I was invited to speak at a marriage conference. That’s not a big deal, except that the invitation came merely six months after my divorce was finalized. Additionally, I would only have a week to prepare. To top it off, this commitment would require me to share my message on the same day as my grandmother’s funeral—an already emotionally tough event. I would need to travel from New Jersey to Maryland, and then home to Virginia—in one day. The Lord was definitely going to have to provide the increase on this one, I thought.
Defined and Ordained by God
My surprise at receiving the speaking invitation quickly gave way to the thought, “OK, God, if you want me to do this, let me know and give me the message you want me to share.” I’d gotten used to the Lord working in mysterious ways, and I’d experienced many confirmations that His ways are indeed higher than mine. I began to consider the request, knowing clearly that my circumstances did not define me; I had purpose as a woman of God before marriage, and would continue to have purpose with a dissolved marriage. I was ordained for good works before I was shaped in my mother’s womb, and was birthed for such a time as this to complete special kingdom assignments. No circumstance could cancel God’s plans, but I awaited the Lord’s direcion, nonetheless, only interested in following where He led.
From Pain to Purpose
The Lord reminded me of a special anointing He placed on my life, which He gave me during a particularly devastating anniversary weekend near the end of my marital journey. Because of the cruelty I experienced during that weekend, a shift took place in my thinking, in my spirit, and in my heart. Perhaps it was long overdue, but I could no longer make my husband my priority. I had to put my energy behind making sure my girls and I were going to be OK. However, in spite of the confirmation of yet another affair and ensuing turn of events, I did not consider my marriage to be over. I believed God was the God of miracles, and I was not prepared to turn away until God gave me clear direction to do just that. As crushing as this experience was—and even after the pretty definitive discussion we later had with a therapist—I was not yet convicted of the end. Months would pass before it would become clear that our marriage was truly over.
During that weekend, however, in the midst of great anguish, I experienced the power and peace that come when purpose speaks to pain. I heard God whisper, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me…” I went to find that verse in my Bible. I was deeply comforted and encouraged as He led me through Isaiah 61:1-3 (NKJV):
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, Because the Lord has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, And the opening of the prison to those who are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn, To console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.”
Buoyed by this life-changing word, I was even more committed to allowing God to redeem my pain and suffering as I ministered to others.
A Special Assignment
Remembering this special calling, I prayerfully considered the invitation at hand and resolved that possibly someone planning to attend the conference needed to hear what God wanted to say through me. Part of the reason I knew this for sure was because I know that not everyone who attends a marriage retreat has a healthy marriage following God’s design. They would need encouragement. I knew this all too well myself, having once discovered that my then-husband was communicating with another woman during an entire marriage retreat we once attended. I also knew that I had learned a lot in my nearly 20 years of marriage, and I was admonished by Titus 2:2 to share the wisdom I had gained. It became clear that my answer should be yes, and I agreed to be a vessel God could use to turn what the enemy meant for evil into something He could use for good for the saving of many souls. (Genesis 50:20.)
As I prepared for this great assignment, I reflected on the reality behind the smiling faces some marriage retreat participants would display. My heart hurt for the woman who was desperate for answers, desperate for hope, desperate for healing, and desperate for understanding and empathy. My heart hurt for the woman who was begging for counseling, who was continuously trying to figure out the problem, who was trying to make it work, who was committed to her marriage vows in spite of dealing with all manner of disappointments and trauma, including infidelity. I was also hopeful for the woman who had a healthy marriage and wanted to improve it, strengthening her family’s position in the Great Controversy. For these women and all in between, the Lord provided me with words of comfort, hope, challenge, and inspiration.
10 Insights for a Healthy Marriage Below are 10 insights shared during the marriage retreat’s wives-only breakout session. They apply not only to wives but to couples committed to “Surviving Together” in marriage, rather than surviving each other.
1. Protect Your Marriage
As a representation of the unity of the godhead, a marriage that follows God’s design is beautiful but also a target for the enemy. As such, spouses need to guard their union and protect their sacred circle. Matthew 19:6 is often quoted: "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate." The mystery and beauty of this union reflects the same for our God, who exists as three distinct persons in one. Marriage is under attack by God’s enemy because of its marvelous reflection of and power to represent Christ and the church. Treasure the gift of marriage and protect it.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.” 1 Peter 5:8-10.
2. Respect & Support Your Partner’s Anointing
Both spouses should be supported in the work God has called each of them to do. Before Adam and Eve were introduced to each other, both had personal incubation time with God. I’d like to think they learned who they were in Him and gained an understanding of their purpose—as individuals and as a couple—before joining with the other. I believe there is greater harmony, sense of purpose, and motivation to protect that purpose when husband and wife respect the anointing God placed on the other before the title of “spouse” was realized.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5.
3. Understand the Role of the Helpmate
The Hebrew word for "helpmate" is Ezer-Kenegdo. Ezer is a "powerful Hebrew military word whose significance we have barely begun to unpack/touch the surface of. The ezer is a warrior, and this has far-reaching implications for women, not only in marriage, but in every relationship, season, and walk of life. Even her daughters are ezers—strong warriors who stand alongside their brothers in the battle for God's kingdom." Emotionally Destructive Marriage, p. 93.
“The LORD God said, ’It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’"
"He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord." Proverbs 18:22.
4. Marriage Is a Haven, Not a War Zone
Marriage should not feel like a war zone, and spouses should not feel as though they are surviving each other. Husbands and wives should recognize that their spouse is not the enemy. There should be a commitment to a united front against forces (outside and within) that threaten to breach the special union.
“We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12.
5. Misunderstanding and Misapplying Scripture Is Dangerous
Believing you are supposed to suffer and exist in survival mode in your marriage is a lie from the pits of hell. I believed for so long that maybe the suffering I was enduring in my marriage was my cross to bear. Very wrong. God calls us to suffer for someone’s good, not to suffer for someone else to continually enact evil toward us, advancing the cause of evil. Allowing destructive behavior does not honor God. Handholding someone headed for hellfire is called enabling, not love.
“But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled.” 1 Peter 3:14.
“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”
6. Make Dealing with Personal, Unresolved, and Unhealed Wounds a Priority
While our spouses are not our true enemies, that does not mean that we do not protect ourselves from actions and behaviors and motivations that are trying to destroy us. We may not be responsible for what hurt us, but we are responsible for getting healing for that hurt. Our spouses should provide a safe space, but it is unfair to make them our therapists. A spouse should not be the scapegoat for the other’s unresolved issues and unhealed hurts. The healthiest marriages are realized by two whole individuals united as one.
“When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, ’Do you want to be made well?’” John 5:6.
"’But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD.” Jeremiah 30:17.
7. Get Help
When there is a problem and there seems to be no movement forward, keep seeking help until you get it—whether that’s individually or as a couple. Life gets so busy that we run the risk of never truly taking the time or effort to get to the root of the issues; rather, we’re distracted by fruit. Evaluating the kind of help we need depends on the kind of trouble we are experiencing. As you seek help, determine what kind of marriage your relationship represents. Is it a Difficult Marriage, Disappointing Marriage, or a Destructive Marriage? Choose trauma-informed counselors who are well-trained in family therapy as well as in all types of abuse, including narcissistic abuse. Only pastors who have been appropriately trained should be engaged for counseling. Do not make marriage an idol; understand that God values people above institutions. Sometimes separation is the answer when a spouse refuses to yield to God’s conviction.
“Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety.”
8. Recognize and Do Not Tolerate Abuse
I completely agree with psychologist Dr. Diane Langberg when she writes in her book, Suffering and the Heart of God: How Trauma Destroys and Christ Restores, that trauma is the greatest mission field of the 21st century. She says this is partially because” it swallows up and destroys normal human ways of living.”1 Under an interview published on Dr. Langberg’s website a commenter wrote, “Suffering reduces a person. It lessens all of their capacities, not just physically but also mentally, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually.”
Very true. Partnering with the devil in his mission to steal, kill, and destroy as a destructive agent against one’s own spouse is something that God hates. Many say God hates divorce, but He also hates abuse in all its forms including physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, sexual, and financial abuse. Since abuse is not God’s will, submitting to a spouse who is abusive is contrary to the Word of God. Further, it should be noted that abuse is not a marriage problem; it is a character problem for which individuals should seek help. The best counselors know that the abuser and victim should not be counseled together.
“These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.” Proverbs 6:16-19.
“The Lord tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.”
“And this is the second thing you do: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping and crying; so He does not regard the offering anymore, nor receive it with goodwill from your hands. Yet you say, ‘For what reason?’ Because the Lord has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion, and your wife by covenant.”
9. Pursue Love, Submission, and Favor
The Word’s instructions to husbands and wives, if properly followed, bring great blessings. Husbands are instructed to love their wives, and wives are instructed to submit to their husbands as unto the Lord. This can be challenging sometimes because of life’s pressures and our own habits and proclivities, but we must remain committed to the call. We don’t just want God’s mercy and grace in our lives; we want His favor and His blessings. We may not want to admit this, but so many of God’s promises are conditional. We can trust Him to do His part, but like a loving Father, He wants us to grow and be who He ordained us to be before we were even conceived.
“For rebellion is as the sin of [a] witchcraft.” 1 Samuel 15:23.
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Luke 11:28.
“Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.” Psalm 128:4.
“For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11.
“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 28:1-2.
10. Glorify God
Spouses should be mission-minded, recognizing that the Lord has a purpose for not only you as an individual but also as a couple and a family. Great blessings come from using what you have to bless others. Use the lessons you have learned, and the growth you have nurtured, and be marriage mentors to someone else. Marriage is and has been under enemy attack for a long time. Commit to partnering with God to shine His light of truth in all the world. As you “Survive Together” the perils of this fallen world, use your marriage as God’s stage and, by your testimonies, reveal the beautiful dimensions of God’s character. Commit to being…
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight [a] in the desert
A highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made [b]straight
And the rough places smooth;
5 The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’” Isaiah 40:3-5.
You Matter. Your Voice Matters. Your Story Matters.