It’s funny how a child’s question can send a gal into a tailspin. “Mom, why isn’t Dad coming to church?”

Immediately, you’re caught.

I need to communicate that what he’s doing isn’t fine … Should I be shielding him? Should I fake it, and pretend he’s just tired? … GAH. I feel like I’m on damage control for his decision.

The tentacles reach beyond church-going, right? There’s the devotional book you bought gathering dust on the nightstand. The prayers you wish he was initiating. The language he’s lobbing when angry.

How should you respond when your spouse is the spiritual un-hero?

Take inventory.

A pastor friend of mine—whose three brothers are also in ministry—confessed, “I encourage my congregation to do devotions as a family. But my dad didn’t do devotions with us.”

Discipleship was more of a lifestyle, he explained.

Before wringing your hands about how your spouse is failing the current status quo, prayerfully ask questions of yourself.

1. What’s my spouse doing right? 

Have I expressed my gratitude? (Hint: None of us is the sum of our weaknesses.)

2. What does Scripture actually say about discipleship? 

Family devotions, family worship, community group, nighttime prayers…are not actually in the Bible. Gathering together regularly is in the Bible. Being an active part of the body of Christ is in the Bible. Discipling our kids is in the Bible. But some of these are man-made creations toward those ends. They’re not the end itself.

3. When I’m honest, how much of this is my own image-management?

Can you identify with any of these thoughts? I feel so awkward when people ask me where he is.  Everyone else talks about all these things their husbands are doing spiritually, while my husband would sooner plunge a toilet. 

His failure feels like it’s welded on to me.

Understand his whys.

What do you understand about your husband’s reasoning? Is there alienation or anger when it comes to spiritual issues? Does he associate rejection or shame with church? When it comes to spiritually leading your family, could he be hauling a sense of failure or inadequacy?

Until you understand the underlying “disease,” so to speak, you could actually compound your spouse’s hurt or anger by addressing symptoms only.

“I really wanted to change spiritually, because she never let up on the nagging. Totally worked!” … Said no guy ever.

Creating a safe place for your spouse to get honest and heal—to be emotionally naked and unashamed—is critical.

Trust me: You want him to associate you with the solution for his pain. Not the problem. He will sense any underlying disrespect, manipulative agenda (“She’s really only doing this so she can get what she wants”), or reactionary impulses to what he’s not doing.

And he will shut down.

Transformation begins with listening to understand. (As in, not instructing.) It’s usually not overnight. (“Oh! You answered my questions about why God allowed my friend’s profound suffering. That was easy! Let’s get to church before worship starts!”)

Tip: Your husband will be 100% more likely to take ownership of “the solution” if he comes to the conclusion on his own. Walking with a spouse through deep questions can rattle our world. But this is what marriage, and courage, look like. “In sickness and in health” can mean a sickness of the soul, too.

Place your trust where trust belongs.

Often, our husbands’ behavior throws us for a loop because we’re afraid.

We fear what happens if he doesn’t step up. We fear for his own soul or spiritual maturity. We’re often a little embarrassed for him (and ourselves) because of the associated social failures.

We’re usually grieving loss, too: Of the hopes we had for our homes or marriages or kids. Of having an ally in the foxhole, a teammate in what matters.

Those are legitimate losses. And in that, we can cry out to God like so many women before us. We can take refuge: “You have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy” (Psalm 63:7).

Ultimately, our trust can’t be in our spouses or even in ourselves and our discipleship. Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7).

Our husbands are God’s. He is their Ultimate Discipler. He is not wringing his hands over your husband’s failure to step up.

Or our own.

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Help kids (and inquisitive friends) toward compassion.

It can be oh-so-easy to throw your spouse under the bus so your kids will get the message, I should go to church!

We might say something like, “Well, that’s Daddy’s decision. I don’t agree with it, but we can do the right thing anyway, right?” Or to a friend: “He makes his own decisions. He knows what he should do.”

But consider the alternative. “You know, Dad’s in a tough place right now. I think his heart might be hurting. I want him to come to church with us because I love having him there. Even more though, I want him to love God. And you don’t have to go to church to love God. You can love Him from anywhere! So let’s pray for Dad on the way to church, that he’ll know how much God loves him.”

It might just help them—and your friends—experience God’s compassion toward their own failures someday. Or their own lack of keeping up appearances. It could help them love the Church, rather than resent it.

It paints a robust image of a welcoming God, rather than as an angry parent, hands balled on hips.

Show him Jesus.

You may be your husband’s closest representation of God in his life. Is God bitter and disappointed, waiting for your husband to get his act together?

Or is He patient and at peace, arms wide open?

The first step to your husband witnessing Jesus starts right here, in how you meet him in his weakness. Remember, it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4).

The lack of a spiritual hero can feel powerless at times. But do you sense the power a woman has to communicate the power of the Gospel toward her children when people are hurting, and may not “measure up”?

When others don’t perform—even those we yearn for—we can speak truth over our husbands, our kids. We don’t obey so we can be accepted by God.

We’re accepted 100% because of Jesus’ work. And that’s why we do these things: to seek Him.

Copyright © 2019 Janel Breitenstein. All rights reserved.