Today, someone I respect reprimanded me for being so open with the struggles in our marriage in last week’s blog post. I did not see that coming. I had prepared myself for the likelihood that there might be judgment or whispers, but I was not at all prepared to be confronted so openly. After explaining how extremely important it is to my husband and I that others find hope and encouragement through the amazing way God has worked in our lives and marriage, I went to my van and sat with my hands on the wheel completely dumbstruck. I was tempted to second guess what I had written, but instead, I could feel God call me into worship – right then and there.
In that moment, I had to make an exchange. Everything in my body wanted to rehash the conversation in my mind, call a friend to rant, and obsess about the blog post. I already knew God had been prompting me to step out with our story of His grace and goodness, and to second guess would be a waste of time and emotional energy, and even borderline disobedience. The conversation left me feeling drained, and God was the only One who knew how to fill me back up. I did not feel like worship. But as I turned on the radio, God played me my favorite praise song, and we sang…the whole way home.
“Through Him, therefore, let us constantly and at all times offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of lips that thankfully acknowledge and confess and glorify His name.” Hebrews 13:15
Sacrifice. Defined as “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.”
“Giving up something.” Giving up something is not easy for most people; certainly not for this stubborn girl. But I am learning that on the other side of that sacrificial exchange is “the something else.” You give up one thing, trusting there is something better to replace it; something “more important or worthy,” even if you can’t see what that is right away. By worshipping when I didn’t feel like it, I sacrificed my initial emotions and desires, and God exchanged discouragement for overflowing joy and peace.
Healing requires exchange, and many of these exchanges can be painful, especially at first. These exchanges, however difficult to make, are no less than holy – trading more and more of your will for God’s. Your ability to make these exchanges are evidence that your fists, tightly gripped around the paintbrush, are opening and allowing God to begin the masterpiece He always intended for your life. It shows you trust Him with the other side of the exchange – that He can replace your sacrifice with something “more important or worthy.”
Throughout the years my husband struggled with pornography, I fought hard to do everything I could possibly think of to change our circumstances. I felt there must be something I could do that would make him stop looking at pornography: change my appearance, change my behaviors, keep the house cleaner, or keep the stress-level lower. But it is never a spouse’s role to find a magic formula to keep our husband from looking at pornography or being involved in an extramarital affair.
All these years of fighting for my marriage, fighting to make sense of it all, and fighting to keep it all together seemed to leave me with no fight left at all. I didn’t understand why God seemed to be ignoring my pleas for Him to save my marriage and my husband. But what I didn’t realize was that I had been fighting God for control of my life and marriage. My hands had been tightly gripped around the paintbrush. Although my prayers would cry out, asking Him to rescue us, my actions showed that my heart did not trust Him to; that somehow He must need my help. Finally, exhausted and at the end of myself; I dropped the paintbrush. And at last, I was able to get out of the way while our loving Creator picked it up and got to work, painting the background of our masterpiece, far before I could see what He was doing.
Trading Your Way for Yahweh
You might recognize those words from Tobymac’s song, “Backseat Driver:” “I want Your way, Yahweh.” Our lips may sing those words, but how often don’t we still yell out directions from the backseat? Too many of us refuse, at least partially, to hand it all over. We live our life like we “got it,” like we don’t need help, especially when it comes to things that are important to us.
My four year old is at a stage where he will try and try to do things he is not yet capable of and will not let anyone help him or teach him. He would rather endure the pain of having his shoes on wrong all day rather than allow someone to show him a better way. Most of us are born with a desire to “do it ourself;” to prove we can do it on our own without help from anyone. Unfortunately, some of us don’t grow out of it. Sometimes as adults we still want to “do it ourself.” We mistakenly and pridefully refuse to let God completely have all parts of us – our lives, our marriages, our children, our plans for the future.
But that sacrifice is essential in our walk with God and in healing. Truly surrendering everything – every part of us and every outcome – to God shows you truly trust Him with the other side of the exchange. You are giving up what you value most to Who you value most, humbly believing that God can do better with your people, your relationships, and your future than you can. But placing everything in God’s hands can be difficult, even brutal, when you’ve fought hard to try to fix and control things.
Jennie Allen, in her book, Anything: The Prayer That Unlocked My God and My Soul, says,
“It is the fight for control that has us all tied up, while it’s really an illusion anyway. We control because we are afraid of what may happen if we let go. Do we really think we are better captains of our lives than a God who sees everything and deeply loves us?”
When we are considering complete surrender, we are balancing on a monumental and pivotal moment in our lives and our relationship with God. It’s putting into action all the things we say we believe about God. C.S. Lewis describes this defining moment in A Grief Observed,
“You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?”
Never in my life had I truly hung by the “God-rope” until, after 16 years of marriage filled with betrayal and lies and fighting to control my circumstances, I found myself at the edge of the cliff. That was the moment I had to decide if everything I said I believed about God was actually the truth and decide if I would bank my life on it. And as I made the exchange – as I gave up my life and my will for His will (no matter what that meant), I discovered the exhilaration and freedom of my reality. I had fought to figure out my reality for so long – was my husband looking at pornography? Was the feeling in my heart the truth or were the words my husband was telling me the truth? Not knowing my reality had always been the primary thing that made me feel so out of control…because it was. It was always out of my control, no matter how hard I tried to keep my hands in everything.
Don’t get me wrong, making the jump off the cliff was excruciating – that sacrifice is not easy. But hanging securely by the “God-rope” over the edge of the cliff, I discovered my true and unshakeable reality: God IS Who He says He is. He is Yahweh, meaning, “I am Who I am” (Exodus 3:13-15). He is everything – everything we live for, everything that fills and completes us, everything we need. Our circumstances can’t, and shouldn’t, be ignored, but they aren’t the sum of our reality. Our reality is that we have a God Who is not limited by our circumstances and has a significant history of doing the impossible.
That reality is what has the power to heal us. Yahweh completes and heals us. Consider our definition of sacrifice from earlier, “an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” When we give up our life and our will, our hollow shell we talked about last week gets filled with someone “more important and worthy.” Our sacrifice of our life is ironically what gives us life. Jesus said in John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Trading our way for Yahweh is a tremendous life-giving, healing exchange that swallows up many more smaller exchanges. Suddenly, in that one divine exchange, we find that we’ve also traded chains for freedom, despair for hope, ashes for beauty, sorrow for joy.
As God consumes more of us, and our way yields to His way, other important exchanges open the door wider for healing and freedom. Although they may not be as large-scale, they are important as we walk this journey. Here are a few of them:
- Exchange FEAR of your husband acting out for TRUST.
You may not be able to trust your husband right away, and that is completely okay. It took time and intentionality for my husband to earn that trust back. We describe it as a jar of marbles. With openness and transparency, positive communication, and doing the work of recovery (accountability groups, filtering software, etc), marbles can be placed in the trust jar. For many years in the beginning, the jar stayed pretty empty for us or was constantly knocked over. But, even when you feel you can’t trust your husband, you can trust God in your husband (doing His work in His timing). It certainly wasn’t in my timing, but God did an amazing restorative work in my husband and our marriage, and now, the jar stays pretty full.
- Exchange SELF-PITY for HUMILITY.
This…was an especially painful exchange for me and certainly one that kept me from healing for many years. For years, I thought I was desperately asking God to change my marriage, but later on, I realized I was demanding God change my marriage. I felt I deserved better than the life I had been given. I was blinded by self-pity and saw everything only through that lens. As I surrendered to God, He helped me see my pride, and I began asking Him to change me; to “create a clean heart and steadfast spirit in me,” and “renew the attitudes of my mind.” This exchange opens our eyes to a completely new and refreshing view of life.
- Exchange DEATH for LIFE.
What a glorious exchange! At the beginning of our path to healing, my husband and I were feeling pretty dead. In our individual time with God, He gave us both these verses – these choices,
“I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. CHOOSE LIFE so that you and your children will live. And love God, your God, listening obediently to Him, firmly embracing Him. Oh yes, He is life itself…” Deuteronomy 30:19-20 MSG
We have choices moving forward, irregardless of what the other spouse chooses. Lysa Terkeurst says in her book, It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way,
“It’s our choice whether we stay stuck in our hurt or get renewed in our hearts.” Dealing with pornography in a marriage can feel like death in many ways. If we choose to stay stuck in our hurt, we choose death. If we choose life, we choose obedience and sacrifice, we choose to hold on to our Savior before holding on to our husband and our children, we choose to speak life to those who have hurt us. That is what leads to Blessing and Freedom, and “Life itself.”
You have the choice to live in confident hope and holy anticipation, with God as your unshakeable reality, or cloaked in fear, terrified because you cannot control your tomorrow. It’s LIFE or DEATH. BLESSING or CURSE. Beloved, I pray you make the healing exchanges and step forward into a new life with a new view!
“For I am about to do something new.
See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”
Isaiah 43:19 NLT
**As God transformed Mel, her husband Mike, and their marriage over the past several years, they have mentored many individuals and couples, blogged, and spoken at youth groups, marriage and men’s retreats, church events, and recovery groups about God’s amazing ability to restore lives and marriages, even in what seems to be impossible situations. Mel would be happy to get you connected with resources or a support group, or let the LifeTime Remedy team know how we can be praying for you or your marriage. Taking steps toward healing is brave, and prayer is one way we would love to come alongside you!
– Mel Anderson