Our next-door neighbors had just gone through a divorce. The dad had abandoned the family, and the mom was trying to raise her four children all on her own — including a 5-year-old daughter we’ll call Sarah. Our oldest daughter, Taylor, was the same age as Sarah, and so my wife, Erin, and I encouraged Taylor to befriend Sarah.
On one particular afternoon Erin had gone shopping. I was watching a football game in the living room while Taylor and Sarah were playing in Taylor’s bedroom upstairs. Everything was quiet for a while, until …
“Yes, they will!” I heard Sarah shout.
“No, they won’t!” Taylor shouted, even louder. I figured it must’ve been a squabble about a Barbie doll or something similar. But as their argument spilled into the hallway, down the stairs and into the room where I was watching the game, I soon realized I couldn’t have been more wrong.
“Daddy?” Taylor said as they stormed into the room. “Will you tell Sarah that you and Mommy are not going to get a divorce?”
I muted the television. “Sarah,” I said, as gently as I could, “I don’t want to take sides, but I’m not going to divorce Taylor’s mom and leave.”
Taylor celebrated her victory by sticking out her tongue, unleashing the wettest raspberry I’d ever heard and then, without another word, dashing back to her room.
Eager to get back to my football game, I asked Sarah if she wanted to join Taylor. Sarah took three steps … and then stopped and turned back to me. “Is everything OK?” I asked.
She stared at the floor. When she spoke, I could barely hear her. “I was just thinking,” she said shyly, “could — would it be OK if I came back and watched football with you? I could pretend that you’re my daddy.”
And then her voice grew even quieter. “He left,” she said, “and I know it’s my fault.”
I choked back tears as I gave the little girl a hug. “I’d be lucky to have you as my football buddy,” I told her.
Sarah’s dad didn’t leave because of her, and I tried to tell her so. But the brain has a pretty hard time convincing the heart of anything. Sarah believed that her daddy was gone because of her. The word rejected or defective or unlovable had been etched on her heart.
Why we believe the lies
Sarah’s not alone in this. We all have wounds carved deep into our souls. Sometimes those wounds are of our own making. But sometimes, like Sarah’s wounds, they come from outside of us. They don’t leave visible scars, but they still define who we are on a heart level. What we believe deeply in our heart becomes our reality.
Unless we’ve had positive messages etched on our hearts, painful wounds often twist our sense of reality. We forget the truth of who we are — who God made us to be — and believe the lies.
Those lies affect what we think about ourselves and how we relate to others. And that’s especially true in how we relate to our spouse.
How lies affect our marriage
At some point growing up, I had the lie “failure” written on my heart. Often when my wife, Erin, and I argued, it was because I felt as if I had failed as a husband or father. I didn’t want to feel like a failure, so I would dispute her account, debate her feelings, squabble over facts and defend myself. Sadly, my reactions only left me feeling more like a failure and left Erin and me disconnected.
Many arguments that husbands and wives engage in originate from the lies written on our hearts. But we can fight the lies. We can expose them for what they are and not allow them to run rampant. Dealing with these lies and healing a wounded heart takes two important steps:
Step 1: Identify the lies on your heart
Everyone has been wounded in some way. Satan is the father of lies, and no one is impervious to his power to influence them.
But God can help us see the lies for what they are. In Psalm 139:23, David prays, “Search me, O God, and know my heart!” You, too, can ask God to search your heart for lies and negative messages. As you pray, focus on the painful experiences from your past that you remember (disappointments, setbacks, failures, times you were hurt, traumatic events). Now think about how those events made you feel about yourself. What did you say to yourself? What conclusions did you draw about yourself?
Step 2: Replace the lie with the truth
You may be thinking, I see the lie on my heart and I get that it’s not true. So let’s move on. But these are not things that you simply think away.
“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart,” we read in Psalm 73:26. When our heart is weak because it’s littered with lies, God is our strength. After all, He is the ultimate source of truth.
How I overcame the lie of failure
The Scriptures are overflowing with verses that tell us the truth about who we were created to be. For example, 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I hadn’t tapped into the healing power of God’s words in this area of my life until I went specifically after the “failure” lie. The verse from 2 Corinthians exposed the lie for what it was and allowed me to counteract that feeling of failure. I have weaknesses, sure, but God can use those weaknesses, even my own failures, for good. That verse helped me see that truth in a way I’ve never seen before.
The key is to get precise with the verses you choose — to discover verses that speak directly against the lie. Satan has leveled a specific attack against you, with explicit lies and messages. Thus, using exact truth as your counterattack is the best way to heal the wounds written on your heart. Memorize those verses and meditate on them. When you do so, etch themselves more deeply into your heart than the lie, eventually obliterating it. “Keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write them on the tablet of your heart” (Proverbs 7:2-3).
Your marital conflicts do not need to be controlled by Satan’s lies. Based on God’s truth, bask in the certainty that you are valuable, you are strong and successful in Christ, you are unconditionally accepted, and you are good enough!
Dr. Greg Smalley is vice president of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family and the author of several books.
If your marriage is in trouble, our Hope Restored marriage intensives can help put you on the path to hope and healing — call Focus on the Family at 866-875-2915 or visit HopeRestored.com.