This post answers the questions from a woman in a wrenching situation. I answered her immediately and privately, of course. Recently postpartum with her first child, she wonders about the effects of her wounded and out-lashing husband. She wonders if it would be better for the baby to live without a dad. Here is the greater part of my answers:
1. Warning: You are tired. Dog tired.
Yes! That “row-to-hoe” can stretch on forever, trying to outlive children, can’t it?
I know because I had five of them and they sometimes seemed to have a head start on me.
Just when we imagine all’s well, something surfaces, and usually at the worst time, right? Accustoming myself to motherhood and all its foibles and failures cost me several years of my life. By the time the third child arrived, I thought I’d mastered some techniques of child raising. Boy, was I wrong!
I finally got it, though. Now I know the only, only, only way to give a child a happy life is to have parents who seek God’s Word daily, even hourly. I can do my half of that.
Difficult childbirth has knocked at my door, too, leaving me weak and weary. Oh, I know the long days and short nights. I know the constant care-giving while needing care, yourself. I know the disorientation, forgetfulness, depression, and touchiness that come with the elation and wonder at experiencing this tiny new being. How could I have sunk into such sadness when life had dealt me such joy as a miraculous baby?
My health deteriorated when I gave birth. I was not in tip-top shape; in fact, I remembered only vaguely what tip-top felt like. What a zombie I was! Hormones jumped up and down a scale from below zero to over the moon. I battled for sanity, once nearly broke down. I lacked iron. A gaping wound in my internals healed slowly. I slept only occasionally, fitfully.
And they asked me to make decisions. I would have laughed, except my laugh was broken. Laughter would have required action, and I mostly operated on reaction. I was so tired, every decision culminated in taking a nap, which never materialized because hormones would not let me sleep.
The better course would have been to have waited until I was the real me. The difficulty of waiting disappears when you lose track of time, though. We need waiting. For nine months, we wait for the most important event in ages, and never, ever do we think more waiting would greatly help.
But we need waiting.
If we cannot find a good rhythm, some rest, and sanity, if our smile turns upside-down more often than not, is it the time to make a life-long decision? No. If I cannot decide if I want to eat or not, is it time to decide if I want to keep my husband or not?
2. Warning: You Feel All, All Alone
How quickly solitude can flip, can convert to loneliness!
No one else you know has just delivered a baby, at your age, right? Where can you find support?
No one else you know lives with quite such a quarrelsome husband, right? To whom would you dare confess?
You are not all alone, though, if you have Jesus. This may sound trite, but actually, the truth is timeless and we’ve run out of different ways to say it. He is always nearby, waiting for you. His care for you continues even when you are too tired to care for yourself. His love for you increases even when you’ve lost the strength to love.
Jesus knew sleep deprivation, too. He knows how you feel, even better than I do. He stayed up, sometimes all night, on several occasions. They used to call it keeping watch. He kept the night watches, praying all night, seeking and finding the will of His Father.
I sympathize with His sleeping during a storm on a small boat. (We sleep when we can, those of us who have interrupted nights, don’t we?)
Jesus also endured the temptation to give up. Sometimes He voiced the temptations He faced. Once He even said, “Oh, how long shall I be with you?” How uncannily familiar that rings! Almost, you have proposed the same question: How long must I endure an obstinate partner? Is this really God’s will? How long is long enough or too long?
Yes, Jesus was tempted to give up. He knows the way out of all the temptations, too. In the words of a famous song, “You never gave up./You never gave in./You never said, ‘No, can’t take any more of this.’” That was Jesus.
Do not forget to turn to Him every day. You can ask Him for strength and He will give it to you.
This is the truth.
His strength is the only thing that can sustain us through a tough time. Eventually, after I recover from my attitude, those times become my favorites, because of the glory of observing His hand working in my life! It is so wonderful to be able actually to SEE Him at work, changing me to be the way I wish I were.
Jesus can make so much progress in my life, where I seem to improve so slowly, if any, on my own.
I pray for you, dear Sister, and possibly many of the readers do, too. By God’s grace, I will not let you down. Christian sisters are supposed to uphold each other. What a joyful gift from God! What a privilege to share your burden with you!
Bask in His love. Lie back and rest in His care. Cast it all upon Him.
3. Warning: You Are Scared Half to Death
I wish I could know if your questions were for “maybe someday” or if you are actually experiencing real danger. There is such a huge difference.
If you think your husband might soon kill you or your child, you must get yourselves out of danger and seek guidance from strong Christians in your area.
Let me explain. The reason you stay married to your husband is that you have promised, before God, that you would do so. It is a covenant between you, your husband, your neighbors, and God. You promise your husband, “I will always be here, except for death.” You promise your neighbors, “I accept oneness with this man, so no one else can have him, anymore.” You promise God, “I will be a picture of your Church and her relationship to Your Son.” We do not break such solemn promises.
God gives us another covenant responsibility, though, when He gives us a child. You and your husband both have a huge responsibility to make sure the life of your son is good for those around you. It is wrong to bring to birth and then fail to train a child to be an asset to his neighbors. First, though, you have a responsibility simply to make sure he lives.
If your husband is threatening or trying to kill either you or your child, he is trying to end one of these covenants that you must keep. Therefore, you must do whatever it takes to keep yourself and your child alive. Flee. Hide. Get help, even police help, if needed.
Escaping death does not mean escaping the marriage, though. Once you are certain you are safe, then you must return to your husband, in safety. If this means counseling for either of you, or arrest for your husband, so be it. If he is jailed, you must witness to him, etc., as a loving wife would. You are not divorcing, just trying to keep the marriage covenant, just trying to keep the covenant with your son, by trying to stay alive.
I wonder, though. I wonder if your questions are hypothetical. That is, I wonder if you were supposing and just wondering. How easy to imagine that “the worst” might come, just because some hard things have come! It is especially easy to imagine worst cases when we are very tired and run down. Is this it?
One day, when looking up Noah Webster’s definition of suffering, I discovered a treasured revelation: He says, “ . . . We suffer with anxiety. We suffer by evils past and by anticipating others to come . . . ” Anxiety, past evils, and anticipated evils are all suffering we take upon ourselves. This suffering does not befall us; we take it up. It is not happening now, we borrow it from another time zone. The human creature amazes me.
You have been through a lot to have this child, but so has your husband. Certainly, it has not been all roses for him to have his wife out of commission for a year and a new baby in the house, to boot. Maybe his irritation and frustration have escalated just when your patience and strength have taken a nosedive. Maybe his decisions are blurry, too. Maybe the best thing for now is to wait.
Have courage and wait.
Cheer up and wait.
4. Warning: You’ve Been Misguided
Many a wife has thought as you do, that her husband has never been the spiritual leader in the home, but just for a moment, rethink.
Many a husband is a poor spiritual leader, but every husband is ordained by God to be the leader in matters of the Spirit. If he leads poorly, still he is the leader, by God’s decree. That is why God wants Christian women to be married to Christian men—so that the men can lead the women in the right direction. Perhaps, just now, you are barely seeing this truth. It is stunning in its ramifications, but it is truth: Every husband is the leader.
We have a little saying around here that goes like this, “If you are not submitting all the time, then you are not submitting at all. You are trying to lead and trying to disguise the fact.” The truth is that it is not possible for me, in your words, “to keep my place as wife” at any time if I do not keep it all the time. It’s like honesty: You’re either honest or you’re not honest. There is no such thing as “somewhat honest”.
The opposite of submission is rebellion. Every time I experiment with not submitting, I slide deeper into rebellion and it becomes easier not to submit the next time.
The only way out for me is to repent. It is the same for all people, no matter what the sin. Not submitting is sin. If the marriage is a picture of Christ and the Church, then the rebellious wife is a picture of the Church thumbing the nose at Jesus. That revolting picture wakes us up. The wife who takes off in some other direction than following her husband, is trying to be the leader, when God has already made the husband her leader. Of course, misery would come easily if there were two leaders in the house. Is that it?
The answer to your questions, though, is that it is better to keep the child with both parents at the same time, if it is at all possible. If the wife and the child are in no danger of permanent harm, arrest, etc., then this is the way to go.
Yes, the unsaved husband may make many, many wrong leadership decisions.
That is why it is so important that the mom not make wrong decisions, too.
Otherwise, while the dad might be setting an example of TV watching, the mom might be setting an example of rebellion.
Who can say which is worse? Which would be easier for the child to unlearn? Which displeases God more? Who dares say?
5. But, Celebrate!—You Are Safe, in the Everlasting Arms!
Here is a horrifying truth: A great number of women are satisfied with having an ungodly husband until something causes them to start thinking about the results.
Having children causes us to think more carefully. We suddenly can see that marrying an unsaved man was a wrong decision. What we do not see is the reason it is wrong.
It is not wrong because a child might suffer.
It is wrong because God said not to do it.
Breaking the marriage vow also is wrong. Breaking the marriage vow also results in suffering that the wife cannot foresee. Breaking the marriage vow also is wrong only because God said not to do it.
The suffering COMES from being wrong; the suffering does not MAKE it wrong.
It is wrong only because it is wrong. Then immediately comes the suffering.
You can choose to suffer for doing wrong OR for doing right. There is glory, though, in suffering for the right. What good is it to suffer for doing wrong?
God has shown you what is good. What does He require of you? It is this:
- All of the things you do must be done justly and righteously. Ask God to help you do right in every little thing, like housework, eating habits, etc.
- All of your relationships must be based upon love and mercy. Ask God to help you to show loving mercy to every individual around you, including and especially your husband.
- Relate to God out of a core attitude of humility. All of everyone’s problems are at least partly the fault of self. Only God is good.
One more thing I need to mention is trust. Trust God, Dear Friend, not your husband. That is the way out of the misery.
Is your God big enough to cause good things to happen in spite of a mere man? If not, then you need the Lord of Hosts, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of Heavenly Lights. You can trust Him. He is big enough to cause good things to happen in any life.
Trust Him. Call upon His Name, the Name above all names, Jesus. Ask Him to give you the trust with which to trust Him, and He will do it. Please do not be one of those Christians who misses all the benefits, all the joy, all the peace. He longs to show Himself strong in your behalf. Trust Him. Be like Peter, who stepped out of his wobbly, sloshing boat and walked on the water, straight into the arms of Jesus.
You will not be sorry.