Dear Pastor Lawyer,
Thank you for writing back to me so quickly. I’ve been praying about the things you wrote about and even looking things up in the Bible. I decided that things were horrible enough that unless I gave my life to Jesus, I would be lonely and miserable no matter what happens between Roy and I. I watched your video, confessed all my sins. I even had my kids watch it and we’re all confessing sins to one another all over the place. It has been amazingly pleasant in our home for the past few days.
Even Roy seems to be less grumpy lately. Things seem to be good, or better. I’m afraid, however, that this might be the calm before the storm. I think he has noticed the difference in the air, but doesn’t know what to do with it. I remembered what the Bible said about keeping my mouth shut and so far, I haven’t tried to “tell” Roy anything.
I hope you don’t mind. I have a few follow-up questions. I’ll put them here in no particular order.
What if he doesn’t change? What if tomorrow he blows up and starts to hit one of us?
Now that I’m drawing near to Jesus, “rising above,” as you said, what should I be doing? Should I read my Bible?
What about church? You didn’t mention church in your last letter. Should we be attending church? Which one? Can we come to your church? Would knowing that we aren’t a perfect family affect how we are received at your church?
I was wondering if you might contact Roy? Here is his email address. It may seem strange to him to receive a letter from a stranger out of the blue, but if you could talk with him that would be great.
What about the kids? How do I talk to them about what is going on? As I said, we’re confessing our sins to God and to one another, but Roy isn’t in on the plan yet.
What I just wrote reminded me, I was talking about your letter with a girlfriend the other day and she said that 1 peter 3:1-6 was talking about how a Christian wife should treat a non-Christian husband in leading him to the Lord, so it didn’t fit our situation. What do you think about that?
Now that I’ve risen above the situation, is there ever a time when I can talk with Roy about these things? Will I always need to be quiet?
This letter has gotten quite long. I apologize for that.
Thank you for whatever help you can give.
Not so Hurt, but still, a little bit Confused
Hi Not so,
I’m glad to hear that my previous note helped you in your situation. It sounds like you are doing a good job of rising above your situation. That is very good. You didn’t say whether this was for the first time, as in you just became a new Christian or whether you have been a Christian for the whole time, but it doesn’t really matter. The good thing is that you are walking with God now. Praise God!
You ask a number of great questions here. The great thing is that they are about things I’ve wanted to talk to you about.
I need to apologize, before I begin, for not asking you what “all the time” means when you were talking about Roy’s behavior. To some, your description might sound like you are living in horror all the time. I took it to mean that Roy has a general problem with his temper, enough to create a tone of unease and fear, but not bad enough to need to pack your bags and hit the road. The tone of this latest letter makes me think my assessment was correct or at least liveably correct.
This leads me to answer one of your questions: “What if he doesn’t change? What if tomorrow he blows up and starts to hit one of us?” I’ll give the answer here that I would have given had I thought things were more serious in your first letter. If you are in fear of his hitting you, you should leave at once. Some men hint at something like this and you, who know him, know that it is more than a hint. If Roy is this kind of man, leave now. Some men, however, use the threat as a way to try to manipulate, but you know that there isn’t any real danger. If this is the case, then I would give Roy another month of your being sweet and kind to him. Pray that God will work through your and your children’s godliness. Keep respecting him, confessing your sins to him, and praying diligently for him.
Whichever situation you think it is, you could be wrong and therefore, I think you should have an exit strategy. You should talk to someone you trust, who won’t assume the worst, but who will instead believe and act on what you tell them. It might be your parents, a close friend, or someone in a church you trust. Tell them the story in general, but sufficient terms and ask them if you can come and stay with them if you need to. Tell them that the church is involved and that you don’t anticipate that this will take a long time, but it might. Then, I would have a plan in place for how you will leave if you need to. I wouldn’t pack yet but you should have in mind how you will do it in a hurry if you need to. In real life, plans always fall apart when the game begins. If you have a plan, however, exiting will be a lot easier, even if it doesn’t go according to the plan.
This leads to the answer to another of your questions: “Now that I’ve risen above the situation, is there ever a time when I can talk with Roy about these things? Will I always need to be quiet?” I have more to say about this in the section on 1 Peter 3, below but let me say here that first, if you haven’t, you should confess your sins to Roy. I would pick a time when nothing is going on, the kids are in bed, the emotions aren’t raging, and all is generally good with the world. You might even ask Roy if you can schedule a time to talk with him. Maybe take him for a walk.
When you confess your sin to Roy, don’t include him as the source or reason for your sin, simply confess to him what you’ve done and why from your heart’s context and ask him to forgive you. Of course, you probably wouldn’t have sinned a number of times if Roy hadn’t done some of the things he did; he tempted you. Mentioning that to him, however, wouldn’t help and it would undoubtedly cause more trouble for you. So, simply humble yourself (again, or still) and admit to him that you burnt his toast the other day because you were trying to “get to him.” And ask him to forgive you.
In these chats, I wouldn’t get all preachy. Don’t say, for example, “I’ve decided to get my life together with God and he wants me to confess all my sin to you.” Or, “Wouldn’t it be great if we all were a Christian family, loving one another, confessing sins, and repenting together?” In your first letter, it sounded like Roy has heard the Gospel. If this is true, he doesn’t need you to tell him how to serve God. You can say that you need to confess your sins to him, but don’t make it a big guilt trip for him.
Then, about a week after the confession conversation, depending on how confident you feel, you might think about asking for another simple conversation. In this conversation, ask him if there is something you can do to be a better wife, to love him better, to be more respectful, etc. You might even have a notebook with you to write down his answers. Tell him that you are very interested in being a better wife and mother to his children. Then, as possible, implement what he says.
A third step would be to have another simple conversation and ask him if it would be alright for you to share some things that he’s doing that are making it difficult for you to serve him as a godly wife and mother. As you consider this step, be very prayerful so that your motives are to please God (2 Cor. 5:9), and to edify Roy. You want to continue to be respectful but at the same time, you don’t want to not represent what you have to say in a godly way. If you want to talk about his temper, for example, you might say something like, “Do you remember, the other day when the baby spilled her juice and you yelled at her?” Wait for his response. “When you do things like that, it is sinful and it hurts our hearts.” Wait for his response. “I was wondering if you would consider getting some help for your temper?” Wait for his response. “You need to know that this hurts us all. It hurts me, it hurts the kids, and while it might feel good for a few minutes, it hurts you too. And most of all Jesus isn’t where he needs to be in your life.” Wait for his response. Then, depending on what you think about how things are going or might go, you can either leave it all right there, so he can think about it, or you might add something like, “I don’t think you understand, your temper scares us, and hurts us. It is sinful. You need to either stop it or you need to get help. if you don’t, I’ll need to take the children and leave for a while.” These conversations, with no changes on his part, need to happen.
The reason for the waiting and for the careful approach is that you don’t want to turn your simple conversation into a battle about authority, power, and control. If the conversation veers into a discussion about who is in charge, he will never change. You don’t want your approach in coming to him to be construed by him as you telling him what to do and so that he can let his pride get out of his way.As a friend of mine has said, “he might not be man enough to do what God requires, but he is man enough not to let his wife tell him what to do.” So, come to him humbly, with an attitude that you could be wrong, but I don’t think so. And if nothing happens, talk with someone about how and when to leave.
This leads to my next answer: I was wondering if you might contact Roy? Here is his email address. It may seem strange to him to receive a letter from a stranger out of the blue, but if you could talk with him that would be great.
I would love to contact Roy. He needs to hear from someone other than himself. My contacting him could produce in him a negative reaction, especially if he thinks you “ratted” him out. But I would be as discrete as I possibly can. Here’s basically what I would say to him:
I’ve heard from your wife that you guys are having a difficult time. She says you have been losing your temper with the family and have been yelling, hitting things, and causing a big ruckus in your home. She was quick to add that you haven’t hit anyone, so that’s very good. She has also asked me to contact you to see if I can help your situation.
The Bible tells us that “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Pro. 18:17). What this means is that I’m open to hearing your side of the situation. There might be a number of explanations or reasons for her thinking these things are true. I know I don’t have any authority in your lives, but she has asked for my help so here I am.
Roy, you need to know that I am not on anyone’s “side” in this. My concern is for God and his glory. If you are struggling in your walk with him, that is what I’m concerned about. Of course, how you love your wife is a central part of giving God glory, so my desire is for you to love her well, and for her to respect you well. I want you to have godly children, children who when they grow up will want to come and visit you with their children and their grandchildren (if you’re not already in glory). If what your wife says is true and you don’t do something to change the trajectory, you will soon lose your family or you may physically hurt someone and when that happens, the police will be involved. But I hope for better things.
Let me know how I can help.
Let me explain what I mean by “not on anyone’s side.” Some folks assume that the “victim” is always right. I think both folks in a battle are right until I hear the other side and then assume the truth is somewhere else. What I want is for both sides to get in fellowship with God and then with one another. You are in fellowship with God now, and now Roy needs to get in fellowship with God and with you. I could jump in the middle of him and shout and throw things, but I prefer that God, through the Holy Spirit cuts Roy down to size (assuming he needs it). If I did it, it wouldn’t last. I want Roy to change to the bone. So, I’m wading in from the shallow end. But you should be assured that I will not simply let him slink away. Something needs to happen, hopefully in a godly direction, and soon.
And this leads to the next question: “What about church? You didn’t mention church in your last letter. Should we be attending church? Which one? Can we come to your church? Would knowing that we aren’t a perfect family affect how we are received at your church?”
You should be attending church. You should join if you can. I’m sorry I didn’t say anything about that in my last letter. I can’t remember if I forgot or ran out of space. Whichever, I’m glad you brought it up in yours. Yes, you should be in a church. And yes, we would love to have you in our church. We could give you a lot of help that I can’t give you from a distance. For example, if nothing changes with Roy and instead they escalate, we can have our deacons arrange someplace for you and the kids to escape to. We can meet with you face to face and regularly. We can arrange for a godly mature woman for you to meet with and we can arrange whatever help you need for your children. So, yes, we would love to have you in our church.
Another aspect of your being in our church would be that we can go after your husband in a much more hands-on and aggressive way. If you were members of our church I could be much more adamant about Roy changing, and we could institute church discipline if he doesn’t.
Finally, none of us is perfect. We’re all works in progress. We all wear nice clothes on Sundays, we confess our sins, we keep short accounts, but we need to confess because we do sin. This past week, our sermon was about just this topic—keeping short accounts. You can hear it here. Feel free to listen to other sermons here to see what our church offers, at least in the area of preaching.
That leaves three questions: Now that I’m drawing near to Jesus, “rising above,” as you said, what should I be doing? Should I read my Bible?
Yes, you should be reading your Bible. I suggest that if you haven’t read for a while you should start in Psalm 119. Notice the psalmist’s situation in life, what is attitude is toward God and his word, then ask God to give you that same attitude. When you’ve finished that, read the Gospel of John. Christians need to spend as much time with God in the word as they can. It is when you are in the Bible that God speaks to you, changes you, gives you his presence, and fellowships with you. So, you need to read as much as you have time to. You need to be immersed in the word. You need to make it your goal to be so full of the word that when you say anything, it reminds you of a passage you just read. As you are reading, pray and ask God to fill you with his presence. Also, ask him to make you like Jesus as you read. If you have questions, write them down and ask someone. You can ask me or you can ask Roy when he’s changed, or if he’s mostly Christian, you can ask him now. I’m confident he will be doing well very soon. As I mentioned writing down your questions, you should also write down thoughts you have about God and serving him. You can write down ideas you have, things you want to do. You want to develop a living and active relationship with the God who loves you and gave his son so you can have this relationship.
What about the kids? How do I talk to them about what is going on? As I said, we’re confessing our sins to God and to one another, but Roy isn’t in on the plan yet.
I’m confident that now that I’m going to be in contact with Roy and I know that you are in the area, things will change for you. I don’t know for sure which way things will go, but I regularly see good results.
As for the kids, I would pray with them for Roy. In order for them to participate in prayer and to move on with their lives, you should tell them what is going on. You should keep things as general and age appropriate as you can, but they need to know that what is happening to them is not their fault. Their father is having trouble in his walk with God and consequently how he treats you all. Don’t let them get bitter or to remain in anger. Don’t let them stay frustrated. If you haven’t, you should read this booklet. They need to keep walking with God through it all and this means they need to honor and obey their father (Eph. 6:1-2) and to rejoice always (Phil. 4:4). Give their cares to God and let him give them peace even in the midst of very difficult times (Mt. 11:28-30).
Another thing I didn’t say in my last letter, that I should have, is that the kids need lots of hugs and attention during all this. They need the same comfort that only comes from God that you need. So, involve them in lots of things that will remind them of who they are in Christ, hug them lots, cheer for them, talk to them, and cry with them. If they withdraw, let them, but keep touching them and letting them know you’re in it with them, as is Jesus.
Your last question has to do with whether 1 Peter 3:1-6 fits your situation or not. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this passage lately and I still think it fits your situation. Here’s a short version of why: The context goes back at least to 2:11-12, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.” The point, here is that the original readers (and we) are Christians living among non-Christians and we need to live intentional lives where we are.
Peter then moves up the social ladder to give short direction to each level of culture that might be living with non-Christians. Slaves submit to masters, using Jesus as your example. Wives, live with unbelieving husbands in a way that will win them to Christ, and Husbands live with your non-Christian wives with understanding, etc so that your prayers will not be hindered.
There is much controversy about what Peter is telling his wife to do and to whom to do it. I believe it applies to all wives all the time for the following reasons. First, some say that the text is talking about a wife treating her non-Christian husband in a particular way. But the text tells wives to submit to their husbands, even if he isn’t obeying the word (or is a non-Christian). So, the text isn’t saying that a wife shouldn’t submit to her Christian husband, only her non-Christian husband (more on that in minute). Peter is saying that wives should submit to their husbands, even if they are non-Christians. In fact, he doesn’t say, “non-Christian,” he says, if they “do not obey the word,” which could include Christian husbands who are not walking with God. I agree that the context leads to thinking that the one who does not obey the word is doing it because he is a non-Christian.
Second, and this follows from the first, the principle assumes that a wife can win her ungodly husband to the Lord, by her chaste and respectful behavior. If she can win her husband to salvation (the Greek word for ‘win’ here is the same as in 1 Cor. 9:19, which clearly means win to salvation in that context) by living in a chaste and respectful way, why couldn’t a Christian wife win her Christian husband to live a godly life in the same way? The principle would suggest that in the same way that God works through a godly wife to affect her non-Christian husband, he will also work through a godly wife to change a Christian husband. This seems to be especially true when the Christian already belongs to Christ and God treats his children in a different way than he does those who don’t belong to him (cf Heb. 12).
Third, if things were to go south, you all join our church, Roy continues in sin, and we excommunicate him. What we are doing in excommunication is proclaiming that Roy is not and never has been a Christian. What sense would it make to say, “you can’t apply 1 Peter 3:1-6 when he was a Christian, but now that we have acknowledged that he isn’t a Christian, you must apply the passage”? No, it applies to every wife who has a husband, even if he does not obey the word.
Fourth, some say that the section about Jesus dying for us (1 Pet. 2:21-25), just before 3:1 cannot, or should not come into consideration when we talk about how wives should live or how husbands should live. They say the text actually means something like this: “Slaves, submit to your masters, imitate Jesus in this. Wives forget about Jesus’ example, do something completely different. And husbands ignore it all and do something totally different from either slaves or wives. Finally, everyone live in a completely different way altogether.” I don’t think so, I think they are building on one another.
Here’s partially why I think that. First of all, it scares me to go against other Scripture which tells us to imitate Jesus and then, in a “difficult” situation like this, say that we shouldn’t imitate Jesus. It is dangerous even to think such a thing.
Second, Peter specifically told the slaves to imitate Jesus in how he suffered and died.
Third, in my experience with some wives, they need to be told to lay down their “rights” and submit themselves to the one God has placed over them (their husbands). It is interesting that in Ephesians, Paul told husbands to lay down their lives as Christ did for the church. It should be noted that Paul’s commands in Ephesians is in the context of submitting to one another (5:21). Peter is saying for us all to lay down our lives for the non-Christians in our lives like Christ laid down his life for the non-Christians in his life. And, you’ll notice, that his love for them included them killing him.
Fourth, the only reason anyone is having any trouble with wives following Jesus’ example in laying down their lives is because we have a victim culture that says being the victim is a bad thing and should never happen. But this is exactly what Jesus did for us. Being the victim saved our souls.
The fifth thing that ties Jesus’ death into how we are to live with our non-Christian neighbors is 3:9 which says, “not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing.” Does this sound familiar? Compare it with 2:22-23, “Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;” Maybe I went too fast for some there. It sure looks to me that Peter is calling all of us to be like Jesus, even in his death for the non-Christians in our midst.
Does this mean that I think a wife who is being battered by her husband should just stay and be killed? No, but I do think her goal should be to imitate Jesus and to win her husband to Christ. There are passages that say that if you see danger, you should run away (Pro 22:3), there are passages all over the Bible where God’s people run away and escape. Paul tells Christians that it is okay to leave the marriage if the non-Christian spouse is not pleased to live with the Christian spouse (1 Cor. 7:12-16). Also, God allows divorce for hardness of heart (Mt. 19:8). These options need to be talked about, but they are passages that allow for people to separate and divorce in godly ways. This means that I think it would be totally alright and good for you to leave Roy at some point.
Here’s the thing. I started our relationship trying to help you learn that there are higher rights in the universe than those the world is touting. God’s kingdom is primary. Your relationship with God is the most important thing in your life. That goal and vision must be maintained. So that’s why I began there. I mentioned above, wading in from the shallow end. That’s what this is.
The next stage is to approach Roy in a way that he will listen to you. My guess (and yes, because I don’t know Roy, it is a guess) is that if you ‘confront’ him, bad things will happen. First of all, the temptation will be to ‘confront’ him at a time when things are already tense. This will cause his, and your pride to spring into action and give neither of you anywhere to go but down. This is what I was referring to above when I mentioned that you need to be careful not to let the conversation be about control, power, and authority. Second, if you approach him in a confrontative way, you will come off to him as being full of pride and “I’m right and you’re wrong.” You said yourself that your relationship in the house was “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” If you were to approach Roy with that attitude, chip on your shoulder, and lack of respect for him, it would most likely get ugly in a hurry. You might consider doing a study on the word ‘confront.’ In the Bible, it is almost always something done by enemies of God against Israel, the leaders of Israel against Jesus, or by God to his enemies. Confrontation isn’t the kind of thing Christians do with folks they love and want to win.
What I’ve outlined above for you is what I suggest as an approach to take with Roy so that your conversation with him will be fruitful and helpful.
Let me finish with this. I’m all for facing sin. I’m all for exposing sin. I’m all for standing up for the right. I’m even all for being right. But there is a higher right than being right and that is that God’s glory and pleasing him needs to be the goal.
Let me say again, how happy and thrilled I am that you are doing well. I’ve been praying for you a lot since I last heard from you. God bless you as you walk with him and put these things into practice. And I’m praying for Roy and your interaction with him.
I hope to see you in church very soon. This Sunday?
I hope this helps.