If you had asked me on my wedding day, “What is the most important ingredient in a happy marriage?” I would not have hesitated. The answer would be god. At that time in my life I had no doubt that my marriage would last. Not because we were so in love, or because we were committed to each other; but because we were 100% committed to god and his will for us. The rest would fall into place. At the age of twenty, I had an awful lot of confidence in god.
What makes a Christian marriage different? We prayed together. We went to church and tried to stay involved in some type of ministry. We believed god intended us for each other and that he did not make mistakes, so we were both sure that the other one would never leave. Perhaps a little more certain than we would have been without god, and that gave us a deeper faith in each other than we might otherwise have had so early on in our marriage.
I was the spiritual leader, which was a conflict for me. Something our pastor didn’t mention during premarital counseling is that Christianity brings its own category of things to fight about. We have roles to fill as Christian husbands and wives that do not apply to the secular world. Falling short in these specific areas is not only displeasing to your spouse, it is displeasing to god.
But my husband desired the things of god and I had always been a liberal Christian. This did not shake our happy foundation, but it did mean that on top of nagging him about household chores I was also nagging him about his spiritual growth. If he had come to me in those early years of marriage with a true crisis of faith I do not know that we would have survived it. Could god have intended for me to raise children with a man who didn’t believe? It would be impossible. Luckily I never had to worry about this because it was me, not him, who lost faith first.
We lived two lives back then. We had our Christian friends and our secular friends.
With our Christian friends, God was impossible to avoid. Jesus was on the edge of every conversation if not the topic itself. Faith connected us. Church friends held us accountable when it came to attending church and church-related events. We were still infatuated with the community of church and these friends represented that tradition.
Our secular friends were different. I suppose we thought we made good witnesses, but really we just weren’t that offended by their lack of god. These people made more sense to us. We liked what they liked, and we secretly detested the idea that every bit of music and art required a reference to god.
We started a band with some Christian friends and the songs my husband and I wrote together were never blatantly Christian. I would point to other artists to defend my belief that it was okay to be more than my relationship to god, but I resented having to explain it. Later we would form a band with secular friends and abandon god in our music entirely (although careful examination of those lyrics would reveal a girl who was clearly losing him). Again, this felt like a better fit for us.
That verse about who we yoke with? It’s not wrong. But we connected with our secular friends in a way we never did with our church friends. We felt at home with them. They never made us feel bad about our belief in god. Our Christian friends, on the other hand, were very skeptical of our secular relationships and activities. There was always a tone of condescending “worry” about our spiritual path. Their intent was to be protective and loving, but it made us feel as if we could never quite measure up to the Christians around us. Did we even want to? On this point, my husband and I were in complete agreement.
Guess which friendships have stood the test of time.
I would be lying if I said these relationships didn’t make it easier to lose faith in god. Of course they did. But they were not the cause, they simply created an environment where it was easier to be who we really wanted to be. What happened next was up to us.
Little by little we abandoned our faith practices. It began with inconsistency; less prayer and a few missed Sundays at church. As the spiritual leader between us I made this decision. We would go through cycles of guilt and determination to get back on track but my heart wasn’t in it. Our relationship with god had become a separate, individual experience. We hardly ever shared god anymore and I did little to change this. After several years of marriage I woke up one day and realized that the most important ingredient in our marriage was missing.
And it didn’t matter.
Our relationship to each other had only become stronger. Our commitment was still intact. We had matured and learned a thing or two about picking battles and resolving conflict. God was absent, but neither of us seemed to notice because neither of us had been making him a priority. He only mattered when we decided to make him matter. I had truly never been closer to my husband, and god had nothing to do with it.
But you know god. Always a mind fuck. As long as I believed he was real, I would be tormented (at least occasionally) over how to get back to where we were. It was unacceptable to have a successful marriage without god. Something terrible must be on the horizon. I needed to explore my feelings about god and get to the heart of why I couldn’t make him fit in my life anymore. I think we all know where this is going….
By the time I knew for sure that I no longer believed in god, I also knew that my husband would not leave me over it. He still had faith, but we had long escaped a world where god couldn’t be ignored. I knew this man. I knew that I owned more of his heart than god did and that it was only a matter of time before he figured it out. I had finally left behind the girl who would have said, “but you cannot love anyone more than god!” You can, and you should.
I am still the spiritual leader between us, and my confession was no doubt the push my husband needed. But you know god…. Ten years later, and I find out my husband still prays now and again. I’ve been there. I don’t want to take god away if he isn’t ready for that, but my decision to write this blog has opened up the dialog again. (You can read the specifics in parts one and two of an interview I did with my husband back in June.)
We have now been married for nineteen years and we could not be happier. We are good at this, and we are more in love than ever before. Love without god….what would the twenty year old me think? The concept of god did bring us together, but he didn’t turn out to be the glue we thought he was.
So for those of you who have built your marriage on Christ and are having a crisis of faith, don’t despair. God only interferes when you ask him to. It turns out there are a wide variety of wonderful recipes for marriage that don’t include god at all.