Embracing My Wedding Vows and Letting Go of Other Vows
by Emma Chambers
When Christian women tell me of their decision to divorce, a question often comes to mind. In my times of despair when I wanted to give up, the Lord whispered this same question to me: What about your marriage vows?
I made promises on my wedding day—before God and a crowd of people we loved—promises to love unconditionally and forever. How sincere I felt when I recited these words:
I take you, Randy, to be my husband to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part.
Yet those words seemed to mean little when I faced “or for worse” times of our marriage, often because I became entangled in the world’s view of love and marriage, which is “as long as we both shall love” or “as long as we both feel happy.”
Vows Outside the Marriage Vows
I discovered one reason I found it hard to keep my wedding day vows was because I made vows outside of those—promises which often won out over promises of forever love. These promises I made to myself centered on withholding love under certain conditions. Usually these other vows started out with, “If my husband ever…” and end with “I will not put up with it,” or “I’ll leave him.” These subconscious vows, what some call “inner vows,” seldom surface until a time of deep soul-searching.
Randy and I came into our marriage with these other vows, ones just as dangerous as other women or another man. I made these vows to protect myself—contracts with my flesh to avoid hurt. Such vows are Satan’s counterfeit of godly vows (which are promises to God) written of in the Bible: “Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High” (Psalm 50:14).
Marriage Without Other Vows
Because I carried unrealistic expectations into marriage, I mistakenly thought inner vows would help me attain my lofty goals. My mother celebrates a successful 66-year marriage because she didn’t have such unrealistically high expectations which she says belong to my generation. She lived in an orphanage from age five to twelve. Because of this, she didn’t take a roof over her head, clothes on her back and plenty of food to eat for granted. Because her husband, my father, provided food, clothing, and shelter, she knew he loved her. She views anything above that as a bonus.
Other Vows Randy and I Made
In counseling, I discovered my number one vow which affected our marriage: “No one’s going to hurt me the way my father did.”
I asked Randy about his.
“No one’s going to control me the way my mother did,” he answered without hesitation.
As we looked carefully at how these vows worked in our marriage, we saw he carried out his “I won’t let her control me” vow through anger and withdrawal from me—which I found hurtful. Consequently, I tried to deal with his anger and/or withdrawals through even further attempts to control him—which made him angrier and caused him to withdraw even more. Thus the vicious cycle went for years. It escalated until we uncovered and renounced the inner vows we made. But still, if we’re not alert, we slip back into this cycle.
It’s good to check periodically for any vows or promises which may lurk in the deep recesses of my mind, such as:
-I refuse to stay with a man who lies to me.
-I can be married only to a man who prays with me.
-I’m gone if he speaks hatefully to me.
These vows remained hidden during hard times, and led to thoughts deep inside that said, I don’t love him anymore and even at times, I have to leave my husband.
The Vow to Change Him
A major area for such vows came when I wanted to change my husband. I found issues I didn’t like before we married, so I made prenuptial promises like, “Once we’re married, I’ll get him to change that.” Areas for this kind of vow included drinking, smoking, TV-watching habits, temperament, messiness, and others.
When my husband didn’t cooperate with my vows, my heart-hardening began. And a hard heart eventually proclaims, “I don’t love him anymore.” The tricky aspect of vows came when they hurt my prayer life because I made them without God in the equation. Once I renounced the vows I made, my prayer life flourished, and God began to work mightily.
Here is a prayer I’ve found helpful when I feel caught in inner vows which compete with my wedding vows:
Lord, reveal to me any vows I made, and help me let go of them and fully embrace my wedding vows. Help me believe Your love can flow through me to my husband, so I can love him forever—the way You love me. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
This article is taken from Emma’s book …Or For Worse: Loving Your Husband Through Hard Times. Emma Chambers is a pseudonym for a writer living in the southeast. Emma and her husband recently celebrated 44 years of marriage.
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