Thursday, February 13, 2014

How a Book Almost Ruined My Marriage

It was 1984 and I was in college, involved in a campus ministry that put a premium on the spiritual disciplines, sharing your faith with any and everybody, and transforming yourself into a Spiritual Giant. Elisabeth Elliot's book, Passion and Purity had just come on the scene and and was all the rage in my world.

I longed for love. I longed for love so badly. I was a hopeless romantic and pathetically boy crazy practically from birth and, due to my own wiring and family dynamics, craved a level of unconditional love that had always eluded me. To be honest, I really wasn't at college so much to learn as to acquire a husband. And Elisabeth Elliot informed me on just how that should go and what that husband should look like, if not physically, at least spiritually.

Don't get me wrong. Elisabeth Elliot is a godly woman and I am sure that her relationship with Jim Elliot really was something special, but what that book did to me and to those around me was something altogether different from what was intended (maybe).

To the guys around me who read it and bought into it, it meant that dating and even really interacting with the opposite sex on anything other than a most casual and arms' length way was downright unspiritual. Guys backed off from friendships and started pouring themselves into other, what we now call "bro-mance" activities, leaving the girls to fend for themselves when it came to male interactions and to spend the weekends watching chick flicks and losing hope.

A funny aside here and a most excellent example: A few years later I had an almost relationship with what I seemed to think was Mr. Right. He was fresh off the mission field and checked all the Spiritual Giant, Godly Mr. Wonderful boxes. He stood me up for a date in order to go to a Christian Fatherhood conference (I drove four hours for that date). Yeah. That kind of thing was happening. It doesn't matter how you treat a girl (after all, they could make you sin!) as long as you are climbing the Godly Man ladder.

Anyway, that book, Passion and Purity stuck with me. I felt guilty (big surprise) that I couldn't get, and didn't even seem to want, everything in my life and in my male-female relationships to go just as Elisabeth's did with Jim.

I still remember one story from the book. She and Jim were holding hands in the moonlight and the moon rose and clouds came (or something like this) and the shadow of a cross was formed between the two of them. WHOA! Talk about God making things clear and spiritual. For whatever reason, God didn't make things clear like that for me.

Enter my (now) husband. He was a Christian. He grew up in a Christian home. He went to a Christian college. But he wasn't impressed by my superior scripture knowledge (certainly THAT would get me the right Godly Mr. Wonderful). He just was who he was.

Our relationship turned from friendship to dating back to friendship back to dating, ad nauseum. If we were dating, we kissed. If we were "just friends," we didn't. Otherwise, nothing changed. I trusted this man (really, he looked like more of a boy back then . . . still does . . . sigh!) more than anybody on the planet and I couldn't imagine life without him.

But he wasn't Jim Elliot. We didn't have that super-sized spiritual relationship where being with one another just made us want to praise God all day long or rush out and share the Four Spiritual Laws or spend hours in prayer for the souls of the lost and what our future should hold. And I felt so GUILTY about this. Certainly, this man could not be who God wanted for me because he is supposed to be ALL THAT (meaning another Jim Elliott).
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? — 2 Corinthians 6:14
I read this over and over again looking for more requirements for who I should marry. I couldn't find any. Was he a believer? Yes. But still I felt guilty.

Finally, a wise friend informed us that the Perfect Mate does not exist and then he kindly but firmly nudged my husband off the fence. We married 14 weeks later. But still I felt guilty.

I continued to feel guilty for 22 years, even as I watched my husband grow and deepen in his understanding of the love and grace and mercy of the God who made him and in his ability to love others as himself. I felt that I had indeed disobeyed God because I had not held out for the man who fit the description of Jim Elliot.

Maybe it is my own pathology here. I do have a tendency to panic that I am not Doing It Right (if you have read enough of my posts, you KNOW) and I tend to think that means that God is mad at me and hates me and he is going to punish me for not DOING IT RIGHT. Yes, part of that is my own OCD that reaches out and grabs for things to obsess over. Part of that is my own failure to understand the very nature of God. But part of it is how I also grasp on to any prescription out there that says "This is the right way to do it" when indeed, God never got that specific at all.

There was something about confessing to my husband my sense of fear and guilt and hearing him laugh, not in a mean way, but in a loving, "Oh, goodness, honey, so THAT was it?" sort of way. He knows me so well.

I hate that, for 22 years, I allowed a book and the ideals that were spelled out there, to get in the way of loving and enjoying the husband that God gave me.

Through so many different circumstances, the past few years have taught me to hold to the rules and regulations and advice and ideals and standards of others rather loosely, even when those others are on a pedestal to many.

My husband has loved me mercifully and unconditionally for over 25 year now. I am thankful that I can stop feeling guilty about what I think somebody else thinks I should have done and trust that God has called me to love him in just the same way.

And I do. I love him with all my heart.


  1. Wow! I felt that way after reading the book as well, but didn't dare express my thoughts. I just thought I was one of those incredibly "unspiritual" people who obviously God could never use because I would never be like that. Thanks!

  2. Matt is, indeed, a keeper!!!

  3. Thank you for sharing. Now I'm going to check out your website.