Anisa Sumlar is someone I am honored to call friend. Her heart is tender toward Jesus and she is faithful to sit at His feet. Since joining her on staff with Wellspring, this has been especially valuable to me as she has consistently prayed for and pursued my heart. I recently got to meet her husband JJ and experience the beauty of their union. This offering reminds me that vulnerability is hard, but oh so worth it!

– Dana Smith, Women’s Equipping Coordinator

For Better or For Worse

Next summer I will celebrate 25 years of being married to a man I’m absolutely head-over-heels in love with. I’ve told him I’d like to exchange vows again – just the two of us – because really, when you commit yourself the first time you have no idea what you’re signing up for. You think you do. Anyone 6 months further down the road will tell you, you really don’t. But pre-vows you’re pretty sure you know all about love and the love you share with your intended – it’s the kind that lasts. Nothing can convince you otherwise.

But 25 years in, you know what better looks like and you sure as heck know what worse looks like. So if you can still speak those same words of love and commitment that many years down the road it means more. There are nuances to the words that you know, that he knows, because you’ve lived through the highs and lows of life and you’re still standing. Together.

I was pretty sure that walking it out was not going to be pretty.

But even with the miles and years we’ve traveled, there are still some areas in our marriage where we’ve held back, protecting ourselves and our hearts. Some of it comes from unhealthy patterns and ways of relating early in our marriage. Some predates “us.” A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to press forward into a greater level of vulnerability in our marriage and I was conflicted. My husband shared how the Lord had spoken to him about an area (finances) where we’ve both been operating in independence and his sense that we needed to work together in unity going forward.

Sounds good in theory. But only in theory. I was pretty sure that walking it out was not going to be pretty. The area was one where he was strong and I was…not so much. He’d succeeded where I’d failed. And I was pretty sure that confessing my failure in this area was going to be the equivalent of a Titanic moment in our marriage.

I started our conversation by preparing him in advance.

“You’re not going to like what I have to say, but I need you to be a safe place for me,” I told him. And I shared about my struggle and failure in this area. He didn’t lash out. I could see the hurt. He expressed his pain and disappointment. But he knew, and I knew, that God was already aware of my failure before He laid it on my husband’s heart to lead in this area. I knew because I’d been praying for two years for the Lord to help me in this area, but I’d hoped he’d do so in a way that didn’t require confessing to my husband. This felt a bit like being thrown under the bus. But I knew when my husband first opened the conversation that I had a choice: I could continue in independence or I could walk in authenticity, being more vulnerable than I ever had in our marriage and risking my husband’s anger and division in our marriage (we’d had small skirmishes related to this area before and it Did. Not. Go. Well.).

“You’re not going to like what I have to say, but I need you to be a safe place for me”

For several days we talked through the issue, how it impacted us, how we felt about the impact, how we could move forward in a healthier manner. He shared his pain. I didn’t react or withdraw. I processed my pain and shared openly and he expressed his unconditional love. I honestly was blown away by how we walked through this. It was risky. It was scary. It went against everything each of us is in the natural. It was God-orchestrated. It was the culmination of years of small steps forward, trust in my husband’s heart towards me, my heart towards him and God’s heart for us. I’ve never felt so loved and supported and accepted by my husband. And even though I didn’t particularly care for God’s idea of an “answer” to my prayers, I felt cared for by God through the way my husband responded. They both dealt tenderly with my heart.

Going into the discussion I feared separation. Walking through to the other side there is strength and a new level of confidence we both feel in our marriage and our ability to navigate conflict. Since our pattern has often been a dance around independence, conditional unity on the “big” decisions and withdrawal or conflict when we couldn’t get on the same page we’ve begun to flirt with the idea of what it could look like if we were able to really understand and walk in God’s design for marriage. Not that we weren’t trying to do that before. But through this experience we gained a greater understanding of our distortions and protective strategies as well as the blessing of vulnerability. And we were given hope that we could do better. We could be better. We have chosen to be more intentional about investigating what the Bible says about relationships and marriage – I mean drag-out-the-concordance-and-dissect-key-words-in-their-original-Greek-and-Hebraic-form serious.

And I’ve turned over the credit cards ;).

One Step Further:

  • Where is God challenging you to greater surrender and authenticity?
  •  What would you have to believe in order to trust him there?
  • What is one step you could take toward believing that?