More than 28 years ago, Jim knelt beside me, fought back his tears, and read from Ephesians. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” He reached for my hands and held them tightly. “I could never be all the things that are in this passage, but . . . ”

“I do” came within the year. My bridesmaid whispered to me at the reception, “When I saw the way he looked at you when he said his vows, I just about died. Oh, to have a godly man look at me like that on my wedding day.”

Something Is Off

Nineteen years into our marriage, we relocated. Jim had moved two months before the rest of our family did.

I first noticed something was wrong when he called home. Jim made a point to tell me how much he missed the children, but he never once mentioned me.

Did he miss me? Even a little? I never had to ask before.

A few weeks later, the company paid my fare to fly out for a house-hunting trip. I couldn’t wait to see Jim. We’d be together, just for a little while, and that would set things right. But the trip disappointed me in a multitude of ways. What I had hoped to be a second honeymoon felt a bit more like roommate arrangement.

I officially had a problem, just as we entered the most stressful years of our marriage. In addition to the move, I began to battle the early stages of menopause. The morning mirror was not my friend.

Just look at yourself. You’ve gained weight. No wonder your husband doesn’t want you.

The invisible wedge between Jim and me grew.

Where Is Jesus in This?

Two years after our relocation, Jim had an offer to return home. We could go back to the way things used to be, in every sense of the word.

But we didn’t.

Jim still seemed miles away from me. His work and the stress it generated consumed him. He grew impatient and irritable. Though he held my hand in public, he offered little private tenderness.

I sought the counsel of a godly woman. She wrote in an e-mail, “Why the navel gazing? Why would you insist this is your fault?”

I responded, “If I’m the problem, then I’m the answer. If it’s not my fault, then there’s nothing I can do.”

She zeroed in on my heart. “Where is Jesus in all this? Do you need him at all, or have you told him, ‘I got this’?”

Ouch, and thank you.

During this time, the verses of God’s unrequited love for his people fell heavy on my heart. How many times had I pushed God away?

In the coming days, I learned to bring my disappointments to the Lord, asking him to fill what seemed lacking in my marriage. I began to consider ways that I might tangibly rekindle my relationship with God and ask him to enable me to love my husband regardless of his response. That journey guarded me against bitterness and plunged me deeper into the depths of God’s love.

But I still was a recovering Pharisee, determined to fix my own problem.

God could heal us, of course, but was he willing? Days turned to months, and finally another year. The answer seemed to be “No.”

How I Found Grace

One Sunday, I opted out of church. In too much pain to raise my hands in worship and stand beside my husband, I went to work instead. My ailing marriage now affected my relationship with God, or . . . was it the reverse?

Tullian Tchividjian writes, “Suffering itself does not rob you of joy—idolatry does. If you’re suffering and you’re angry, bitter, and joyless, it means you’ve idolized whatever it is you’re losing. Joylessness and bitterness in the crucible of pain happens when we lose something that we’ve held onto more tightly than God.”

Marriage, however “perfect,” is not the ultimate relationship. While I acknowledged that in my head, it never occurred to me that I had taken this good gift from God and made it an idol. Where I had once doggedly held on to Jim for the sake of preserving our marriage, I now clung to Christ who had always held me. His grace changed perseverance from a duty to delight.

God gave me, a deeply flawed woman, the grace to love my deeply flawed man. Over the next few years, Jim rekindled his emotional affections toward me. When a close friend of Jim’s passed away, I insisted on traveling with him to the funeral. In the motel room just before heading to the service, he put his arm around me and prayed, “Thank you God for this woman who has always remained by my side, even when I was most undeserving.”

Most underserving. Both of us fit the category. Jim’s repentance required change on not only his part but also mine. Wasn’t that part of the angst of the older brother, when the prodigal returned?

The challenges in the second half of marriage, though different from the early years, can be just as daunting. I remain deeply grateful for my dear friends, who shepherded me through those difficult years and rejoiced with me at the transformation that took place at what seemed a painfully slow pace.

None of us knew it then, but time we would not grow old together.

Unlikely Gift

On October 1, 2013, three days before turning 54, Jim went home to be with the Lord. Now present with the Lord, Jim has been delivered from every besetting sin, and every blind spot he ever possessed.

Five years ago, responding to a blog post by Kevin DeYoung, I shared this anonymously in the comment section:

One day God will heal our marriage, as he will all broken relationships, be it tomorrow, or years from now, or even in heaven. Until then, I will rejoice in all the mercies the Lord has given me. He loves me and is faithful. . . . Am I still in love? You bet. I’m in. I still do.

Death granted me an unlikely gift. I saw my marriage through the lens of eternity where my “sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed” (Rom. 8:18).

“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Rom. 8:25).