By Ryan Rasmussen
My wife and I had recently moved across the country to Boulder, Colorado, in an attempt at a new life, a new ministry, and although unspoken, a fresh start to our relationship.
We’d been married three years and had very little fruit to show from our commitment other than a 6-month-old daughter, who was the light in our darkness. I had accepted a student ministry position at a church in town and was excited about what God had in store for this new pastoral adventure. In the meantime, to supplement our income, my wife took a job as a server at a local restaurant.
We rarely saw each other. I worked at the church all day, in and out of meetings, connecting with students, and writing sermons. I’d get home around 5 p.m., only to see my bride head off for the evening shift at the restaurant, where she’d work until around 11 p.m.
This was our reality. It was complicated by the fact we didn’t know how to communicate with each other and had an immeasurable amount of unresolved baggage from our separate pasts, which we’d never come close to dealing with or even acknowledging. To put it plainly, we were a mess.
Finally, on that fateful Friday night, we had the conversation we’d been putting off for some time, mostly because we were too scared to bring it up. I remember sitting on separate couches as the words, “I’m not happy” escaped my wife’s mouth. “This isn’t working. Are we just supposed to carry on like this?”
We sat in silence for a while. We cried together, but it felt more like two individuals than a couple bound together by God. Finally we brought up the “D” word, divorce. I can still recall the weight of it hanging in the air. We talked logistics. How would we arrange custody of our daughter? Where would we live? Would we both stay in Colorado? It was terrifying, gut-wrenching, and sad.
We went to bed separately, me on the couch and my wife in our bed. Everything felt hopeless and doomed. I cried out to God that night, lashing out in anger. Eventually, though, my outrage turned into a plea for help.
Now, I’ve never heard the audible voice of God. I think it’d be nice if he’d speak up from time to time, maybe tell me, “Ryan, buy a Chick-fil-A franchise. It would be good investment.” I’ve never had that luxury. But as I lay on the couch that night, a few words ran through my mind over and over again.
There is hope.
Ryan, there is hope.
I drifted to sleep with these words ringing in my head. A peace washed over me, and I awoke the next day having made this simple decision: I was going to fight for my marriage. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, and I realized quickly I would need to sacrifice some things in order to make this work.
Now I’ve come to see the sacrifices my wife and I made after that night are mostly universal. They could help or save other marriages as well.
The first thing I did was make a phone call. Being the new youth pastor at a megachurch in town, I honestly wasn’t sure whom to call. I wasn’t sure how much information I should reveal, but I decided I had to stop being concerned with what others might think and concern myself only with having a healthy relationship with my wife.
This is so hard for most of us. We want everyone to think we have it together—the perfect marriage, the perfect life. Confession time: most of us are screw-ups and we need each other more than we’d like to admit.
I called a woman who worked at the church with me. I hardly knew her and had no idea how she would react to my impromptu petition for help. She dropped everything, came to our apartment, took my wife for a few hours, prayed with us, and connected us with a counselor who played possibly the biggest role (other than Jesus) in saving our marriage.
We knew if we were going to make things work we needed to make some changes. My wife quit her job waiting tables and we started seeing a therapist once a week. It strained us financially, to say the least. Counseling wasn’t cheap, and with my wife’s income eliminated, we were incredibly strapped.
But a line in the sand needed to be drawn. We were convinced if we had to put groceries on a credit card for a while in order to heal our marriage, it was a price we were willing to pay.
We decided to eliminate certain people from our lives. This was difficult, but was overwhelmingly necessary. We removed those who offered the wrong advice—those friends who encouraged divorce, the ones who had been through it and assured us it wasn’t so bad. We didn’t need influences like that. We needed people who were willing to fight with us, advise us in a godly direction, and encourage us when we didn’t want to go on.
Finally, we realized to restore our marriage, the greatest sacrifice we needed to make was our own desires. A wise man shared these words with me: “What would it look like if the husband was constantly striving to outserve his wife? And what if the wife was striving to outserve her husband? How might that change the dynamics of a marriage?” We started thinking beyond ourselves and began looking for ways to bless each other.
None of this was easy, and restoration certainly didn’t happen overnight, but eventually God started to put us back together again. Through his grace, we are now approaching our ninth year of marriage and have three beautiful children. I cannot imagine the blessings we would have missed if we had opted to give up six years ago. I’ve come to learn you fight for what you love—even if it feels like a battle simply to love.
So, fight. Sacrifice. And trust that God can put things back together again. Because, by the way, that’s his specialty.
Ryan Rasmussen serves as lead pastor with First Christian Church in Canton, Ohio.