Tuesday, June 24, 2014

How I Almost Broke My Marriage

Hi, it’s Shannon again. Cap’s wife. Last time I wrote a guest article for Cap, the main thing on my mind was speaking to young wives about discontentment.

Many ladies wrote or spoke to me after that post and shared that they’d had the same struggle. So now that Cap’s asked me to write another post, I thought I’d share just how I came to be so passionate about battling discontentment—or in other words, how I almost single-handedly tore apart my marriage, and how God saved my marriage from me.

In August 2010 I discovered that, by misusing the Excel template of a friend who was much smarter than I, I had inadvertently been budgeting over $250 more than we could afford to spend monthly. (Math is not my strongest asset.) What’s more, we could not cut enough spending to stay within our affordable range. We had gotten married during the recession, so Cap’s company had a freeze on raises, and my grad school (in English Literature, not budgeting, obviously) hadn’t paid too well. We came to the point where we could barely afford to buy enough groceries for two meals a day.

My dreams of swiftly following my other newlywed friends into a house of our own were shattered. Heck, my dreams of Internet and meat for dinner were shattered. Here I was, watching my friends get houses and Netflix and new appliances—and I was stuck where I was with no way out.

There was a good amount of self-blame. But I had plenty of blame for others, too. How dare Cap’s company (wisely) freeze raises during tough economic times! How dare my friends (innocently) get houses and have the audacity to talk about them in front of me! How dare Cap (oh I went there) make so little money!

I became a basket case about every unexpected purchase. For example: Cap’s shoes wore out. I raised a fuss. That was $60 we were going to have to spend because he couldn’t take care of his shoes well enough. Sixty dollars because his company made him walk too much (I told you I was a basket case). Sixty dollars further away from ever getting a house. Cap never heard the end of it. I even griped when he splurged on flowers for me because they were too expensive.

Bitterness began to boil in my chest: God was to blame. He was sovereign. He caused all this.

It got to the point where there were long, frigid periods of silence between Cap and I while I “punished” him for whatever I was most recently disappointed about. It got to the point where I actually told him, “I wish I had known that this would happen before we got married.” His response: “Why, would that have changed your answer?”

I think it was initially that heartbroken question that made me realize, “You’re that woman from Proverbs 14:1: ‘The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.’ And you’re not the wise one.” I was tearing down my house, my marriage, and my husband’s heart.

Cap graciously pointed me to resources, one of which was Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts. In that book, Bridges mentioned a psalm that had helped him in times of trial. My razor-sharp memory catalogued it as “Psalm 30-something.” Since I couldn’t remember the exact psalm, I decided to read Psalms 30-39. I had to hit Bridges’ psalm in there somewhere.

I still don’t know what psalm he was referring to, but I found a wealth of help from the God I was busy accusing of unfairness every day. In Psalm 37, I began by scoffing at this promise: “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

“Yeah, right,” I thought. “The desires of my heart are not coming true.”

Wait a minute, the Spirit broke in. Since when has it ever been good for you to get what you wanted?

Back when I was unsaved, I wanted to live my own selfish life, which led to suffocating pride and conflict with others. In college, I wanted to be a skeptic and question the Bible’s authority, which led to despair. When I first visited my church, I wanted to sit in for one Sunday and find a good excuse never to come back, not be introduced to grace and to the community that would become my family.

In saving me, God is partially saving me from what I want. I don’t know what’s good for me.

Maybe Psalm 37 is talking about the desires of my heart when I’m sane and thinking straight—that is, when I’m trusting God, who knows exactly what is best for me, to give me what He thinks I need. Maybe I don’t even know what the true “desire of my [sanctified] heart” is. Like Tim Keller says, God will only give you what you would have asked for if you knew everything he knows.”

In a flash, I realized what had happened. For once, my desire and God’s desire had been the same: I got to marry Cap. And my immediate response to getting what I wanted? A laundry list of other things I also wanted and now expected to receive. I had torn my house down demanding those things. I was humbled to the dust, and it was the sweetest humiliation I had ever known.

The rest of that year I remember as being one of the most precious times of my life. I began every morning by praying from Psalm 30:

As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.” By your favor, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong; you hid your face; I was dismayed. To you, O Lord, I cry, and to the Lord I plead for mercy.

My absolute dependence on God had never been clearer to me, and my need to trust Him with my life had never been more urgent.

Grocery shopping, which had once been the most stressful hour of the week, became a joy as I submitted to the constraints of our God-given budget. It wasn’t good for me to have all the groceries I wanted, I reminded myself throughout the store. It was good for me to be humbled and trust God with our budget. I returned from shopping exuberant at God’s grace in unexpected sales, and I discovered that the store brand is more often than not just as good as the name brand. (Kroger ice cream is way better than any of those expensive kinds, FYI. Seriously. Try Snickerdoodle.)

For the rest of that year, I received joys and sorrows happily from God’s hand. It got to the point that when Cap led us in purchasing a home the next year (yes, my worries were embarrassingly unfounded), I was the one who was sad to leave our apartment.

Even now, remembering, I am reminded to “Humble [myself] . . . under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).

I’m still tempted to be discontented for various reasons. But remembering what a mess of things I make when left to my own devices helps me accept God’s mighty hand more humbly and happily.

1 comment:

Cap Stewart said...

Hi, it’s Shannon again. Cap’s wife. Last time I wrote a guest article for Cap, the main thing on my mind was speaking to young wives about discontentment. Many ladies wrote or spoke to me after that post and shared that they’d had the same struggle.

[This obligatory comment is designed to make Facebook recognize my article’s content. Thanks for your understanding.]