[Editor’s note: This summer, we’ll be bringing in different experts to answer your questions for our weekly advice column. Today’s answer is written by Debra Fileta, a relationships counselor and author of True Love Dates. Send your questions to [email protected]]
I know the Bible says Christians shouldn’t be yoked together with non-Christians. But what if you already are? I became a Christian a few years ago, after I had already been married for three years. My wife has a complicated relationship with Christianity. She associates it with hypocrisy and intolerance.
Because of the way she views my faith, I have a hard time talking to her about my beliefs at all, or getting her to open up to the idea of a relationship with Christ. I used to assume that I would play a role in leading her to Christ, but so far it hasn’t happened. What can I do, both to help her to be drawn closer to Jesus and to keep myself from being discouraged?
First of all, I really appreciate your sincere question because it’s a question that’s not often addressed in the Church at large. Often, we get into the habit of talking about what “shouldn’t” happen when it comes to marriage and relationships, and we fail to talk about all the things that “should” happen in the context of marriage.
You’re right in saying that God’s Word encourages us not to be yoked together with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). The truth is, two people are strongest in their relationship when they are linked together by the strings of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual connection.
But life isn’t always so black and white, is it? Like in your situation, sometimes one or the other spouse becomes a believer after marriage, leaving them feeling spiritually disconnected to their spouse. Other times, Christians choose to marry someone of a different faith. In situations like this, the topic of faith and religion becomes a point of tension, rather than a point of togetherness. I know many couples who have struggled through the pain and heartache that comes with navigating two separate faiths.
So what do you do when you are married to a non-believer? Though God’s Word may not speak volumes on the topic, it is clear about one thing in this situation: You stay together and you remain married, as far as it is up to you (1 Corinthians 7:12-14). In other words, you do your part in working on your marriage, seeing it as an opportunity to bring glory to God even in the face of a difficult situation.
Here are a few other things to do:
Pray for your spouse.
In your question, you said you always assumed you would play a role in leading your wife to Christ. And you absolutely have a role, right here and right now. Your spiritual influence in your home is far greater than you could ever imagine.
The Bible reminds us that everything we do and every interaction we have is part of a larger spiritual warfare going on behind the scenes (Ephesians 6:12). Keep this in mind, and remember that your prayers and intercession on behalf of your wife is the greatest and most valuable aspect of your spiritual influence on her life.
Pray for your spouse, on behalf of your spouse and because of your spouse. There is power in prayer that is stronger and more meaningful than any conversation you could have here on earth—because it’s the conversation that brings heaven to earth.
Love your spouse.
There is no greater language than that of love, because it’s a language that’s proved by actions more than it is by words. It’s expressed through things like patience, kindness, selflessness and forgiveness (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
I can speak from my nearly 10 years of experience in saying that it’s not always easy to show love in marriage, because every day, our selfishness has the potential of trumping our ability to love. But this is when it really matters, because this kind of love is what speaks the loudest of all that God has done in your life. In fact, 1 Peter 3:1 encourages those married to a non-believer to realize the power of winning them to Jesus with their conduct above their words. The good news is that it’s not your job to lead her to Christ, it’s His job. Your job is simply to love. So keep on loving, because your love is never in vain.
Reflect Jesus to your spouse.
It hurts to hear of your wife’s struggle with Christianity. Partly, because my heart breaks for her. But it also grieves me because her struggles with Christianity probably have more to do with Christians than with Christ. There’s no amount of arguing or justifying that’s going to change her mind, because these kinds of beliefs are likely rooted in deep wounds.
Instead of trying to convince her, the best thing you can do is continue to reflect Jesus to her by living a life of grace, forgiveness, mercy, compassion and justice. Whether married to a Christian or not, the truth is that, in marriage, we all are called to reflect Jesus to our spouse. More specifically in your situation, you are likely the nearest she will ever get to seeing the real life and faith of a believer up close, so your influence on her life is truly significant.
Rely on community.
Though your relationship with your wife is the most important priority, realize that relationship with other believers is crucial to the well-being of your faith and emotional health. You need a community of faith to encourage you, pray for you and pour into you as you seek to pour into your spouse. Surround yourself with community, and specifically, a few good men who can pray with you and challenge you as you deepen your roots of faith in Jesus.
Not only is community good for you, but it’s also good for your wife. The friendships and relationships you develop and bring into your life may give her a chance to see true faith and genuine relationship with Jesus lived out in other men and women. Their love over you and your wife can play a significant role in the changing of her perspective and the healing of her heart.
I pray that you continue to hold onto hope for your wife, because God is always at work. Just like you came into relationship with Jesus at just the right time, so He continues to work on the heart of your spouse. I have had the privilege of knowing many men and women who came to Jesus because of the unyielding prayer, love and example of their spouse, and I truly believe God has sustained you in this marriage for such a time as this.
At the end of the day, winning hearts is His job. May He continue to give you the strength, encouragement, wisdom and patience you need as you wait on Him.
Have a question? Good! Send an email to [email protected]. All identifying information will be kept anonymous.
Debra is a Licensed Professional Counselor, relationship expert, speaker and author of several books, including True Love Dates. Debra is also the creator of the popular relationship advice blog TrueLoveDates.com, reaching millions of people with the message that healthy people make healthy relationships. Connect with her on Facebook or Twitter.