Q & R with Brad Jersak: “What if my spouse stops believing?”

Question:

When my husband and I were married, we were both following Christ. Now he says he wants to believe but no longer can. He feels he might now be an atheist. We still love each other, but I’m still a Christian and this has been the most painful thing we’ve ever encountered together. I’m afraid. I don’t know how a marriage or raising kids like this works? Help!

Response:

Thank you for checking in on this important question! I hear your heart and your pain. In times like these, I like to pray “the Serenity Prayer” a lot:

  • “God, grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change,
  • the courage to change the things I can,
  • and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I also like to remember Jesus’ words after the resurrection:
“Be Not Afraid!”

Why not be afraid?

Because you can trust Jesus–that he is a GOOD Shepherd. He’s good in that he’s kind and loving and gracious. But he’s also good at being a Shepherd. He’s competent. He knows what we need, when we need it and how to lead us as we are, in the grace of this very day.

He has not for a moment ceased to be your husband’s Shepherd nor does your husband’s journey rattle him or disqualify him as a beloved son.

Back to the serenity prayer: your husband’s journey is entirely out of your control. It’s a burden beyond your ability to manage. But it’s not beyond the care of our loving Shepherd. At the end of the day, he is both the author and the finisher of your spouse’s faith. He knows what he’s doing!

So far, your husband’s seeking has led him here … and I’m heartened by Jesus’ promise that ultimately, seekers find.

More importantly, God is still with him and so are you. God still loves him and so do you.  

Now I’m not saying I understand Paul very well in 1 Cor. 7:13-14, but check this out:

  • “And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” 

Whatever that means! There’s a mystery here, but also some clear direction. Could you and your husband agree to love each other and continue to walk with each other in mutual respect of the other’s current convictions, trusting that where you are today and where he is today is exactly where you need to be at this moment? Perhaps your husband would also be open to praying the following prayer (adapted from the Gospels): “God, I don’t believe in you. But if you’re real, help my unbelief. I’ll wait for your call.” 

There is, in my opinion, a lot of religious pressure to be “equally yoked” which then puts people like you in a tough position as beliefs change (as they do). After 32 years of marriage, I can tell you that committing to being kind to each other is 100 times more important than having matching spiritualities. And so we ask for peace when we’re not on the same page and we practice courage to carry on in mutual love. 

Take a moment to meditate on the photo above. For now, your current beliefs may have on two rails and the way forward may be foggy, but your God-given covenant love for each other has you traveling together, still on one track and in the same direction. Hang in there and know that I prayed for God to bless your marriage today.

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