Suffering in Marriage
One of my friends used to always tell me, “life is hard, then you die.” It sounds kind of depressing, but in a way, we really need to accept this truth, it is Biblical. Jesus, our husband, confirms this when he says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble.” We need to know that in our marriages and in our marriage with Christ we will have trouble. We expect to live happily ever after but the truth is bad things happen. There will be financial difficulties, children issues, sterility, in laws, etc. not to mention all the personality conflicts. These will definitely happen. If they haven’t, don’t lose hope, they will come.
When Jesus said that in this world we will have trouble to his bride, he had been talking about his death, resurrection and then ascension to heaven. He was saying that as their husband, he was going to disappear, thus we will feel confusion, sadness, disappointment and a sense of loss. If there was any bad communication in the relationship between Jesus and his bride, or his disciples during their time together, this was the worst. Jesus was explaining to them that soon they would not see him anymore. Several times they asked each other “What does he mean?” I think Jesus and his bride often struggled with communication and understanding each other, just as in our own marriages. Communication gets difficult when troubles arise, especially when we are afraid to ask for clarity or we cannot for the life of us see things from the other’s perspective. I suppose for their own pride, the disciples feigned it and said. “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
Now what husband would not want to hear that, “you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions?” you are so smart and explain everything so well. It feels like they are saying, “I don’t have a clue what you’re saying but you sound like you know, so I will sit here quietly,” which is what I often do with my wife.
One thing I know about suffering, especially from working in the hospital, is that you want the communication to be clear and understandable. I think Martin Luther said, “There is nothing in the world that causes more suffering than uncertainty.” Not understanding or knowing kills us. What Jesus says to the disciples after this can’t get any clearer, “You will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone.” In other words, things are going to get tough tonight, and you will fail me, and that is exactly what happened. One moment they are all behind him claiming he is from God, the all-powerful, omnipotent creator of the world, capable of destroying whatever in the world, to running away from him, denying any relationship to him. Jesus was just trying to prepare them for it. It was going to happen and it will happen to all of us. We will suffer a blow to our marriage or a blow to our faith, and we will either run from God or draw near.
When we suffer something major we begin to doubt that Jesus came from God, or that God even exists. We argue that if he really was good he wouldn’t allow this to happen to us. We ask “why me?” What did I do to deserve this? How can I have a bad marriage, I’m a good Christian? It is like in our own marriages, when something goes bad and we pass through trouble we begin to doubt if this was the right decision. I thought when I married this man that my troubles would disappear. Why am I married to this guy?
The Apostle Paul also addresses this thorn in our flesh. He says in I Corinthians 7 28, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life.” This passage is not preached much at weddings. It is interesting that in our vows we say we will love in sickness and in health, in riches and in want, but we never really think that it will happen to us. We have no security that our spouse will always have work, or that our children will be healthy, or that our house won’t burn down. So knowing in advance that we will all go through sufferings in our marriage, as well as in our relationship with Christ, we need to know how to react and how to be prepared.
Part of getting through sufferings is realizing that it is part of life and God allows it. One thing the Bible is clear on is that we cannot know him. Ecclesiastes 11:5, among others, says, “As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things.” God may allow troubles to wake us up spiritually, he may do it to test our hearts, he may allow it to show his glory, or he may allow it for no reason (see Job).
What we do see in Jesus in his prayer for his suffering disciples or his bride, is “not that (God) take them out of the world (remove their sufferings) but that God would protect them from the evil one.” When we go through sufferings, our prayers should be that our faith be strengthened and not necessarily be delivered from the troubles. When Satan wanted to wreak havoc on Peter Jesus told him, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail.” We cannot avoid troubles, but we can lose our faith. We need to pray for our spouses, not just for deliverance from our troubles but to strengthen their and our own faith. In 1 Thessalonians Paul sent Timothy “to strengthen and encourage” the Thessalonians “so that no one would be unsettled by these trials.” We need to constantly encourage our spouses when we pass through these tough times.
When we do pass through sufferings, we often feel very alone. We can be married and with lots of kids and a great church, but we still can feel alone. Even Jesus in his most painful moment of suffering cried out to God, “why have you forsaken me.” If Jesus cried this out surely we have a right also. Often during a major crisis it is too much for a couple and they divorce. At least one can’t handle it and doesn’t know what to do. The greatest thing you can provide people who are going through suffering is your presence. When Jesus was sweating blood in anguish in the garden of Gethsemane he said to his three best friends, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Matthew 26:38. I don’t think the disciples caught on that Jesus was feeling suicidal at the moment, just as we all can be ignorant when our spouse, children or friends are going through hell. Jesus needed them to be with him, but they were tired. We were designed to live in relationships. I love seeing spouses in the hospital room with their spouse. I knew they were supported and would get through it. I felt bad for those who sat alone in silence with no spouse.
One element of going through difficulties is it forces you to give up some of your expectations. We all come to relationships, especially in marriage with expectations. Often these are unrealistic and cause disappointments and sufferings. We expect our spouse to meet certain needs. However if we haven’t been able to figure out how to meet these needs by ourselves before getting married, we will never be happy. Also, holding on to these expectations and not letting go limits our abilities to be creative and see other possibilities, which could be better than our original thinking. Expectations can limit us. The apostle Paul had a dramatic conversion and saw great miracles, but he also suffered a lot. In Acts 16:23-25 it says, “After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison . . . About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Now, Paul had plenty to complain about but he chose to worship God in his sufferings. Job 1:21 says, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job continued to praise God despite more suffering than we will ever experience in one blow. I also believe the examples of Job and Paul is not to hold onto anything so tightly, including our spouses. Everything belongs to God anyway. We are so caught up in what the world says that we have to have everything, go for all the gusto. Get it all while you can. We need to learn to live more simply, as the lilies and the birds do.
Jesus warns us of coming sufferings “so that in him we may have peace.” We have a Savior and a husband that despite all the suffering and trials going on around us, in him we have peace. Now when I face trials and sufferings I am not the picture of peace. For me a crisis is not finding a dessert in the house for an evening snack. But in Jesus we have a model of a husband who is at peace, even during his last meal with his friends.
Jesus says he has overcome this world. I believe Jesus was saying in a way, as bad as the world can get, and it will get bad, I will still be there. I will remain standing. I won. I am victorious and because God is your father, you will be victorious too in the end. You can have peace, because I know there is more than this hospital room, this is nothing for me. I sit on the throne of heavens and I am preparing a place for you. The here and now is not all there is. There is much more to this existence than what your little mind can handle or imagine. Trust me. You will see greater things than this. Despite all the waves and torment on the surface of the waters, down in the depths it is calm. Go to the depths.
So this takes us to the next step. Can we have peace in our marriage in spite of the problems? Our spouses did not come from the spiritual realms nor do they sit at the right hand of God, they just sit at our right hand.
When we left Ecuador and returned to the U.S. we had a very difficult two years. One thing that surprised me and kept me strong was my wife’s love for me and commitment to me despite feeling that my failures got us into these difficulties. She showed even more love and affection to me. It was hard to understand. We need to make a commitment to always love and to never abandon. God said, “I will never leave you nor abandon you, I am with you until the end of the ages” (Hebrews 13:5). Gulni always wants to hear that I will always be there for her. That I will never leave her nor forsake her. Even if we suffer from some debilitating disease or lose everything. That is what gives us peace.