Where was our faith life during all of this?
A good question. One of the troublesome little doubts I had during our engagement period was where exactly SJ’s faith was. He said he was a Christian. He had been a regular church-goer all his life. He was a good person. He was involved with his adult Sunday School class.
About 7 years earlier had I given my life to Jesus, and I knew I was saved. I’d put behind me a lifetime of Catholic indoctrination that had me thinking I had to work at my salvation or earn it, and that I just might not ever be good enough. To learn that my salvation was granted to me solely by the sacrifice and death of Jesus Christ, not something I could earn, was a pivotal change in my faith and outlook. It was finally OK for me to admit that I was a sinner, that I was imperfect, and that I was forgiven once and for all.
So I was shocked to learn that my fiancé, who had been raised in a mainline protestant denomination, questioned his salvation. When I asked him if he believed he was saved and would go to heaven, he couldn’t respond with confidence, and would say, “if I’m good enough.” Of course he knew John 3:16 by heart as I did, “For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” But SJ valued humility, and clearly thought it prideful to claim salvation. He wasn’t sure about this promise. My heart sunk upon hearing this. Could I marry a man who wasn’t sure of his salvation? Could this man be the leader of our marriage and family? I had not grown up in a household led by a man who put God first, so I wasn’t exactly sure of what that should look like; however I’d seen enough Christian marriages in recent years that I knew that a man who knows scripture and leads his family with Godly decisions and prayer was what I wanted.
We batted this nuance back and forth a lot for several months, and even started to question if we could go forward with the marriage. At one point, I realized that of all the men I’d ever dated, SJ was the first one who at least had the intention of being a faithful Christian, practiced it not only by attending church, but in his day-to-day life. In our courtship, he traditionally and with integrity “courted” me and honored me, never demanding his way or giving into temptations. He was committed to raising kids as Christians. Might not God grow him? Could I help him grow his faith? My own was so new, but I was so enthusiastic and confident in it– and imperfect and stumbling. So I took the gamble to go forward with the wedding, even though I knew this might become a huge issue for us (I don’t recommend this).
All I can say is that God had this one. Over the years of our marriage, SJ’s faith life took off. We did a few Bible studies together early on in our marriage; we attended and later led a Christian parenting course. SJ read the Bible, studied faithfully, and his reading selections included many Christian authors and theologians. Pretty soon, SJ’s knowledge of the Bible and the character of God eclipsed mine. He was hungry. I was secretly proud of him, but envious as well. I had grown lazy by comparison.
Even though SJ had followed the Promise Keepers movement with other men from our church (a program for Biblical training and teaching on what it means to be godly men), he didn’t seem to change anything about the way he led our family. Not that I was in the right frame of mind to accept any changes brought by him or follow his leading. In spite of me being mentored by a Godly woman and encouraged to submit to my husband (assigned readings included: The Excellent Wife, Putting Your Past Behind You, Lord, Heal My Hurts; As Silver Refined), I was not buying into the submission thing. Submission equaled “doormat” in my life experience, and I soon distanced myself from that mentor (or perhaps it was she who distanced herself… I was in major rebellion).
Over the course of our marriage, while the silent and deadly war continued on in our husband-wife relationship, we both continued to stay involved in church, and in many Bible studies and discipleship programs; SJ and I lead several together; we often were called upon to be facilitators in various Christian evangelism venues, and into lay leadership roles. We “knew our stuff,” and I guess we acted convincingly obedient to The Word (yes, God does use flawed and broken people). I continually struggled to dedicate myself to a daily Quiet Time for Devotions, study of scriptures and prayer/conversation with God. I steadfastly ignored everything the Bible had to say about marriage and the husband-wife relationship when it didn’t suit my ideas. Everything 1 Corinthians 13 said about love I pretty much turned on its head in my marriage. I was NOT patient or kind; I was envious, boastful, proud, and dishonoring and self-seeking towards my husband; I was easily angered, kept copious records of wrongs. I had no desire to protect, trust, hope or persevere. I was sure that love HAD failed. I probably shook my fist at God quite a bit and questioned why he’d “brought” me so much misery.
I knew God did not like divorce, but I was sure my case would be the exception. Surely he didn’t intend for marriage to be so depressing and contentious?
I was spiritually savvy, but I had pretty much kicked God out of my life when it came to the number one human covenant in my life.