Strength in the Lord James 1 - 2- 3_1

Amanda’s story is an excerpt from an online marriage course: Where God puts two hearts in a home.  A woman shares about a trial in her life.  The lesson focuses on the Strength of the LORD which sustains you and I when walking through a ‘slimy pit full of mud and mire’.   I pray you will be encouraged.

Amanda’s Story – We met at a Sunday school class for single adults. I was attracted to Arnie because he was so hardworking, kind, thoughtful, and responsible. He was a new believer, and I had grown up in a Christian home, but we were both actively pursuing a closer relationship to the Lord. As our friendship grew, we took evening classes together at the church and enjoyed discussing what we were learning. I treasured the cards that he wrote to encourage me in the Lord. We fell in love with each other and decided to marry.

For our wedding, we each prepared a prayer for the other that was tape recorded and played at the wedding. In each one, we thanked God for bringing us together. My prayer thanked God for providing me with such a wonderful life companion. I asked for strength to be a loving and supportive wife to Arnie, to strive to consider his needs, interests, and desires before my own. I asked for God‘s help to always look for and believe the best in each other. To apologize when I failed and to forgive freely.

 I never imagined how that promise would be tested.  Early in our marriage we established good Christian marriage habits together. We went on spiritual retreats, prayed, and loved together. We studied books on Christian marriage and discussed them. As time passed, we had three children together and sought to raise them to follow Christ. Our marriage and family fulfilled my greatest desire for a happy Christian home.

Ten years into our marriage, however, Arnie began to withdraw from the Lord and from me. One day I realized that I was the only one initiating spiritual conversations and reading spiritual books. He developed back pain and had to give up running, which had been one of his favorite activities. As his pain and inactivity grew, he questioned why a good God would not deliver him from this severe and prolonged pain. He shared his doubts, I‘m not sure God ever speaks to me. I was worried. I talked and reasoned with him, prayed with others, and tried to love him back to a strong faith.

 Discussions with our pastor and the man who had led him to Christ failed to bring him back. Friends recommended various books, which he dutifully read. But the books offered no solutions to his problems unless he had faith in God, and Arnie‘s faith was ebbing away. He felt powerless to stop it. When our son became a teenager, I wanted Arnie to read the books that we had picked out together in preparation for this day and to talk to his son about God‘s perspective on his sexuality. But he kept forgetting to do this. Finally, he admitted, I don‘t know how to talk to him about this because I‘m not sure I believe it anymore. In fact, I‘m not sure if I believe in God anymore.

 At first my pain seemed unbearable. I cried, prayed, and could not sleep. This was not the kind of home I had thought we would have! I waited for Arnie to snap out of it and come back to faith. It took a few years for me to accept that he was not going to come back to Christ anytime soon. I had to make a hard transition from mutual encouragement with my husband to a relationship with Christ that was solely my own.

The children‘s first reaction was confusion. Our younger son gave his father Scripture to read. Our daughter developed nighttime fears and was afraid to sleep alone. All three kids prayed for him. As the years passed, one by one each of the children lost their close relationship with him and with God.   Arnie still did things with them, but there were no deep talks anymore. Our eldest son reached out to his dad for closeness again, but was rebuffed. Arnie had nothing to offer and gave our son only silence. My heart broke. Our son developed depression and began seeing a counselor. I kept praying.  Even though I tried to share with the kids about God‘s reality in my own life, Arnie‘s despair permeated the house. Both Arnie and I assured them that we would not divorce, but they saw that our home was not the happy place it used to be.

A biblical counselor I visited helped me to see that I was failing in my own spiritual walk by waiting for my husband and children to join me on the path. She challenged me: When you stand before God, He‘s not going to say, Your spiritual weakness is not your fault because your family didn‘t want to follow Me.‘

 Miraculously, in 2004, Arnie heard God speaking to his heart and came back to faith. He shared it with all of our Christian friends. Everyone rejoiced that the lost was found. His faith soared and his depression disappeared, but it was short-lived. Two-and-a-half months later, he began downplaying his return to God and denying that it had ever happened. His faith was lost once again. My unsteady hope was dashed to bits. My disappointment hardened into bitterness.

 In my turmoil, I developed depression, too. Then one day I hit a turning point. I admitted that I could not change Arnie. I could not convince him to go to counseling. I could not relieve his depression. I knew that I needed God in a way that I had never needed Him before. He had to become my all in all. Even though God had not answered my prayers for Arnie‘s restoration, I had to believe that God was still good and still sovereign. I had to throw myself on Christ alone and let Him be all I needed to get through each day.  Around that time, I had a dream that Jesus and I were carrying the cross up the hill to Golgotha together. It was so heavy that I stumbled and could not lift it any more. Jesus said, ―Climb on My shoulders, Amanda. The cross was so big and heavy that I could not imagine He would have the strength to bear its weight and me, too, but I had no choice. I could not carry it any longer. I pulled myself up on His strong shoulders, and he said, ―I will be with you and your children, and you will make it through this.  He gave me a vision that He had set extra angels guarding our house. Scripture, too, held special promises: ―The LORD is near the brokenhearted, he delivers those who are discouraged‖ (Ps 34:18). He felt closer.

 When I realized that divorce was creeping into my thoughts more frequently, I began meeting with two friends for an hour and a half of prayer every week. They helped me realize that I could not have a close relationship with God if I held onto bitterness and anger. When I was able to give up control to Him, my bitterness lifted. One Scripture that we often prayed for Arnie is Psalm 40:1-3: I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. (NIV)

 He is helping me develop long-haul faith. I am praying even when I cannot see the answers. My life is punctuated with various surrenders along the way. Surrendering expectations was the hardest, but most important, thing I had to do. My repeated prayer had been: ―Help me to love Arnie with Your pure love. I failed miserably. Since I surrendered my husband to God, it has been much easier. As I let go of trying to control people and situations, I am able to commit to God that no matter what Arnie does, I will still love him. I let go of all the strings in my love that are conditional on his behavior. I no longer give love as a reward. I give it because God loves Arnie and shows it through me. Slow steps, not perfect.

Arnie told me that his relationship with God had often been vicarious through me. Thus, I am learning the art of a quiet spirit, according to the apostle Peter (1 Pet 3:1-2). If I need to talk a lot, I put it into prayer instead. I let Arnie bring up and talk about spiritual issues if and when he desires. I feel like God has put duct tape over my mouth! I am being quiet, praying, and waiting expectantly to see what He is going to do in our family.

Before, when our marriage was happy, I would have said that I was depending on Him. When He stripped away the things that I valued so highly and thought I had to have—like a Christian family and a Christian marriage—I was left with the choice of going to Jesus and letting Him be my life, instead of living in despair and anger. When I chose Him, I saw Him in a new way. I saw Him pull us through when we seemed to be hanging by a thread. I have seen that God was taking things away so that I would run to Him and wrap my whole self around Him.

I have learned to say with the psalmist that ― Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you (Ps 63:3, NIV).

                                             “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. ” Psalms 63:8.