by Joe Leavell

Jenn left the house feeling completely distraught and helpless. Sitting in her car, she sat frozen to her seat, clueless with what she should do or where she should go. Divorce wasn’t supposed to be an option because she knew God hates divorce. She knew it would deeply impact the children and hated the idea of giving up. She also knew that she could not live one moment longer in the same house with the man that she had called “husband” for the past 15 years.

Things hadn’t always been this way. They had certainly begun their relationship in a bright place full of hope! What on earth had happened? How did they go from the happiest moment in their life on their wedding day to now, after 15 years, barely able to say two words to each other without shouting and shedding tears? Yet here they were, practically strangers, barely even roommates.

Her mind was swirling with conflicting thoughts. She had tried so hard to do everything she had learned! She had been understanding, supportive, and encouraging. They’d gone to seminars, had date nights, and read relationship books! Neither one of them believed in divorce, so what choice did she have but to dig in and try harder? Yet the more they both tried, the more wounded and frustrated they became. These days, her heart had to work through the pain just to muster the strength to say, “Good morning” to him. Surely this isn’t what God had in mind when He designed marriage! In her pain, the word “divorce” sounded more inviting than staying. She felt like she had no choice. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again expecting different results, she had fully surrendered to that madness long ago.

“This has to end. God hates divorce, but He certainly can’t want this! I can’t do this anymore!”

Is There an Option C?

Many people who come for marriage counseling find themselves in Jenn and her husband’s situation. They are completely worn out and have scarcely enough strength for one last final ditch effort. In many instances, they’ve tried therapy numerous times, and what are they used to hearing? God wants them to go back and try harder. Talk more. Go on more dates. Buy each other more gifts. Serve more. Learn their love language more! Initiate sex more! More! More! More…more of what they have tried and failed at so many times before.

Being told to go back and try harder in your marriage when you’re completely exhausted is like telling someone who almost drowned to get back into the pool and just kick harder. When a couple gets to that place, even if they don’t believe in divorce, they often feel as if they have no strength left for the fight. If there was another way, they would take it, but for all they knew, no such option exists. It’s either, A) go try again and get even more hurt and make things even worse, or B) divorce. Though divorce is messy and painful it feels like the only real option left to relieve the pain.

If you are anywhere close to where Jenn was at, please know that you and God agree on one point. He has never had a desire for you to go back and try harder at what doesn’t work. It really is time for you to give up trying so hard! But not giving up to divorce. Why? Because God has given another option – a better option that you may not have considered.

What is Option C?

God’s design for marriage has never been rooted in our best efforts, but rather in Himself. He designed our relationships to glorify Himself as a reflection of both His character and of the Gospel of Christ. While many of us have heard that marriage thrive when both the husband gives 100% and the wife gives 100%, this isn’t quite accurate. God never intended you to succeed in marriage by your own best efforts. He intended you and your spouse to surrender your efforts to His in worship.

In the fall of mankind, the image of God in man was shattered like a mirror, and marriage became warped making complete intimacy impossible. Adam and Eve hid themselves from God and each other. Quickly, they found themselves in a full-blown fight with Adam blaming Eve, and even God, for all their new troubles.

Just like Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves to try to fix their problems, many counselors and therapists will give a lot of tips and tools on how to communicate better, how to have better sex, how to have a better spouse before the weekend, how to do, do, do. Yet for all of our best efforts, we will fall frustratingly short of God’s ultimate design and purpose for marriage.

Why? You are not the Savior of your marriage and you were never intended to be!

“Option C” then is not more “Do.” “Option C” ultimately is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that says, “Done.” Beautifully, the same Gospel of Jesus Christ that will raise us from the grave is the same Gospel that has the power to raise our marriages from the dead!

How does this work? In His perfect sacrifice on the cross, Christ bought for us true and lasting peace with God and began changing your heart. He began to piece together the mirror of the image of God in you that had been broken. In this way, as you surrender your relationship completely over to Christ’s control and His design for marriage, He provides the grace you need to build something beautiful!

What Does that Mean Practically?

Simply stated, this option means that rather than working hard to “fix our marriage” or hopelessly treading water until we drown, we are now surrendering to God’s working in our hearts to restore us into His image. Rather than starting with the question, “What can I do to fix this?” together with our spouse we ask questions like, “What did Jesus already accomplish on our behalf?” “What did God design for marriage?” “What aspects of our marriage do not reflect the Gospel we believe?”

This isn’t to say, “Go back and try harder and just say more Jesus words.” Option C does not mean that things will magically get better because you try to sprinkle some “Jesus juice” into your relationship. Yet as we learn, and as we yield to His control, our hearts move from merely trying to “save our marriage” to something greater: seeing our relationship as a powerful conduit for our worship of Christ. The more we surrender to His good design, the more the mirror of our marriage begins to slowly be restored and our relationship will reflect the Gospel.

Remember that change takes time! It took time to get to the place where you are at and it will take time to recover. People who are rescued from drowning don’t immediately get back in the pool and swim laps. While this is the cycle of growth that takes a lifetime, He can begin doing that work in your life today!

Please don’t just try harder at failure but please don’t choose to escape through divorce! We beg you to call us and allow us the honor to compassionately walk alongside you through the tangible hope that can be found only through surrender of your heart and your marriage to Christ.

For Further Study:

Is Marriage Still Relevant: by Rebekah Leavell

Reconciling the Irreconcilable: By Joe Leavell

What Did You Expect? – by Paul David Tripp

Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel – by Ray Ortland

When Sinners Say “I Do” – by Dave Harvey