I’m riding in a car on the passenger side. My husband is driving. We’re on a heavily forested mountainside road filled with sharp turns. Each time we make it around one curve, the next one is already upon us. He is driving way too fast, and I flinch through each one. After the first couple of them, I’m no longer in the passenger seat; I’m in the back. We continue down the road. Through each turn I cringe in terror, because I know that there is no way we should be making it around them. Now I am no longer in the car at all, but hovering above. I am not affected by wind or speed, but I continue experiencing the fear of what I think is about to happen as each bend in the road is barely navigated. Then something unexpected happens. He reaches a curve that is no more or less difficult to steer through than any of the others, but he makes no attempt at all to go around it. I watch the car sail off the side of the mountain, vanishing into the trees below. I hear no sound, but know instantly that he’s gone forever. There is a crushing feeling of grief in my chest. The next thing I know, I’m home; but it’s not a home I remember. I’m dimly aware that it’s a couple of years or so later. I’m with a new husband, and while I know that he is good to me and my children, and that we have a happy life together, the memory of what I perceive as just having happened is too fresh, and I scream out in anguish, “Noooo!” but no-one can hear or see me doing it. My mind is still disturbed by the past, but my new life cannot acknowledge it or understand why.
Upon awakening, I know that this was a dream of meaning; and I know exactly what the meaning is. I pray to God that it is just a warning of what could happen and not a foretelling of what will happen. I tell my husband about the dream (leaving out the new husband part) and he understands the meaning of it as well. He tries to assure me that it will serve as a warning, but he makes no changes in his life or to the path he is on.
We met and were married is less than a year’s time. He had a “past” and made no secret of it. He had been abused in childhood, and had been in trouble with the law. He had been to treatment for drug and alcohol abuse, and was happily clean and sober for about a year and a half at the time we met. During that time he had come to know the Lord in a very powerful way. I took this as reassurance that the things of his past would remain there. God had brought us together; there was no doubt of it.
During our courtship, he informed me that some of his past ways of thinking and relating to others might surface from time to time; that he might he might tend to try to “bulldoze” me. He told me in no uncertain terms that if this were to happen, all I would need to do would be to stand up for myself and he would come to his senses and back down. It didn’t go that way at all. When, after we had been married a few months, it happened that I needed to defend myself against being “bulldozed”, it was made perfectly clear to me that I was not to defend myself in any way. I did not deserve to be defended, as this would mean that he had behaved wrongly, and how dare I insinuate he had done anything wrong by defending myself! I quickly became depressed. If he detected that I was feeling upset or depressed in any way, he would rebuke me for it, attempting to guilt me into feeling better. I couldn’t understand the logic of him trying to make me feel terrible for feeling terrible. The depression rapidly became all-consuming, and I withdrew from all other friend and family relationships with those who would truly love me.
Drugs and alcohol had entered the picture. I was expected to partake. When a new drug was introduced, I was usually forced to participate. I hated doing it, but at the same time it served to keep some of the anguish at bay. Over time, I continued using as a way to numb myself to the pain that my life had become, despite continuing to loathe doing it.
Our son was born just over a month before our second anniversary. Upon finding out I was pregnant, I was allowed to abstain from drugs and alcohol, and did so without there being any issue with it. He was born robustly healthy and grew rapidly. He provided the only joy there was in my life at the time, and I was consciously aware that if not for him, I would have no reason to live. I did my best not to allow him to become aware of this fact as he grew, as I knew that would be way too much responsibility for a little guy to bear.
During all of this, God would speak to me from time to time. It actually began before things went bad; quite a number of years before having the aforementioned dream. I was lying in bed awake one night, my husband was at work (one of the very few times he actually maintained gainful employment), and I heard the Lord say to me, “My dear, you’re probably not going to have him for very long.” Somehow I knew He was telling me that my husband was going to die young. “No, NO!” I pleaded, “Don’t let it be!” Then I thought to myself, “Hey, wait a minute, what does ‘probably’ mean?” To my surprise, I was provided right away with a twenty year timeline broken down into five year increments, and the probability of it happening (or not happening) within each of them. During the first five years it was possible to happen, but not likely. During the second, the probability would increase, but not be as great as it would be during the third five years. If we made it to the last five years, the likelihood of it happening would be considerably less, but not completely gone; and if we made it the full twenty years, we would be together the rest of our lives. I considered this to be a more than acceptable answer and hoped against hope that we would make it through.
It wasn’t long after that that things went south. I could see the writing on the wall. I was continually reminded of how worthless I was -that my feelings had no value and my attempts at defending myself were meaningless. Just to make these points crystal clear, he would berate me severely if I even hinted that I might be thinking differently about something than he did. “You’re against me! You’re my wife, you’re not supposed to be against me!” he would say, among other things including name-calling, belittling and the like. By doing this he made it clear that I was not allowed to have my own opinion on anything. He would gladly shame me in private or in public; and when he did it publicly, it was apparent that he didn’t harbor a single thought that he might be making himself look bad in front of anyone. His only aim was to completely humiliate me. It worked.
While I still clung to the love I felt God had created between us, I knew that living this way was not sustainable. I occasionally was reminded of what the Lord had told me as I laid in bed that night, and would plead anew for my husband’s life. One day He gave me an answer in the form a promise. He said to me, “I will not take him unless or until you become ready for him to be gone.”
“It’s a deal!” said I. Little did I realize what “becoming ready for him to be gone” was going to entail.
Years went by. Nearly six years after the birth of our son, we had a daughter. The level of stress I was experiencing had become so extreme, it made my milk supply dry up so I was only able to breastfeed her for three months. I can remember noticing it happening when she was only two months old. I curled up on the bed, sobbing over not being able to be an adequate mother.
The drug use had become rampant at this point. I can hardly think of a drug that did not enter our home at one point or another. He was pretty much always on something, and I was right there with him quite a bit of the time, once my milk was dried up once and for all, which didn’t take long. Because of his constant drug and alcohol abuse, he became unable to have sex with me. He was not, however, unable to become initially aroused, and he regularly forced me to “service” him. I got nothing in return – this went on for years.
I started pleading with God to make it come to an end. It had gotten to the point where I knew absolutely that God was not going to allow things to continue this way indefinitely. I prayed for my husband to be healed so I could be relieved of the hell I was experiencing. It was then that the Lord made me a new promise. He said that if I stuck it out to the end, I would not have to wait for some kind of happiness to occur in my life; that it would just be there. This promise sustained me for quite some time, but the situation continued to deteriorate. I went from praying for God to fix my husband, to praying that He would either fix him or take him, I no longer cared which. I was becoming “ready for him to be gone”.
I continued pleading with God, begging Him to bring this season of my life to an end. He said to me, "Please don't leave him yet." I could tell that the Lord was asking, rather than commanding me to stay with my husband. I was intrigued by this, and by His use of the word "yet". I struggled with understanding why He would use that word. My immediate reaction at the time was to ask, "Yet? What does 'yet' mean?” I was incredulous. I thought to myself, “Does this mean it's going to be ok for me to leave him in the future?” I heard no answer; He only repeated Himself, "Just please don't leave him yet." Despite the amount of heartache I was experiencing in my marriage, I could not even begin to entertain the idea of not doing something God was directly asking me to do; so I agreed without reservation.
You know how sometimes you get that little involuntary muscle twitch just below your eye? I developed these kinds of twitches all over my body. Both of my eyes twitched, my face twitched on either side of my nose just below my cheekbones, I had twitches on my arms, my legs and my torso. Severe stress was completely consuming me. I have this memory of lying prone in the middle of the living room floor, contemplating the absurdity of being incapable of willing myself to death -seeing as how I had come to wish for it so very intensely. I had reached a time of feeling totally overwhelmed with despair; I cried out to God, “Please, PLEASE make this end! I can’t do this anymore! I’m breaking… losing myself!” He answered me in the strangest way. He said, “Alright, you got Me.” –as if I had just said, “Tag, You’re it!” I was quite startled to hear the Lord say something like that to me, and I asked, “What? I got You? …What?!”
“You got Me.” He said again, and elaborated, “You have every right to leave him, and you even should; but I’m going to ask you one last time, please don’t leave him yet.” I was shaking; and I was really stunned by the “and you even should” part. On one hand, God had just told me something that hardly any person would ever believe He would say; on the other hand, I knew that He had just revealed truth directly to me, and had again asked me to do something very specific. I still found myself incapable of refusing a direct request from the Lord. I gritted my teeth. My fists were balled up and my knuckles white. I barely was able to squeak out my answer, “ok.”
About a week later, I was working an extra shift on a Friday night. I got “the phone call”. It was just over two months before our twelfth anniversary. Our son was less than a month from turning ten, and our daughter had recently turned four. The police were at my house. “Come home immediately.” they told me.
“He did something, didn’t he?” I asked rhetorically. They would say nothing anyway. As I drove home, I began to open my mouth to pray aloud, “Please let him be alive.” In my heart I knew what was really going on, but a small part of me hoped that this might be his final wake-up call. Interestingly, those were not the words that came out. I felt a mild shock as the phrase formed in my mouth, “Lord, Your will be done.” I said instead. My husband had passed away of a drug overdose. I can’t say that I was terribly surprised. I took vague notice that it had happened during the “third five years” -the period of time when God had told me it was most likely to happen. It was, however, an astoundingly shocking experience. I awoke the next two mornings to find myself already screaming as I entered into consciousness.
Soon thereafter, God granted me the ability to understand that despite the fact that He had asked me to stay, I would have been within my rights to remove myself from the “marriage” at almost any time, not just at the end. God had only asked me to stay, He hadn’t commanded it. There is a reason for that. You see, my husband had abandoned me by failing miserably at holding up his end of the marriage vows. He had, in fact, refused to keep them, effectively divorcing me in every way except on paper. I have heard it said that there is no loneliness greater than that caused by being with someone who makes you feel alone. I can attest to that being the absolute truth.
There is a pervasive belief among Christians that the one and only legitimate reason to leave a marriage is when sexual infidelity occurs. This is a backward way to view the situation. When a spouse has been unfaithful, it is they who have already left the marriage. It has become clear to me, however, that there are more ways than just sexual infidelity by which a person can “cheat” on their spouse. Marriage vows include the promises to “love, honor and cherish”. Persistent failure or refusal to keep these promises is also cheating. I do not recall ever attending any wedding ceremony where the vows were: “I promise to avoid having sex with other people, but that’s the only promise I’m going to make”, and then someone says, “I now pronounce you man and wife.”
Yes, I am aware that there is also a vow that says “for better or worse”. I think a more accurate wording of that vow would be: “through better and worse”. Marriage is supposed to be filled with ups and downs, not just downs. God has not called us to be dragged through the mud throughout the duration of our lives. He did not create the institution of marriage to be used as a torture chamber by those who would wield it in that way.
Suffering for the cause of Christ is one thing; we are called to endure this kind of suffering, and we are promised that The Holy Spirit will hold us up during such hardship in a way that will bring joy in the midst of it. Suffering at the hands of a person who is heaping abuse on us for no reason other than to make themselves feel powerful or make us feel like less, however, is something else entirely. I have come to understand that He has created an out for those who have found themselves suffering abandonment, or in marriages that were entered into in bad faith by a spouse who lords the marriage license over them like it’s a certificate of ownership. This "out" He has created is His grace. It's the covering that Jesus' death and resurrection have provided. We are not called to be perfect, we are called to allow ourselves to be covered by His grace when we find that living in an imperfect world places us in impossible situations from time to time.
Let me be clear. I do not wish this to be an endorsement for divorce. I do not want to see marriages end, if those ends can be avoided in any way. I absolutely believe marriage should be held in the very highest regard, and that marriages should be supported and held together whenever possible; but we live in a fallen world here, folks. This is the very reason Jesus was sent to die in our place. Human beings make mistakes, sometimes grave mistakes (also known as sin). In marriage, some may have married the wrong person in the first place; some spouses may have turned from God and allowed themselves to take a path that they never would have had they stayed with Him.
Whatever the mistake is, Jesus’ death and resurrection have covered it. God did this in order to perfect all things and provide healing in all situations. It can be a very trying thing to do, but we must have faith that He will give us the wisdom and strength to endure through difficult circumstances as we wait on His perfect timing. His answer will come. If we have done this, we will see that He has chosen to take the slow (and often surprising) route to perfection; but as humans, who don’t always pay attention to such things, we regularly try to tell God what we think the perfect thing to do is, and when and how it should be done. We often don’t realize that what we might regard as being perfect in the here and now may not be so in the long haul. Only God knows. We have to trust in Him alone and be open to the idea that He might teach us something different about Himself and His kingdom than what we have been taught by this world, even by Christians of this world.
The truth of the matter is, marriage is supposed to be about love. More specifically, it should be a reflection of the love Christ has for the church; and the Bible is very clear on the subject of love. It provides unmistakable instructions on how husbands and wives are to show love to one another. Ephesians 5:21-29 states: “For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord, for a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of His body, the church. As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything. For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up His life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. He did this to present her to Himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault . In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies, for a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. No-one hates his own body , but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.”
There are many who interpret the phrase, “wives should submit to your husbands in everything” as giving husbands free reign as to how they are allowed to treat their wives, and saying that wives have no choice but to take any treatment that might be dished out; but if you look at the passage as a whole, wives are called to submit to husbands who treat them as Christ treats the church -with loving leadership. Colossians 3:19 spells it out explicitly for husbands:“Husbands, love your wives and never treat them harshly.” To sum this all up, a very specific inventory of how to identify love, stating exactly what love is and what it isn’t, can be found in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”.
The Lord used my circumstance to teach me a truth that is not well known; that continual failure to adhere to any and/or all the vows of marriage with no effort to remedy the situation, is tantamount to leaving (or divorcing) one’s spouse; and the one who has been abandoned, in whatever way the abandonment occurs, may no longer be bound by their vows. As 1 Corinthians 7:15 states: “but if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace." I personally like that last part, “for God has called you to live in peace.” It makes it pretty clear, doesn’t it? God does not want us to continue living in a tortured relationship! This may be a difficult pill for some to swallow, as it may mean having to realize that a spouse they were sure was saved may actually not be. 1 John 4:7-8 has something very straightforward to say on that subject: “Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God; but anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love”
For whatever reason, I had to stay until the bitter end in order to learn the lessons God wanted me to learn. By doing this, I have realized that one reason the Lord asked me to stay in my marriage, rather than ordering me to stay in it, was so I would understand that probably within the first year of my marriage, my husband had already failed so abysmally at being a husband, I was no longer bound to the vows I had taken. I now know that He said, "Please don't leave him yet." because, by all rights, I already could have, and the end of the marriage would not have been my doing. I have slowly come to understand that whatever “salvation experience” occurred in my husband’s life must not have been the real thing. His seed fell among the rocky soil, sprouted quickly and then died (see Matthew 13:3-9, 18-23). I don’t say this to pass judgment on him, as that is not my job; it has just become more clearly true as time has gone by. I am gradually learning to be at peace with it. It’s in God’s hands.
There is more to why God personally asked me to stay in my marriage. He wanted me to come out of the experience knowing this truth absolutely: there is such a thing as being “spiritually divorced” from one's spouse. There are those whose spouses have divorced them in spirit, yet they cling with all their might to their marriage vows, in many cases believing that they will be punished by God for not doing so. Certainly the Lord appreciates this kind of dedication to one’s vows, and He may choose to use such dedication to affect a miraculous change in a faltering marriage; but when a person has been wholly abandoned by a spouse who has completely failed to keep the promises of marriage, or if a person has been physically abandoned by their spouse entirely, that individual may no longer be required to stay in the marriage, as it may no longer be a marriage at all.
Care must be taken with how to interpret the meaning of this. This does not mean that any and every time you get into a fight with your spouse you have the right to say, “You’re not showing me love according to our marriage vows! You’re failing at keeping your vows! I want a divorce!” May that never be! I’m talking about continuous actions-speak-louder-than-words refusal to keep the promises that were made at the wedding ceremony.
There are many people who have found themselves in this situation; people whose spouses have already divorced them in every way except on paper. I wish to pray effectively not only for people who are trying to save their struggling marriages, but for those who are in marriages that have reached the point of hopelessness. I wish to counsel husbands and wives who are having hard times in their marriages to learn how to come together in Christ. I do not, however, wish to counsel people to stay in marriages that are unsalvageable, or where spiritual divorce has occurred. I pray that people will realize when they have been spiritually divorced, so they can move into the next phase of life God has for them unhindered by the feeling that they have failed Him, because they’re not the ones who have failed in this circumstance. We must never forget: God loves us all so very much, and He makes all things new, often in unexpected ways. Be in prayer about the will of God for your life. Listen to Him alone, and avoid allowing yourself to be confused by too many different loud opinions. He will make His answers clear. May God bless you as you seek to find His will in your life and marriage. Written by Amy Rippee, editor at Ruby Wives. All scriptures are from the New Living Translation. Please feel free to share for encouragement purposes only.