Where’s the Holy Spirit when things are hard?

It was late, and she was crying now. Her marriage had been hard—hard for a long time.

I think it was there that I really saw Him, though He’d been there the whole time. Sometimes the Holy Spirit is a little like an I Spy book to me. Knowing what He looks like, I’m learning to spot Him among the clutter of circumstances, ones He’s meticulously arranged.

I want to tell you what He looked like, there in that hotel room, where she was just so tired of waiting for God to change things. Even there, in her road-weary face that longed for a break in being “tough” and strong—I saw Him making beautiful things out of dust, as the song goes.

He’d already been working there for years.

This kind of waiting reminds me of what it must feel like to be lying on the ground, holding on to something precious over a cliff: your muscles, fatigued and burning as your grip slips, your heart pleading and knocking in the hollow of your chest. If you’re there, your hands sweating and slipping, I want you to picture someone lowering Himself beside you, taking over your weary hold. Where your biceps and forearms were failing, His are able and unmoved. His voice and your relieved muscles speak of presence, of release to infinitely more capable hands.

He’s there. And here are a handful of the ways I knew He’d be there for her.

  • I knew He would give her the know-how and the courage to love well, even when her husband didn’t reciprocate. It was the work He’d already done for her; for me—to love even when someone’s heart is cold or hard or indifferent or just clueless.
  • I knew He’d give her the wisdom to know how to love him in each particular circumstance. I’m learning sometimes that wisdom doesn’t come immediately (as I wish it would!), but with the experiences God gives, slowly crafting us to be more intuitive, more understanding, more discerning. That it must be chosen and sought with diligence and personal investment.
  • I knew her perseverance wasn’t her slogging it out alone. The Holy Spirit was like the ultimate simple machine—where we apply effort on our end, but He multiplies it infinitely, leveraging shocking beauty from what was once hard and unmoving.

Earlier in my own marriage, I distinctly remember a certain stoplight. (That’s not a metaphor; it was a real, physical one, blinking red). My husband turned toward me and said something like, “I’m sensing God wants me to work on being gentler.”

The light turned green, and we pulled forward—but my brain was still back at that stoplight. After months of seeking to talk to my husband about gentleness, I decided that in the end, I had little power over changing him. This wasn’t my territory anymore. But you can imagine how baffled I still was to have the answer to prayer in front of me at that stoplight.

A decade later, I see God wasn’t crafting my husband in the image of my gentleness, but through His image in my husband.  And God’s answered my prayer far greater than what I thought to ask.

  • He’s “filling in the blanks.” Philip Yancey writes,

Paul says that Spirit lives inside us, detecting needs we cannot articulate and expressing them in a language we cannot comprehend. When we don’t know what to pray, he fills in the blanks. Evidently, it is our very helplessness that God, too, delights in. Our weakness gives opportunity for his strength.

  • He is with her, forging hope in the middle of a fire. She’d been hoping for a long time, there in that gray twilight of waiting. It reminded me of a certain Saturday in history, that vast, barren grief stretching between a man dying and a mind-blowing resurrection. The truth: I don’t know when my friend’s relief and answer and astonishing new life will surface from behind stone. It may be eternity when her faith becomes sight.

See, her hope cannot be in God granting her request alone. Paul David Tripp writes, Remember the biblical principle of idolatry: Desire for a good thing becomes a bad thing when that desire becomes a ruling thing. God very well may answer my friend’s prayer—or, like those at Jesus’ death (their political conqueror of the Romans, now himself, conquered)—He may have an entirely different resurrection in mind, in an entirely different time. Hope for her, I told her as tears melted to her chin, may look like Plan B for awhile. It may look like God meeting her with other solutions for the needs that clawed at her inside.

  • I knew that in the windy, gaping cavities where my friend longed for intimacy and someone to know her, God will be her true husband, loving her. Even there, He drew her with His relentless kindness. He was whispering to her in so many small, intricate ways, like a man presenting his beloved with her favorite flower. I see you.

If you’re there in the waiting, your body and soul aching with the weight of your marriage, I’m praying right this minute for presence—and that you’ll spot Him as He overcomes on your behalf. Honestly, as He does in all pain, some of the overcoming to be done is in our own hearts.

May you find Him there, in the fire.

If you are interested in attending our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, use the code “ForMyMarriage” for a $100 discount on the registration fee.

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26 thoughts on “Where’s the Holy Spirit when things are hard?”

  1. Patricia Andrews

    I am going through the same things in my 2 year marriage.My husband and I had known each other just 10 days before we got married,not a smart thing to do,we live with his family,another problem.He’s a selfish,controlling,man who is dismissive of any opinions I have.In his words,I am a stupid bitch.He claims that he loves me,but I don’t believe him.I think that I should leave,start over without him,but I keep praying that he’ll change,but nothing has changed.i am at my wits end with him,and this disaster of a marriage.

    1. Patricia, I read recently that the root of the word “sympathy” means “shaking the head with”–and that’s what I feel for you right now: so much sympathy, a grief with you over the reality you’re living with and the choices you’ve both made and are facing. I hope you do know how valuable you are, and that anyone’s comments or thoughts on your value don’t determine what God says to be true about you. A comment on a blog post will never be enough information for me to offer much wisdom–so I’m just thankful the Holy Spirit is there right now, speaking to you and breathing that life-giving wind into what I know feels like a dead marriage. May He be your Mighty God, Wonderful Counselor, and Prince of Peace all at once. You are loved.

    2. Hello. Thank you so much for taking the time to write in to us. My name is Bev and I was asked to reply to this comment. I have been responding to those that have written in to FamilyLife for many years, so I believe I can offer some biblical insight and suggest some helpful resources.

      I appreciate your honesty in sharing what you have been going through. I am very sorry to hear of the emotional and verbal abuse that you have been enduring. God loves marriage, but He also has a plan for it to work properly. He never intended for a man to mistreat a woman. Take a look at this passage:

      Proverbs 6:16-19 The Message (MSG)
      Seven Things God Hates
      Here are six things God hates,
      and one more that he loathes with a passion:
      eyes that are arrogant,
      a tongue that lies,
      hands that murder the innocent,
      a heart that hatches evil plots,
      feet that race down a wicked track,
      a mouth that lies under oath,
      a troublemaker in the family.

      Unfortunately, there are some that believe that women have to “take it” in order to be “submissive”. This was never God’s intention for marriage. There has to be honor, love and respect for and from each other. Many women feel stuck in marriages similar to yours.

      That being said, I do believe going to a conference would open both of your eyes to what God’s word says about marriage and the roles we have in marriage. If your husband is willing to attend, FamilyLife is offering a discount. If you are interested in attending our Weekend to Remembermarriage getaway, use the code “ForMyMarriage” for a $100 discount on the registration fee.

      A resource that I would also suggest would be to visit Leslie Vernick’s site at http://www.leslievernick.com. She specializes in helping women in emotionally destructive marriages/relationships. She has free resources but she also offers a coaching program that you may want to look into.

      For information on counseling, go to this link: Focus on the Family Counseling Information

      I would also like to pray for you.

      Heavenly Father,
      Thank You for bringing this dear woman to our site. She is hurting because of the abuse that she is suffering. I thank You that You see every tear and collect them in Your bottle. I also thank You that we can come boldly to Your throne of grace for mercy, help and more grace in times of need. I ask that Your Holy Spirit would invade their marriage and bring healing and restoration. I pray for the gift of repentance to overwhelm this man. We know that hurting people hurt people, so I ask that You heal him of whatever has caused him to lash out in anger. Because of the blood of Jesus and my position in Christ, I take authority over all the assignments of the enemy against them individually and in their marriage. I ask You, Father, to release the host of heaven to destroy all strongholds and every lofty thing that sets itself up against the knowledge of Christ. May each of them come to know how much You love them. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

      Again, thank you for writing in to Ever Thine Home. I pray that God would restore hope and healing in your lives.

      Blessings,

      Bev Cooper

      1. Thank you for thw comments and the prayer .. feels like ypu were talking to me. Just yesterday i registered for one of Leslies webinars. I am at the verge of leaving the marriage. I still pray God changes my husband’s heart but he is so hardened in his soul is so sad i dont know who he is anymore. A pastir told me to be like Abigail in the bilble honestly I feel more like Job’s wife and I dobt want to be like that but I am tired.

  2. It is comforting to know I’m not alone in my difficult marriage. Like Jane, immaturity, unrealistic expectations, and disillusions have driven my husband and me apart. Now his heart is hardened towards me, and I’m not sure what to do. When I try to intentionally bend towards and love my husband, he responds with anger and criticism. My natural inclination is to withdraw in self-protection. I am in pain, which is bearable, but I am worried about our children. We are unable to plan, prioritize, or make decisions together. Our children used to see and hear us fighting; now that I am trying to soften, they see and hear my husband yell at me, and I don’t respond. I know this isn’t giving them a healthy view on marriage, and particularly I worry about the example this is setting for our daughters, in terms of what to expect from their own husbands one day.

    1. Jillian, I’m so sorry for your reality right now. The situation sounds very complex…and really painful. As a mom, I understand too the questions we face about our kids’ views of marriage and relationships. I’m grateful for the ways you’re striving to soften and allow the Holy Spirit to change both you and your husband. I’ll let Barbara answer your question below–but I just wanted to let you know I’m praying for your wisdom, discernment, and strength in a “desert” time.

  3. My marriage is getting harder and harder every day. I believe I would be better off if I left him with our kids. We are not on the same page about anything…big things or little things. We do not talk to each other and when we have no choice to talk its very difficult to get our point across because we no longer think the other has the others best interest at heart. He gets very angry at me and I am scared of what is next.

    1. Cynthia, God bless you! You are not alone. Just last night I EXPLODED ON MY HUSBAND! Our finances are a bit of a mess right now. He works over nights, I work days. We have 3 small children and I have ventured into the world of college after 10 years. Joshua and I don’t speak much. When we do its one sided. He dismisses my concerns and I could care less that he is overworked and overtired! We have been together almost 6 years, married for 2. I walk around some days- numb. Its scary and lonely. I am a spitfire and God is working in me, but I fail miserably almost daily. Know that I am praying for you and with you for clarity, for rekindling of fire in your marriage. That The Holy Spirit would comfort you in knowing that while your husband may not see you, HE SEES YOU! Much love to you and prayers.

      1. My heart hurts for both of you in such painful situations. May the Spirit continue to show Himself as the One who raises dead things! I, too, am praying for you both right now–for the healing of your marriages and your hearts, for God’s wisdom on loving your husbands well, and for His absolute nearness in “the valley of the shadow”. May He give you a unity that could only be from Him. Hugs to both of you.

    2. Cynthia, Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am very sorry to hear of the struggles that you are facing in your marriage. I do believe in the power of God to heal and restore any marriage if both partners are willing to work on their relationship. I also believe that He can even turn around a marriage where only one person wants to save it. It is important to evaluate what is going on in the marriage because there are so many factors at play.

      In your case, my concern is the last statement “He gets very angry at me and I am scared of what is next.” If you are in an abusive marriage, whether it is emotionally, verbally, physically or even sexually, it is important for you to get help. A resource that I would suggest would be to visit Leslie Vernick’s site at http://www.leslievernick.com. She specializes in helping women in emotionally destructive marriages/relationships. She has free resources but also offers a coaching program that you may want to look into.

      If you are not in immediate danger, then I would encourage you and your husband to attend FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember conference. This would help restart your marriage on a biblical foundation. I cannot overemphasize how life-changing it can be. We have witnessed miracles at our conferences, including many with marriages such as yours.

      If you are interested in attending our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, use the code “ForMyMarriage” for a $100 discount on the registration fee. More information can be found here: weekendtoremember.com

      Thanks again for writing in and I am praying that the Holy Spirit will give you clear steps to take. We serve a God of hope despite our circumstances.

      1. Barbara, how do you distinguish a difficult marriage from one in which emotional abuse may be occurring? I’m not sure, and am afraid that my own insecurities might be keeping me from evaluating my marriage objectively. I have been praying for God to change my heart and work restoration in my marriage for almost a year, but things are as bad, if not worse, than they have ever been. I’m willing to stay in my marriage if that is God’s will, but how do I know? How do I balance my duty to provide a loving, stable home for my children with the commitment I made to my husband?

  4. Pingback: Guest post: Where's the Holy Spirit When My Marriage is Hard? - A Generous Grace

  5. Liesl, my heart breaks for you, your marriage, your husband, and your kids. Blended marriages are a challenge all their own, and it sounds like both of you have endured some particularly hard blows. I cannot imagine the fear and devastation you’re contemplating right now.

    I’m so grateful you’re seeking the Spirit in all of this. I’m with you: Hearing Him can seem so hard in the dark. A phrase from 1 Peter 3:18 flitted through my mind as I thought of you and your situation. It speaks of Christ being put to death in the body, but made alive through the Spirit. It’s reiterating to me that the Spirit truly can resurrect a marriage, and even a husband’s desire, that for all intents and purposes looks dead. (But if He doesn’t choose to work in this way, I hear that He’s still bringing you alive.) I am praying right now for deep, miraculous healing in your home and in your own hearts, and that in your loneliness and fear He will be a powerfully present Peace.

    May God work powerfully, even tonight. And may He continue to show you small, intimate signs of His love and faithfulness to you, your kids, and your family. Hugs.

  6. If you can get him to a Weekend to Remember I would highly recommend it. It’s a great experience, even for people that wouldn’t normally go to that type of thing.

  7. This is exactly what I am going through right now. After 11 1/2 years my husband wants a divorce. It has been a difficult marriage with his older children and a challenging ex wife and blending our families. I haven’t always loved him well and sometimes my own insecurities have been taken out in miserable ways toward him and the older kids. But I love him and I want to believe that God can make beauty from even these ashes. He is unforgiving for all the hurt I’ve caused and is so hardened to me. He says he no longer loves me and is not willing to give us any more chances. We have two small children together and this will devastate our lives, but he is only concerned with his own happiness. I’m trying so hard to cling to the Holy Spirit, but it is impossibly hard to hear that Still Small Voice. I am lonely and scared and my heart physically hurts in my chest. I pray for complete reconciliation but it does not seem possible.

    1. Pray for your husband. Only God can change his hardened heart. All things are possible… I have seen it happen! Stay strong in your faith.

    2. Trust in the Lord, He is a God who works at the right time at the right place and everything will work out for His Glory.
      We’ll pray for you.

    3. I am going through a somewhat similar situation with my wife and have felt the pain and the feeling of things being impossible.
      Read proverbs chapter 3: verse 5-8….put your full sincere trust in him, lay these issues at his feet and let the Holy Spirit work…. God will generously work things out…. I pray for your heart to have peace and joy in the name of Jesus.

      1. Charles, thanks so much for your vulnerability. I love that you’re clinging to these verses. May God continue to do miraculous things as you return again and again to your trust in Him.

    4. Liesel, I have been there. It is exhausting, painful and seems hopeless. I, too, was not the wife I should have been. Disappointments, unfulfilled expectations, and immaturity led to patterns of emotional abuse on my part. After 25 years, my husband said, Enough! To keep up appearances, he agreed to Christian counseling, even though he had no intention of staying or attempting restoration of our marriage. God had other intentions and through His Grace and mercy, our marriage is being restored. During that dark time, I focused solely on MY restoration in Jesus. I had to let go of my marital relationship in order to get it back. Do not give up! Hang in there. We have been through that fire and are coming out clean and whole. I will be thinking about you on my knees tonight.

    5. My husband was in the same place. Very selfish and self-centered and all about him. We are a blended family. I say “are” because God answered my prayers to return him after he left me for another woman. I prayed day and night, especially scriptures over him. I journaled many. The spiritual warfare was overwhelming to say the least. The Lord led me to be very kind and loving. I didn’t fight him in anything but allowed the Lord to fight for me. He filed for divorce but God had other plans. I fasted and prayed and God broke the relationship between him and the other woman (unbeliever the enemy used to lure him away). I asked many to pray for him (share as little as possible but have other believers stand with you). It was a horribly hard time but we know God hates divorce. I was asked to join single’s groups while we were apart but kept my wedding ring on believing God would return him because I believe God had given me that promise. I continued on in life and one day “it broke” and I was willing to go on without him trusting God to reconcile us. God did it all as I was obedient to pray and trust. It’s a long story but to GOD BE THE GLORY! NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE WITH GOD! We’ve been reconciled for 13 years now. I can’t say it’s been easy as the enemy of our souls brings fear in still and we still have our issues but we are to be committed and trust God. Whether or not your marriage is healed God is still worthy of all our praise! He will see us through anything and everything. You are not alone!

      1. Thanks for sharing your story. I love hearing you say you experienced nothing is impossible with God. Proud of you for being kind and loving. I’ve heard other women share that kindness and love won their husbands back. May your story encourage many.

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