I have frequently written about the Christian perspective on marriage. A successful marriage requires love, respect, trust, and mutual submission. A husband must be willing to listen to his wife and take her suggestions even when he disagrees. A wife must be willing to trust her husband's lead even when she might not agree with his direction.
What do you do when your husband doesn't love Jesus?
How do you submit when you don't share a belief system?
That was my mother's struggle. For over 10 years, she was married to my father. In many regards he was a great man, but he had many areas of weakness.
Here is her story of how she attempted to be Proverbs 31 woman and an Ephesians 5 wife while married to a non-Christian:
My Mother's TestimonyI met my husband, Dean, while I was in high school. He was a customer at the drug store I worked at. I liked his smile. We dated for half my senior year of high school, and then got engaged when I was going away to college, planning to wait until I graduated to get married. We moved the date up a few times until we finally settled on spring break of my freshman year at school. I commuted to school while we lived in Colorado. I wasn’t a big partier, but I could keep up with Dean, even though I wasn’t legally old enough to drink. We moved about every two years, and it wasn’t until we moved to Hong Kong and then Singapore that I realized there was a problem in our marriage. I used to blame the staying out drinking on his friends until I realized the problem followed us around the world. By the time I realized there was a problem we were living in Singapore; and it’s hard to leave your husband when you live in a foreign country. Not only did he have a drinking problem, but we were both trying to be the head of the house.
One of the other company wives told me about Jesus, and I accepted Him as my savior. The first thing God worked on in my life was my marriage. I started to read about what a Christian wife looked like. I stopped competing to be the head of the house and learned to submit to Dean.
There were challenges. It was important to me that my children know God, so they were in Sunday School since they were babies, and active in the youth group when they were old enough. Dean never joined us in church, not even when my daughter or I were baptized. Dean’s drinking did not change. My way of coping with this was to pour myself into ministry at the church. At one time, I was co-leader of the children’s ministry. I wanted my children to have positive family memories, but Dean was not interested in taking family vacations; He would take his vacations one day at a time on the golf course. I would feel bad that my kids did not have a more involved father, but I realized that God is sovereign and had them in the family they were supposed to be in, and I did what I could to create family memories. I don’t know if I was right or wrong to do the family vacations – they could have contributed to the choices that Dean made. Sometimes it was hard to make the Biblical decision when the other option seemed to be the better one. One time the church was doing a building campaign, and I knew that if I gave to the campaign Dean would never know, but he had not wanted me giving money to the church. Even as I asked the lead pastor if it was wrong, I knew the answer.
My guiding verses were Ephesians 5:22-23
“Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body”At times, this was a challenge. As I drew closer to God, it put a larger gulf between us. How was I to submit to a husband who wasn’t loving me as Christ loved the church? The verse did not have a condition that I submit to Dean if he loved me as Christ loved the church. My other guiding verse was 1 Corinthians 7 :13-16,
“And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not [send her husband away….For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?”I could not talk my husband into believing in Jesus as his savior, but I could do my best to live my life so that Dean could see Christ in me.
At one point I worked for the church on a temporary basis, but I sensed that it was taking away from time with Dean because when I wasn’t working, I was doing my ministry things, leaving no time for us. I quit working and went to find him at one of his “watering holes.” What I found was not what I suspected; He was there with a girl that worked for him and apparently this had been going on since the kids and I were out of town the previous summer. I told him to choose between the two of us and, if it was her, the kids and I were gone for Thanksgiving and he could entertain his family. I’m not sure if he ever decided, but the other woman figured out who he was choosing. Still, I didn’t trust him, and was fearful of what he was doing when I wasn’t there. I read an article from Precept Ministries that spoke to me in a big way. I didn’t trust Dean, but I did trust God, and He would let me know what I needed to know when I needed to know it. I stopped living in fear and trusted God. God did eventually let me know what I needed to know. Dean had gotten involved with another woman and put me in a place where I saw this happening. This time, I did not trust God so fully – I would put the kids to bed and drive around to find him. I never once found them via my own efforts, but did learn enough about what was happening by God’s leading. I know God hates divorce (Malachi 2) and I did not want my kids being raised in a divorced home, so I held it together as long as I could.
At one point I went to a group to learn about living in an alcoholic family. In the group, they said it’s like the elephant in the room. Everyone knows the problem is there, but no one talks about it. I didn’t want to talk about it with my kids because I didn’t want to say anything negative about their dad and cause them to disrespect him. If they disrespected him, it would be because of what he did, not what I said. Once I learned that not discussing it could be detrimental to them, I talked to the kids about it a little. Eventually, I told them I was going to ask Daddy to move out to see if that would help him stop drinking. Again, I did not want to say anything about another woman and be the cause of them losing respect for Daddy. I did tell them divorce was a possible outcome and asked what they thought. My son, Sean, said the Bible says divorce is wrong, so you can’t get a divorce. I said the Bible does allow divorce if there is another woman involved. He asked if there was. I told them Daddy had a woman who was a friend. He said they are just friends but I told him it was not okay to be friends with another woman and that is all that should matter. If I had a problem it was not okay. They wanted to know who she was but I wouldn’t tell them. Eventually it got to the point that I did move him out and we got a divorce. While we were in the midst of the early separation it was very difficult to not be angry and bitter and turn my kids against their Daddy. I knew they were to respect their father, so I had to follow Scripture and continue to live as Christ wanted me to live. I did have a few lapses where I would plot to blow up “her” car, or we’d walk by her car and threaten to key it. All the while, I was also encouraging my kids to accept the other woman – so I was a bit of a split personality.
I don’t know how I got through that first year or two and maintained not getting angry and bitter - I think I focused all of my anger on the other woman. I’m sure some wondered if I knew Dean was guilty also. I couldn’t put the anger and bitterness on him, or it would cause my kids to disrespect their dad. Dean married the “woman he wasn’t having an affair with” He never did admit the affair or apologize, but I forgave him and we remained friends. Eventually, Dean and the other woman divorced, and he and I became friends who hung out again. I’m pretty sure I was “the other woman” in his marriage to her because he never stopped loving me. Dean became very sick from all the years of drinking. One night he told his niece who was taking care of him, “I need salvation”. I don’t remember how he worded it, but basically all the years living out 1 Corinthians 13 paid off – I was with him when he prayed to receive Christ.
Can we win our unbelieving husbands to Christ by submitting to Him and showing him who Christ is by our life and not by preaching to him? Yes, we can. Shortly before Dean died I told him I’d see him in the Northwest corner of Heaven.