The theme of stepping out to be brave in your pursuit of God has been very popular….from the worship songs “Oceans” and “You Make Me Brave,” to women’s conferences, speakers and books. There’s much focus on running after God with abandon and bravery, especially in ministry. I think this is amazing! Taking those God-sized, purpose-filled steps to build God’s Kingdom does take courage and bravery on our part.
However, we don’t really think of being brave as a necessity in our marriages. As we step out to be brave in our ministries, I would encourage you that bravery is also exactly what it takes to have a thriving marriage, especially in ministry together.
When my husband and I got married, we were so young, naïve and just threw ourselves into ministry. We put our heads down and worked and worked at ministry. Like many of you in ministry, we moved a lot and had many, many changes the first five years of marriage. For my husband, who is a majorly adventurous people person, he thrived with the change, the adventure, and all the people. For me, it was so hard. New homes, new towns, new churches, and new people plus all of the ministry work, was all overwhelming to me. So the marriage work of those first five years got ignored. I found myself pushing down all of the dissatisfied feelings to just keep up and keep going. And Justin poured all he had into youth ministry, which he loved. He loves being with people, and filled most days and nights with people and events.
We both had unmet needs and dissatisfaction in our marriage, but we were both too afraid to bring it up. We didn’t want to upset the pattern of our life, disrupt the other person, or hurt the other’s feelings, so we just let it slide. We didn’t bring it up. That’s easy. Non-threatening.
It wasn’t until we really just couldn’t ignore issues anymore that Justin began to pry into those feelings and ask questions. I am a “holder-inner” and he is a “talker” so he would want to talk and I would not. It’s too scary to open up all those feelings, and I didn’t want to argue. But he persisted. And persisted. And you know what? It took awhile, but the opening of communication lines caused our marriage to flourish. We began to talk about what was suffocating joy out of each of our lives, what we needed and how to fix it. In fact, we began talking SO much (which annoyed me at times – because sometimes you just don’t have the emotional energy for a heart-to-heart talk in the middle of cooking dinner and putting the kids to bed) that I labeled these talks, “Justin talks.” So, when he would walk in and start with this meaningful conversation I would say, “Oh wait, is this a Justin talk?” These talks continue to this day.
...uncommunicated and unmet expectations begin to pile up and destroy relationships.
I say all of that to illustrate that you have to be brave to make things change. The easy way out of ignoring issues was digging us into a hole and starving our marriage. Justin was brave. He took the first step and “brought it up.” I didn’t want to hear it, or discuss it, and he bravely persisted. You can’t just sweep issues under the rug and keep ignoring them in your marriage. They don’t go away. You can’t just assume everything is “fine” when it’s not. In fact, uncommunicated and unmet expectations begin to pile up and destroy relationships. Work-a-holism, coldness, busy-ness, hurt feelings, unmet needs…they all need to be discussed. Be brave and talk about what you need in your marriage. Be brave enough to be HONEST with your husband.
There is a way to say those truths that can cause harm to your marriage, and another way that can bring healing to your marriage. The four steps to communicating that I always counsel people to do when stepping out to be honest with their spouse (and that I ask the Holy Spirit to help me practice as well) are as follows.
Before you bring up an issue and step out in brave communication:
Pray for your own heart. Ask God if you are wrong, and to search your own motives and feelings. Feelings can lead you astray, so ask God what is truth, and seek His Word regarding this issue and your own heart. To my own dismay, a few times I was ready to bravely jump into a conversation about something my husband was so wrong about and, when I asked God to search my own heart first, He revealed to me that it just might be me that was wrong! (sigh!)
Pray for his heart. Pray for his heart to be prepared to receive what you are telling him in love. Pray that you are able to bravely share with him your heart because you love him and you want to bring health to your marriage, and that he takes it that way.
Pray for timing. Timing is everything!! Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the opportunity, the right moment, to share what is on your heart with your husband. Sometimes those moments present themselves right away, sometimes you wait a day or a week. Be led by the Spirit.
Be brave! When that opportunity comes, be brave! You know those moments when the words are in your throat, your heart is racing and you want to shrink back and chicken out. Or you’ve spoken up before and been ignored. Take the leap to be clear and honest to bring change that you both need. In your bravery, remember to communicate in loving confrontation. Ephesians 4:15 says to speak the truth in love, and Proverbs 3:3 says do not let kindness and truth leave you. Truth by itself is harsh, and love by itself isn’t honest. Be both loving and truthful. Being open and honest leads to change and healing.
Truth by itself is harsh, and love by itself isn’t honest.
It is so easy and comfortable to have poor communication in your marriage. It’s the easy way out to let things stay just the way they are. It’s very uncomfortable to initiate life-giving words with your husband. But if you want an extraordinary marriage, you’ve got to step out of the ordinary and the comfortable, and operate in bravery to be open, honest, and loving to bring resolution and healing to issues common to all marriages. Difficulties in marriage are not the problem. Marriage is work for everyone. With everything that we all juggle in life (work, church, PEOPLE, finances, kids, school, home, expectations, etc…), our marriages easily slide to the back burner. For every single one of us. To have difficulties is inevitable. Bravery is not. This month I encourage you to be PURPOSEFUL, INTENTIONAL, and UNSELFISH in your marriage. Ask God what brave step you can take to invest in your marriage. Since life happens to marriage, what can you do to take steps to not leave your marriage in last place? How can you reach out, even if it feels scary, to intentionally invest in your marriage?
To have difficulties is inevitable. Bravery is not.
Don’t be discouraged when you take that first step to resolve difficulties in your marriage and things don’t magically change. It’s a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. Being brave and prayerful in marriage requires life long diligence. There are no quick fixes, but there is faithful, dedicated work. And it’s work that produces long-lasting results full of love and fulfillment. It’s worth the work.
**There’s one quick disclosure I want to leave with you. All of this information is for the marriage that needs communication between two people that are willing to work (maybe two distracted or distant people, but at least people willing to work). If you’ve tried to be brave and there is no progress, no hope, you may want to enlist help…a Christian counselor, or a couple that is seasoned, Godly and trustworthy to listen and guide. Consider inviting another couple, or minister, you both trust to give you counsel and guide a discussion between you two. I know couples in ministry that sat down together with other couples whose marriages they admire, (and that are in ministry as well), that helped them walk through sticky disagreements or misunderstandings. The presence of someone else can empower each of you to speak honestly and vulnerably.
Last, this is not for anyone in an abusive marriage. We most definitely don’t suggest that talking will resolve abuse. Please reach out for help if you are in an abusive situation.
Be Brave is ENTRY ONE of Sanctuary's marriage series this month. Join us next week for ENTRY TWO.
Casey Graves is a wife, momma to two girls, and co-pastor/planter of Foundations Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She enjoys a good cup of coffee with a friend or a family date day when she finds some spare time. What draws her to Sanctuary is her desire to truly share her vulnerabilities and struggles to help others dealing with similar wounds and insecurities that come with ministry. Casey recently published her first book, Perfectly Weak, now available at Amazon, and blogs at We Are Perfectly Weak.