Devonie and I met in college and have been married 34 years. I knew her father, Stan, before I met her because he was my water polo coach at Cal Poly, Pomona University in California. I was raised in the Catholic Church and she was raised as a Baptist. Both of us were naïve when we married, assuming that our mutual love could overcome all potential problems – including our faith-related differences.
I had hoped that Devonie would convert to Catholicism so that our family could share a common “religion” and in short order it was obvious she had no interest in doing so. She was active in her local Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) while I taught Catechism at the local church for our children’s classes. The truth is Devonie had a healthier and more mature perspective on God and where He fit into our lives than I had in the early years of our marriage.
I knew God (even accepted Christ as my personal Savior as a teenager in a Young Life program) but He was very compartmentalized in my life. My early career aspirations weren’t particularly conducive to God being “integral” to me. In fact, my type ‘A’ personality and workaholic tendencies made it seemingly impossible for God to be integral to anything, or so I thought. If a decision needed to be made, I needed to make it. If a deal needed to be closed in my sales territory – I had to make it happen. You get the picture.
We raised our three daughters in the Catholic Church for the first 12 years following the birth of the oldest of three daughters but our separate faith walks were one of the difficult issues in our marriage in those days. She and I both wanted more in the faith arena but we wanted different things.
That dynamic changed significantly when I attended a weekend retreat nearly 20 years ago called Walk to Emmaus. It was that weekend that God got my attention and the clearest ‘download’ I received from Him was that Jesus Christ is non-denominational and that I shouldn’t be so concerned about what church or ‘demonination’ we attended as a family.
It changed everything for both of us. In fact, I came home from the retreat that Sunday evening and suggested we go to breakfast the next morning (which I hadn’t done in the previous 15 years of marriage) to share with her that I felt we should find a common church that both of us could be excited about attending and raising our kids within. It was such a drastic transformation in Devonie’s mind that she was half-way convinced that I had joined a cult.
We tried a few different churches over the course of the following 2-3 years and ultimately joined Northpoint Community Church in Alpharetta, GA where we’ve attended and served ever since. In retrospect, it was such a gift from God to change my heart in that way (and so drastically) because our three daughters found a strong sense of their faith through that transition and have all grown to follow Jesus – perhaps the one thing that most matters to God and to us as parents.
The other big challenge in our marriage was my over-zealousness about my work. I was extraordinarily career-oriented and success-driven which translated to classic workaholic tendencies. I didn’t recognize it entirely at the time but I was also overly concerned about ‘getting ahead’ so that I could attempt to create financial independence for our family. I also had an abundant craving to earn the respect of people in my life who would admire my business accomplishments. Today I’d call it excessive pride. Does that sound like anyone you know well?
Devonie, on the other hand, was faithfully managing the challenges of staying at home with three young children and suffered patiently through 6 moves (mostly across the country each time) in the first 9 years of our marriage. As you may have guessed, she was a trooper but harbored a lot of disdain for my career-related zeal.
My response to her disdain was not all that unique to what most other men have felt in that situation, “I can’t believe she could take issue with my working hard! I’m not doing this for me – I’m doing this for her and for the kids.” Truth be told, I had just as much disdain for her disdain as she had disdain in the first place. Sound familiar guys?
And yet, we continued to hang in there and had what we would have described as a great marriage, especially when we compared our marriage with most of the people we knew well. In fact, we (I suppose I really mean “I”) thought it would be a good idea to use our marriage experience to minister to other couples who may not be as fortunate. Devonie somewhat-reluctantly agreed and we registered for a 13 week workshop at Northpoint Community Church that was requisite to qualify to help others. Imagine the audacity… the church wanted to be sure our marriage was healthy before we ministered to others!
That’s when the real fun started as we began to unpack the first 22 years of our marriage experience through a series of assessments, one-on-one discussions, and small group discussions with other couples going through the program. I recall attending the third week’s session with 5 other couples (including a mentor couple) and Devonie, with tears obviously welling up in her eyes, asking with some degree of embarrassment, “Is it possible that our marriage could actually get worse in this process instead of getting better?” That was a real gut-punch and rude awakening for a guy who thought he had his marriage act together!
That process represented the beginning of a renewal and a transformation in our marriage. In the balance of that study we focused on learning how to communicate more effectively and really worked through the hurts that I mostly caused Devonie in the first 2/3’s of our marriage. We had to recognize our respective contributions, confess our roles in the hurt, and of course, repent as well.
The crazy part of our journey is that we, like so many other couples, felt our marriage was just fine. And I suppose it was relative to others from an outside-looking-in perspective. It’s like the story of the frog in the pot of water that gets increasingly warmer and that ultimately kills him because he never really sensed that he was eventually in boiling water. You don’t even realize how hot you are because you learn to rationalize your reality.
There’s a redeeming part of our story and perhaps encouraging for yours. You may feel resigned that your marriage is never going to get better. Or have the attitude, “you don’t know my wife… she’ll never change.” Whether you’re in an “adequate” marriage, in a struggling marriage, or in a marriage on life support, there is hope for what’s possible in your marriage.
It’s been 11+ years since we started to really invest in our marriage and adjusted some of our old habits and ways of relating to each other. I’m still a work-in-process but continuously learning that when a husband (and more specifically, ME) understands God’s purpose for marriage, and our role in it, your perspective will change about how God can use your wife to draw you closer to Him and make you more Christ-like. In my case, things that previously would really frustrate me about something that Devonie said or asked were no longer testing my patience – because I recognized how God was using her in a unique way for my benefit. I know it sounds hard to believe as you think of your own personal examples but I encourage you to keep reading as we discover the power and the peace that comes from getting marriage right.
I have no greater joy in my life today than to be able to say that Devonie is the person with whom I most enjoy spending time. We have an ability to communicate with one another today in a way that we genuinely know each other’s hearts, desires, and even our respective fears. And we have a deeper sense of intimacy together than we’ve enjoyed in the previous 34 years of our marriage. She is truly my best friend in life.
I don’t know entirely what God’s optimum model is for a Christian marriage but I’m guessing He may be smiling as ours moves in small steps closer to what He had in mind. At the same time though, knowing God will use our marriage in a strategic way to make us more Christ-like, I still aspire to move closer to experiencing God’s design for an abundant marriage. I know we’ll never be perfect because we’re two imperfect people in a fallen world. In spite of that, God has redeemed and renewed our marriage in really powerful ways that I pray you’ll experience as well.
The marriage journey itself is as much a spiritual endeavor as it is a human one, designed by God to help us draw close to Him in the process of loving and nurturing our wives in the way God envisions. His desire for our marriage is one of abundance!