When your husband doesn’t share your faith, it can be a lonely and sometimes rocky road. Lisa Phillips talks to two women about the challenge of balancing faith and family
‘I won’t ever give up’
Lois Mason has been praying for her husband Clive since the day she met him 26 years ago. The couple have four children ranging in age from eight to 19, but only the youngest regularly attends church with Lois. Her deepest desire is to see each member of her family come to know the Lord.
“I was a Christian when we got married, and always in the back of my mind was the warning that we should not be unequally yoked,” says Lois. “But although that thought was always there, I believed that God could change things, and that Clive could become a Christian. At church one Sunday, there was a sermon about harvests, and I remember praying that my harvest would come with Clive one day.”
In many ways, Clive and Lois’ family life resembles his own upbringing. While Lois was brought up in a strict Baptist home, Clive grew up in a home where his mother was a Christian, but his father was not. These days Clive supports Lois’ faith and church involvement, but rarely attends himself.
“He never ever minds anything I have to do with church, and on occasion he’ll even come with me,” says Lois. “I’m very grateful for that.” Easily the biggest challenge, she says, are their different outlooks when it comes to bringing up the children.
“The other week our daughter wanted to go to a nightclub on a Sunday. I didn’t want her to go and found it quite hard, but what could I do? Clive said she’d be alright. It’s hard, because, yes, maybe I should have put my foot down, but then nobody agrees with me, and I feel alone in here as it is. I didn’t want to make that any worse, so I just prayed that she’d be ok. That’s the hard bit . . . I feel isolated – not because they make me feel isolated – but because I’m different.”
Going to church without Clive is also an issue for Lois, and seeing couples and families sitting together often emphasises her loneliness in her faith. “I sit behind a couple and I just wish. I think, if only. If only he was here with me,” she says. “On the odd occasion he does come, in my heart I think, yes! This might be the day when my harvest comes, but it never is.”
The difference in Lois’ perception of Sunday as a Christian family day is often a far cry from the reality at home, which can make it the most difficult day of the week for her. “I have stayed home some weeks because I can’t stand that feeling of being the odd one out but, by the time Monday comes, I feel so dry, and I think, ‘who lost out?’”
Despite all these tensions, Lois has never been tempted to give up on her own faith, or to give up praying for her family - although she admits that her commitment to prayer often comes in waves.
“Even when I stay home on a Sunday morning, God is always on my mind,” she says. “I put my music on and I still have Sunday in my head. Sometimes I look out of my kitchen window up to the sky, and I can feel God holding me. When I feel sad and alone, I know that God is holding on to me.” And, she fervently believes that he is holding on to her family too, no matter how far away any of them seem at any given time.
“I believe that God answers prayer according to his will,” says Lois. “And it is his will that no one is lost. So I want to believe that each of them will have eternal life. I only feel discouraged when Satan comes in and says, ‘Yes, but maybe they weren’t chosen before the foundations of the world’. At those times I remind myself that it’s God’s will that no one perishes, so all the time there’s breath in the body, there’s hope.”
Praying for Clive has been a long term thing, and Lois knows that she still has a long road ahead of her. To help her along the journey, she has found strength and support not only from Sunday services, but also through her women’s small group, Heart & Soul. Most of the other members have husbands who are not Christians. “It’s fantastic,” she says, “because they all know where I’m coming from.” The group meets in Lois’ home to encourage her to be there consistently. “I’ve put myself in a place where the devil can’t pull me away.”
Lois may be walking a road with its fair share of heartache and tears, but her hopes to see each member of her family saved keep her on it. Her greatest fear is that any of them should perish. It’s a heavy load. “Yes it is,” she agrees, “but it’s a right load to carry, and it’s a burden I’’ll gladly bear, because then I won’t ever give up.”
‘Now I have what I have longed for”
Celeste Walker’s story is one that will encourage the countless Christian men and women who are praying for their non-believing spouses. At the age of 70, after 28 years of “begging and beseeching” God for her husband Jim’s salvation, Celeste found out for herself that the Lord is indeed faithful.
Celeste married her first husband when she was just 18 years old. Although she was a Christian, and he was not, it wasn’t a concern for her in the beginning.
“I was young and working, and having a family . . . it was a very busy time,” she recalls. “But as the years went by, and the children got older, I realised how difficult it was that I didn’t have a Christian husband. So very often there were things I wanted to do, but couldn’t. Although the Lord was the most important person in my life, I had to keep my husband and my family happy and together. It was very, very difficult.”
After 22 years of marriage, the couple separated and divorced following her husband’s affair, and Celeste vowed never to put herself in a similar position.
“I decided that was it. I would never get into a situation again where we couldn’t live together as Christians, worshipping, praising, going to church and really being one. I longed for that. If you haven’t experienced it, you don’t know what that longing feels like.”
During her time on her own, Celeste prayed for a miracle, for God’s touch on her life, and for somebody to need her. She and Jim (whose wife had left him with two young boys) found their friendship at work blossoming into love.
“I remember thinking, ‘I will not do this again. I’ve fallen in love with this man and he’s not a Christian’. I prayed so hard, ‘Lord, I don’t want this’.” But the couple were drawn to each other, and Celeste was fast becoming mother to the boys. They decided to marry, but cancelled the wedding three times before they finally tied the knot.
“Then I was back to worshipping on my own,” says Celeste, “although he did start attending church after awhile. Jim always respected me going to church, though there would be odd remarks about spending too much time there.”
Once again, Celeste found herself in a situation where she must finely balance her desire to serve God at the church, with the needs of Jim and the boys at home. But her faithful service and prayer did not go unnoticed.
“Jim said that one of the things he’d always admired about me was that no matter what was happening, my faith never wavered. I never spoke to him about the Lord . . . ever,” she says. “My mother did that with my sister and my sister went completely away. Instead, I’d wait until he was sleeping, then I’d put my hand on him and pray that he would find the Lord. I did go through a stage of saying, ‘Lord, You’re not hearing me!’. I’m wasting my prayers . . . they’re going into a big vacuum.”
Celeste noticed a change in Jim when they began to attend their current Baptist Church. He found a silver medal at work in a drawer with John 3:36 inscribed on it alongside the words, “Where will you spend eternity?”. He showed it to Celeste, who tried to remain nonchalant while continuing her fervent prayers.
The men in the church took an interest in him, and he decided to go along to Alpha. “The men were so warm, and they spoke to him and gave him a feeling of belonging. Isn’t it amazing how the Lord has his time? Jim grew up without a father, and the minister was a man who’d had the same experience. Here was a person who Jim could actually talk to. He would pick Jim up and bring him home from Alpha, which gave them talking time. Jim never said anything to me, but I could see a change.
“When we were standing in church, he would normally hold on to the seat in front of him, but then he started turning his hands upward. I knew if I looked at him while he was singing, I would cry. Exactly when he gave his life to the Lord, I don’t know, but this was just the most incredible answer to prayer.”
Her cup these days, she says, is truly running over. “We’ve always had a good marriage, but now there’s something more. I have this beautiful gem that I have longed for all my life, a worshipping husband who loves Jesus as much as I do.”
Celeste and Jim were married for 28 years before he gave his life to the Lord and, during that time, Celeste learned many valuable lessons about what it took to bring her husband to the Lord.
“Don’t push it,” she warns. “If you do that, you’re going down the wrong path. I’ve seen it happen so often with couples. The wife has this new joy in her life which can usurp the position of her husband . . . and if you’re not careful, the marriage won’t last. Give him all the attention he needs. Love him. Stand by him. And pray. Be careful to make him feel he is the most important person in the world to you. The Scriptures tell us that if the husband is not a Christian, he can find the Lord through his wife. It takes patience and understanding.”