Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
It had been a long hard fifteen(ish) years of marriage. The husband was a bully about getting his way. The wife was weary of being angry all the time and receiving arrogant responses from her husband that included accusations that she was the abuser. (He apparently had some legitimate complaints, but I did not work with him so never heard them firsthand.)
The children were showing signs of rebellion and distrust of the parents.
The wife asked me to mentor her. Her attempts to get help from church leadership had failed. She was angry, frustrated, and disillusioned.
In our initial meeting she expressed her frustration with the church’s responses: “Be more available to him sexually.” “Make sure the house is in order and make his favorite meals.” “Give him affirmations every day.”
She had done it all for a time with no change. In fact, added to her list of complaints was that now he was using pornography and his demands on her were changing.
In her state of exasperation, she adopted a saying that she heard from another Christian woman in a similar marriage, “You can’t fix stupid.” From that attitude flowed words and actions that demonstrated her feelings about her husband.
- She ridiculed him publicly.
- She resisted any attempt he made to lead the children.
- She deliberately did not do things she knew he would appreciate to punish him.
- She did not hold her tongue about him around the children.
This man was a terrible husband and was in sin with regard to almost every aspect of his life at home. In public (especially at church on Sunday) he was an elder, a respected Sunday School teacher, and a worship leader. He was a hypocrite. (Well, he was.)
This did not justify her response. In our mentoring sessions we started with the disrespect of, “You can’t fix stupid.” She clearly heard that such a statement was hopeless and that it did not honor her husband, marriage or, most importantly, her God. She stopped saying it.
Unfortunately, a lot of damage had already been done by her words with regard to her children. They were paying the price of insecurity and fearfulness because their parent’s marriage was such a mess.
Please understand, her husband was not left out of the equation. As I became fully aware of the circumstances, she and I approached church leadership together. Previously, her melodramatics had made her easy to dismiss. With someone alongside seen as more objective, leadership listened and confronted the husband. He confessed to the elder board and was removed from his positions of leadership in the church.
Though all agreed that divorce was a legitimate possibility, with the truth out, both husband and wife agreed they wanted to work on the marriage and took divorce off the table.
I continued to meet with the wife as they worked on things, but she remained angry and critical. A day came when we had to have a very difficult conversation. She wanted to know why the Lord was not blessing her and her children for their honesty about what was going on at home. They had suffered at this man’s hands and this woman wanted to see revenge on him and blessings for her.
Gently, I explained that God does not bless us for our suffering, He blesses us for our obedience to His Word. She had been disregarding God’s Word in her anger (Eph. 4:29). We discussed her desire for taking revenge, her continuing to complain publicly, and her desires for her children’s blessings without teaching them the Word of God.
“See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.” (Deut.11:26-28)
In our “it’s not fair” world, we have adopted a “theology” that says all pain is bad and none of it could come from a loving God. As we study the Scripture, we learn that God does, indeed, use the pain we suffer to draw us closer to Him and grow us in faith and understanding of who He is.
In my conversations with this abused woman, we talked about God’s testing of us and the trials that He uses for our spiritual growth. In her situation she felt it was her responsibility to change her husband and make him see the error of his ways.
Once she understood that that was not her work to do (only the Lord can change a heart), she was able to see the folly of many of her words and efforts to “fix” things herself. She came to understand that, before God, she is responsible for her behavior, including every careless word that comes from her mouth (Matt.12:36-37).
Focusing our minds on our gracious God (Colossians 3:1-2) before we focus on our own sufferings can be difficult from a human perspective. However, a solid understanding of the truth that God blesses obedience - not suffering - will lead to a much more productive outcome than a false hope in our own plans to get out of those sufferings.
Just as this wife allowed “You can’t fix stupid” to set the tone for her responses to her husband’s sin, so we have a hopeless expectation of blessing when we abandon God’s Word because life gets hard. Responding to sin against us in an unbiblical way may seem to be “fair” according to worldly thinking. As Christians, we are to be separate from the world. “Separate” in that we will not respond as the world does.
Obeying God is something we can do when we know His Word and have the power of the Holy Spirit in us. We err on this point of expecting blessing for our suffering because we have not taken the time to know the Scripture nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29).