All marriages hit tough times, and most of the time here at Thriving Marriages we focus on how to survive them. A list of “why spouses get divorced” is filled with money issues, a death in the family, moving, or other stressful life events, and it’s important to have tools that help us navigate moments like these. But there’s another side to these tough times that’s focused on far less: their benefit. While there’s no way to lessen the pain of stressful seasons of life, it is helpful to remember that good is always at work in them.
For the past two years, finances have been very tight for my wife and I. I unexpectedly transitioned careers in my mid-30s while trying to support a wife and two young kids, and our money questions have gone from “how much should we save?” or “how much can we spend on clothes?” to “how are we going to pay our bills this month?” It hasn’t been fun for anyone, but especially not for my wife.
For a variety of reasons ranging from her experiences growing up, to her emotional hard-wiring, to her natural desire to build a comfortable life for her children, Christina has felt the pain of these past two years deeply, and I’ve felt the pain of not being able to provide like I’d want. I have had to learn in these tough times how to let Christina feel deep amounts of stress, to cry, vent, and process perfectly legitimate emotions without absorbing them all as her telling me “you’re failing us” (which she totally wasn’t saying). I think I’ve gotten better at this, though I still have a long way to go. That being said, I have been so focused on my issues, that I haven’t paid enough attention to how Christina has been changing too.
Last night, following a particularly disappointing day, Christina spoke encouragement into my life, and told me it was going to be okay. This morning, even after waking up early with our two year old, she was quoting Bible verses to me about how God has our family, and we’re going to be okay. We would survive this time time, Christina told me, the same way we have for two years: through God’s loving provision for us.
And I realized how profoundly my wife had changed over these past two years. How she had leaned into the panic and pain and frustration and anxiety and depression of these two years and fought to find God, and how God was transforming her into someone able to trust and believe, even when some of her heart’s deepest desires felt threatened. And her growth makes me want to grow more, to be a better follower of Christ, and a more devoted husband and father. Rather than the tough times of the past two years making our marriage weak and frail and easily damaged, Christina and I are stronger than we’ve ever been before … and we’re not even out of our financial stress yet! I imagine what our family will be like when the day comes when things are a bit easier, when we’re able to rest a bit more, to save, buy a house maybe, plan for our kids’ future.
So for anyone going through their own tough times, here are four truths to hold on to:
1. Tough Times Won’t Last Forever
This is hard to remember when the tough times rage, but there will be another side to what you’re going through. The lie easily planted in our hearts during stressful seasons of life is that “it will always be this way,” “God doesn’t care about you,” “you’ll always mess things up.” None of these are true. As the saying goes “It’s all good in the end. So if it’s not good, it’s not the end.”
2. God empathizes with your pain
Even when we believe that God is in charge of our tough times, it’s not easy to believe he cares. Or maybe we think he “cares” in some abstract “Jesus died for the world’s sins” sort of way. But the Bible tells us that there is no struggle we’ve been through that Jesus didn’t personally experience. Not only that, we are God’s children. Imagine how you care about one of your kids after a hard day at school, or when they fall and hurt themselves. Think of how you enter their pain and say “it’s okay, you’re okay, it’s all going to be okay.” God does that for us too.
3. Even in Tough Times God Doesn’t Waste Anything
One of my favorite, and easily overlooked, parts of the story of Joseph is how everything he went through – his arrogance toward his brothers, the humility of becoming a slave, learning the agricultural economy as the head of Potiphar’s house, seeing what “middle management” was like while in prison – ultimately made him a perfect candidate to be the Pharaoh’s righthand man. This doesn’t dismiss how awful Joseph’s 17 years(!) were, but it does say that God didn’t waste one bit of it. It’s hard to see now, but God will use every single moment you’re experiencing for good.
4. Surviving Tough Times Strengthens Your Marriage
I don’t want to make this sound like a guarantee: we have to do the hard work of leaning in to the pain, letting God speak to us, obeying, learning to love our spouse, etc. But in that process both you and your spouse will become closer to the best version of who God made you both to be, which means your marriage will be closer to God’s best for it too!
Again, this doesn’t make the pain of tough times disappear … but it does mean that God can reach in to all things, and work them for good. I hope that encourages you today.