The Marriage Meltdown

by Linda Nathan


I stole glances at my son and his new fiancée as we sat at our Thanksgiving dinner table. Eric had just proposed during a moonlit walk, and the radiant warmth of their love for each other spilled into the room. His face was gentle and tender; Nikki’s glowed softly. They looked like they were melting together.

How lovely, I thought. Would that it might always be this way.

The romantic beginnings of my son’s first love set me to pondering the melting process of marriage. The ardor of a newly wedded couple—the romantic chemistry of two lives heating up, falling in love, and becoming one—is only the initiation into the lifelong process of becoming united.

What an analogy to the Christian life!

My thoughts roamed back over the thirty-six years of my own marriage to Richard. Ours certainly had been no romantic idyll! From our meeting in San Francisco in 1962, we had lived through fourteen years of rebellion, moral relativism, psychedelic drugs, pagan New Age practices, and eventually cancer. And we were alive to tell the tale. But that was only because Jesus Christ had saved and transformed us into Bible-believing Christians.

And, as if that weren’t miracle enough, He also initiated what I came to call “the meltdown.

The Meltdown

Independent and willful, we had spent our years before Christ much like two anarchists who happened to be traveling the same road. We lived together first, then married to avoid the Vietnam War. As we tried everything that promised spiritual freedom, some invisible bond always held us together, and the flame never entirely went out. Yet, we were rotting inside, and shortly after one cancer operation in 1976, I was scheduled for a hysterectomy. I was devastated.

Then Jesus Christ exploded into our lives. A few days before the operation, He saved and healed me. And instead of a hysterectomy, after fourteen childless years He gave me Eric. Richard’s salvation quickly followed. Our eyes opened to the glory of God; the Bible leapt into life; we saw other lives transformed; and He cleansed us from the devastating effects of psychedelic drugs and the occult. Eventually God opened the door for Richard—ex-atheist, Marxist, and New Ager—to attend seminary and begin a teaching ministry.

The changes and blessings came so thick and fast that for some time I paid little attention to Richard’s changes. Then, I began to notice loving kindness, self-sacrifice, and patience miraculously appearing. Eric’s birth released depths of childlike pleasure and a strong sense of family in him.

Spring Pruning

A veritable garden sprang into being in our lives, and we grew rampantly for a while. But, like two old growth trees who late in life discover springtime, we also began to experience God’s pruning, to see our deep need to change many old patterns of relating, thinking, and acting. We learned to pray together, and, washed by the water of the Word, experienced exciting new dimensions of intimacy, caring, and ministry.

And God began teaching us about marriage—real Biblical marriage, with Him as the Head. This was indeed a revelation—and not too welcome a one either! Submission to anything was a new concept—one I resisted. After all, as my mother used to joke, “The meek shall inherit the earth when the rest of us are done with it!”

We struggled with the concept of male headship and thrashed through the whole range of possible reactions. Over the years, Richard swung from harshness to passivity and everything in between, while I, like a wild horse that had never been bridled, reared up, jockeyed for control, and finally, grudgingly, “accepted” my lot.

But patiently, the Holy Spirit taught us that the concept rests in mutual loving submission and respect for one another, that male headship may be viewed as the stem of the plant upholding the flower, so that both may unfold properly and flourish. My wounded pride somewhat assuaged, I slowly began surrendering, especially as I saw Richard growing in servant love. And as I did, peace and inner order crowded out the years of chaos. Areas of pride, bitterness, and resistance still battle in me however. Over the years, although I often prayed over these qualities, I was ignorant of how this “meltdown” might be accomplished.

I needn’t have worried; God has His ways

The Great Grinding

What I have come to view as the Great Grinding began with serious health problems. Although He had healed me completely of cancer, by 1990 I was becoming a gradual victim of food and environmental allergies. And by 1999, I was down to around eighty pounds and literally starving to death. Slowly and persistently, however, under the devastating press of severe pain and limitation, my character, like an old tree stump, was gradually being ground into a more humble, flexible, and reverent state.

During this fiery process, the Lord blessed me enormously. He buoyed me with His love, confidence in His healing, and the grace to wait upon, praise, and trust Him. He taught me to offer it all up to Him as a fast and, by the time He restored me, had impressed upon me the burning necessity of the cross’s deep work in our marriage so that His love could flourish.

In the meantime, through other fierce trials, He continued transforming Richard into a tender servant, protector, and provider. While working six and seven days a week in a psychiatric crisis unit to meet our medical bills, Richard poured his life out to help me.

We have a long way to go, but we are a far cry from our early days. We have grown more forgiving of each other’s faults, kinder, more patient, and more compassionate towards others. With the wisdom of hindsight, I can see now how important it is never to give up on each other, for God is always at work.

In a Christian marriage, the Holy Spirit applies the completed work of the Lord Jesus Christ to the two as one. As two fallen yet redeemed human beings unite, He applies the work of the cross to one area after another so that Christ’s glorious Resurrection life can manifest. Working through prayer, the Word, discipline, and circumstances, the Holy Spirit reveals character flaws and hidden sins, and exposes the dark forces of the world, the sinful nature, and the enemy that can destroy a godly relationship. He nurtures, strengthens, convicts and corrects, unites, blesses, and heals. And yes, sometimes He grinds and even breaks so that, bit by bit, stubborn willfulness and pride can crumble and melt in the fire of His love.

Restoring the First Love

But how that process is perceived and received is crucial. Many things can thwart the Holy Spirit’s “meltdown” into the mutual servanthood that God wants to accomplish in marriage. And the precious first love—both for each other and the Lord—can be lost. Each trial, each obstacle and difference, can either be met in the Lord or resisted. The couple may prefer an image to truth. Pride and rebellion winning out, they may refuse to submit or forgive. They may not consider the relationship worth the effort. They may prefer sin. They may become shallow, stagnant, indifferent, insensitive, or just too busy. And wake up complete strangers one day—to each other and the Lord.

“But I have this against you,” says Christ to the Ephesians, “that you have left your first love … Remember the height from which you have fallen … [and] repent…” (Rev. 2:4-5, NIV).

As in the Christian life, a couple’s love for each other and for Him may go through many changes over the years, but Christ is always waiting to fan it into flame, if we are willing to take the heat.

© 2002 by Linda L. Nathan.

Categories Special Subjects | Tags: | Posted on January 30, 2012

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