When a Soul Waits *

* One need not agree with every sentiment in this article, "When a Soul Waits," to appreciate that it illustrates the conviction that marriage is a calling. The power of the article is that it demonstrates that this conviction can be, and was, lived, in adverse circumstances. The article first appeared in the June 27, 1997 issue of Christian Courier. It is reprinted here with permission. —Ed.

As the clock struck midnight, all the couples at the New Year's Eve party kissed, except Greg and me. Finally, my friend said, "Come on, Greg, give your wife a kiss." So Greg gave me a token peck. I trembled at this first physical contact in years but I tried to act as if it were nothing. After all, it was nothing but a socially conventional behavior forced by circumstances.

Three years before, my husband Greg told me that he hated me and planned to leave. I sat quietly as he listed for me the offenses I had committed. At one point, he produced a list of 10 criticisms I'd launched on him within one hour before work one morning. I couldn't defend myself. He was right.

I asked Greg to forgive me and I worked very hard to change. I read self-help books, held in my anger till my eyes crossed, and finally landed in a support group. There I talked about the rage that had grown within me since childhood and I became accountable for my critical behavior.

During the next two years, I changed dramatically. Still, Greg's heart did not change, except that he felt nothing instead of hatred. I felt even more alone. I could imagine how I looked from miles out in the atmosphere: one person completely alone casting a long shadow behind myself. It was just God and me now. I berated myself; I cried many times a day; I stared at oncoming trains at railroad crossings and imagined pulling out in front of the engine.

Greg didn't have the energy to leave, he said. He thought I would, but I couldn't because I wanted to stand before God on judgment day with my marriage intact. Part of that was a desire to obey God and another part was pride. I felt like such a second-class Christian for having a dead marriage. I also wanted to save my kids from the pain of divorce—and I stayed because I loved Greg. I didn't realize until the day he confronted me what a patient, generous person he was, and I was charmed by him.

Fearing abandonment

My darkest reason for staying was that I feared abandonment. Having someone who didn't notice me was better than having no one at all. I wasn't sure I could get up in the morning without someone to lean on. I felt jealous of other couples who argued a lot, but still loved each other. We never argued, we never loved. What was I going to do about me now that no one loved me?

One by one, avenues of God's love made Him more real to me. My support demonstrated God's unrelented love each time I confessed my fierce anger to the group. I looked up expecting to see condemning faces, but in stead I saw gentle smiles and nodding heads accepting me and my rage. Their faces became the loving face of God for me so that I muttered Romans 5:3 many times a day: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." I began to believe that God loved me as much on the days I hated myself as He did on the days when I was cheery and sweet.

In solitude, I cried out to God. I walked in a nearby cemetery, screaming out those painful, unexplainable Psalms in which David groaned in the night and drowned his bed with tears. I lay down next to tombstones and grieved for God to come inside me and convince every cell in my body that He loved me. I cried in the shower leaning against the wall tiles, asking God to rescue me from my regret, self-pity, and self-hate. Little by little, I began to believe that God loved me in my ugliest moments and walked with me each minute.

Surrendering dreams

In the safety of these moments, I faced the fact that Greg's heart might never change. Over and over I surrendered my dreams of reconciliation. With God's love as the only basis for my self-worth, I decided I could face living the rest of my life in a relationship where I was not loved. I could be obedient to God and stay in that marriage with no guarantee that anything would ever improve. Occasionally I got on my high horse ("I deserved something better!"), but one day I wrote, "I have changed to please you, God, not Greg. Even if he never changes, I'll still be glad you changed me."

As I sensed God's companionship, I took delight in giving to Greg without trying to change his mind or make him like me again. It was a grand experience to try to love someone and leave their freedom intact.

In this waiting room of surrender we sat for several years. Some would say they were wasted years, but even marriages that offer little to brag about can be of great value. We helped and respected each other like brother and sister. We loved our children. We reached out to friends and neighbors. My imperfect marriage did not make me a hopeless and unworthy Christian.

Imperceptible road to reconciliation

Those years of dry desert gave Greg room to work through his feelings so he could learn to enjoy the person I had become. We eased into reconciliation so slowly that I didn't know it was happening. Finally, one day on the telephone Greg said, "I love you," just before he hung up. Stunned, I almost said, "Are you sure?"

My story cannot be reduced to a formula. I never viewed my willingness to wait as a way of earning Greg's love back. It could have gone the other way. We were both ripe for affairs and that's what usually happens in these cases.

Only by God's grace did I understand that I had expected Greg to meet the inner needs only God could meet. Greg couldn't give me the unrelenting attention I needed; he couldn't assure me that I was a valuable person; he couldn't wash away my mistakes. Only God can do those things. In the rawest edges of life, I find the courage to face each day as I believe in my heart that God loves me no matter what.