I have had a crazy and hard week. Pray for me to use my time wisely and to take good care of myself. Lots to do, not enough time to do it well. So pray I know what to say No to so that I am free to say Yes to the important.
Today’s Question: I read your book, really helpful, especially backing separation up Biblically and the practical parts of waiting to see change. I knew my husband 5 months before we got engaged and got married 5 months later.
That was 6 years ago. I am unhappily married now for about four years. Separated 9 months ago. My husband is a doctor and was a pastor (stepped down last year). He has a temper, and is verbally abusive. We have been in counseling since 2014.
Last year, I felt unsafe and prayed and spoke to the counselors and we separated. It is hard as people tell me, “Just get divorced. You cannot stay separated forever he might never change. You are young you can start over.” etc.
He says I’m deserting him and suggests it is grounds for divorce.
He is very frustrated as he said he thought it would be over now. I am fortunate to have a counselor who supports me in prayer, over email and the phone. She loves God, the Bible and she and her husband worked with us as a couple for a long time so she has seen the truth.
Here is my dilemma. I struggle to keep hope alive as nothing seems to change and my family is concerned for my safety and don’t quite understand why I’m still in this. Please comment on how to keep hope alive if no change is evident.
I know to pray and read the Bible, but I am emotionally finding it harder and harder to be positive.
Answer: I’m sure you do struggle to keep hope alive in the face of mounting evidence that your husband is not changing. I also don’t hear anything in your letter that says he is aware he needs to change. In this blog and other places I’ve repeatedly said, you can’t change something unless you see it needs to change.
Let me ask you a question. Why do you need to keep hope alive? Where is the pressure to stay positive about your marriage or about him coming from? From you? From him? From your counselors? Wouldn’t it be more Biblical to be truthful than to be falsely positive?
Let me ask you a question. What are you hoping for? Are you hoping that God will miraculously make your husband humble himself and admit his sinful ways so that he can repent?
I don’t know anywhere in Scripture where God forces someone to repent or even to see what he will not see. That is always a person’s choice. Jesus couldn’t get Judas or the Pharisees to repent. Even when God orchestrates painful circumstances in someone’s life like he did for Israel in the Old Testament or Pharaoh when he wanted him to let the Jews leave Egypt, their change was not permanent. It only lasted long enough until the painful consequences subsided.
Also, you mentioned that he’s accusing you of desertion, which he claims is grounds for divorce. It seems like he has no awareness of the pain and fear he’s caused you. It appears that he believes that you owe him unconditional devotion and loyalty as a wife, regardless of how he behaves. Is that true?
But you are not alone. I often see a lot of confusion among women in destructive marriages because they continue to cling to the hope that their spouse will change, even when it’s time to let go of that hope.
Protesting, they usually say something like, “I know that it is Gods will for our marriage to be restored. He can change my spouse and God hates divorce. So I will wait, and pray and believe and hope that my spouse will change someday.”
Then they wait and wait and wait and wait. That’s where you are at now. And after waiting and hoping and seeing no evidence of any change, they begin to ask, “If I give up hope, does that mean I don’t trust God?”
It sounds to me that you are afraid of that too. You fear that if you let go of hope, you are giving up. That’s not true.
Giving up means you don’t trust what God is doing. I don’t hear that in your question. Letting go and surrendering to God is different than giving up. Letting go says, “Not my will but yours be done.” Jesus showed us this in the garden when he didn’t feel like going to the cross, it was painful, yet he trusted his Father and surrendered.
There are times we do need to let go of our own desired outcome (such as a repentant spouse/ restored marriage) by surrendering it to God. Jesus let go of the rich young ruler. The young man didn’t want to do things God’s way and Christ let him go, even though he loved him (Mark 10:21).
Jesus let Judas go, even knowing that he was up to no good. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11 shows a loving father, letting his younger son go to live a sinful life. He didn’t beg him to stay or cling to him when the son wanted to leave. He let him go.
Perhaps what you need to let go of is your hope in what God will do in your husband. Henry Cloud has a great chapter in his book Necessary Endings called Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What’s Worth Fixing and What Should End.
Briefly, here are a few questions Cloud uses to discern whether someone should have hope or let go of hope.
Do I want the same reality, frustration, or problems six months from now?
Do I want this same level of performance a year from now?
Do I want to be having these same conversations two years from now?
If the answer is no, then here are a few more of Cloud’s questions.
What reason is there to have hope that tomorrow is going to be different? (The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior)
What in this picture is changing that I can believe in?
Cloud says, “The difference between hoping and wishing is that hope comes from real, objective reasons that the future is going to be different from the past. Anything other than that is simply a wish that comes from your desires.”
God calls his people to put their hope in him, not necessarily in what he will do, or what we think he should do. Elijah is a good example of a godly man with misplaced hope. He believed it was God’s will for King Ahab and Jezebel to repent and he was right. It was God’s perfect will, but that’s not what happened.
Elijah became so despondent at his “failure” that he wanted to give up. In his small story of hoping what God would do, he forgot who God was and God’s larger story. God was still present. God was still good. God was still in control and God showed Elijah that his hope needed to be placed firmly in who God was, not what Elijah hoped he would do (1 Kings 18,19).
I don’t think Jesus hoped that Judas would change. He lived in truth and reality and knew he would not change (John 13:27).
I don’t think Abigail hoped that Nabal would change. She knew who her husband was and lived in that truth to protect her family from David’s outrage at Nabal’s foolishness (1 Samuel 25).
I don’t think that David hoped Saul would change after repeated lies and false promises. David knew that Saul was out to kill him despite promising change (1 Samuel 24,26).
Each of them lived in reality and truth, not in wishful thinking or false hope.
Proverbs remind us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). In other words, when you hope and hope and hope and your hope is continually dashed, it makes you sick inside. It sounds like that’s where you are at right now. But if what you hope for is showing some movement, then your hope grows and flourishes into a tree of life (nourishing and alive).
The first component of CORE strength is to live in truth and to stop pretending. I don’t have hope that God will enable me to fly if I jump out of the window. Could God perform a miracle and enable me to fly? Yes, he could, but will he defy his own laws of gravity? He might, but it’s not something I am going to hope for or test. That would not be living in the truth of what I know and how God acts. Click To Tweet
In the same way, there is no evidence in Scripture that God changes people without their consent and cooperation. Therefore, to hope that he will, is not living wisely. But to hope that God will work in you through the painful process of letting go is living in truth. From that place, you can regain your energy and stay positive for God’s promises. He will cause all things to work together for OUR GOOD, which is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:28,29), and we can hope in that truth.
Friends, what helped you to let go of hope without giving up that God was good and still at work, even if the outcome didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to?