During one of the hardest seasons of my entire life, I heard these impossible words echo through my soul:
“Just love him.”
My marriage was crumbling, and my husband was getting ready to move out. For years, our family had been through one crisis after another as we struggled through difficult situations, particularly with our autistic son. The strain of parenting and working and just trying to survive took its toll and things were absolutely horrible.
For about six months, Nick had been living in our basement so we could be apart. We had all the arrangements made for a real separation and were getting ready to tell the kids about our decision. I was a wreck. I didn’t want the marriage we had, but I didn’t want my family to fall apart either. I’ve been through a divorce and it’s the worst thing that you can imagine. I didn’t want to go through that again, and I especially didn’t want to put our children through it. At my core, I still loved Nick very much, but we couldn’t continue on the path we were on.
I’m a very logical and analytical person. So if something makes sense to me, I believe it’s right, even though I’m always open to having my mind changed. Although I knew in my heart that both of us played a role in what was happening in our marriage, for a long time I was unable to see my part in it. In my mind, what I was doing made sense and what Nick was doing did not make sense. So I just could not, for the life of me, figure out how I was contributing to our problems. I didn’t know what else to do, so I started praying.
For months I prayed for things to change. Most of the time, my prayers went something like this:
“God, just tell me what you want me to do…and I’ll probably do it. I’ll try my best at least! And God, show Nick all the things he’s doing wrong so we can fix this. I know that You love us and that You can make this right. So do it. Help me. Fix us.”
Despite being a follower of Jesus, despite believing in Him and loving Him, I was too scared to simply say, “Tell me what to do and I’ll do it.” I knew that I had faith in Jesus, but I didn’t have faith in myself. I didn’t know if I would be strong enough to follow through with what God wanted me to do. So I asked half-heartedly and hoped that God would do what only God can do and just fix the situation.
In the weeks leading up to our planned separation, when things were at their absolute worst, I got to the point where I was completely broken. My life was in complete shambles, and I was at my wit’s end.
One night, while the kids slept and Nick was down in the basement, I went into my closet and shut the door. I got down on my knees and started to sob. And then I prayed a new prayer.
“God, tell me what You want me to do and whatever it is, I will do it. I’ll do anything! I’ll do anything You want me to do. Guide me, God, take my hand. Show me what to do. Just help me. Help me to know what the next right thing is.”
I got up off the floor and waited. And heard nothing.
A few weeks later, I was at worship team practice late on a Tuesday night. My best friend, Laura, was leading that night, and we were all having a great time. The theme for the worship set that week was “surrender.” I remember sitting, listening as Laura told us about what we would be singing and the significance of it for the week. And that’s when I felt those impossible words…
“Just love him.”
I’ve never heard God speak to me before and I didn’t hear these words. I felt them in my gut. I wondered where in the world they had come from. I wasn’t even thinking about my marriage! But God had never stopped thinking about it. He chose that moment, in the midst of a discussion on surrender, to tell me that that was exactly what I needed to do.
As I sat there thinking about what I’d just felt, I started to get nervous. “Okay God, I know I asked you to tell me what I need to do, but is there a second option? Is there a plan B, because I don’t like Plan A!”
Just love him? That would require the impossible. It is impossible to just forgive and pour love abundantly on someone that you feel is hurting you, isn’t it? That’s certainly not my personality. I didn’t tell anyone at practice about what had just happened. I wanted to be sure that I was clear on what God was telling me to do. But as I drove home that night, with every minute that passed, those words that I had felt in my body became even more real.
Like a waterfall, I started having these “aha” moments wash over me. When I had prayed and asked to hear from God, I was hoping for insights into what to do about Nick. But what God was revealing to me was not about Nick, it was about me. God showed me where I had made mistakes and how I had contributed to our situation.
When I got home, I stayed in my car as those impossible words grew stronger and stronger inside of me. All at once, God showed me a major disconnect in our marriage.
I realized that my husband’s brokenness stems from the fact that the people who were supposed to love him the most didn’t love him the way he needed to be loved. They had all abandoned him in one way or another, which left him feeling irrelevant, not needed, not loved, not chosen. Simultaneously, I realized that all of my brokenness stems from always being liked, but never liked the most; always being loved, but never loved the most; always being good at things, but never the best.
It was then that God showed me that despite our difficulties and distance, Nick had never abandoned me. He had always been there for me even in our toughest times, no matter how angry he was in the moment. He had always loved me the most. And I had abandoned him. In an attempt to protect myself from the situation, I shut down. I went cold. I shut off all of my love so he couldn’t feel any love from me. I had abandoned him, just like every other important person in his life.
When I finally went in the house that night, Nick met me at the door, and I walked in and gave him a hug. We stood there for a long time not saying anything, just hugging and crying. I didn’t tell him what I had experienced that night. I decided to go to my room, pray, and sleep on it.
The next day I sent Nick a long email explaining everything that had happened to me the night before. I told him about the words I had felt, the realizations I had had, and the new commitment I was ready to offer. I wanted to commit to a new marriage. One in which Jesus was truly at the center in a way He never had been before.
Everything changed after that.
Nick was immediately on board with recommitting to our marriage. We began to be very intentional with our conversations, paying attention to the way we communicate with one another. We started reading books together and going on weekly coffee dates. We just loved each other better than we had in a really long time.
Although it hasn’t always been easy, when things get tough these days, we don’t feel hopeless. We know that God is right there with us, and I know what He wants me to do. I’ve learned how to stay in the moment and not disappear when things get tough. I stay with my husband, and we work things out together.
This experience changed me and taught me an incredibly important lesson: Just because I can justify something doesn’t mean that it’s right.
And I’m really good at justifying things. That’s the part where I have to check in with myself even now. Just because I can make a very valid argument for something doesn’t mean it’s what God wants of me, because so much of what God wants us to do doesn’t make logical sense. Being able to see that is such a gift. Right and wrong is a spectrum. Two things can be true at one time. A million things can be true at the same time. Just because you can justify it, doesn’t make it right in God’s eyes.
I can’t unknow what I now know. I’ve never felt words like that before – I felt those words so deeply. God answered my prayer in a surprising and powerful way, and now that I know He can and does work in that way, I can’t go back to the way I was. If I did, I would be turning my back on God and walking away. Through this experience, I absolutely believe that God will always come through for us. It just may not be in the way we’re expecting.
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