One of the best parts of working at Revive Our Hearts is the mail we get each day. Emails like this. Enjoy!
The nest would soon be empty. As was our marriage.
We had our roles down pat. I was the aggressor, bordering on a plate thrower; he was the passive aggressor, master of the silent treatment. We pressed each other’s buttons with heartbreaking regularity.
Over the years I constructed a compelling case of “he did’s”—stories I relayed to accommodating girlfriends. Mind you, I did this strategically. Prayer groups were preferred. There I got head nods—even a prayer on my behalf. Please change him.
My own prayer life was all about change (meaning, him). Clearly, God was sympathetic to my cause. I was David in the psalms unjustly treated by Saul. I was Joseph imprisoned for my faith. I was on my way to martyr status.
Why then, being so unjustly treated, so right, was I so miserable? And, for all my Bible verse quoting, why was my spiritual life so stagnant?
You see, my husband is not a believer . . . a fact I routinely brought before the Lord and prayer partners. During our twenty-five years of marriage, I had purchased countless books and CDs with titles such as Beloved Unbeliever. Yet, my daily prayer, Please change his heart, had gone unanswered.
Not, however, because of a lack of evangelism on my part. I left tracts on our coffee table and upped the volume on sermon CDs.
On Sunday mornings I would tear up. If only my husband was sitting next to me at church. If only he would thumb through a Bible. If only he could hear this sermon. From my balcony view, I would glare at the backs of other husbands, arms draped over their wives’ shoulders. Surely these husbands led nightly devotionals, volunteered at Vacation Bible School, and prayed before meals. If only . . .
Inevitably my mind would drift toward a vision, twenty-five years in the making. My husband and I would be called to the pulpit to share our story. I would smile through humble tears as he would credit me for my contagious Christianity. His testimony would highlight my years of faithfulness: attending Bible studies, teaching Sunday School, rising at 5 a.m. to seek the Lord. The applause would be deafening. Maybe we’d write a book. A video series perhaps.
Then reality would crash in. I sat alone in the pew. I taught Sunday School with strangers. My husband showed no sign of wanting to read anything remotely biblical or listen to anything remotely spiritual. Forget the book. My prayers were fruitless—my husband was not changing.
That’s when I approached Kate. She and her husband had been empty nesters for a while, and they seemed happy. Perhaps she could help.
Sitting at Panera one Saturday, Kate began her counsel, but not with the sympathetic support I had anticipated. When I began to share my story of marital hardship and martyr-like behavior, Kate interrupted. She had no interest in hearing my compelling case of “rightness.” Instead, Kate gave me a challenge.
Just that week she had found a website featuring a 30-Day Husband Encouragement Challenge. For thirty days a wife was not supposed to say anything negative about her husband. In addition, each day she was to verbally compliment her husband. And when in public, she was to seek opportunities to praise her husband for specific things. All this was to be done with complete sincerity and not a hint of manipulation.
As Kate explained the terms of the challenge, she admitted hers was not always the beatific marriage it appeared to be—that she, too, struggled with negativity. She felt God wanted her to do the challenge with me and suggested we meet weekly over the summer to encourage one another.
This conversation took place three years ago. Turns out, the 30-Day “Challenge” is a misnomer. It has been a joy—not a challenge—and my thirty days have stretched across months and now years.
You see, within a couple of weeks, my marriage was transformed. First, my husband, a longtime critic of my cooking, suddenly took up making gourmet meals for me. Then my husband, formally stingy with compliments, began to routinely greet me with, “Hi, Gorgeous.” Finally, my husband, a person who treasures automobiles, became my knight in shining armor when I dented—no, dismantled—our brand-new Toyota Camry in an accident directly related to my inept driving.
Here’s the secret. As I verbalized compliments, I began to notice what had gone unnoticed since our dating days. Namely, that my husband is a man of integrity, a hard worker, a gentleman, a comedian; that he is handsome, articulate, and humble. He is my technology expert, personal think-tank, dog trainer, interior decorator, problem-solver, confidante, and friend. And someone whose company I began to cherish.
Looking at the negative aspects of my marriage had only produced despair—twenty-five years of whining to God about my righteousness in journals that I have since destroyed. Even Christian therapy had been reinforcing my case of “he-did’s.”
The truth is, I was the one who needed to change.
So, if I ever get called to a pulpit to give a reason for my despair giving way to joy, I will take the microphone with a humble heart. After all, it was my negativity that impeded marital intimacy for all those years. No more. The joy I now feel at waking up next to this man rivals that of any newlywed.