The letters I answer in this space were made. They are at best a composite of various counseling situations I’ve been involved in over the years. If you recognize yourself in any of these situations, please know that that is most likely because they are very common situations.
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.
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?
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?
This letter has gotten quite long. I apologize for that.
Thank you for whatever help you can give.
Not so Hurt, but still 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. 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.
I also 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, don’t get into details (you want to stay respectful), and ask them if you can come and stay with them if you need to. Tell them that the church is involved (if it is) 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 but have in mind how you would do it in a hurry if you need to. In real life, plans always fall apart when the bullets start flying. If you have a plan, however, exiting will be a lot easier, even if it isn’t 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 be careful not to 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 should have a notebook with you to write his answers down. 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 make your “heart hurt” (this phrase can be disarming, which is helpful). 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 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.” 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. You need to either stop it or you need to get help.”
Finally, you should have, in mind, a point at which you will say, “you’ve not changed, nor shown any desire to change, and I believe you are becoming dangerous to me and to our family. We’re leaving.” Or if the situation warrants it, you might simply leave and write Roy a letter. In the letter, you should be kind, gracious, respectful, truthful, specific, and clear. You love him, want to respect him, but most of all you want him to submit himself to Jesus and change into a godly man who will lead his family in a way that reflects that godly relationship. You should be happy to meet with him, as long as a third party is present, but unless this requirement is met, divorce is on the table. And you should have a sense for how long you will wait for this to come into play. (There will be more about this last point in a future blog post.)
The reason for the slow going and for the careful approach is that you don’t want to turn your simple conversation into a battle about authority, power, and control. Which it will instantly turn into if you approach your husband in a less than respectful way. If the conversation veers into a discussion about who is in charge, he will never change. Here’s an example of a conversation where this has happened. The wife says, “Honey, would you please pick up your socks (and she isn’t really asking and everyone knows it)?” To which he responds, “you can’t tell me what to do.” From here on it is not a conversation about socks, it is a discussion about who can and can’t talk about what and when. 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 respectfully, submissively, and humbly, with an attitude that “I could be wrong, but I don’t think so.” Notice that in this example it isn’t about the words, it is about the tone, inflection, air.
This leads to your next question: “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:
Hi Roy, 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 it you will 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 (Prov. 18:17). 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 cut 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. 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 the situation escalates, 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 his 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. 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 about 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, that things will change for you. I don’t know for sure which way things will go, but I see good results all the time.
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).
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 and have written a separate blog post regarding this issue.
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.