This spring, Jeff and I have spoken at worship services of several different churches on one of our favorite topics: Restoring Hope for Marriage. We usually do this as a sermon interview, led by the church pastor. I love pulling out the research from my book The Good News About Marriage, and showing the congregation that so much of the discouraging conventional wisdom about marriage and divorce (“50% of marriages end in divorce,” “the rate of divorce is the same in the church,” etc.) simply isn’t true!
I also love watching hope come back into their eyes – especially since a sense of hope is one of the most crucial factors underlying whether a marriage makes it or not!
The impact of hope
It also thrills me to see the impact of that hope. In fact, I wanted to briefly share something rather astounding that happened at one of these churches and the lessons I’ve been taking from it.
After one of these church services, a woman came up to me at the book table with a somewhat stunned look on her face. She said, “I recently got divorced – and like with most divorces, I am the one who initiated it.* But I am processing everything you said, and I now realize … I pulled the trigger too quickly. I got divorced too quickly.” She shook her head slowly. “You were right: I did it because I was just … hopeless. I didn’t see any way that anything could change. I just wanted the pain to stop. So I initiated the divorce. And of course, then it was just another kind of pain.”
This woman looked at me with real spark of life in her eyes. “The thing is … my ex-husband is continuing to reach out. He keeps trying. And we have children. So we are actually considering taking a class together. With what you said – now I realize, maybe it can work!”
She said she wanted to try. I prayed for her, we hugged, and she walked away… leaving me with tears streaking mascara down my cheeks.
That is the power of hope! That is the power of someone learning just a few simple things that they weren’t aware of before, about hope for marriage. God can use even the most basic, good news about the state of marriage, spoken from a stage during a Sunday morning service, to spark new life – a new willingness to try.
I was so unbelievably proud of that woman. Now, her realization will not be matched by everyone. And as I said during the services, those who have escaped abusive or unfaithful relationships will have a much more intense path to rebuilding trust before reconciliation could even be considered. But over the years I have heard multiple stories of people getting divorced and then God bringing them back together because hope was rekindled. (In these Family Life podcasts, you can hear a beautiful example from my friends Scott and Sherry Jennings of how God can intervene even in the most broken situation.)
I have been thinking about this courageous woman, and I take away three lessons for all couples – and all of us who want to encourage marriages.
- Hope matters. If you need hope, go looking for it. It may be there, and you simply may not be seeing it in the darkness. For example, this lady I spoke to realized that her husband had been trying to rebuild the relationship in certain ways during their darkest time, but she just wasn’t seeing it because she felt hopeless. If you’re wrestling with this, you’re not alone! Many of the pastors of these churches invited us to speak expressly because once they learned the good news about marriage, they realized it restored their hope and they wanted to do the same for the people in the congregation. Clearly, as this example shows, it made a difference!
- God is the one who opens eyes. If you take the risk to be open to Him, He may surprise you. In a 35-minute sermon interview or talk, nothing we said was so hugely profound that it would lead to that outcome. But God is in the business of changing minds and hearts. Where we are willing to hear, He will work! Our job is just to listen to and/or share the truth – including to help others realize the inaccuracy of the bad information!
- Support will be essential. For those who newly have hope – reach out for support, especially through your church. This is one reason I’m passionate about every church having some form of regular encouragement for marriages, rather than just an ad hoc, case-by-case situation (which often primarily means referrals to counselors when someone is in trouble). Thankfully, the church where I met the woman I mentioned already had a marriage ministry she could plug into. If your church doesn’t have a marriage ministry, and you are someone who cares about marriage … offer to help the church start one! Imagine what a difference it would make for a newly hopeful couple to be able to connect with other couples who are ahead of them on the journey – for example in small groups, a marriage mentor ministry, or a Sunday school class.
Seeing the impact of hope has given me hope – and a desire to keep sharing it! And I hope this example encourages you as well. Let’s all step out as those who spread hope to those who need it.
* Roughly 7 in 10 divorces are initiated by women.
Do you want Shaunti and Jeff to speak on Restoring Hope for marriage at your church, or do a sermon interview with your pastor on the topic? We’d love to talk to you.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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