When your spouse is in a season of suffering, how do you help them? Author and pastor Dave Harvey reminds us that how we respond to suffering says a lot about our understanding of marriage. Harvey encourages husbands and wives to really listen to their spouse's struggles, and then ask questions, rather than try to fix them. Harvey shares the story of one couple who walked through a challenging circumstance and then saw God work in a most unexpected way.
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Dave Harvey (DMin, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the president of Great Commission Collective, a church planting ministry in the US, Canada, and abroad. Dave founded AmICalled.com, pastored for thirty-three years, serves on the board of CCEF, and travels widely across networks and denominations...more
When your spouse is in a season of suffering, how do you help them? Dave Harvey reminds us that how we respond to suffering says a lot about our understanding of marriage.
Bob: One of Jesus’ promises to us is that in this world we will have trials/tribulation. Dave Harvey says that’s true for our marriage as well.
Dave H.: Suffering is remarkably disruptive to a marriage; and a lot of times, we don’t get that. We don’t see that God doesn’t just kind of allow this as if He doesn’t control this, but there is a loving God that introduces these things because He wants to do a work that can only be achieved in this manner.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Have you stopped to think about how seasons of difficulty/seasons of suffering have impacted your relationship as a couple in marriage? We’ll explore that today with our guest, Dave Harvey. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have to tell you guys—when I picked up a copy of Dave Harvey’s new book called I Still Do—and I saw the subtitle, which is Growing Closer and Stronger Through Life’s Defining Moments—I thought of you, because we’ve all had defining moments; your book, Vertical Marriage, is about a lot of those defining moments in your marriage.
I think all of us can look back and go, “There have been landmark moments in our lives/in our marriage that have reshaped us and made us think differently about who we are and about how we interact with one another.”
Dave: And often, those moments are hard.
Dave: They are not the—I mean, they can be mountaintop moments; but they are often very difficult.
You know, Bob, you’ve heard us say: “When that moment, on our ten-year anniversary, when Ann said, ‘I’ve lost my feelings for you,’—and we started to walk into that—I remember consciously thinking, ‘No one will ever hear this story. [Laughter]
Dave: “’This is going to be a private, little—hopefully, we get through it—moment in our life that we will just keep to ourselves’”; and yet, God shows up. It’s like there are a lot of people, who have this moment, and they need to see where God can meet them and take them through it.
Ann: And those moments are like forks in a path—like, “Which way will you go?”
Ann: And we’re all faced with those, and it’s not easy. We do remember those defining moments because they change us.
Bob: I’ve said to people—for years, I’ve said: “Look back at your life and ask yourself this question: ‘Times of accelerated spiritual growth: have they been times when everything was going really well, and when God was blessing you, and there was abundance?—or have they been times when you have been in the valley, when you’ve been fighting. when there have been hard times?” Everybody says, “My growth is accelerated [in hard times].”
So, if your goal is—
Bob: —to be more like Jesus, you’re going to have to walk through hard times that are the sanding device that God uses to rub off the rough edges.
Dave Harvey is joining us again on FamilyLife Today. Dave, welcome back.
Dave H.: It’s great to be back, Bob.
Bob: Dave is an author; he is a speaker. He is a pastor for more than 30 years. He wrote a book, a decade ago, called When Sinners Say “I Do” and wound up involved in our Art of Marriage® video series which, if our listeners have been through that series, they’ve benefitted from Dave’s contribution and his wisdom to that.
Dave has written a new book on marriage called I Still Do, and it’s all about defining moments. You’ve identified some of those paradigm moments that most of us go through in marriage and talked about: the beginning part of our marriage and some of the common moments couples go through, the heart of the marriage relationship when we learn to stick together and become one, and then how we end well together.
Dave H.: Right.
Bob: Were you aware of defining moments in your own marriage? Was that what led you to kind of unpack some of this?
Dave H.: In part, yes. The book is built around 11 specific defining moments. I would say that many of them were defining moments that Kim and I experienced; and then others, just in looking over people that we’ve had the privilege of counseling with or gotten to know over time.
Bob: I’ve shared before that one of the defining moments in our marriage—at least, for me—was when we had moved. This was early in our marriage; we had moved from the city that Mary Ann had grown up in/where her family was. We were now living in Phoenix, Arizona. I was there with a new job; she was pregnant with our second child. We had just moved into a house that she had not seen before I purchased it—which by the way—
Bob: —uh-huh, yes; talk about a rookie mistake.
She was depressed. I would come home at the end of the day, and I’d do everything I could to turn on my sparkle magic and try to bring joy and happiness into the household. Here is how I knew how bad it was. It was the summer of ’84, and the Olympics were on—
Bob: —and gymnastics were on, and she didn’t want to watch gymnastics—because she always delighted in watching these gymnasts perform.
I remember one night, being out in the backyard in our house in Phoenix. I was just kicking dirt and kind of looking up at the stars and just talking to God. I/this thought hit my mind: “I understand how people get to a point, where they go, ‘I don’t want to be in this anymore.’” I was saying, “I’m not going to go there because, biblically, I can’t; I belong to Christ.”
This was not the life I wanted for me. I’m thinking about that because one of the chapters/one of the defining moments you talk about in your book is when suffering visits a marriage. That can be physical suffering; it can be loss or grief that comes through illness or through the death of a loved one; or—
Dave: —or a bad decision by your husband.
Bob: Something like that. [Laughter]
Dave: He buys a house he should have never bought.
Ann: And you don’t know you’re in a defining moment—
Ann: —when you’re in it. You’re just kind of miserable or in angst.
Dave: Well, Dave, I’m looking at your first defining moment. I would have never known that when Ann yelled at me, six months after we were married, “Marrying you was the worst decision of my life,” we were in a defining moment number one. I didn’t realize it in that moment; I’m just like: “Yes; you’re right. What were we thinking?”
But defining moment number one is when you discover brokenness is broader than sin. I didn’t know that at that moment, but we were dealing with that brokenness that we previously talked about. But let me ask you this: “When a couple hits that defining moment, how do they get through it?”—from your perspective.
Dave H.: It is, as Ann said, you’re often not aware you are in it; so you feel like you’re treading water. You don’t have clear categories; you’re not diagnosing yourself, or your heart, or often able to help your spouse.
I think it can be really helpful at moments like that to be able to reach out beyond yourselves—
Dave H.: —to be able to get in trusted people: involve the pastor of your church. One of the reasons why God has created the church is so that we can reach out and lean on them in times where we need perspective/we need something from outside of ourselves.
Bob: Talk about when a marriage is in a season of suffering. You and Kim have been through seasons like this, right?
Dave H.: We have, yes. I think what intrigued me about the topic was that I’ve read so much rich material on the topic of suffering, but I had not encountered a lot of material on what to do when your spouse is suffering. That’s the defining moment—is when your spouse suffers, and how to position yourself in a way that’s really going to be caring for them/loving them.
I think recognizing the reality of what’s happening; because you stay married long enough, and one of you is going to suffer. You stay married long enough, and one of you is going to die first; you know? Previous to death, there is oftentimes suffering that attends that. How we respond when our spouse suffers just says a lot about our understanding of marriage, our assumptions about life, our awareness of how God moves in a fallen world. There are a lot of things that map onto that.
I’ve got a good friend, right now, Lee and his wife Rhonda; and Lee has contracted ALS. He was a member of the church, where I was pastoring; and he’s just become a dear friend. We were with Lee, you know, when he was hiking with his wife; and over the past two years, we’ve watched him as he has slowed down, and then began to limp, and then he was on crutches, and then on a walker, and now in a wheelchair.
He knows he’s readily declining. We’re watching Lee’s courage as he faces his suffering and the inevitable end of his suffering. We’re seeing this God-centeredness/this desire to ensure that his children are interpreting this experience in a way that has God’s goodness in the picture.
Then, we’re watching this remarkable wife, who is caring for her husband in a way that is considering both body and soul. So often, it’s just reduced down to fretting and becoming preoccupied with all the medical features of whatever is going on; but how they are praying together, and how they’re really looking to take this season as a way to continue to encounter God together, and to finish well together. I mean, it just inspires me.
Ann: But wait, Bob; what happened? I’m kind of sitting on the edge of my seat with you and Mary Ann, because she was suffering.
Bob: She was. Honestly, I didn’t know, “What was my right response in the midst of her suffering?” Like I said, I would try to cheer her up; but I didn’t know: “Do I back off and give her space and let her process this herself?” “Do I try to be there?” “Do I get other people involved?” I was kind of running through what my options were, and none of them seemed to be working to help her in this situation.
Dave, I think that is one of the issues that we face when a spouse is suffering. It affects us; it affects our own mood, because to see a loved one suffer is emotionally difficult for us. It adjusts our life.
You talk about Rhonda. She’s had to make significant life adjustments; and now, all of a sudden, life can’t go on the way it was going on before. She has her own fears she’s facing in the midst of this; and she’s trying to be a loving, godly wife to her husband, who is suffering, maybe at a more profound level; I don’t know if I’d even say that. I mean, he’s suffering in a profound way too.
This is a season in a marriage where often we find ourselves—like I was in the backyard—we don’t know where to turn. We’re just crying out to God and saying: “God, I don’t know what to do. If You don’t show up, I don’t have the strength left to sustain myself during this season.”
Dave H.: Yes; because you begin to experience the kind of suffering that just can’t readily be fixed; and is going to, perhaps, play out of her time; or is not easily defined or diagnosed: “What’s going on?”—“I don’t know; why do I feel this way?” Or maybe, it is diagnosed, but it can be fixed. I mean, that impulse/that human impulse to want to fix your spouse’s suffering; because you love them, or because you are frightened at what is happening to them.
Ann: And you also see how it’s affecting your children, so then you’re even in more turmoil of wanting to fix it.
Dave H.: Yes, that’s right; you want peace. You want things to return to the way they were.
Suffering is remarkably disruptive to a marriage; and a lot of times, we don’t get that. We don’t see that God doesn’t just kind of allow this as if He doesn’t control this; but there this a loving God that introduces these things, because He wants to do a work that can only be achieved in this manner. Those turn out to be beautiful things, regardless of the outcome; those become beautiful things to the soul and prepare us for eternity.
Bob: So, if you are sitting with a husband or a wife today, and they would say, “My spouse is in a season of suffering, and I want to be a good husband/be a good wife; I don’t know whether to back off or to move in; I don’t know what to do,” what is your counsel to somebody in that situation?
Dave H.: Well, I’d say: “Are you listening to them? Are you asking questions about where they are and listening carefully to how they respond?” I think it’s so easy to kind of import our fears into the person that is suffering; or how we would deal with it, and begin to relate to them out of that.
We really have to allow the reality of where they are to be defined by them, listen carefully, and then begin to care in response to that. The listening thing is huge because it really does create an environment, where a suffering spouse is able to say, “Okay; I know that we don’t understand exactly what’s going on; but he gets me/she gets me. She understands where this is.”
Ann: Oh, this is big; because I’m recalling, a few months ago, when I had just come home from visiting my parents. When I come home, there is a part of me that is grieving; I’m sad about an era that is gone. I come home with Dave, and we’ve got an event to speak at that night. I told Dave, like: “My heart just hurts. I’m sitting here; I can’t even think about this.” Do you remember? [Laughter]
Dave: I’m not making a comment, because this spouse didn’t suffer well with his wife.
Bob: You didn’t do well here; huh?—
Dave: I didn’t do well.
Bob: —kind of like me buying a house without my wife seeing it.
Dave: Oh, yes.
Ann: He said: “We have an event tonight. You need to get it together,”—those were the words. [Laughter] That did not fly very well with me.
Bob: You know, the listening part: I’m thinking of when Job’s friends ministered to him most; it’s when they kept their mouth shut.
Dave H: Yes.
Bob: And when things start to go south with Job and his friends is when they start offering advice.
Dave H.: And Job’s wife—
Dave H.: —who is totally cynical.
Bob: Yes; “Curse God and die.”
My M-O [method of operating] in our situation was: “Well, I just/I want to fix it”; so I was trying to marshal all of my energy to get Mary Ann fixed. I wasn’t listening; I was just trying to kind of: “Snap out of it,”—you know?—“Let’s get on with life. This is inconvenient for me.”
The other mistake, I think, we often make in the midst of suffering is to separate/to isolate and to step out of oneness; and in that isolation, we start/our hearts start to grow cold and apart from one another.
Bob: I think your point about presence and listening—Dave, I think these are huge. When your spouse is going through that time, you need to say: “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere, and I want to hear what’s going on in your heart and soul.”
You asked me what happened.
Bob: Ultimately, time happened; ultimately, there wasn’t a breakthrough moment. There wasn’t a thing, where I said this, and everything got fixed; or where this circumstance shifted, and that fixed everything. Ultimately, the fog lifted; she kind of woke back up and came out of the grief that she was in, from all the disruption in her life, and started to come back around. It was gradual and happened over time.
But again, presence and listening are how you get through that season. We had conversations later about, “Are there things I could have done that would have been more helpful?” She said: “No.
Ann: She needed time.
Bob: “I just needed the time to grieve, and to go through and to do the processing I was going through, and then to get out of the pity party that I was in, and recognize: ‘God is in control; His providential care is at work here, and I need to be responding to Him.’”
Sometimes, you know, my season of that was, maybe, a month or two. Some couples go through seasons of suffering that last for years. That’s hard on a marriage when that happens.
Dave H.: One of the things I admire about some of the people that I’ve seen suffer is that they refuse to allow the suffering to define the totality of their relationship, or they refuse to allow it to define who they are going to be in the community.
I tell a story in the book of a guy, whose wife had a chronic kidney problem—a guy named Scott; his wife is Jeannie—Jeannie had a chronic kidney problem. They are from Canada; they are flying through the United States, back from an event. As they are landing in Denver, at their connecting flight to get back to Canada, she ends up collapsing on the flight.
They arrive in Denver; and the doctors say: “Listen, you can’t leave. You have to stay. She can’t fly for a long time.” They basically have to live in Denver. They are not from Canada, but they are living in Canada; they have a mortgage up in Canada.
They just find a place [in Denver]. They live there; and after a few months, there are people there that know them—they say, “Hey”—he’s a pastor—“why don’t you start a Bible study?” He starts a Bible study; the Bible study grows. She’s at home, praying as she is suffering; but she is praying.
Eventually, they ask him: “Hey, it seems like there are a lot of people coming to this. Maybe, we should start a church.” [Laughter] So he starts a church; and then three months later, they are given a building. A year after that whole experience, he and his wife are eventually—she is stabilized enough that they can fly back to Canada. There is a church, a building, and a lead pastor that is in existence to this day. My point being is that Scott and Jeannie realized that, because of her suffering, there was some good that was able to come out of it. They are able to celebrate that.
Now, we don’t always see that in real time; you know? You don’t always have that story to point back to; but they understand that this is why God had parked them in Denver—to plant a church in a layover city.
Ann: It’s almost as if God took their eyes off of themselves and their circumstances, and they lifted their eyes to God and said: “God, what do You have for us? What do You want to do? What do You want right now?” That’s hard to do when you’re in the midst of it.
Dave H.: Oh, it is. If that was me in Denver, I’m like: “I’m tucking in. I’m with Kim; I don’t want to see anybody.” [Laughter]
Bob: Well, and think—we’ve talked about Job’s wife’s response to the suffering that they were going through—which was cynical, “Curse God and die,”—and what’s Job’s response? That’s the model response for us in the seasons of suffering, whether it’s us or our spouse.
Ann: I will say this about my husband, Dave.
Dave: Oh boy! Here we go.
Ann: We had that conversation, where he was like, “You need to get yourself together, because we have an event.” Well, I kind of left the room—like, “Okay; I’m out of here,”—but he came back in/he came to me and he said: “I am so sorry. That’s got to be really hard.” He just kind of hugged me/held me. He said, “This event isn’t nearly as important as that.”
It’s so funny; just those few words just melted my heart. It’s exactly what I needed; which then, I was like, “Alright; I’m ready to go”; but I needed to talk about it. I needed him to be compassionate.
Sometimes, just listening and holding—
Dave H.: Yes.
Ann: —that means a lot.
Dave H.: It’s Christ-like. He/it’s where He sympathizes with us in our weakness; and there is something beautiful, where we encounter God in moments like that.
Ann: I don’t know if he felt it. He might have faked it, but it still felt really good. [Laughter]
Dave: You know I’m sitting right here!
Ann: Yes; I know. [Laughter] You did feel it.
Dave: I mean, it was one of those—and I would say to every husband or wife right now: “If your spouse is suffering, go in the other room. Quiet yourself and say, God, what do You want me to do?’”
Dave: That’s what I did; and it was like God was saying: “I’ve been there for You every time. You need to be there for her. She’s going through something hard right now. This event is just an event. This is your wife; love her.”
Dave H.: You don’t always feel it.
Dave H.: Sometimes, you’re just—
Dave H.: —obeying. You’re doing what Scripture says—
Dave H.: —you should do, because God will honor that.
Bob: Well, I hope—if couples are in one of these defining moments of a season of suffering—that listening; and having compassion and empathy; and being able to say: “I’m here,” and “I care,” and “I know this is hard,”—I hope this can become a part of the regular rhythm of their marriage during this season, because God will meet them in the middle of that.
You cover this beautifully in your book, Dave. In fact, I’m thinking couples, who are in this season right now, would really benefit from getting a copy of your new book, I Still Do, which is a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center; or if you know couples, who are going through a difficult season, get them a copy of Dave Harvey’s book and give it to them as a gift. The book is called I Still Do: Growing Closer and Stronger Through Life’s Defining Moments. It’s written by Dave Harvey.
You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to order: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. The number to call, if you’d like to order the book from us, is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know the subject hits home for a lot of us, especially in this season, when there has been increased fear and anxiety. I think all of us were a little bit blindsided by the coronavirus when it appeared back a few months ago. I don’t think any of us imagined that there would be people losing jobs; or friends, who are infected by this virus, that it would be life-threatening for some. This has been a season of national suffering.
You need to know that we’ve had people reaching out to us more during this season, looking for resources for help/for hope for their marriage and their family—people going online, accessing articles and podcasts that are available, people tuning into this program—this is a season when all of us have been coming back to what matters most: our relationship with God, our relationships with one another in our marriage and our family, and how we love our neighbors well. That’s what our focus has been, here at FamilyLife Today.
I want to thank those of you who have been able to continue your ongoing support of this ministry during these challenging times. In fact, I know some of you have been more generous during this season, recognizing that there are others who can’t help right now; you have increased your giving. We’re so grateful for that.
This is a challenging time for all of us; including for us, here at FamilyLife Today. Please continue to pray for us; and as you’re able to help, please be as generous as you can possibly be. You can donate to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today by going online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can donate by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY. If you can’t donate today, would you please pray for us?—and just pray that God would sustain us during this difficult season. We appreciate your prayers and, of course, appreciate your financial support as well.
And we hope you can join us again tomorrow. We’re going to talk about how important it is to have a vision for your marriage for that season when the kids are gone. We need to be investing now in our marriage so that, in that season, our marriage can flourish. Dave Harvey will be with us to talk about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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