The first time I met John and Amy for counseling, Amy announced that she had already been to two Christian counselors and both had advised her to file for a divorce. I suppose the reason for this assessment was that Amy claimed she didn't love John anymore. In fact, Amy made it painfully clear that she was in love with someone else.
Since John and Amy had been attending the church where I was a pastor, they decided to see me before they called it quits. You might say this was a last-ditch effort to salvage things between them. After listening to them vent, I asked them a series of questions which, frankly, may appear simplistic at first glance. As you'll see in a moment, I am convinced that the way a couple responds to these three questions is fundamental to their future success together.
Here's what I asked them:
- Do you believe that there is a God?
- Are you willing to apply the principles of God's Word to your life?
- Will you pray for the Spirit of God to strengthen you and your spouse?
Both John and Amy acknowledged that they believed in God. Both agreed to apply the principles of God's Word to their life. And, both said they would pray for the Spirit of God to touch them and their marriage. So far, so good. I proceeded to tell them, "On the authority of God's Holy Word and the power of His Spirit, I will absolutely guarantee that this marriage will come back together!"
Then, like pouring cold water on the spark of hope in John's eyes, Amy informed us that she was unwilling to give up her relationship with her lover. She maintained that her lover understood her ... he knew how to meet her needs ... he cared for her in ways that John never did ... she loved him with all of her heart. And, since she no longer loved John, how could she turn her back on her lover? Amy knew that God did not approve of her adulterous relationship—and neither did I. But I also knew that there was nothing I could do to convince her to abandon her boyfriend.
But God could.
I was prepared to wait for the Spirit of God to convict her and give her the strength to do what was right. From my experience, such conviction could come quickly, or it might take a number of months. After all, if Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead, He could convict Amy of the dead end that pursuing this man represented.
In the meantime, I provided them with a number of “tips and tools” I use in my marriage counseling: I showed them how to do a communication date and how to handle conflict biblically. We talked about sex and examined their family backgrounds. We explored how they could show love for each other. We also closed our sessions with prayer and my reminder that when the Spirit of God touched their marriage, we would all know it.
Then we waited ...
“We’re wasting our time thinking there is any hope for us”
After about nine months of counseling, I recommended that they take a trip to Florida. The other man was still very much a part of Amy's life, and I thought the time away from him, as well as two weeks alone with her husband, might help rekindle their marriage. Guess what? It didn't.
When they got back to Indianapolis, a defiant Amy called and fumed, “My time with John in Florida was awful. I have had it. I am canceling our counseling appointment for tomorrow. I have contacted my lawyer and have filed for divorce.”
About thirty minutes later John called echoing Amy's opinion. He said, “George, our time in Florida was an absolute disaster. Amy is still in love with our neighbor. We're wasting our time thinking there is any hope for us. I have contacted our lawyer and filed for a divorce.”
My heart sank with the bad news. It was obvious that my best efforts had accomplished nothing. Worse yet, John and Amy both believed in God but were feeling weaker and more hopeless than they had ever felt before.
But God was not finished.
About an hour after her first call, Amy called again. This time I immediately perceived something was different in her voice. “I just got back from driving around the city,” she said. “While I was out, I saw a billboard that had this simple message, 473-PRAY. When I got home, I turned on the TV and I saw the same billboard with the same message. I dialed the number and spoke with a prayer counselor for about fifteen minutes.”
Not wanting to interrupt her, I held my breath.
“George, I can't explain it, but I believe God has spoken to me. I think He wants me to end my relationship with my boyfriend and work on my marriage with John. What do you think?”
“Amy,” I said, thrilled at the breakthrough, “this is what we have been praying for over the last nine months. You have just heard the voice of God. Until now you have heard words from me and from others about God, but now you have heard from God Himself. This is wonderful! How can I help?”
She said, “I need to tell my boyfriend what has happened today.” In fact, she felt an urgency to confront her boyfriend that evening and wanted me there for moral support. I assured her I wouldn't miss it.
“I have to do what God has told me”
Amy and I met about ten minutes before her boyfriend arrived. We prayed together and I encouraged her with some scriptural truths. Moments later this man, who had been at the center of the conflict in her marriage, arrived. They met in a warm embrace in the middle of the room. He whispered, “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” she said.
Then, obviously puzzled by my presence in the room, he asked, “So, what's going on?”
Amy answered, “I have heard the voice of God today. God told me that I need to break off my relationship with you and really work on my marriage to John. I will be moving out of the apartment this week. I think I need to move back in with John.”
“Amy, I don't understand. You just said you loved me.”
“I do,” she said, taking a step back. “But I have to do what God has told me.”
Stunned, he shot her a bewildered look. “If that's what you want, Amy, then fine. I'll leave.”
With that, he left. I am convinced that this fellow never understood what she was saying. Perhaps he thought that when Amy got back together with John, she would come to her senses and realize how awful her marriage had been.
That never happened. Why?
Because Amy had heard the voice of God! We still had more work to do in a counseling setting, but at least now there was hope. With the distraction of her lover out of the picture, it seemed like just a matter of days before Amy felt a fresh love for John begin to bud. Gradually, John learned how to meet her needs. Both learned how to express love in ways that communicated love to each other. It was a miracle of marital healing.
That was about fifteen years ago.
I now pastor a church in the Minneapolis area. Not long ago Amy stopped by the church to see me. She was carrying her newest addition to their family. With an infant nestled in her arms and a wide smile on her face, Amy positively glowed. She couldn't wait to let me know how happy she was, how well they were doing, and how thankful she was to the Lord for what He had done.
I said, “Amy, I have been telling folks for years about what God did for you. I call you the Billboard Lady. What do you tell your friends about what happened?”
Her face lit up: “It was a miracle!”
John and Amy's story is evidence of what God can do for your marriage. I am convinced that you and I desperately need to hear more powerful stories like theirs. These living examples remind us that God still saves marriages.
No matter what your situation, I'm confident that there is hope for any marriage—as long as you are willing to believe that God, through His Spirit and His Word, can powerfully change your lives.
Let me ask you something. In spite of your current circumstances, is it possible that the Lord might one day use your testimony for His glory?
He could, you know...
Taken from Marriage Makeover © 2005 by George Kenworthy. Published by FamilyLife Publishing, Little Rock, Ark. Used by permission. All rights reserved. This book has been re-released as Before the Last Resort and is available in our online store under that title.