Help: We’re Married and Heading in Different Spiritual Directions

Help_ my husband is drawn to orthodox
Dear Bronwyn,

My Husband is increasingly drawn to Orthodox Christianity, and I don’t know what to do…

A shared faith was central when we married a few years ago, but it has since become a struggle and source of conflict. My husband and I met and married in a college group at a Protestant Church. He became curious about Orthodox Christianity before we married, but I tried to make it clear that I did not ever see myself becoming Orthodox. Since we married, we have gone to various Protestant churches, but lately he feels drawn towards Orthodoxy again. When I work weekends, he attends an Orthodox church and has incorporated Orthodox traditions into his routine (daily prayers, etc.) I have tried to be supportive by reading about it, but I still really disagree and don’t feel I am supposed to convert. I am struggling with resentment since I feel we agreed on this before we married, but don’t want to discourage him from something which he feels is important to his spiritual growth. He really appreciates the liturgy and the ties to the early church. We are both trying to accommodate each other and would like to worship together, but we really disagree here and feel so torn.

Help?

– An Unorthodox Wife

Dear UW,

None of us marry as spiritually complete or stationary people. On the one hand, this is really encouraging: hopefully it means we will have a growing faith which refines our character and makes us better able to love and show grace as the years go by. On the other hand, it is terrifying, because who knows what changes lie ahead?

I understand how threatening this must feel to you both, and really respect that you want to worship together, remain considerate of each other, and that continued spiritual growth is on both your agendas. That is HUGELY important. But this does seem to be something of an impasse, and you two will need to continue to talk with each other vulnerably and lovingly as each of you grow.

As someone who grew up in a very unstructured, happy-clappy church, it came as something of a shock to find myself in a liturgical Anglican church in college. It seemed so stale and archaic at first. I did not care for the Book of Common Prayer, and had to try hard not to roll my eyes with the common readings and the reciting of the Creeds. But, I came to love the liturgy: I learned something about praying with the fellowship of saints across the globe and across time, and hearing the collect prayers, in particular, drew out new ways to pray for timely issues using timeless Scripture. When we landed up at a Baptist church in the US, I was surprised by how much I missed the liturgy which I had spurned at first.

Where am I going with this? I’m saying that I understand some of the draw. Your husband’s attraction is shared by many millennial who are frustrated by the dogmatism of evangelicalism and its culture wars. It can be hard to express solidarity with Christians in the present when there is so much-hair splitting, so it is comforting so find solidarity with Christians of the past. Peter Enns posted this cartoon recently: it’s funny because it’s true.

11007614_628927553920047_152492327_nI want to encourage you to not be afraid. Orthodox Christianity is different in its language and expression to the way in which you came to know the gospel, and I really do understand how threatening that feels (like that time my pot got me in trouble.) But it is not heretical, and there really are faithful believers who know and love Jesus in that community – people who might be very blessed to know you and who might bring great joy into your life too – even if you just visit there from time to time. Try to keep reading, and I dare you to pray that God might reveal Himself to you in new and unexpected ways as you read and visit. One person who has walked this road before is Marilyn Gardner, who describes herself as a reluctant orthodox. (She’s so kind – you could contact her through her blog if you had questions.) My wise twitter friends also recommended Frederica Matthews-Green’s book Facing East and Peter Gillquist’s Becoming Orthodox as helpful reads.

But I also don’t think you need to convert if you don’t feel this is where God is calling you right now, nor do you need to fear that your husband is going to walk away without you. If you imagine that both of you are standing at a crossroads together, and the fear is that you two will land up taking separate paths – take heart. Thus far, you get to walk hand in hand together a little ways down each path to see the view before coming back to the crossroads again. You can walk down this road without fear that you are walking away from God, even though I know it is uncomfortable. With time, love, talking and prayer, this will become clearer for you both. You may land up loving it. You may never love it, but choose to go at times because you love and support your husband. You may both find another road opens up which you are both excited about. But know this: it will not feel like this forever.

Keep talking, and keep asking God to show you the next step. James 1 promises if we ask for wisdom He always gives it. This is a good instance to set down your anchor in that promise. God has a good plan for drawing both you and your husband closer to Himself (that’s always His goal, after all), and even though you can’t see how that might be possible – He is the one who can do immeasurably more than you ask or can even imagine.

Grace and Peace to you from our God and Father,

Bronwyn

 

Photo credit: Thomas Berg – Orthodox Church (Flickr Creative Commons) , edited by Bronwyn Lea. Cartoon: Tom’s Doubts #14 by Saji.

 

12 thoughts on “Help: We’re Married and Heading in Different Spiritual Directions

  1. Pingback: » Help: We’re Married and Heading in Different Spiritual Directions

  2. Lots of thoughts, not a lot of time. But I’ll say this: love that cartoon. I had to show it to my husband (and the kids had to see it too, though I’m not certain they understood). I know some pastors who might appreciate it (or not).

  3. LOVE the cartoon! When Orthodox are dismissed, that’s the diagram they love to show! I’m not sure if you’ve seen the bumper sticker “Orthodox – proclaiming truth since 33AD” I’m grateful & honored that you linked to my Reluctant Orthodox series. Interesting, since I have joined this community, I have seen it is usually men who first stumble on it, and we in loving them and longing for spiritual connection, reluctantly step in. One of the things I love about Orthodoxy and priests as well as others said this to us over and over “Yavash, Yavash!” in Turkish. It literally means slowly by slowly, but it also means doing something slowly and quietly without bringing much attention to it. That helped tremendously. I realized this was not something we had to rush into. We could take our time and thoughtfully pursue it. And so I did and now I’m Chrismated as Sophia Maria into the Orthodox faith….what a journey.

  4. We had the same thing happen to a couple in my church. My pastor pointed out that the woman’s first obligation is to Christ, second to her husband. He is abandoning the faith. Really. If he continues, you will find yourself in the position of the abandoned wife or coerced in abandoning your faith. Remember, the one thing a husband can not tell his wife to do is sin. To be honest, if he doesn’t repent and you are faithful to Christ, then your marriage is over. Under these circumstances, you would be able to remarry

    • I disagree that worshipping at an Orthodox church would constitute “abandoning your faith” or sin. The letter above is a shortened version of what the reader sent to me, but I am in no doubt that both the husband and the wife in this relationship are both deeply committed to Christ, but struggling over how best to express and grow in that commitment. There are things about Orthodox Christianity that make me deeply uncomfortable too (the icons, to say the least), but to label Orthodox worshippers as sinners or apostates seems highly unfair and, if I dare so, unChristlike. We all have our blind spots, and we would be fools to think we have the corner on faithfulness.

  5. Bronwyn, your balanced, wise counsel is as fabulous as the cartoon! Perhaps Unorthodox Wife will find comfort in an overview. When I felt called to join the RC church when I was 30 most of my friends were horrified. My father disowned me. My mother had a massive heart attack (likely from other factors, but I felt like the last straw). My closest friend blamed the man I had fallen in love with, although she and I had shared the “shocking newness” of the charismatic renewal for several years. Mother’s miraculous recovery was aided by the ministry of an RC priest I knew. Later, she took a class at a RC university and acknowledged our beliefs were still the same. She interfaced with Dad; he saw I had not parked my brains at the church doors. The man I loved died; but I remained Catholic and through that church met my husband. The Church was changing tremendously; I learned I did not have to embrace the evil in its history — or in any history, including my own. (I know, dumb; but I had to work through those issues that still keep churches apart.) Twenty years later, regressive changes in the Church and abuses in our local church led us to the Anglicans (the parents were thrilled). One son’s schizophrenia kept us home 24/7 for a decade.While the local churches dwindled, we solved problems within our family that have global applications — my discoveries about the cause and the cure for mental illness. My behavioral science is improved for having learned the “dialects” of several Christian denominations, including that ancient, difficult one.

    • Thanks, Laurna. I haven’t had quite as broad a range of experience as you have, but the exposure I have across faith traditions in different countries has done much to be me confidence that grace is bigger than our categories, and that there are many who love Jesus in every place.

  6. You did a very nice job with this post Bronwyn.

    I am of the evangelical variety, so I understand the perspectives and even fear of “Unorthodox Wife”, and even more so as one intermarried with a Jewish man.

    However, one question I’d like to ask those who feel converting to Orthodox Christianity, or Catholicism for that matter, is abandoning the faith, is when do they believe the church began? If they say it was Acts chapter 2, as most Christians do, then what do they think happened to the church between the end of the first century until Martin Luther posted his Ninty-five Theses in 1517, a mere 498 years ago? Discrediting RC and EO means that there was no church on earth for 1500 of the last 2000 years since Jesus ascended. I have a problem with that. 🙂

    In the Book Journeys Of Faith (Zondervon, forward by Scot McKnight) Former Evangelical pastor of First Baptist of Wheaton, IL writes about his journey towards Eastern Orthodox conversion. Craig Blaising writes a response, and takes up some issues from an evangelical perspective, afterward a rejoinder is offered by the first author. This same format is used with an evangelical conversion to Roman Catholocism, with a response from Gregg Allision, and even a Catholic who converted to Evangelical Christianity. It definitely gives much food for thought and I think it would be very helpful. It’s an interesting read and Amazon offers a Kindle version as well.

    http://www.amazon.com/Journeys-Faith-Evangelicalism-Catholicism-Anglicanism/dp/031033120X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1425885263&sr=8-1&keywords=JourneyS+of+faith

    • That book sounds fascinating. Thank you so much for the recommendation and good food for thought: it is impossible that God abandoned his church entirely for 1500 years (and I say this as a justification by faith girl!)

      • “it is impossible that God abandoned his church entirely for 1500 years (and I say this as a justification by faith girl!)”

        I agree, and I am as well.

        A very wise Jewish believer once told me that “perfect theology” is not a requirement “for God to show up”, and I agree. If not, we’re all very likely in trouble! 🙂

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