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If you don't die to self, I May Have to Kill YouAn Extreme Marriage Makeover
By Karen Long
Multnomah PublishersCopyright © 2006 Karen Long
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA Whimsical War Story
Just outside Phoenix, Arizona, an adopt-a-highway sign jutted abruptly from the desert landscape. I blinked twice to catch the sponsor's name: The Divorce Store.
"Did you see that?" I nudged husband Paul, who was driving. "What a sign of the times! Here's a trendy new business for messing up families, but hey, that's okay-they're cleaning up highways."
"Must be good public relations for ending relations," Paul mused.
At first I imagined the Divorce Store as a fast-service, drive-through franchise for people who hate each other and also hate to wait. Then I pictured a giant new warehouse center with wholesale services for frivolous lawsuits, specializing in high-demand divorce. For convenience, there's an outdoor snack bar with pizza and churros for the kids.
We stopped for coffee with our Phoenix friends on that drive home to California. They didn't know much about the Divorce Store, but they'd heard the catchy slogan: "When 'till death do you part' isn't soon enough."
There were times in our marriage, even though we're Christians, when I might have jumped in line at the Divorce Store before doors opened at 9 a.m. I know I'm not alone.The divorce rate among evangelicals, according to some polls, may actually be a few percentage points higher than in the world. While over half of all Christian marriages are splitting up, some studies show that more than half of the remaining couples are miserable.
I've spent years trying to figure out why people with the ultimate answers to life often can't get marriage right, forfeiting one of the greatest testimonies for the truth and cause of Christ. I've been journaling for twenty years of my own married life, and much of it reads like the nightly installments of a war correspondent. That's probably because I used to broadcast "live" from the mean streets of Los Angeles weeknights as a television news reporter for Channel 9, until I went home to a husband and kids and real action and drama. Now I'm reporting on marriage directly from the front lines of the home front.
Over the years, husband Paul pushed all my buttons, including the little red one that can blast a nuclear family of five into oblivion. We've been on the brink of disaster and divorce many times, and it would all be terribly tragic if it wasn't such a terrific true story and testimony for the Lord.
We weren't raised in Christian homes, but both of us miraculously came to Christ shortly after we were married, and everything was supposed to be great. In fact, someone suggested that Jesus was our ticket to personal happiness and prosperity, like those attorneys on TV: "Jesus Christ got me 1.3 million!" I would have settled for an occasional cease-fire and a hand with the dishes.
Getting the Real Scoop
Years of conflicts actually forced me to investigate every aspect of Christian marriage, searching for answers. I've been doing plenty of research. During eighteen years of Bible studies, retreats, and women's conferences, I've made some important discoveries. (Since I'm a seasoned television news professional, you know you can believe everything I'm about to tell you.)
During the myriad of women's conferences I've attended, I've cornered speakers and leaders between breaks or after events, gotten in their faces, and asked them tough questions in a totally rude, professional way. I'd start with, "You're so biblically knowledgeable, so spiritual-but just between you and me, how unspeakably hellish is your marriage?"
Surprisingly, they don't explode. They usually get really honest. These got-it-all-together gals can describe more trials and difficulties than even I imagined. If Christians had their own tabloid newspaper-I'd call it the National Inspirer-the headline for this story, based on their responses, would read:
"Prominent Christian Wives Wish Their Husbands Dead!"
Of course, the copy would clarify (at the end of the story) that this happens at some point along the journey, when marital misery is at its peak. I'm convinced every Christian couple has moments, months, maybe millenniums of misery together. Don't be fooled by those cute couples holding hands at retreats. Why do you think they retreated? They're a mess. After all, just attending church on Sunday is admission that we can't do life on our own.
Over the years, even Christian "celebrities" have hinted at bouts of trouble in their own post-Eden paradise. Ruth Bell Graham, Billy's wife, was once asked if she had ever thought of divorce. "Never!" she reportedly said. "Murder maybe, but never divorce."
Barbara Johnson, popular Christian writer and speaker, voiced the question countless women have wondered for decades. "They put a man on the moon," she said. "Why can't they put the rest of them up there?"
During a Faithlift conference at Hollywood Presbyterian Church, Kathleen Hart gave a short talk on marriage. She's the precious wife of well-known therapist and author Dr. Archibald Hart. At one point, while discussing biblical marriage, she skipped the stuff about deep fulfillment and satisfaction in covenant commitment. She simply said, "Ladies, if he's not hitting you, stay married."
Yet I was unprepared the first time I heard a spiritually mature Christian confess bouts of ill will toward her husband. I was seeking counsel for my own marriage concerns with the head of women's ministries for a large Baptist church. In an effort to sober me up and put some perspective on my troubles, she cited a number of young mothers in the church who had divorced their husbands. They were now living in cramped, ramshackle apartments, she said, barely making ends meet, rarely evidencing the happily-ever-after-divorce bliss they thought would be theirs. But she also volunteered that there were times earlier in her marriage when she'd actually prayed for her husband's death.
Since that time I've heard the same confession-fervent prayers offered up to God to take out a spouse-by other church leaders, both men and women, over the course of my personal investigation. We'll probably never know how many Christian wives, seemingly stuck in bad marriages, read local obituaries scanning causes of death and ages of decedents and imagining their own husband's name in print. I had a Christian friend confess these very thoughts to me.
And I have a confession of my own: For years I've been slowly poisoning Paul, slipping him heavy doses of carbohydrates and calories to induce high cholesterol. He's had his suspicions. Yet even when I try making nutritious meals, they taste like I'm seasoning with antifreeze. Paul takes the lid off my stew and cries out like the prophets with Elisha, "There's death in that pot!" (2 Kings 4:40). But I've never had my knee to Paul's chest forcing brownies down his throat! A court would never convict me.
Instead of just waiting for Paul to finally keel over, I've also spent years looking for a younger woman for him, someone who enjoys doing laundry. I've found absolutely the only way to get him to help fold clothes is to throw a private "sock party," with optional attire. He's happy to match up batches of socks if that's all we're wearing.
Now there's a universal problem facing wives. Not sox-sex! You wake to the sounds of kids squealing with delight Christmas morning, poised at the tree, ready to rip open presents. You can't jump up and join them though, because your husband's still in bed with plans to unwrap you.
I remember attending Chosen Women, a special conference at the Rose Bowl, and speaker/writer Bunny Wilson got her biggest laughs talking about "playing possum" in bed. Apparently it's a way to escape intimacy with a frisky husband, but I'm not sure she meant becoming startled and frozen and hanging upside down by our tails, or just pretending to be asleep.
One late Friday night at a women's church retreat, our speaker, addressing this subject, got down to the real nitty-gritty. She told us, in all sincerity and selflessness, that if a husband was pressing for an amorous interlude and we weren't up to it, we should comply and pray right through it.
Back then I had a better idea, straight from the Bible. Before going to bed, I put on the full armor of God.
And I'd put on more armor when I got up. I'd go from flannels to sweat suits faster than a speeding bullet. And Paul would still persist. One morning he grabbed me and said he wanted to pray. I believe in group prayer-but grope prayer? Fuhgeddaboudit.
Tough Question, Tougher Answer
I was fumbling around in marriage, demanding my rights, sinfully self-focused and somehow expecting God to rain happiness from heaven. Mercifully, He sent light sprinklings of grace. I clearly remember the day, many years ago, when I had the great privilege of hearing Joni Eareckson Tada speak at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena to a packed auditorium. When she finished, organizers opened two microphones in the walkways for questions, but surprisingly, only one person stood to speak. The crowd stilled for the thought-provoking question: "Remember me, Joni? That conference in Wichita?"
While they exchanged pleasantries I realized right then that I couldn't let this awesome opportunity slip away, and suddenly I was slipping right out of my seat, my heart racing and forcing my steps. As I spoke into the microphone, trying to formulate a question, tears welled up in my eyes. Paul and I were in the midst of another big battle.
"You had no choice when God allowed your diving accident, your paralysis and suffering," I began. "What can you say to those of us who are suffering in situations, like hard marriages, when we have ... uh ... options-choices-an agonizing choice that could end our pain?"
What a scene. Joni's on stage, peacefully and perfectly submitted to God and her wheelchair, and there I was, standing, sniveling about my husband, raising a verbal fist to God. Then I realized that a few hundred people were watching, and I really wanted to cry.
Joni began sharing difficulties she'd experienced in her own marriage, problems that led to a brief separation. This modern-day hero of the faith was so candid that her assistant later whispered to her to provide clarification. Joni explained that she and Ken had met that crisis and were okay.
While finishing her comments to me, she spoke of a man facing the horror of total paralysis. He lay in a hospital bed, completely unable to move a muscle, not even his eyes or mouth. Although his mind was bright, he had absolutely no way to communicate. Following a visit with this man, she'd questioned the purpose for his suffering, why his life continued. Another friend, standing at Joni's side, gave her the answer: "He can still worship God."
I took my seat and blew my nose. For days I thought about her comments, but it's taken me years to grasp what she was really saying. No matter what's going on, God has a plan. Nothing has happened by accident. We will suffer in this life and have marriage difficulties, but we must press on because it's not about us. God has a purpose in it, and God is always good. He has promised to be with us all the way through. And our lives, submitted to God in love and obedience, will bring Him great glory.
When Two Become (Ouch!) One
I'm a slow learner, but I always came away from women's events encouraged to try harder at home. I just didn't get it. It's not about trying harder. It's about getting to know God through His Word and through prayer, learning to love and trust Him, and letting Him change us from the inside out. He does the work of our sanctification.
God's great desire is to make us more like His Son, but some of us are bigger challenges than others. I've had days when everything's going great, the kids are flourishing, I'm joyful, studying my Bible-being transformed by the renewing of my mind-then WHAM! I feel like killing kittens.
Paul says I'm hormonally challenged.
I know that I'm saved and the Holy Spirit lives inside me. But some days I think He's desperate to get out.
We're fallen sinners, no doubt about it. I've got my share of problems, and Paul's got problems, too (every possible pickin' thing, except maybe PMS). During our years of struggle, it was hard to understand why the Lord used marriage as a picture of His relationship to us. The Bible tells us He's the Bridegroom, and we, the church, are His bride.
Pastor John MacArthur, in a series of radio lectures on the topic of creation, said God created us, in part, to be able to present a bride to His beloved Son. From our human perspective, it's all a terrible mismatch. Christ is unspeakably, indescribably beautiful. He's perfect, pure, and holy. And we're just hopeless apart from Him. God the Father really ought to intervene and call the whole thing off-but that's the amazing thing about grace.
We have the ultimate Lover of our souls: so passionate, selfless, caring, and committed. And Jesus has ... us, barely giving Him a thought at the end of the day before nodding off to sleep (or hanging by our tails, frozen, pretending to sleep).
Marriage, as God intended, is a mystery for mere mortals. When "two become one flesh," you either get some unity or you get Frankenstein. Paul and I got a monster of a marriage, a mess of our own creation. We were constantly hurting each other, utterly helpless, unable to change a thing. Then God in His mercy heard our cries and breathed truth and life and love into our souls. He swapped a few body parts-we don't know where our old hearts and minds have gone-and stitched us up as new creatures in Christ.
The whole thing might have been really scary if it hadn't been so funny.
Excerpted from If you don't die to self, I May Have to Kill You by Karen Long Copyright © 2006 by Karen Long. Excerpted by permission.
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