based upon her convictions or children, she will continue to need your support. 

While these are the four main challenges that impact a women’s decision to stay, they are not exhaustive. But they help us see that any step a woman takes to address her abuse will, at least temporarily, make her and her children’s lives more difficult. The very act of sharing her story with you is a tremendous act of courage. It signals progress is being made as evil is brought into the light. This allows you to connect a victim in her anguish to God regardless of whether she stays or goes. 

I know how hard it is when walking with a victim to fear for her. Pray, and patiently persist with a victim until God grants her clarity. Seek to extend her the same patience that God has extended to you (Ex 34:6, 1Tim 1:16), but also entrust her to God. He is always on the move rescuing his people from oppression (Ps 9:9; 72:4; 103:6; 147:7-9).  

  • 1
    Men can be victims of domestic abuse. Male victims will have an even harder time seeing the abuse and getting others to recognize it. Hence, they will face even greater barriers to getting help.
  • 2
    https://www.dangerassessment.org/uploads/pdf/DAEnglish2010.pdf
  • 3
    Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for assistance in making connections (www.thehotline.org). You can also find a safety plan in my book, Is It Abuse?
By / Jun 9

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

By / Mar 31

Brad Hambrick shares advice for husbands who want to cultivate their marriage. 

By / Feb 14

It’s not the singleness that’s hard as a woman in my 30s in the church. I would love to be married, but I’m not desperate. If that’s what the Lord has, great. If not, then that’s OK. In the past that hasn’t always been easy to feel or say, and it may not always be easy in the future. But, I want what God wants, and I’m happy serving him single. 

The hard part is the cultural shame of singleness; being seemingly unwanted and undesirable is painful. The shame in the Church of being abnormal or feeling as if I’m being perceived as a pariah presses in. The older I get, the weirder I feel. However, Scripture gives honor and belonging to singles like me. Our Savior, the perfect picture of humanity, was himself single, which gives dignity to my single status. And Christ has placed all of us, whether single or married, in a family, giving us a place, a purpose, and an ultimate aim—Christlikeness. 

Because of the fight against shame and the desire to think rightly about singleness, I was thankful to pick up Sam Allberry’s book 7 Myths about Singleness. Whether you are single or married, you probably can check one or two boxes from his list of myths that you have believed or partially embraced. As one who has encountered many of these myths, here are five of my takeaways from this book:

1. Singleness shows the sufficiency of the gospel.

Marriage is a good gift designed by God. Yet, sometimes it is communicated that the family is the primary way God chooses to work, display himself, and advance his Kingdom. Marriage has a unique role in displaying the gospel, but so does singleness. Allberry points out, “If marriage shows us the shape of the gospel, singleness shows us its sufficiency” (120). 

We live in a day and age where sex is ultimate and is believed to be best if it is without restraint. Allberry, however, shows that the Bible’s way is different, teaching that sex is designed to be exclusively experienced in marriage between one man and one woman. Many in the Western world believe that “our sense of personhood is directly attached to our sex life” (18). As a result, celibacy is unthought of today. 

Sex is not supreme or our identity. And life is not incomplete or lacking for the single person in the Church who is faithfully pursuing sexual holiness. Instead, singleness in devotion to the Lord displays the sufficiency of the gospel to a world that makes sex ultimate. 

2. Everyone needs to understand God’s view of singleness, not just singles.

If you are married, you need to read this book too. This is true for several reasons. First, “the Bible’s teaching on singleness is given to all of God’s people” (14), including passages like 1 Corinthians 7. When this epistle was delivered, it was read to the entire church—wives, husbands, singles, and children—because all Scripture is profitable, not just the portions that most directly apply to you.

Christ has placed all of us, whether single or married, in a family, giving us a place, a purpose, and an ultimate aim—Christlikeness.

Secondly, singleness relates to everyone. We all were single at one point, and all who are married now will one day be single again (14). Furthermore, Scripture gives the analogy of the body for how a church functions. We affect one another, so singleness affects all of us (15). Allberry writes, “I have a stake in the health of the marriages in my church family. And those who are married have a stake in the health of my singleness. It’s part of what belonging to one another involves” (15).

3. Singleness isn’t necessarily selfish.

The Church, in rightly honoring the family in a culture that has devalued marriage, has sometimes spoken about singleness in an unbiblical or unnuanced way. While addressing the delaying of marriage in culture today, I’ve heard pastors chastise singleness itself. But Paul wrote that he wished more were like him in his singleness (1 Cor. 7:7), acknowledging that it has its advantages for the Kingdom (1 Cor. 7:26-35). 

Singleness can be selfish, but it can also be purposeful. Allberry writes, “The issue is what singleness is being used for. To call singleness itself a ‘threat to marriage’ is to speak about it in a profoundly unbiblical way that I am sure would astonish Paul . . . We mustn’t blame selfishly deferring marriage on singleness any more than we should blame selfishness in marriage on marriage itself” (45). Allberry righly challenges those who are selfish without demeaning those who are single and serving well.

4. Singles should find a family in the church. 

All of us were created to live in community. It wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, but it’s not good for singles to be alone either. Marrieds and singles need one another. And God has given us a forever family through the Church. 

Allberry talks about married people welcoming singles into their families and routines. Allberry points out that “the boundary of your family life needs to be porous for your family’s own good” (78). While it may sound crazy to a young parent to invite someone to kid drop-offs or pick-ups from school or to chop carrots and help prepare dinner, some of us singles enjoy those things. Being invited into the ordinary moments of a family is a real joy and gift. When we seek to incorporate one another into our lives, we’re often blessed because “the physical and spiritual families we belong to need each other” (77). 

5. Singleness and marriage are both good gifts.

God is the one who created us, knows us, and gives us the gifts of singleness or marriage. Allberry writes, “He is the Creator who made you and knows you. He is the One who orders all things and does so for your good. . . . If we balk at the idea of singleness being a gift, it is not because God has not understood us but because we have not understood him” (38). 

Allberry is biblically balanced and honest about the challenges and blessings of singleness and marriage. He writes, “The fact is, both singleness and marriage have their own particular ups and downs. The temptation for many who are single is to compare the downs of singleness with the ups of marriage. And the temptation for some married people is to compare the downs of marriage with the ups of singleness, which is equally dangerous.” The contrast between the two is not between good and bad or easy and hard, but between “complexity and simplicity” (31). 

Even now as I review several of my takeaways from this book, I’m encouraged. As a single, I am of benefit to the Church. And, as a single I’m not waiting for marriage to be able to display the gospel; I display it now by showing the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t point to rejection, but reminds me of my great acceptance by a loving and sovereign God. 

If you want to understand God’s design and purposes for singleness, read this book. It’s needed in the Church and in this day and age to help us understand God’s purposes for singleness and his plan for singles. It has helped remind me that my singleness isn’t a source of shame but simply another way that God is working for my good and his glory. Anyone would enjoy this well-written, thought-provoking book. You will be encouraged and spurred on to love, good deeds, and service in the body of Christ.

By / Feb 4

Kay Warren shares what she would say to her younger self in the early years of marriage.