In many ways the role of the unequally yoked wife and mother is identical to that of any Christian woman. She is to be a helpmeet, friend, sexual partner, and counselor to her husband. She is to train up her children in the ways of the Lord. But there is one way in which her duties are entirely different. She’s totally responsible, in the human sense, for her and her children’s spiritual growth.
…Not only is the unequally yoked wife responsible for the basic spiritual upbringing of her children, but she is also answerable for her own growth and maturity. This means she, too, must study the Word. She must pray, and follow God’s admonition to not forsake assembling together with believers. (See Hebrews 10:25.)
There IS a Difference Though
She can do many of these things when her husband isn’t home. But what if he doesn’t want her to go to church on Sunday? Many unsaved husbands resent having their weekends interrupted. They feel the whole day is lost by the time their wives and children get home from church.
“Lois acts as if lightning will strike her dead if she doesn’t go to church on Sunday,” Chris complained, “I’d like for us to go away for the weekend, or go to the desert or beach and spend the day, but to her Sunday is a sacred cow.”
Lois is making problems for herself by drawing such a hard line. She’s shutting out her husband and nurturing jealousy of the Lord in him. She’s telling him, by her actions, that she’d rather go to church and be with Christians than go somewhere with him.
MARRIAGE MISSIONS EDITORS NOTE:
[While this may seem to the wife to be a right priority—choosing worshiping the Lord over spending time with her husband, it’s important not to allow the “times” in which you worship to become more important than ministering to your husband’s spirit. If your actions bring about his becoming jealous of your time with God what will motivate him to want to know your God better? As author Jo Berry writes, “Remember that it is Christ, and not the church, who demands her allegiance. She shouldn’t confuse time spent with God with time spent at the church. She should do Christian things —such as reading and studying the Bible, fellowshipping with other Christians, and instructing her children in the ways of the Lord —when her husband isn’t around.”]
There are several things an unequally yoked wife can do to keep church attendance from becoming a controversy. One, she needs to understand the difference between loyalty to the Lord and loyalty to the church. She is not forsaking the cause of Christ if she misses Sunday services. Some unsaved husbands are so unreasonable that they forbid their wives to go to church on Sunday. ”
Instead of causing a fight, “Martha said, “I stay home with Ted, then go to weekday Bible study. I also listen to a tape of Sunday’s sermon. I see to it that I read a Bible story to the kids every day and send them to church with friends, as often as I can. Then Ted and I have Sunday mornings to ourselves. That way the kids still go to church and my husband feels special, too.”
Christian fellowship and assembling together to pray and worship are important. When they happen is a variable. Rose said she was relieved when her pastor told her that the early church met every day and night, in homes all around the city. They ate, studied, and worshiped together whenever it was possible. Nowhere does the Bible say we have to go to church every Sunday morning. It says we are to meet together frequently, as a corporate group of believers.
A Christian woman who is married to an unbeliever may have to adjust her schedule to meet both his and her needs. She should not ignore, nor overemphasize, Sundays. Lil said, “I always went when I could, but I was always ready to make exceptions.” Many women suggested that the wife ask her husband several days in advance if he wants to make plans for the weekend or if she can go to church on Sunday. That way he doesn’t feel left out.
Differences Don’t Have to Be Devastating
In the human sense, shouldering the total spiritual responsibility for herself and her children is an overwhelming task. It not only involves raising and disciplining the children in a godly manner, going to church, and studying the Word, but it also encompasses implementing God’s behavior standards in everyday life situations. That, most unequally yoked wives agree, is where some fundamental difficulties arise. Conflicts over morals, spending money, social activities, and friends, are common.
“It gets lonely,” Martha used. “Lots of times I look like a party-pooper. I’m the killjoy, the fall guy. Sometimes it’s just me and the Lord, but when it is, I remember His grace is sufficient.”
How can an unequally yoked wife do what is expected of her, in a Christian sense, and still not invoke the wrath of her husband when she must, out of necessity, take a firm stand on scriptural issues? The overwhelming counsel of women who have leaned from experience is that she should not make a “religious” issue out of the problem.
For example, if an unsaved husband wants his wife to do something dishonest, instead of saying such things are against what the Bible teaches, she should say they’re against her personal moral principles. And it’s true, they are. Karen was caught in that kind of quandary when her husband falsified their income tax. They file a joint return, so she had to sign it. He hadn’t tried to hide what he was doing: padding their contributions list, including what she supposedly had donated to the church, and claiming personal expenditures as business deductions.
She knew she couldn’t sign the return. “I wanted to yell at him and ask him if he didn’t know that cheating on taxes is wrong, but instead I prayed a lot and asked my Bible study to pray, too. One dear grandma told me not to tell Will that God was the reason I couldn’t sign. She suggested I write a list of all the reasons why I wouldn’t, apart from the fact that it’s against one of the Lord’s commandments.”
That’s what Karen did. When Will asked her to sign it, she told him she couldn’t because it went against her moral standards of right and wrong, and that, most of all, since falsifying income tax returns is a felony, he was asking her to be his accomplice in crime.
“At first he was furious, accused me of overreacting, and used the old ‘everybody does it’ line. But I stood my ground, so he had no choice but to change the figures, because our tax was due and the forms had to be sent in with both of our signatures. It was hard not to give in to his pressure, but I didn’t,” Karen concluded.
Although she was resisting because she knew that signing the return would be breaking the law of the Lord, God never became an issue. But her husband saw that his wife is a woman who sticks to her deep, moral convictions.
To Go or Not to Go
Social activities and friends are another source of conflict; but again, difficulties surrounding them can be minimized if an unequally yoked wife will use common sense. One problem she consistently faces is “to go or not to go.” To what extent should a Christian wife expose herself to the world? Where should she draw the line? The general consensus of opinion, by women who have learned how to deal sensibly with such predicaments is, if it isn’t a sin, go.
In other words, if an unbelieving husband wants his wife to go to an X-rated movie, that would be sin because she would be exposing herself to lustful, erotic, mental, and physical sexual stimulation. If he asks her to experiment with the possibility of an open marriage, that’s sin, because Scripture clearly condemns extra-marital sex. If he asks her to lie for him, that’s sin, because we’ve been commanded not to bear false witness.
But, if he wants her to go to an office party, where everyone will be drinking and using foul language—that is not sin. Connie said, “Look, I have the Holy Spirit within me and my body in His temple, so I just take my altar and go with Brock.”
Noticing the Contrast
Many unequally yoked wives attested that by going with their husbands and participating in whatever way they could, they felt they strengthened their marriages. An unsaved husband can’t help but notice the contrast between his wife, who’s friendly, laughing, and having a good time, and those people who are loud and boisterous because they’ve had too much to drink. Her genuine enjoyment will overshadow their pseudo, artificially induced pleasure.
Some women believe that going to worldly social functions with their husbands creates opportunities to witness. Sally told how she met Beth, a co-worker of her husband’s, at a dinner party at George’s boss’s house. “When I asked for tonic water with a twist of lime instead of a cocktail, she asked me if I have a problem with liquor. I told her no, I just don’t like to drink. We started talking and it ends up she has a secret drinking problem. Now I’m helping her with it, and we first met over cocktails.”
Barbara stressed that no one can make her sin or detract from her godliness unless she lets him. She said that when she knows she is going into a worldly social situation, she fasts and prays that day. That way God can fortify her to spiritually withstand the things that are offensive to her. “I ask Him to show me the lostness of the people there and give me opportunities, no matter how small, to share some of what I have in Christ with them.”
Another problem centers around ongoing relationships. Many couples have similar interests, regardless of their spiritual status, and enjoy the company of the same kinds of people. Their individual friends are acceptable to both the husband and wife. Their mutual friends are ones with whom they have a lot in common. But sometimes, in an unequally yoked marriage, the believer’s desires are so different from those of her unsaved mate. She cannot accept her husband’s friends, or people with whom he wants them to socialize as a couple.
Frequently, an unequally yoked wife is afraid of her husband’s friends will lead him farther away from the ideals she’s praying he’ll develop. She’s afraid that if she accepts his choice of companions she’ll be condoning the relationships. Yet if she nags or overtly condemns his cohorts, she’ll only intensify the problem.
The women I interviewed suggested several helpful ways of approaching and dealing with this dilemma. First, an unequally yoked wife must accept the fact that she’s not responsible for what her husband does. She can’t force him to behave in a certain way, nor can she choose his friends for him.
She should be aware that the more negatively she reacts to his choice of acquaintances and activities, the more he’ll resist her interference. He purposely may pick certain types of friends just to defy her wishes. He may want to show her that he is his own person.
she should evaluate her husband’s associates on the basis of their individual personalities and character, rather than on externals. Just because his buddies smoke, drink, or swear occasionally doesn’t mean they’re highly immoral. If they use drugs and engage in illegal activities, that’s a different story. She has to learn not to overreact to normal worldly externals.
She should use “reverse psychology.” Instead of degrading or snubbing her husband’s friends, she should help him cultivate deeper relationships with those who can offer positive input. Dana shared that she found that if she talked favorably about the friends she liked, and was hospitable to them, the less favorable affiliations eventually dwindled.
The unequally yoked wife would be wise to see that her husband’s friends feel comfortable and welcome in their home. “I used to cringe when I bought booze for Dave to offer his pals when they came over,” Dana said. “But I decided I’d rather have them hanging around our house. This way I could have some influence on what happens. It’s better than having them sitting in some bar or going to a home where there’s an ‘anything goes’ atmosphere.”
She must realize that her unsaved husband sometimes wants to go off alone with his friends. That doesn’t mean he’s deserting her or their family. “I used to resent it terribly when Brian would go fishing or hunting for a weekend. I also resented when he’d go bowling or to a ball game with the boys,” Kerri admitted. “One night when he asked if I’d care if he and five of his buddies went skiing the following weekend, I flipped. I ranted about how he was always looking for excuses to get away, which isn’t true. I told him how selfish he was to want to spend our money on himself like that.
“After I calmed down, he very quietly asked me how I’d feel if he’d have said those kinds of things to me when I asked him if I could go to the women’s retreat our church had.” Kerri confessed that she was so convicted she started to cry. “He’d been so sweet about my going. He kept the kids. I was so ashamed.”
She says she learned that, in Brian’s eyes, her going to a church retreat is no different from his going on a skiing trip. She learned that her going to Wednesday night church is the same in his thinking as when he goes bowling. “It’s something we do with our separate friends,” she concluded.
An unequally yoked wife has to remember that all of her husband’s friends aren’t wicked, lecherous people who want to lead him down the path of destruction. When they plan activities with him they aren’t doing it to take him away from his home and family. They just enjoy being with him.
Pray Alone and Stay Together
Ultimately, the only way a Christian wife can cope with the constant barrage of conflicts she faces is through prayer. Prayer helps her maintain her perspective and equilibrium. It’s her source of godly wisdom, the microscope through which she can examine her actions and motives, and get direction.
We often quote the promise in James 1:5. But just as often we fail to apply it in the setting in which it was written. In context, James is saying we should ask for God’s wisdom when we encounter various trials. When our faith is being tested, we need God’s strength to keep on keeping on. “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all men generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.” “Consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).
So it is during those times of conflict, when the unequally yoked wife feels she is going to cave in. She may feel that God has given her more than she can handle. But when she is forced to make decisions about controversial areas we’ve discussed, she can call on the Lord. That is when He will give her more wisdom than she needs.
This article comes from the book, Beloved Unbeliever: Loving Your Husband into the Faith -written by Jo Berry, published by Zondervan Publishing House. This book could truly help those who are married to unbelieving spouses. Jo knew what it was like to live with an unbelieving spouse. She also interviewed dozens of women who are married to unbelievers. In this book they share the greatest difficulties they encounter(ed) and practical ways to handle the problems.