The Stevens ~ couple from California
During the past few years, my husband and I have been on a journey of openness and forgiveness that has challenged, restored, and deepened our relationship. Through this time, God has shown us the incredible joy of His work in our lives. We stand amazed at what He has done!
Growing up, I did not meet my father until I was 22 years old, and I experienced hurts from the divorce, abandonment, and abuse present in my life. Although I had attended church all my life and had professed to follow Christ at an early age, I knew nothing of the power of God to heal the hurts left in my heart from my childhood.
Eventually I met and fell in love with my future husband, Marc. I was attracted to him, and I longed to finally have someone who would understand me and with whom I could share deep communication. We were married and began our life together with many dreams and hopes.
However, the hurts and unresolved issues from my youth still festered in my heart, creating needs and tensions within our marriage. I desired a deep understanding of each other’s hearts and the ability to connect on a spiritual level—I longed for something deeper than physical attraction. I desperately wanted to have a husband I could look up to spiritually, but Marc seemed remote and uninterested in leading me.
When Marc didn’t exhibit the strong spiritual leadership I had envisioned for myself, the only option that seemed open was for me to take over. As frustration increased, my mother’s words of advice became my own motto: “If you need something done, do it yourself.”
This attitude grew as we began to have children. Couldn’t I choose a church, teach our three children about the Bible, and make choices just as well as my husband? Gradually, I began to make decisions for our family and take areas of leadership away from Marc. I began to lead our family and relegated Marc to a status closer to child than husband. I felt like a single mother.
My disillusionment with marriage also caused me to shut myself off from my husband, both emotionally and physically. He hadn’t turned out to be the leader I had wanted, and I chose to punish him for my disappointment by withdrawing into a shell of pride and self-sufficiency.
Our family existed in this state until the summer of 2005, when we attended a homeschooling conference in Sacramento. Early in the week, Marc attended a session given by a couple and came back brimming with enthusiasm. He insisted that I go to another session scheduled with the same speakers.
We went in and sat down, and the couple began to speak. The husband told his story of gaining freedom from moral failure and explained how he had confessed hidden sins to his wife. I became furious. How could a husband do such a thing, and then get up in huge auditorium and expose his secrets to the world? Fear began to grip my heart as I listened—why was my husband so eager for me to hear this testimony? We had already gone through intense counseling a few years before, and I thought we had confessed all our secrets. My mind raced with questions that I couldn’t bring myself to ask, and I dreaded what I might learn from Marc after the session.
That night, my fears became a reality as my husband and I stood on the balcony of our hotel room. My heart filled with cold rage as I heard him say the words I dreaded—he had something to tell me, but he wasn’t sure he had the guts to confess his secret sins to me.
I sternly pointed to the room with our sleeping children inside and said, “There are three good reasons to do the right thing.” He still couldn’t bring himself to tell me, and we continued attending the conference, pretending everything was normal.
After we returned home, several days passed and Marc still couldn’t muster the courage to say whatever it was he had to tell me. Finally, I decided the agony of waiting to hear was too much to endure. One evening we were alone in our room, and I demanded the truth from him.
He began to tell me his hidden sins, and I was shocked and overwhelmed. It seemed unreal—surely this couldn’t be happening to us! Nothing could have prepared me for the waves of bitter reality I experienced. My husband had been unfaithful during our engagement, had lied to me our entire marriage, had experienced constant moral failure, and he still continued in the sins he confessed to me.
I was married to a different man than I thought I had been, and my heart became filled with anger and an intense desire for revenge against him. That night, as the storm of despair in my heart raged on, Marc left the house and I was alone with my pain. All of life became a pit of darkness to me, and my joy was taken away.
The next day Marc called and asked if I would meet him at our pastor’s home. We needed to decide what to do. I went with a hard, cold heart. We had a tense discussion with our pastor. In my mind, this husband of mine was worthless, and I didn’t see any future in our marriage. Although we had previously committed to never divorce, I felt things were different now and I wanted to be permanently separated from Marc.
As we talked however, I had to acknowledge that none of my exit plans were pleasing to God and none would benefit our children—I was trapped in this marriage. Eventually, we decided to maintain a civilized and respectful relationship for the sake of our precious children, with our room being the only place where we would continue to discuss these issues. I went home resolute and hard, still bitter against Marc.
As the days passed, I began to see a change in my husband. He put accountability software on each of our computers to prevent the temptation of falling to pornography on the Internet, and he met regularly with our pastor.
Despite all these improvements, I still couldn’t accept the fact that my husband, who had made such horrible choices, was now truly changing. Resentment and bitterness had entrenched themselves in my heart, and I thought that these improvements were only a passing phase. I reasoned that he would eventually go back to his secrecy and sin.
But he didn’t. In fact, it became more and more evident that this change was a true heart change. With a broken, repentant heart, Marc confessed his sins to our children, and wept as he acknowledged to them how his sin had affected them.
God did seem to be changing Marc, yet I still couldn’t let go of my own hurt and forgive him.
Finally, I decided to make a phone call to the wife (Jenny) of the man (Paul) who had spoken in Sacramento. Surely she would have answers, and she would understand and agree with me that my husband was a horrible person.
I called her, and she listened as I poured out my frustration and anger toward Marc. After I was finished, she said in a very gentle and quiet voice, “Well, Dana, what about your own sin?”
Her question shocked me—my sin? My husband was the horrible sinner who had hurt me so badly, and I was the innocent victim! Now she told me to look at my own sin? In my mind, my sin didn’t even begin to compare with what Marc had done. I became angry as she gently told me I needed to take my eyes off Marc and put them on myself.
At first, I was indignant that she would suggest that I look at my own faults. However, she began to help me see how I had grasped the role that God had given my husband. I had been disrespectful, self-righteous, and proud. Gradually, God revealed my own sin to me, which was just as bad as my husband’s failures. With my eyes taken off Marc’s faults, I began to see how great my own sin was, and I realized repentance was the only option left to me.
Now God wasn’t just working in my husband’s life—He was changing mine too. I saw how I had hurt Marc, and I began to come to a state of humility and brokenness over my hard heart.
Marc was sharing his daily victories and struggles with me, and it was evident that he wasn’t only sorry that I now knew all his secrets—he was truly sorry for his sin. Slowly, my cold heart began to thaw and forgive. I began to see that while my desire for revenge was normal, I could choose to live in forgiveness through the power of Christ.
In the spring of 2006, I sensed that God wanted something more of me, that I was still holding back some area of my life from Him. I was terrified—would He bring me through something more difficult than what I had already walked through? Surely I had suffered and surrendered enough! Still, God continued to impress on my heart that something was missing.
One evening as Marc and I sat together taking communion, God revealed to me what was missing. I realized that I had been withholding my heart from my husband. For almost 19 years I had kept my heart in my own care, sheltering and protecting it from the pain of more disappointment. Now God wanted me to give it to Marc freely, with no strings attached. There was no guarantee that my heart would be treated gently, or that my husband would value this gift that was so hard for me to give, but I knew that I wouldn’t be free until I surrendered to the Lord.
I gave Marc my heart that night, telling him it was as fragile as glass and asking him to treat it delicately. Marc wept with relief. We wept together. The joy of release and freedom, which I’ve not had for many years, now fills me and spills into every area of life. I no longer have a grip on all the areas of my life—now I am free and open for God to take care of me and be at work.
As time passes, painful memories still come to mind. I need to keep reminding myself out loud that I too have been forgiven, and I must choose again to forgive my husband. Ephesians 4:31–32 has been an important part of this change in my life: “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”
True forgiveness is impossible without the supernatural power of Jesus Christ. As I have daily asked God to make me kind, tender, and forgiving, an amazing change has taken place in my relationship with my husband. It has been rebuilt on the firm foundation of Christ, and He is creating the deep, heart-to-heart relationship between us that I had longed to experience in our marriage.
As each day passes, I find God continuing the work that He has begun in us. Where coldness and resentment once reigned, Marc and I now experience the warmth of Christ’s love. In situations that used to cause great frustration, we can now work together as a team. We now love to be with each other, talking, holding hands, and delighting in the relationship that God has restored.
We have certainly not arrived! Both of us are in the process of growing, and we face relational challenges like any other couple. Currently, the Lord is teaching me how to love Marc the way he needs to be loved. After 19 years of living like roommates, I have had to totally rebuild my habits to demonstrate real love for Marc. We are still learning and growing! But now by the grace of Jesus Christ, we are free from the bondage of bitterness and lust, and we trust His grace to keep us free and to continue to purify us.
There is hope for your own marriage! God has taken our impossible and miserable situation and made it into a beautiful relationship that is filled with joy. The Lord took a man who would not and could not lead his family in spiritual matters, and has transformed his heart to make him a wise, loving leader. I’m continually amazed to see the new ways God is manifesting His power in Marc.
God is fully capable of taking any marriage and any heart and transforming it into something that is beautiful. He has done this in my own life—may you allow Him to do the same in yours!