Believe (in the relationship) – Regardless of Response

When one or both people in a relationship stop believing in the relationship, help is hard to come by. Relationships end when we stop believing there’s a need for them.

Have you lost faith in a relationship? Are you struggling with whether to continue or just let it die? If you are there right now, I will tell you it’s hard to recover. It’s hard to get motivated to put forth more energy. It’s hard to silence the voices in your heart – the ones that keep saying you’ll be better off without the person, you’ll just lengthen the conflict without any results, the other person is too far gone to try, you’re too hurt to risk another injury, etc. These voices are powerful and often relentless.

You may be very close to allowing the voices to run rampant in your heart. They may already be sounding true. You may not be able to argue with them anymore. They may have already drowned out the other voices in your heart that are crying for reconnection. If the relationship is your marriage, you’ve probably been fighting with the voices for a long time.Marriages don’t die easily because God created them to last. Ending one is going against the very energy of God. [clickToTweet tweet=”Marriages don’t die easily because God created them to last. Ending one is going against the very energy of God.” quote=”Marriages don’t die easily because God created them to last. Ending one is going against the very energy of God.”]

Getting a marriage to die takes work. You have to stop all the positive voices that tell you it’s worth it. You have to convince yourself that the vows you took are exchangeable. You have to prove to your conscience that it’s ok to defy it. You have to battle the urge to consider what God says about the permanency of marriage. You have to convince yourself that God says it’s ok. You have to constantly kill the good memories of your love and remember all the bad things, the hurt, the loneliness you feel, and all the trouble he or she has caused. It takes effort to conspire with those voices to deceive yourself.

Mind you, I’m not talking about situations where there’s abuse, infidelity, criminal activity, addiction, or other legitimate reasons to step back from a relationship. I’m talking about everyday marriages that have just grown stale, or hurtful, or angry, or difficult in a way you didn’t anticipate. I’ve been there and my marriage didn’t win. I struggled against all the voices. I was determined to win, but I lost because the decision to continue ultimately didn’t rest with me. I was still committed and fighting even after the divorce, but it was overwhelming. Eventually I got to the point where I didn’t want to fight for the relationship anymore. So I know what that feels like.

I’m not going to lecture you on what the Bible says about marriage, the effects divorce has on kids, and all the other scare tactic stuff people use to ‘prevent’ divorce. Those tactics might prevent some divorces, but many marriages are simply divorces with a marriage license. There’s no love, no real relationship.

Instead, I want to talk about your approach to life and people overall. There’s a short but complete presentation of how we should be toward others tucked into chapter two of the letter to the Philippians in the New Testament. Here’s what it says, (emphasis mine)

3 Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. 

4 Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus,

6 who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.

7 Instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men. And when He had come as a man in His external form,

8 He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death—even to death on a cross.

9 For this reason God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name,

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow—of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth—

11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11 (Holman Christian Standard Version)

Let’s take that apart for a moment. The parts in bold are attitude adjusters. These are the anchors of how we should view ourselves in relation to others. Others are more important, their interests are equal in importance to mine, and I have to make my attitude come alongside the attitude of Jesus. These are all acts of our will. We have to decide, to compel ourselves to think and act like this.

I included the verses that describe how Jesus lived His life in order to give us a comparison. I specially chose the Holman Christian Standard Version because it translates the Greek word ‘doulos’ correctly as ‘slave’. It’s a bit shocking to see that word used in context to Jesus who is Lord. Our Lord chose to become slave. Intense! How do we measure up to His level of service and sacrifice to others? Let’s apply this truth to our marriages.

What did you hope for in your marriage? Happiness, fulfillment, normalcy, adventure, prince or princess charming, financial stability, children, children that behave, children that don’t break your heart, communication, support, friendship, true love? All of the above? (Boy are you a dreamer) Name it, we all have hopes for our marriages. Let me interrupt here with another question. If you were to write down your hopes for your marriage and analyze them – who would they be about?

Wait, let’s do that. Get a piece of paper, or open ‘notes’ on your phone, and write down all your hopes for your marriage (even if you’ve lost hope – please reach back for those you once had). I’ll wait…

Now, look at them. Who is the primary person who benefits if these hopes are realized? Is it you? Can we think about that a little while? To aid our thoughts let me change gears a little – Is there a person in your life that has a relationship with you because of what they can get? A person who takes and rarely, if ever, gives? Is it a comfortable relationship for you? What are some things you’ve thought or said about that relationship? Does it make you mad to think about it?

That last scenario was a little trick. You may have been thinking of someone who is perfectly capable of taking care of themselves but has become a leech in some way. They are a major pain because all they do is suck the life out of you. I have experienced people like that. But wait, what if the person is disabled and incapable of giving? They can only receive because their disability makes giving impossible? Does that change the tone? Most of us would give to this person and think kindly of them if put in that situation. We would serve without regard to what we could get from the relationship.

What am I getting at? You wouldn’t expect a disabled person to fulfill your hopeful list of marriage items, would you? You know they can’t. Why then are you expecting your disabled spouse to meet needs he or she has no ability to meet? I don’t mean to imply that your spouse is anything but normal and healthy. What I mean is that most of the needs you have can’t be met by getting something from your spouse. They are met by giving something to your spouse. Like the actions in Philippians chapter two.[clickToTweet tweet=”Your needs can’t be met by getting something from, but by giving something to your spouse.” quote=”the needs you have can’t be met by getting something from your spouse. They are met by giving something to your spouse.”]

And that’s where this faith thing comes in. Faith is only as good as what you put your faith in. When Paul, the writer of Philippians, encourages us to make this our attitude, he is asking us to believe that God will reward it. The promises of God are not empty. They have substance. They are based on a reality we cannot see, but one that is sure nonetheless. The marriage reality we have trouble seeing is that our needs are fulfilled when we believe God’s promises and act on that belief – regardless of response. Serving in order to get what we need seems to be a backward way of looking at things. But to God, it’s normal.

Think of Jesus. What did He do? He gave everything without asking for a single thing in return. He suffered, bled, was shamed, abused, and put to death. All for people who had never done anything for Him. Do you think He was fulfilled? Did He realize his hopes? Did He see His faith become substance?

You and I are called to be like Jesus. We are called to imitate Him. How can we do that in our marriages when we’ve lost hope? By exercising Faith. Because faith is the substance of the things we hope for. (Hebrews 11:1) By doing the things God commands we express our faith that His way will ultimately win out. So, when hope is gone, when happiness has died, when relationships are at their brittle end; we must exercise faith. We must keep believing that our marriage depends on us being like Jesus. And then we must take action on that faith.

Imitating Jesus is acting like Him. Acting like Him in our marriage looks like this. When our spouse rejects us – we serve her. When our spouse belittles us – we bear his cross. When our spouse betrays us – we die for her. When our spouse doubts us – we show him our scars. When our spouse kills us (figuratively) – we rise again to bless her. All in faith – believing that imitating Jesus will result in a resurrection. A resurrection of our marriage.

This is what believing without regard to response is all about. It doesn’t matter what our spouse does or how they respond, we will live like Jesus lives; always giving, always serving, knowing that in doing so, we will be rewarded. This is the opposite of making a list of our hopes. What we ‘need’ from the relationship. It’s looking at our husband or wife and asking, ‘What can I do to bless them’ and then doing it without any thought of how they will respond. Blessing your spouse without regard to his or her response is the one of the quickest ways to heal your own heart and begin to heal theirs. Sounds insane, doesn’t it![clickToTweet tweet=”Blessing your spouse without regard to response is one way to heal your own heart and theirs. ” quote=”Blessing your spouse without regard to his or her response is the one of the quickest ways to heal your own heart and begin to heal theirs. “]

Ok, so you’re skeptical. That’s understandable. Why not try it? What have you got to lose? If you say, ‘everything’ then you are in good company with Jesus. He lost everything to gain even more. You will too.