Duncan comes from a large and violent clan in the old country which worshiped many gods, but he came to believe that there can be only one.
I want a divorce!
And with those words my safe little world blew up. They were words I never thought I would hear. I knew things were not ideal on the home front, but I had no idea how unhappy my wife was. I also know, looking back on that day with the wisdom of hindsight, that it may have been among the most important days of my life.
I am submitting this anonymously. Our story is not public and we are not ready to make it so. Some of you may counsel that I should do so and I understand that. I wish I could. Someday, when the time is right, we may do that, but this is not the time. It’s my story, my testimony. My wife would, I believe, agree with the details, though she might give different perspectives.
Vicky came from a rough background – to call her home broken does not come close to the truth. Shattered. Abusive – in every way. God did a wondrous work of grace in her and I fell for her almost the moment I saw her. She was my first real girlfriend. We married and settled into the ministry and started having kids and had a pretty good life in many ways.
I remember reading this. “Incompatibility is grounds for marriage.” Vicky and I had a pretty good run for two people who are as different as we are. Night and day. Oil and water. We seldom saw things the same way. We could not have been more different in our backgrounds, approaches, or viewpoints. We shared a commitment to Christ and our family and the kingdom, but not much else.
I hope it doesn’t come across like I’m blaming Vicky for all the problems. I’m not an innocent victim of her sin. Neither do I accept the blame for her choices. In all our years of marriage, I have never been unfaithful to her or even had an inappropriate relationship with another woman. But did I “love (my) wife as Christ loved the church?” That would be a big N-O! I was selfish and inconsiderate. I had my reasons and it was unintentional and I had excuses and explanations and sometimes she read motives into my actions that weren’t there. But the simple fact is that she needed something from me that I wasn’t giving.
At the core, she needed to know that she mattered, that she was a priority in my life – not less important than “my ministry” and my church, or my ambitions, or my hobbies and sports, or even my children. She needed me to communicate love for her in a way I didn’t do. I’m really not programmed that way. I was careful to separate my profession from my home life. Ministry is hard and I didn’t want to bring it home, burden Vicky and the kids with my problems. Besides, I don’t really like to talk about my problems. Like many pastors, I’m more of a Walt Longmire-type.
I realize now that what I did with the best of intents – to protect my family – ended up keeping Vicky at an emotional arm’s length. She wanted to be my life partner and put her behind a wall. I made a mistake.
But there were other problems as well, problems that rooted in Vicky’s upbringing and the emotional makeup that grew from that. I had a happy Christian home; not perfect, but happy. Vicky experienced things I don’t even want to think about and will not discuss here. We come from different worlds. We didn’t know all the details until revelations that came out after our marriage, but when the full truth came out, her explosive anger, emotional instability, insecurity, feelings of rejection, and other issues became less of a mystery.
It all came to a head that terrible dayI was hurt, devastated, and yes, angry. Without specifics, I think anyone who knew the details would agree that I had grounds for feelings of anger and betrayal. I had no one to talk to so I poured my heart out to God over the next few days, weeks, and months. “If anyone lacks wisdom he should ask of God…” I had no idea what to do, so I asked God and He answered. God made my path straight and I walked on it. I’m not claiming authoritative revelation, but the Spirit guided me on a journey that took 6 or 7 years and resulted in a restored, even improved marriage.
I would like to share some of the lessons I learned along the way.
1) First, I realized it was my job to love my wife as Christ loved the church. I always knew that, but on this journey is learned it! The Bible assigns roles to the husband and the wife. Some balk at these, but I think your quarrel is with the Spirit who inspired the word. The wife’s duty is to submit herself to her husband and the husband’s is to love his wife as Christ loved the church.
Nowhere does the Bible assign me the duty of subduing Vicky or making her submit. It is her decision whether she is going to obey God or not. My job is to love my wife as Christ loved the church – sacrificially, redemptively, even painfully. When a man decides to try to subdue his wife he is toeing the abuse line.
So, I decided to love Vicky as best I could. I tried not to dump my anger and hurt on her for the sins she had committed against me. We discussed it at times, but I didn’t constantly dump on her or tell her how horrible a person she was. I attempted to be there for her, meet her needs, be helpful, unselfish. Even when she was surly, mean, angry, I didn’t respond in anger.
I was trying to love my wife, not lord it over her.
2) Second, I persevered. God works through those who don’t give up when obeying His Word and following His will becomes hard. It took a long time for my marriage to get in distress and it wasn’t going to be solved in a couple of days. So, I had to be in it for the long run.
I will admit that there were days I lost my hope and wondered if God was ever going to act. There were times when Vicky was intentionally hurtful and would say things to hurt me just because she was angry. I wanted to walk away. But I continued to do what God had put on my heart. Be faithful to your vows. Love your wife as Christ loved the church. Suffer for your marriage, for your wife. Christ has endured with His church through all its failures and I must do the same.
I’m not trying to play the hero. I had to work so hard because I’d failed so much. If I’d obeyed Ephesians 5 in the early days of our marriage we wouldn’t have been in this position. But now I just kept going on, one day at a time, step by step, until the victory came.
3) Third, I learned the truth in reality that I’d preached in theory. Love is action, not emotion. There were a lot of times I didn’t feel love; when my heart told me to give up and walk out. Godly love is not about how I feel but about what I do. It’s about putting Vicky’s needs ahead of my own even if I want to call her a no-good, such-and-such, so-and-so! The “Love Chapter” doesn’t list emotions to feel but actions to do.
4) Fourth, I did not tell anyone about my wife’s problems. Maybe that was a mistake, maybe it wasn’t. She told a few people about where she was spiritually and emotionally. I told no one. This is the first time I’ve ever told the story. If we’d actually split I’d have probably had to tell a few people the sordid details, but part of loving my wife was enduring the pain of this without talking to anyone but God about it. We sing songs like “You’re all I need; Jesus, you’re all I need.” In this situation, I determined to share my burden with Christ and Christ alone.
If I’d shared my burdens with others, what would have been the result? I’d have had sympathy but people would have thought less of Vicky. To tell others was a selfish act. I had to trust that telling God alone was enough.
5) Fifth, I kept going in ministry. I imagine some of you think I should have resigned, stepped away. It was tough and there were times I was distracted. It was a tough burden and it wore me down. But, I did not resign. Why? There were a variety of reasons, but at the root, I just kept plugging through week by week and month by month, year by year. Things gradually began to improve until our marriage was back on better-than-ever footing and I didn’t feel the need anymore.
At the risk of sounding defensive, though I struggled in my spirit during those dark years, I was being more obedient, more Christ-like during those times than I’d ever been during the years before. I don’t think I committed disqualifying sin and I believe my wife stopped short of it. Maybe my job performance suffered, but I kept going and doing the best I could.
Someone else has to figure out when a pastor’s marital struggles mean he needs to step away.
6) Sixth, leave room for God. I didn’t try to fix everything and guess what…God did! Oh, I do not live in the seventh heaven or anything. I’m still me and Vicky is still Vicky, but God continues to work in us.
I am blessed that my wife really does love God. She has her demons (figuratively – I don’t think she’s possessed or anything) and has had a lot to overcome. But during all this time she continued to seek God. I believe that if I tried to fix her myself, if I’d badgered and bullied her about getting right, I would have likely driven her away from our marriage and even from God; hardened her in her sin. When we try to work the work of God in the power of the flesh we do harm. “Leave room for the wrath of God,” we are told in Scripture. But I think we need to do more than leave room for wrath. We need to leave room for God’s power, for His work on others.
God heals. Jesus put lame men back on their feet and made the blind see. He healed my marriage. Over time, my wife saw that I did care about her and gradually we reestablished a solid marriage. It’s not perfect but we have seen what God can do.
7) Finally, outcomes will differ. I know that every marriage is unique. Other pastors have relied on God and had to watch from the dock as their wives boarded the cruise ship of sin and sailed to the horizon, never to return. Vicky held on to the Lord even when she wanted to run. I held on even when I wanted to give up. We saw God’s healing power.
The outcome may not be the same, but the principles are the same. Trust God, seek Him, never give up. Be the man you are supposed to be even if your wife isn’t being the woman she’s called to be.
This is my story and I had one outcome. But it’s not about guaranteeing an outcome. It’s about honoring God and living for Him whatever happens. Hebrews 11 tells us that by faith some escaped the sword and others endured it. But faith is still the way to live.
Here’s my final thought on all of this. These years were the worst of my life and of my ministry. They were a nightmare and I never want to go there again. But it was also a time in which God revealed Himself to me and showed His faithfulness. In my valley of the shadow of death, He was with me. He used me, changed me, grew me, and worked in and through me.
So, let’s sum it all up.
- My job as a husband is to love my wife, not to fix her. It is better for me to do as God commanded me (love – sacrificial and redemptive) than to simply cajole her or to complain that she isn’t doing what God told her to do.
- We men claim we don’t understand women. But there’s one thing I think I do understand. A woman wants to feel like she is valued as a priority, a life-partner, an important part of her husband’s life. The worst thing we do is often treat our wives as if they are extraneous, unimportant, and not valuable.
- God’s power to heal, restore, and fix is greater than sin’s power to break and destroy. If your marriage has hit a rocky patch, know that God is your source of healing.
- Never give up. Problems don’t arise overnight and are seldom solved overnight. Perseverance is not optional.
- Being a pastor is hard. Being the wife of a pastor may be harder. As a pastor, I’m a fool if I don’t take my role as a husband seriously.
I realize that there will be many opinions on the decisions I made. All I can say is that right now, we are growing old together and serving God as best we can, and I’m thankful for all learned in those dark, difficult days.