I know that what I’m about to say flies in the face of every self-help, marriage, and Christian inspirational ever written. We’ve been led to believe that if we follow a carefully calculated system of prayer and fasting, say the right things, do the right things, and pray the right way … God will save our marriage, but for the sake of every woman sitting on the receiving end of a failed one, sometimes He doesn’t.
The movie War Room came out in 2015, and I remember it well because it was the week I found out that my ex-husband was having an affair and the entirety of my eight year marriage was a lie. The woman in the movie was experiencing her own marital woes and took to an unconventional method of warfare – prayer. She learned how to fight for her marriage in prayer and ultimately saved it from destruction, healed her heart, and restored her family. I was convinced that if I followed the example laid out in War Room, my marriage would be saved too.
That day I went home and I set aside a closet in the upstairs of our house. I bought a journal, printed off some photos, some lyrics to my favorite songs, and started writing out prayers, pasting them to the wall, and praying them into existence. I was pleased with my colorful post-it note wall. I prayed Proverbs 5 over my then husband. I prayed prayers over myself … to become a better wife, show grace to an unrepentant man, for strength to endure the effects of the abuse I was experiencing, and for the wisdom to know how to handle it all. For six hours a day I prayed … and days turned into weeks … and weeks turned into months … and months turned into a year and then some … and nothing changed. In fact, it only got worse.
I knew I was praying for something that was in alignment with God’s will. The Bible is clear on where God stands with divorce — He hates it. (Malachi 2:16) The Bible is clear on what types of prayers get answered, and I’m pretty sure I was praying a prayer that warranted an expected answer. I believed that if I prayed long enough, sought God hard enough, looked good enough, morphed into the wife my ex- husband wanted me to be, or the one my in-laws mistakenly thought I should be, became like the woman in the posts that Christian female bloggers write about, my marriage would be saved. As I read countless testimonies of marriages saved, my then husband sank further into sin.
There was no repentance, no empathy, no acknowledgement of what he was putting myself or our children through, no desire to get help or a recognizance that he even needed help, no desire to give up the other women, the alcohol he had taken up drinking, the lifestyle he wanted to live, or the grass is greener mentality that had taken root. There was no desire to save what had been built, to break the enabling co-dependent relationships stunting his growth, to go to counseling, to be the husband the Bible commanded him to be, or to be the father he signed up to be.
It seemed that the more I prayed and turned towards God, the worse it got. None of the prayers I had prayed for him were (or have been) fulfilled and I struggled with God because I knew I was praying some pretty awesome prayers, following every step, and that He had the power to save my marriage … yet he didn’t.
Over the years I’ve come to understand why my marriage wasn’t saved. God revealed something to me that revolutionized my entire thought process. While I was praying for God to reach my ex-husband, God was waiting for my ex-husband to permit him to do so. You see, God can heal even the worst marriages and often does, but He will not force himself into any heart and by extension … into any marriage. That just simply isn’t how He works.
Over time, my prayers began to change. As divorce (and the acceptance of it) became a necessary solution for myself and my children, my prayers turned from prayers for reconciliation to prayers of restoration … of his relationship with God and his relationship with our five children. I prayed for what was in the dark to come to light, for repentance, for Him to recognize his need for a savior, for the veil to fall from his eyes, and for him to have a desire to live a life of truth and integrity.
My marriage wasn’t saved, (not even close) but I can’t say that my prayers weren’t answered. I saw a God who provided for me in miraculous ways. Food was brought, money showed up, strength was given, and healing happened. I saw a God shield me from the effects of sin, who helped me through impossible circumstances, and gave me the strength to wake up each morning and single parent my children. And eventually, I saw God raise up a worthy man and plant him in my life. That man eventually became the husband to this forsaken wife and a father to my children.
The heroic stories of marriages saved and restored are touching, but the idea that you have to complete some sort of 10-step plan to win back your man isn’t. The truth is, God can save every marriage and any marriage, but sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes the heart of a man is so hard that He gives him over to himself, and likewise, sometimes the heart of a wife is so hardened, that she is closed off to an unrepentant man (and a God who can work with that).
What I do know, is that no matter what happens … God will walk you through it. He will always be there, will never abandon you, will always provide for you, will always love you, will right the wrongs, shine a light on the lies, will shield you as you walk through the hardest time in your life, and has a plan even when you don’t.