* This article is far more open, honest, and forthcoming than previous publications. I encourage you to read this with an open heart and an open mind. *
As a young Christian I used to hate it when those more seasoned than I would tell me to “pray about it” or “I’ll pray for you.” What good does prayer do? God doesn’t listen to MY prayers. I am small in the grand scheme of things.
We recently completed a series at our church called Frequently Avoided Questions, and one Sunday the question was “Why does God answer some prayers but not others?” The short of that answer is He does answer all prayers, He just does it in His time and it’s not always the answer we expected or wanted. Sometimes we have to wait for an answer. And since we Americans live in a culture that is accustomed to instant gratification, that can be used as a lesson in patience for some of us. “God answers every prayer in a way that accomplishes the greatest and ultimate good” and “He can be trusted always to be good” to us (Dan Jerrell, June 2013). When Andy first joined me in Anchorage in the fall of 2011 he had trouble finding a job in his field of work. And we prayed. We never gave up faith that God would answer our prayers and place Andy with the right job. One year of prayers and dead end jobs later, Andy got hired at a shipping and transportation company – doing exactly what he went to school to do. This was lesson number one for me.
Lesson number two has not been so joyous… And it is an ongoing process.
As I’ve said before, our journey has been a struggle. I have spent countless nights quietly crying while my husband sleeps next to me. I have dreaded coming home in the evening and driven around the block more than once to put it off a little longer. I have thought about how and when I could leave, and been too scared to act on it. But through all of that the one thing I kept doing was praying. I prayed for God to change Andy’s heart, make him more open with me, help him to see how badly he was hurting me…
For quite a while my prayers were all about changing my mate and nothing about myself. Then one night, as I sat on my parents couch fighting back tears and reading yet another e-book on marriage, something stood out to me. I needed to ask God to fix and strengthen myself before I could ask him to work on my spouse. More importantly, I had to prepare my heart to allow God to work through me to act on my spouse. My prayers switched from “change my husband” to “change my heart.” I started asking God to change the way I respond, to change my heart for my husbands favor, and to mold me into the wife that my husband needs me to be. I found it easier to be patient with my husband and to hold my tongue where I would usually snap at him. But even after months of praying I wasn’t seeing or feeling change in Andy.
It became increasingly hard to love someone whom I felt continuously brushed me aside. I tried my best to continue the things that I knew God wanted me to do, but as weeks turned into more months I found that I was wearing thin. And I broke. I literally cried out to God several times, as I had done in our engagement. I was honest [and even angry] with God, and I asked why He had done this to me. I told Him I couldn’t do this anymore, that I was broken, that I felt like I had failed Him and my husband. It was in this time that I finally and honestly handed my marriage to God. I had been struggling with trusting Him to bring my marriage out of ashes, and I just couldn’t struggle anymore. What became my last resort, should have been the first thing I did. Daily I needed to yield to God and die to my own desire to leave.
Just when I was losing faith and beginning to believe those voices in my head telling me that God was ignoring me, that I was too small, I started seeing change. Seeing change after more than a year of silent pain. Change in both of us. God has heard my prayers, and He is answering them. Andy has started working with me, making gestures and efforts that are thoughtful and sincere, even simply apologizing when he hurts my feelings. The steps may be small, but to me they’re huge.
My desperate pleading prayers for help have turned to prayers of praise and thanks. I am starting to see the fruits of prayer and how God is working through me. I have seen how in my hurt and suffering He has taught me how to trust Him and just be still and wait on Him.
I have learned several lessons so far throughout this struggle. First, the obvious ones, I have learned how to pray with an honest heart and how to trust that God is working even when I feel forgotten. And I learned that “prayer is not about affecting God’s hand, it’s about aligning our hearts” (Dan Jerrell, June 2013). Second, I have come to understand that my spouse is made by God in His image. “Forgiven, beloved, hidden in Christ. Made in the image of the giver of life. Righteous and holy, reborn and remade. Accepted and worthy, this is our new name” (Jason Gray – I Am New). He belongs to Christ first and myself second. I have learned that I must love and forgive my husband unconditionally as Christ has done for he and I. And I’ve learned that I can only do that by allowing God to work through me. Third, you truly do have all the power to build up, or break down, your spouse. Everything you do or don’t do, say or don’t say, has an effect on your spouse. Learning your spouses love language(s), as I talked about in my last post, can help you learn how to build (and love) them up with your words and actions.
I’m going to skew a little off course here and tell you that there is nothing that we as humans can do that is more powerful than prayer. Not one of you is looked over by God. He knows your name. He sees every struggle and every need. He is with you even when you don’t feel it. Something our human mind has trouble grasping is the fact God is ominous; he is with the sick in villages in Africa, He is watching over our soldiers in the Middle East, and He is with you in your joy and in your tough seasons of life. No person is too small in the eyes of God. And for those of you who don’t know Christ, I want you to know that there is nothing in this life so terrible that you could do that He would not forgive you. Our God is gracious and loving; “[He] is fundamentally good…predisposed to what is good, right, and ultimately good for us” (Dan Jerrell, June 2013). Your debt has been paid. You will not be turned away. You can find life, meaning, and purpose in Christ. You will be accepted and loved just the way you are. You just have to be willing.
I know we still have a long road ahead, and God is certainly not done molding us, but my strength and faith are renewed and I feel we are heading in the right direction. I have had a profound response from my openness and honesty, and I hope that you can take these words and lessons to heart. My hope is that through my transparency you will find comfort in knowing you never struggle alone and that God is always listening. I hope you can use the lessons I’ve learned and apply them in your own situations. Remember, even when the storm is raging, calmer seas are sure to come. Trust in the Lord, and step out on the seas. He will lead you, and your marriage, to shore.
“Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:23, 24 ESV)
Quotes from Dan Jerrell, ChangePoint Alaska, June 2, 2013