I told Paul tonight that I had a blog post forming in my head, something about fighting for your spouse when they’re down, having their back in the dark moments, armoring up to defend them in their weakness. And then I realized… we’ve said all that before. A few times. Because it’s true. And important. If you’re anything like me, reading articles like that shoots some adrenaline in your veins and encourages you to keep at the fight and the faith.
But what happens, when you feel like you’re not winning the fight? When your spouse won’t give up that addiction? Won’t get up to go to church with you, much less have a conversation about the spiritual components of your relationship? Is more interested in playing video games or watching E Network to pursue Jesus with you? Ladies, what about when you feel like the spiritual leader in your relationship?
In those seasons, we need more than adrenaline and quippy catch phrases to keep us going. When the battle is in the camp, not just on the front lines, we need some tactical training, something to help us resist the chaos, to keep the focus where it needs to be. So, friends, it’s time to dive deeper. When you’re running towards Jesus and your spouse is lagging behind, what do you do?
First, know you’re not alone. We get these questions all the time - one spouse is feeling a stirring to take a leap of faith, press in, uncover their calling, and the other… isn’t. And often, it’s the wife sitting on go, waiting for her hubby to catch up, feeling like something is desperately wrong with her marriage because she is more equipped to be the spiritual leader than her man. It doesn’t play out exclusively this way, but when the lady feels more spiritually attuned than the man it sure adds another layer of guilt and questioning to the situation. Paul and i have walked here, and we’ve learned a few things along the way.
1) Spiritual leadership (aka the man being the spiritual guide for the family) is poorly defined. It’s really easy to read Ephesians 5, get caught up in the super English translations of the words “head” and “submit” and not uncover much of the mystery Paul talks about. I love the way the Message phrases it:
Wives, understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ. The husband provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to his church…by cherishing.
Wives, understand (pay attention to, seek to learn about) and support (uplift, encourage, lead him towards godliness) to show your support for Christ. Husbands, cherish (know, see, honor, choose to develop the best in her). Whether male or female, the goal is the same: love your spouse in such a way that they move closer to Jesus. I fully believe that men and women are wildly different and equally valued, but there is something to the male spiritual covering of a family. (That’s a blog post for another day.) But when it comes to the day to day pursuit of Jesus, neither spouse gets to hold the reigns.
Each of us is gifted differently, hears the Spirit differently, but bring all the same merit and value to the conversation. I think where it’s easy to get tripped up is when our insight or sensitivity causes us to nag or demean. It’s so easy to feel something so strongly we just don’t understand how our spouse doesn’t get it. In those moments we have to stop battling them and go to battle FOR them.
2) The very best way I know how to do that is to armor up in prayer. As we’ve talked about before, part of the mystery of marriage is the two becoming one. I think once married, God looks at us as a unit and has a plan for us as a unit, but He often still talks to us as individuals. We each come to the marriage covenant with different histories, strengths, and methods of hearing from God. And in His kindness, God often continues to use those pieces of our story and internal make up to press in and teach us more. But - and this is key - we serve the same God and hear from the same Holy Spirit. So while Paul and I hear from the Spirit in vastly different ways, we often get the same message.
That oneness that God weaves from our two souls is sacred to Him, and He will never lead you and your spouse in different directions. That’s not to say that we always walk the exact same spiritual path, but if I’m learning about pride and Paul is learning about sacrifice the goal is the same: making us more like Jesus. And when it comes to those big life decisions, if we are still split on the answer, we aren’t done praying yet.
It might be one of the most frustrating parts of marriage, and yet one of the most beautiful, that God is His wisdom will train us on each other. When we hear seemingly different things from the Spirit we have to learn how discern the true message, how to communicate with one another, how to lay aside our preferences and really listen in so we can work together. It’s hard and frustrating, but it strengthens our team work like nothing else can.
3) When one of us isn’t ready to engage that process, the other prays. We intercede for each other, and ask the Spirit to fan His flame in the other, to bring clarity, and call us into deeper relationship with Him. When I want to nag and beg and plead, (if I’m on my A game) I get on my knees and beg the Spirit to move in Paul.
So play into the mystery. In asking for your spouse to deepen their connection to the Spirit, you’re really doing your own soul a favor. Because there is no way that their spiritual growth doesn’t affect you and your relationship with Jesus. It might feel like you’re sitting on your hands, not following Jesus fast enough, but I promise, He will wait. He’s doing something big when you pray for your spouse, when you fight for your marriage in the unseen realm of intercession. He’s doing the work you can’t to bring about the change He desires. And He’s honoring your obedience to not get ahead of Him OR your wife or husband. In that protected place with Jesus, waiting and praying become the best weapons against the enemy’s lies within and arrows without. Your intercession ties the knots in the cord of three strands and makes your marriage not easily broken.