I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the old John Wayne film The Quiet Man. It’s a true John Ford classic, even though it relies heavily on 1950s stereotypes. Without spoiling the whole thing for you, the two main characters are a boxer who retired from the ring because he landed a blow that killed a man, and a feisty, fiery redheaded whirlwind of a woman. The story develops around how these two forces of nature court and marry, but the boxer misreads his new bride’s family culture, and his stubborn pride clashes with her deep-rooted need to save face in the village. Great stuff. I won’t give away the best bits.
This idea of culture clash between newlyweds isn’t new. Nor is it always easily resolved. I’ve noticed this tension myself over quite a few years of counselling couples before their wedding day. The thing is, we learn how to deal with life in great part from watching our families as we grow up. Then we carry those strategies we learned into adulthood, and often we believe them to be the only right way. One might have grown up in a family of raucous outdoors adventurers while the other’s home was hushed in the quiet study of great literature. Neither is necessarily wrong, but if one person’s idea of a day well-spent involves rock-climbing and kayaking, and the other has more interest in a soft chair and a good book . . . well . . . there’s some negotiating to do.
The same problems hold true in matters of faith – with one important difference. Christianity isn’t a hobby or even a lifestyle, it’s not something you do; it’s something you are. Faith in Christ changes your nature. It can’t be negotiated away or compromised. Consider the folly in a negotiation like this: “I’ll pretend to be an unbeliever on Saturday if you’ll pretend to be a believer on Sunday.” So unlike the more straightforward questions of how we spend our leisure time – where there is no real right or wrong, only personal preference – when it comes to faith there is always a much deeper sense of disconnection.
The Apostles Peter and Paul both deal with the obvious question of what to do when you are in a marriage where only one partner is a believer in Christ. They offer similar advice: Don’t give up! By your quiet and humble testimony, who knows? Your unbelieving spouse may find salvation. I was pastor to a lady who had been praying for her husband for over forty years. Quietly going about her own faith, never putting him down or trying to shame him or bully him into the flock. She just went on loving him and praying for him to find Christ. She lived out what Peter taught:
Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. (1 Peter 3:1-2)
This respectful and dignified approach also applies, of course, to Christian men married to unbelieving women. The way you carry yourself and the way you deal with others speaks volumes about the reality of your faith.
The lady I mentioned? Yes, her husband came to faith in Christ, two wonderful years before he left her for heaven. Her daughter and then her son, both of whom had been far removed from the ways of the Lord, also joined her in the ranks of the redeemed. Winston Churchill might be renowned for the imperative “Never give in! Never, never, never give in!” but I’m sure he borrowed the idea from the Bible.