When Easy Answers Don’t Help a Marriage

by Sheila Wray Gregoire

I’ve been a blogger since 2008, and my blog, To Love, Honor and Vacuum, has grown quite large. I’ve been writing books at the same time, but my main ministry is that blog. And I rank really high in Google search engines for horrible marriage crisis stuff: “my husband uses porn,” “effects of porn,” “my husband texts other women,” “my husband is lazy and won’t get a job.”

Sheila Wray Gregoire's new book goes beyond pat answers
Sheila Wray Gregoire’s new book goes beyond pat answers

I wish my posts on “I love my husband!” ranked higher, but they don’t.

So everyday I get an influx of over 10,000 people in marital crisis. And quite often they end up at my blog because other Christians have hurt them with bad advice. What they’ve been told is exactly the wrong thing to do. Is he spending all day playing video games? “Just submit and he’ll become a spiritual leader!” Is he being verbally abusive towards the children? “Win him without words!” Is he using porn too much? “Just have sex!”

Or even this one: Unhappy in your marriage? “Just pray more!”

Submit. Don’t speak up. Just pray. All of that advice tells women, “don’t actually confront the problem.”

Sure, prayer is doing something. But what if, through prayer, God shows you that you have to draw boundaries? That you need to stand up for justice and godliness? Sometimes, some church cultures  don’t have an answer for women that supports them in learning how to speak up when it’s appropriate. Instead, we often direct women not to tackle a problem head on, but to go around it, in the hopes that someone else–our husband, God, who?–will change it for us.

We give Christian pat answers. What makes these pat answers so scary is that they sometimes work. But because they sometimes do, we treat them as if they always do. We ignore the messiness of life.

I’ve had my share of pat answers. When I was pregnant with my second child, and we learned that he had a serious heart defect, I went on a March for Jesus one Saturday in downtown Toronto. My husband was on call, and I needed to get out of the apartment with my toddler so I wouldn’t ruminate on our unborn son’s prognosis. At the walk, a very charismatic woman started talking to me about my pregnancy. I told her the whole story, and she replied loudly, “Your son will be healed! You just have to have enough faith.”

I did have faith. And my son is healed. In heaven, just not on this earth.

I am tired of Christian pat answers to messy situations.

And so I just wrote a book that is the anti-pat answer book: 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. A book that asks the question, what if God’s wisdom for marriage is more than just five passages? What if He has more to say than Ephesians 5, 1 Peter 3, 1 Corinthians 7, Proverbs 31, and Genesis 2-3? And what if the rest of the Bible should actually inform how we think of those passages?

I was scared to write it, because every time I say that women should not enable sin, even in marriage, a barrage of commenters on my blog start lambasting me for rejecting Scripture.

As a Canadian, there are times that I’ve wondered if this is largely an American phenomenon. But one group I was marginally attached to even did a Bible study using a women’s book that advocated staying with your husband even if he was a pedophile–because your covenant was to your husband, not to your children.

Sigh.

But sometimes being tired of all of this makes you more determined than ever to speak the things that God has given you to speak.

It’s not easy going against pat answers, but our Christian culture will never become relevant until we get over them.

Human relationships are messy. Answers are usually messy. And they don’t come down to “just submit” or “just be quiet.” They come down to trusting a Jesus who understands the mess, and listening to His voice in the midst of that mess–a Jesus whose main aim was always to bring glory to God. Sometimes that meant making a whip out of cords, and sometimes it meant being led like a lamb to the slaughter. It’s not a formula. It’s running after God so we know His voice and can follow where He leads.

I know that tomorrow morning I will wake up to another dozen comments on my blog from people in crisis. This life is messy; but Jesus does have the answers. They just aren’t neat and tidy, and until we stop trying to make them neat and tidy, we’ll never be able to be relevant in this culture.

Sheila Wray Gregorie is an author, blogger and inspirational speaker. She also wrote the Messy Faith column for Faith Today in 2015. Subscribe now to Faith Today. 

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