Learning To Live Amid The Ashes
by Mesu Andrews
“[Job’s] wife said to him, ‘Are you still holding onto your integrity? Curse God and die!'” (Job 2:9 NIV).
While Job sits on an ash pile, enduring agony that defies description, his tragedy-weary wife wins Grand Prize in the “How NOT To Encourage Your Spouse” contest. In response, Job informs his wife that she’s got a thing or two to learn about God, earning him First Runner-Up in the un-encourager competition.
Because Job experienced tragedy in virtually every aspect of life, his story shouts a relevant message nearly 4,000 years later. The loss of livelihood, a child’s death, and chronic illness are hardships to which many can relate today. And when everything Job held dear was stripped away, he was left to struggle through the wreckage of a difficult marriage. How does a couple survive such troubled times?
I’ve heard it said that at any point in life, people are entering adversity, enduring adversity, or emerging from adversity. Married couples can learn to love amid the ashes of adversity by living out Job’s example in each of these three seasons.
Prepare for Adversity
When life is simple and joy abounds, practice communication skills. If a couple can’t talk about their grocery list, the process of determining cancer treatment will be excruciating. Hone communication skills when it’s fun to talk. Choose topics that both enjoy or alternate topics of interest between husband and wife. Make an effort to get involved in joint hobbies, or at least cultivate ways to spend time together even if engaged in separate interests. My husband is an avid sports fan, so my laptop is my best friend during football and basketball seasons. But we’re in the same room together, and we chat during commercials. It works for us. Find something that works for you!
The same is true for a couple’s spiritual communication skills. Become familiar with your spouse’s favorite Bible verse or favorite biblical character. Ask why. Some couples find it helpful to experience devotional time together. My husband and I have very different spiritual personalities, so that hasn’t been helpful for us; but we love to share the fabulous things God is doing with us, for us and in us.
On the Ash Heap of Adversity
If a couple has cultivated a comfortable friendship, adversity may naturally deepen the relationship. However, hard times can reveal hairline fractures in even the most firmly established marriages. So how does a couple cope when challenged by hardship?
During a time when my husband endured the painful end of a job and was then laid off from another position twice within a year, we attended a small country church whose pastor and people taught us a very important lesson: God is not your enemy, so watch for His blessing at the end of the suffering. In fact, Scripture applauds Job for that very thing: “In all this [suffering], Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing” (Job 1:22 NIV).
My husband entered seminary soon after those lay-offs, and I was convinced pastoral ministry would be the end of all our suffering. Why would I think that when Jesus plainly says we’ll have trouble in this world (John 16:33)? So during our early years of ministry, I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a condition marked by chronic fatigue and widespread pain. Like Job, I was tempted to ask God, “Why?” In 2002, another health crisis hit and kept me in bed for six months. Continuing chronic illness meant I rested at home most days, and we realized our ministry days as a couple had ended–as we had known it. Hardship called for change, and we were left with a pile of ashes to sort through.
At first, we struggled with the practical issues of, Who picks up the slack when Mama Bear can’t cook or do laundry? But those daily annoyances paled as we held each other and cried, “Why, Lord? Why us? Why now? What are You teaching us?” Though we heard no voice from a storm, we discovered the message of Job 38-41. It’s never about why; it’s about Who. As my husband and I learned more of Who God is through Bible study, discussions and godly counsel, the whys became less important; and our learning partnership drew us together.
Emerging From the Ash Heap
Difficult days change the marriage relationship and the individuals in it. A couple may draw God around them like a blanket, moving closer to Him and each other while adversity swirls around. Or adversity can lodge between a husband and wife, pushing them apart. Since life is fluid, however, neither position is permanent.
Togetherness must be nurtured, and distance can be overcome. Talking about simple things can both nurture togetherness and overcome distance while building communication skills for larger issues. Realize that adversity changes the individuals and the couple, requiring the rebuilding of damaged areas. As a couple shares their attitudes toward God, they can candidly express their desire for His role in future struggles. A wise couple considers the ashes behind them and plans for those ahead.
Whether we’re entering, enduring or emerging from adversity, Job’s life recorded in Scripture is a testimony of hope to any couple. Romans 5:3 says it beautifully, “…rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts…” Amid suffering comes hope that is fulfilled by God’s gracious love poured into our heartsÑa love we then share with one another. From Job’s suffering life lessons, may we draw hope and learn to love amid the ashes.
Mesu Andrews is an active speaker who has devoted herself to the passionate study of Scripture. Harnessing her deep understanding and love for God’s Word, she brings the biblical world alive for her readers in her debut novel, Love Amid the Ashes. She lives in Washington with her husband, Roy.