We were chuffed that they’d chosen our church.
A couple with good jobs, and well-behaved children, and they wanted to be part of our church. Our church?! A lovely, eager, problem-free family, landing in our pews and our lives. We all looked forward to getting to know them and enjoying helping them get stuck into the church’s work. God is good.
He is good, and he was very good in bringing us this lovely couple and their kids. They did get stuck in. My family and theirs had meals at each others’ homes, and they were some of the most vocal encouragers I had. And even I, naïve and slightly optimistic younger Pastor as I was then, knew that smiling faces can easily hide crying hearts. After a couple of years I saw the husband’s tears when he opened up to me. It was the marriage.
Opening up about marriage
Middle-aged men don’t easily share their problems. Marriage problems are some of the most painful, and the hardest to share. But he opened up. One day he told me that the marriage was little more than a convenient partnership. Loveless, sexless, grey, sad, and even tragic. The kids knew the simmering anger between the parents, the separate lives they led, the enforced smiles when at church. The dad was terrified that this strain was starting to have its effect on the children. Divorce frightened him, too, but he knew it was an option. He knew he needed to get some help.
We all know that finally owning up to problems is the first step to tackling them. I felt honoured that this dear friend told me just how bad things were. We know, too, that men are particularly guilty of not recognising problems, or explaining them away, or just plain ignoring them. I believe that it was a work of God’s Holy Spirit that this man said that he needed help. He and I sat down for a couple of long conversations. I knew that he and his wife would actually talk more freely to a Christian marriage counsellor than to me, and that in this situation that was the right recommendation to make. So they set their first date for an open discussion with the counsellor, and those meetings began.
What happened next, and what’s happened over the ten or so years since that conversation, is a simple but very beautiful story of healing. Slow, obviously, with fits and starts, and some relapses into old attitudes and patterns of behaviour, but the solid rebuilding of trust and love, and establishing intimacy again. I remember how he shyly smiled as he proudly told me ‘we held hands last night. We just sat on the sofa and held hands.’ I was so thrilled for them both. Today they are still at our church, seeing their children grow towards adulthood. They’re just as committed to the gospel. And their lives show those marks of Christian authenticity. The Holy Spirit’s enabling, the grace of God, faith in his promises, obedience to his Word. It’s all there. And it’s beautiful.
Why tell you all this? To encourage you. God works in ordinary people, taking ordinary trials and tears, and bringing new strength, and real progress. If that couple had divorced, people would have grieved for them, but then moved on. God’s Spirit brought them both to long for change, then to seek help, and to work for change. And here they are today, as real, time-tested signs of the quiet power of God.
The church is a strange coming-together of weak, struggling people. Make sure appearances otherwise don’t deceive you. Treasure your church family, they are a most precious gift of God. Pray for each other, help each other. Be honest, and pursue openness. Believe in very every-day and yet wholly supernatural grace. Celebrate those who are still pressing on in the gospel.
Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK!