In this lifetime, we will all face challenges and storms — it's a part of the journey. Jesus acknowledged this reality when He was talking with His disciples before the Crucifixion. He clarified for them, " I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). Even country music recognizes this truth. One of Randy Travis' first hit songs was called "The Storms of Life," which laments "The storms of life are washin' me away."
Beyond the typical storms of life, if you are married, you know there are additional challenges that come your way. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7:28 (NIV), "Those who marry will face many troubles in this life."
Now don't get me wrong, I believe that marriage is the greatest gift God ever gave my husband, Greg, and me. However, there are days, weeks and even months of challenges that come with this gift. Over the past 25 years, Greg and I have faced health challenges, repeated moves, seasons of conflict, the stress of completing graduate school — and the list goes on. How about you? What have storms looked like in your marriage? Have you struggled with marital disagreements, sexual difficulties, health issues or the pain of infidelity? Or have you faced difficulties that came from external sources — from outside your marriage — such as work-related issues, meddling in-laws, aging parents, a rebellious teen or a natural disaster? Regardless of where the challenge may have come from, it has the potential to impact a marriage relationship. Although we may not have the option to choose our storm, we can decide if it will lead us to deeper intimacy with the Lord and with each other.
As human beings, we don't have to go looking for difficult seasons because they seem to find us all on their own. However, as believers we need to recognize that we have an enemy, Satan, who has calculated plans to destroy the unity in our marriage. The Enemy has been described for us in John 10:10 when Jesus says, "The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
Yes, we have an enemy seeking to destroy us, but the great news about marriage is that God gives us a life-long partner, a best friend, a journeying buddy with whom we can face life's difficulties and withstand the Enemy. Unfortunately, rather than seeing our husband or wife as a support in the storms, we can begin to see our spouse as the "difficulty" or even the "enemy." When we recognize the true source of our stress, we can face the challenge and fight the real Enemy together. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NIV) reminds us of the benefits of doing life with another person:
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
One couple chooses how to face their storm
Shannon and Chris sat with tears streaming down their faces. They were so young, still in their 20s and married only 20 short months. And now they were facing something that no one would want to face in a lifetime. A few months earlier Shannon and Chris had been ecstatic to announce their first pregnancy. Then they were thrilled to learn they were having a son. Chris had always dreamed of having a boy so he could teach him his favorite sport — hockey. But life came crashing down around this young couple when their doctor called to discuss more results from their latest ultrasound. The doctor explained, "More than likely your baby has a genetic disorder that is incompatible with life."
Since that time, Greg and I have been in awe as we've watched Shannon and Chris navigate this very difficult road together. They have intentionally chosen to face this storm as a strong, enduring couple — trusting God in His faithfulness and choosing to pursue Christ's hope, joy and peace in all their circumstances. The manner in which they have chosen to walk together — unified — through this heart-wrenching season has forever impacted and encouraged my husband and me.
Facing the storms of life together
But how does any couple stand united like Shannon and Chris? How does any married couple face challenges together? Regardless of where you are in your marriage journey or what issues come your way, here are few tips to help keep you united through the storms of life:
Acknowledge that life will always have challenges. There is something powerful about simply acknowledging that there will be challenges in this lifetime. Yes, you will struggle. Yes, you will have emotions of grief and sadness. But thankfully, you will also have each other. As Christian couples, we are called to walk these seasons with joy. With Christ in us, we can experience peace, joy and forgiveness through the power of the Holy Spirit — even in the storms of life.
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds." —James 1:2
Recognize the real enemy. Often when a crisis hits, couples will begin to view each other as the problem or the cause of the storm. The truth is that the real enemy, Satan, wants to divide you from your spouse because he hates marriage and will do everything he can to cause disunity.
"Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand." —Matthew 12:25
Even if your husband or wife has made poor choices that may have had a negative impact on you personally or on your marriage, remember that Satan would love for you to turn and run from your relationship. Ask God to lead and guide your steps — let Him hold the outcome of your marriage in His hands.
Turn toward God and trust Him. The Lord will never leave you nor forsake you. He is waiting for you to turn toward Him in your time of need. Remember that He has your best in mind — it may not be what you had in mind, but you can trust Him with all your circumstances.
"Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you." —Deuteronomy 31:6
Keep your heart open and don't lose hope. Will you walk through the storms of life bitter and angry or with an open heart? A heart that is closed runs the risk of hardening, and a hardened heart causes a husband or wife to behave in ways that are not true to his or her character. Horrible decisions are often made as a result of a closed heart.
"He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.' " —Matthew 19:8
It is essential that we recognize the well-being of our heart is our personal responsibility so we don't expect our spouse to do a job he or she was never created to do. We can each maintain a heart that is alive and full if we will turn to Christ to lead us to forgiveness, peace and restoration.
Surround yourself with a faithful community, and seek outside help when needed. Don't be afraid to seek help from a godly community of friends and family. Greg and I regularly say, "It takes a village to raise a marriage." This is especially true during times of crisis and storms.
"Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." —1 Thessalonians 5:11
And don't hesitate to get help from a counselor if you feel your marriage is in need of outside assistance. If you or someone you know needs marital help, Focus on the Family has resources and counseling to assist. You can contact us Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Mountain time) at: 800-A-FAMILY (232-6459) or help@FocusOnTheFamily.com.
Don't let the storms of this life wash your marriage away! Yes, storms will come, but you can choose whether they will strengthen you and your marriage or create disunity between you and your spouse.Erin Smalley serves as the marriage strategic spokesperson for marriage ministries at Focus on the Family and is the author or co-author of several books, including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage.