Iron Sharpens Iron
Today’s post in the WordWashedWife series on prayer has been written by my beautiful daughter, Madeline. I love her transparency as she shares about a time in her marriage where clinging to Jesus through prayer for her husband made the difference! Keep reading, friends. You are in for a blessing.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” –Proverbs 27:17
When my mother first approached me about writing a guest post for her blog with the prompt of “praying for our husbands”, there was one immediate story that popped into my head. It’s a story of grace, renewal, and the unique sanctification that is experienced through marriage.
Let’s start from the beginning, shall we?
The year was 2006. Justin Timberlake had just released the infamous “Sexyback”, we were all still using MySpace, scientists had declared that Pluto was no longer a planet, and we were all obsessed with hip-hugging, bootcut, distressed denim and layering solid colored tank tops underneath fitted polo shirts.
It may be an era that remains largely nonspecific and forgotten to most, but it’s a moment in time that will forever be etched in my memory. That’s the year I first met my husband, James. I was 16, he was 17 (…I know that I’m naïve, fellows I meet they tell me I’m sweet… 100 bonus points if you are singing along in your head with me) and it was remarkable how fast I fell in love with him. He was a deep thinker with an extraordinary intellect, a devoted Christian who loved his family, and pretty darn handsome to boot. We spent hours on the phone discussing everything from the origins of the universe to the finer differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. We discussed science and politics, family and doctrine. I had never met another person who I felt I could connect with on such a deep level, someone who I had so much intellectual common ground with. We were inseparable. By the time I left home for college, he had become my best and truest friend and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was going to marry him.
Fast-forward to 2012. Newly engaged, we quietly sat on the couch in our pastor’s office completing the final portions of our premarital counseling. By this time we had been dating 6 years, 4 of which we had spent both living in Tuscaloosa for college. During our college years, our friendship and love for each other continued to grow. We ate lunch and dinner together almost every single day for those four years. We sat in James’s living room together every evening while doing homework (Okay, let’s be real, I was doing homework, James was playing video games). We went to church together every Sunday morning and did all our grocery shopping together every Sunday afternoon, buying each other’s groceries when one of us was low on funds. Rapturously in love, every aspect of our lives were interwoven and we Could Not Wait to Finally be married. Which you can imagine would have positioned me for total disbelief when our pastor said this during our last counseling session:
“I know you have rose-colored glasses on now, young love is a wonderful thing. But your marriage won’t always feel that way. There will be days that you wake up and look at your spouse and wonder ‘why on earth did I get married and why did I marry him.”
I’m not sure if my jaw actually hit the floor, but it did in my head. Surely he’s not talking about US, right? Does he even KNOW us? We’re not like most couples. He must not understand just how much I love this man, otherwise he would never suggest something like that.
Fast-forward to 2015. We had been married just shy of three years. We had an 18 month old boy, and I was already pregnant with our second child.
That escalated fast, didn’t it?
Our son by that point was a walking-talking machine. He was, and still is, our little wild man. He lives his life at 110%, doing nothing half-hearted. When he plays, he runs around the house screaming at the top of his lungs with delight, knocking things over and tearing holes in every pair of pants and shoes he owns. When he gets the slightest of boo-boo’s, he falls to the floor and wails as if someone were sawing off one of his limbs. When he’s feeling affectionate, he takes your face in his little hands and whispers exasperatedly “I love you so much”, then buries his head in your shoulder and holds you with all his might. As wonderful as our little wild man is, you can imagine that a 30lb person full of that much raw heart, energy, and drama could be difficult to discipline.
Enter: the most difficult season in our marriage to date.
Up until this point, we had never had any major conflict in our relationship. We generally agreed with each other on basically everything, everything of importance anyway, so the natural differences in our approach to parenting brought up feelings of disappointment that were just as foreign as they were frustrating. And we… maybe I should back up… I… didn’t know how to cope.
The first time I saw my husband lose his temper with our son, it felt like a palpable shift in our relationship. The offense was small. At that age, our son had a particular curiosity for the dog food bowls and we were constantly walking back and forth to pull him away from the apparently alluring kibble-n-bits. One night, it must have been too much for my husband. He stormed over to our son at the dog food bowl. I watched him grab our tiny little boy by the shoulders, squeeze, and howl “YOU CANNOT DO THAT!”. A wave of fury engulfed me. Not for my son, but for James. The years of loving my husband were quickly overcome by the biological urge to protect my offspring from a perceived threat. In that moment, I felt like I had to choose between my husband and my son. I chose my son. I took our tiny precious child, who was already sobbing, and pulled him away from his father. I stared my husband down with an intensity that I had never felt before and yelled back “No, YOU cannot do THAT!”.
It was a turning point, and unfortunately only the beginning of several long months ahead. Our son was old enough and smart enough that he needed to start learning boundaries. He needed to learn that certain actions had consequences. But my husband’s natural instincts for handling these situations was so dramatically different than mine own. In my eyes, he was routinely going overboard in his correction of our son. Out of fear and anger, I would routinely overcompensate by stepping in to “save” him, which did nothing but reinforce to my son that he should fear his father, as well as fracture his sense of security because he saw that mom and dad were not on the same page. This insecurity caused him to act out even more, which fed a viciously self-defeating cycle and made me feel like a big fat failure of a parent. As I mentioned, I was also pregnant during all of this. So the fact that we were on such different playing fields in our parenting practices felt all the more challenging in light of the impending growth of our family. Because the discipline of our son felt like such a monumentally important task, our differences began to build an emotional barrier between us.
One night, I can’t remember exactly why, maybe it was anger, maybe it was sheer exhaustion, I made the decision to leave our bedroom and go sleep in our guest bed. It was the best sleep I had gotten in months. So the next night, after lying awake in our bed for an hour, unable to sleep, I got up once again and headed to the guest bedroom. By the third night, I didn’t even attempt sleep in bed with my husband. I brushed my teeth and went straight for the guest room. My pregnant belly was swelling to full capacity and my back and hips ached constantly. I told myself and I told my husband that my sleep in the guest bed was better because it was softer on my hips. Which was true. But deep down, if I’m truly honest with myself, I think the sleep was also better because I was selfishly enjoying the respite from my struggling relationship with my husband. As both an introvert and someone who is terrified of conflict, the constant cycle of fear, rescue, and resentment was exhausting and I reveled in the safe, quiet, aloneness of that guest bedroom. But the decrease in our physical proximity did nothing to help the conflict. In fact it made it much worse. As I physically retreated from the conflict, I was also emotionally retreating from James. Lying alone in that bed I began to be tempted by thoughts that, while of course I intended to remain married, maybe I no longer needed my husband. Maybe I could survive without the emotional interdependence. Maybe I could survive without the physical connection. Maybe it would be better even. White hot danger. Our once rock solid bond was now increasingly fragile.
By the Grace of God, amidst the driest of droughts, our daughter was born. I love the allegory in the birth of my daughter that instigated a re-birth in my marriage. There’s something about taking care of a newborn that strips away all other things. It’s categorically all-consuming. For the first time in a while, my husband and I were on a unified team again with a common goal: caring for our daughter. Newborns are demanding, but uncomplicated. There’s very little to fight about in caring for an infant that does nothing but eat, sleep, and poop, especially when we had already successfully done it before. The recovery from my c-section prevented me from easily lying down in a bed, so for the first month of our daughter’s life, I slept with my daughter on my chest in our recliner. James dutifully volunteered to sleep on the couch next to us. It was the first time in probably three months we had slept in the same room. It was healing in a way that I can’t explain. It was subtle, but a big first step towards reconciliation and renewal.
After the first week, James had to go back to work, leaving me alone with our daughter in an empty house. She was the quietest, best-sleeping newborn I had ever met. This gave me a lot of quiet time to myself. I began to pray. I prayed for my daughter, I prayed for my son, I prayed for myself. And I began to pray for my husband too. My maternity leave began to serve as a space of personal spiritual revival. A time to recoup, reconnect, and regain perspective for my life. As I prayed for my husband, I prayed for his patience. I prayed for boldness in myself to be honest about my concerns. I prayed for reconciliation and resolution. I submitted myself and the task of raising our children to Him and prayed for God Himself to guide our actions in how to disciple and discipline our children. I thanked God for His faithfulness and rested deeply in my identity in Him. I clung hard to Jesus.
Over the next several months I began to see changes in my husband. I’d watch him go to correct our son, catch himself, take a short pause, then continue with what he had to say but in a calm authority he hadn’t yet shown. As James’ behaviors started to change, my heart and feelings for him also began to soften. That, I think, is one of the true miracles of praying for your husband. Not only are you actively seeking God to help heal and guide something specific in your spouse, but submitting yourself to His ultimate wisdom through prayer also helps improve your own feelings for your spouse. Spending time in prayer for another person allows you to view them through His eyes with a divine empathy that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to.
James and I spent hours discussing philosophies and practical tactics for raising our children, and began to develop methods that we both felt comfortable with. I was bold in my confessions of how I felt he had grieved me, how I felt he had grieved our son. He was genuinely repentant, and I forgave him. I apologized for my distance and for stepping in between him and his son. He forgave me. As our emotional intimacy healed, the physical intimacy began to heal to. And when I left the recliner, I made a promise to come back and sleep in our bed, no matter what, and I kept it. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
Today, at five and a half years, our marriage is stronger, more passionate, more edifying than I think it ever has been. I can honestly declare that it is by the grace of God that He rescued us from a really rough spot and turned it around for our good. I’ll even go a step further and say that the conflicts in our parenting styles were part of God’s plan for our family all along and part of His plan for our continual sanctification. If I were parenting these children alone in my own power, they would be the most rotten, licentious, little people you’d ever met because I would be too afraid to bring the firm discipline that is sometimes necessary. If James were parenting these children alone, they would be uncannily orderly and obedient, but lacking the emotional safety to truly express themselves and ask uncomfortable questions. God brought us together because we needed each other to hold up the mirror to see our own flaws in order to repent and grow to become the God-honoring parents He needs us to be.
I can also now see the wisdom in the speech our college pastor gave us all those years ago. There was truth there that I hadn’t lived long enough yet to realize. And it’s the same truth that I would now give to any young couple journeying through young love and marriage:
There will be moments that your spouse will deeply disappoint and hurt you. Notice I don’t say there may be, because there will be. Marriage is the closest, most vulnerable, most intimate relationship a human can experience on Earth. As a result, it has the power to wound in a way that you wouldn’t think possible. In those moments of hurt and disappointment, cling hard to Jesus! Don’t give Satan a foothold to tear down your relationship. Do not retreat! Be radically honest with your spouse about the hurt. Seek both repentance and forgiveness, and submit yourself to Him through prayer. Pray for yourself, pray for your spouse, pray for healing, pray for reconciliation. And then believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that God will be faithful and He will heal, He will reconcile, and He will make all things new. It is God’s will to strengthen and restore your marriage because a healthy God-honoring marriage brings him more glory than any other human connection. Just as the marriage relationship has a unique power to wound, it also has a unique power to sanctify and sharpen you to better fulfill your purpose in life – to love God and love others well. Have faith that He will heal the brokenness and He will ultimately use it for your good!
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28