When Mercy Seasons Justice

This monologue came to mind the other day.  I cannot get it out of my mind, so I decided to share it. The words are so beautiful.

In case you aren’t familiar with the scene, Portia has disguised herself as a lawyer, in order to advocate for her husband. She is speaking to Shylock, who is demanding a pound of flesh to repay his debt.

Of course, plays are meant to be heard, especially Shakespeare. I think Laura Carmichael does a lovely job.

Such good words to remember.

The quality of mercy is not strained

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes
The thronèd monarch better than his crown.
His scepter shows the force of temporal power,
The attribute to awe and majesty
Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;
But mercy is above this sceptered sway.
It is enthronèd in the hearts of kings;
It is an attribute to God Himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God’s
When mercy seasons justice. Therefore, Jew,
Though justice be thy plea, consider this:
That in the course of justice none of us
Should see salvation. We do pray for mercy,
And that same prayer doth teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy. I have spoke thus much
To mitigate the justice of thy plea,
Which, if thou follow, this strict court of Venice
Must needs give sentence ‘gainst the merchant there.

— Portia, in William ShakespeareThe Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Scene 1.

 

Six Months

In the winter of Hannah’s 5th grade year, a fellow PTA mom invited me to join a Bible study she attended. I agreed to join her. Our church did not have a women’s Bible study, and I knew my spiritual life was in rough shape. Plus, I felt ashamed to reject her invitation. The Bible study was only once a week, but it was one of the hardest commitments I ever made.

You see, each time I walked into that church, I felt as if I was walking through the hallway naked—heart, mind, and soul exposed. I cannot think of another time in my life I have ever felt so uncomfortable. You would think I’d have recognized this as the Holy Spirit’s conviction, an evidence of my sinful heart, but I was deeply deceived. I had fully given myself over to vain and selfish pursuits.


It started very sincerely. I had such good motives. We were living in a small town on the New England seacoast, and I loved it there. My little family had a very nice life. There were no private, Christian schools close by, so we enrolled Hannah in the public schools and I became a frequent volunteer.  As a stay-at-home mom, I had the time to give, so I gave many hours to the PTA. I worked hard and that dedication eventually made a place for me in the PTA Mom’s clique. That led to my being asked to become Co-President, and I was delighted. 

I rather enjoyed being a big fish in a little pond, and the little bit of power and influence I yielded felt like a well-deserved reward. I said it was all about the children—especially my own—but I was deceiving myself. The truth was, I was an embittered wife and the PTA was a way I could make things all about me.

While I worked so hard to improve the school for everyone else’s children, my own daughter was neglected. How many nights did I leave her and Doug at home, because I had an important meeting to attend? How many vacation days did Doug spend on PTA work days? I hate to think how much money and how many hours I spent. There was just enough “success” from one month to the next to keep me thinking it was all worth it.


Then, something happened. Something very unexpected.

It was in April of Hannah’s 5th-grade year. I was sitting in a circle with the other ladies in that Bible study, Bibles and folders on our lap, when the leader asked a question that hadn’t been in our study notes. She asked us to just say the first thing that came to mind, without analyzing the question or our answer.

Now, before I share her question, I want to ask you to do the same. Don’t think; don’t analyze. Just say the first thing that comes to mind.

Her question was:

“What would you do, if you knew for sure that Jesus Christ was coming (the Rapture of the church) in six months?”


Even today, seventeen-and-a-half years later, thinking about that moment makes me emotional. I remember it so clearly. This was my answer: 

“I would support my husband’s ministry.”

What? 

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing myself say. Didn’t I already support him? Hadn’t I encouraged him in everything he did for the Lord? It’s not as tough he was called to full-time ministry. How much support did he need?

I hate to say this, but I just didn’t get it. I prayed a prayer of some description before the Bible study finished, committing myself to at least meditating on what this meant, but my prayer was a lot of blah, blah, blah. I went home and went back to work, with the PTA still my priority.  In fact, our biggest events of the year were still coming up.

By June, the Bible study had ended for the summer, and Hannah would soon be promoted to the junior high. PTA elections were held, and I was asked to continue my work. The vote was unanimous, and I made sure there would be no more co- in my title. Why did we need two co-presidents, when I did all the work? Honestly, if I had asked to be called the Queen of the PTA, they would have probably agreed, because I had elevated the PTA. People kept telling me it had been the best year anyone could recall—the most events, the most funds raised, the most accomplishments. The Superintendent and School Board respected me. Teachers appreciated me. Principals feared me. Parents depended on me. 

And, then something happened. Something very unexpected.

I woke up on a lovely, warm and sunny day, and couldn’t speak. I could barely swallow. I went to bed perfectly well, there had been no signs of illness. Yet, I woke-up sicker than I could remember ever being. The doctor said it was an “extreme case” of strep throat. No one else in my circle had strep, or even knew someone with it. Nonetheless, there I was, sick as a dog. It was time for the final event of the year, an event I’d been planning for and looking forward to for over a year, the biggest production of the year, and something no one else had even done there: a Volunteer Appreciation Banquet. Everything was coming together beautifully. I’d made all of the thank you gifts. Food had been arranged. Beautiful invitations were designed by yours truly, and mailed in envelopes I’d addressed myself. The big event was just days away, but I was completely derailed.


I don’t know why*, but knew God had something to do with what was happening. For almost two weeks, I sat in bed silent. I couldn’t even whisper. I had to turn all the plans for my big event over to my co-president. She’d call with questions, and I’d write the answers down for Doug to tell her for me. I couldn’t believe what was happening. The grand finale of my year, and I wouldn’t even be able to attend. I wasn’t going to get my victory lap. 

But, during that silence, God finally got me to stop and listen. And, He spoke one simple thing to me.

“Come home.”


Despite my sinful heart, I did fear God. I knew not to disobey a direct order. The instruction was simple, but I knew what it meant.

Once my voice returned (almost the day after the banquet), I resigned from the PTA. I was actually very thankful to make my exit, and never missed it.

Homeschooling was also an very easy transition to make. We were committed to keeping Hannah connected to her school friends, and she seemed excited about the prospect of being an independent learner.

Supporting my husband’s ministry was the one thing I wasn’t sure how to do, but within a week’s time I would learn that the struggle he’d confessed after our tenth anniversary debacle had not been overcome. In fact, I began to see that Satan was aiming for his heart, trying to take away not just his victory, but his very life. My husband needed me, and I was going to begin learning how to pray for him and love him through the spiritual battle that was waiting right around the corner.

*Actually, I do know why, now that I have written this: it was the peace I felt about it all. I wasn’t angry or fretting. I was resigned in my heart. I knew I had brought this upon myself, because I had not been heeding the Holy Spirit all winter and spring, as He had tried to get me to see my sinfulness and selfishness. I was walking in rebellion, but His mercy stopped me in my tracks. Thank You, Jesus!

Being His Help Meet

“The heart of her husband safely trusts her; so he will have no lack of gain.” (Proverbs 31:11)

There is a lot that can be said of spiritual accountability. There are a lot of ways we find accountability within the Body of Christ: between pastor and congregant, between co-laborers, between fellow church members—to name but a few. There are formal accountability relationships, and there is that more casual accountability we expect from everyone within the Body. It’s a huge topic, with lots of room for discussion, debate, and disagreement.

However, I am limiting the focus here to one accountability relationship that exists for every married*, Christian couple: the spiritual accountability between a husband and wife. More to the point, the responsibility a wife has before God to hold her husband accountable to the Word of the Lord. We are not to be one another’s correctional officers, and we are not to be the Holy Spirit’s conviction (not that we could be), but we do have an accountability before God for the one whom the Lord says should safely trust in us.


IN THE BEGINNING

I think it is vitally important to the Body of Christ—to every Christian marriage—that wives walk in the vital role God has given them: being a help meet for their husband. In fact, I believe many broken marriages, as well as much of the spiritual compromise in the church today, can be traced back to wives who neglected this responsibility.

Pardon me, while I duck for cover.

I realize that on the surface my statements may sound harsh or unfair. It will probably sound especially cruel and unkind to the wife who is suffering under the burden of her husband’s habitual sinfulness. However, one should not presume I hold a wife responsible for her husband’s choice to sin against God. Never. Perish the thought! He is a freewill agent. However, too many women raise their hands in despair at the thought of their husband’s transgressions. They play the role of victim, instead of walking in the role Christ has given them. They lament his sin, but are unwilling to rise up like Abigail to stop them. And, honestly, I don’t blame the modern, Christian woman. Who has ever preached a sermon on Abigail, except Ernie Kajala? Who is talking to wives about being a help meet? It sounds like something straight out of the 17th century. Who believes in help meets anymore? Well, I do. It’s the first calling God gave to women, and He is still calling wives to be help meets today.

This subject is so much bigger than this blog post can handle, so I will only touch on one aspect of being a help meet: accountability.  I hope I will be able to share enough to exhort and encourage any Christian wife who may be reading this, looking for a way to help her struggling husband—or, just striving to be a more godly wife. God has entrusted wives with a very important role to play in their husband’s lives, but He has also given them tremendous power with which to do it.  I truly believe that any wife who will embrace the responsibility of being a help meet to her husband will see her life, husband, marriage, and family transformed for the glory of God. Truly, we ignore this aspect of being his help meet at our own peril. It may be his spiritual life, but it is our marriage. Our family. Our life. Do you want to lose it, or are you willing to do whatever it takes to save it?

IN HIS OWN WORDS

We have all seen the woman standing beside her husband at the podium, listening as he confesses to the world his transgressions. Often, these are political couples, but there have been far too many ministry couples in that very same position. Of such scandals in recent history, one ministry couple stands out to me, and the wife’s words are telling.

I am speaking of Ted and Gayle Haggard. In 2005, Time magazine called Ted Haggard one of the most influential evangelical Christians in the country, but a year later he would face the pain and shame of having his secret life brought into the light.

It wasn’t only his secret life on display, though. The eyes of the world were focused on her husband, but I was only paying attention to her. The wife. I watched her. I waited to see what she would do. While some pitied her, feeling indignant on her behalf, I asked, “Didn’t she know? How could she not? Why didn’t she do anything about it?”

In a televised interview** three years after the headlines broke the news of his hidden life to the world, Brother Ted shared that he had prayed repeatedly for God to do whatever it took to stop him from continuing down this road. He says he promised God: “Never again.”

In reading the article written about the interview, it is clear our Brother was in a hard battle. He came into marriage sexually broken by abuse from his childhood, but his efforts to seek spiritual counsel never addressed that brokenness.

Does the abuse from his childhood excuse his sinful choices? Absolutely not. Did the fact his attempts to seek help lead nowhere pardon his guilt? No. Brother Ted broke the laws of man and God. And, the consequence of his sinful choices brought a tremendous amount of trouble to his family and to the Christian church.

IN HER OWN WORDS

Ted Haggard’s story isn’t an original. We’ve heard it over, and over, and over. Unfortunately, his wife’s story is familiar, too.

In the same interview, and in a subsequent interview*** conducted after her book, Why I Stayed, was published, Gayle Haggard said she had known of her husband’s struggle since early in their marriage, but “assumed” it was under control.

When Ted confesses his guilt to her, after the news broke, she said, “I can’t think of anything that would have been a greater shock.”

Where was the accountability!?

I actually think Ted and Gayle would appreciate my using them as an example, because I believe they know there was a breakdown of accountability in their relationship. At least that is what is indicated in things I have read. I do not know them personally, but I believe Gayle when she describes herself as naive. I would say most wives are probably just as naive. She said he had told her about a non-contact, sexual encounter with another man, but she had not understood the gravity of what he was saying.

Honestly, my heart goes out to my Sister. She was a bride in the ’80’s. There was little to no ministry for anyone struggling with sexual brokenness in the 1980’s. Who could they have gone to for help? She says she prayed for her husband, and went on with life. This was after the birth of the third of their five children. She had a lot on her plate. Holding her husband accountable wasn’t something she even considered.

And, it should be noted, anyone living with a habitual sin is going to become a very good liar. The strength of their ability to deceive others is what allows their behavior to continue for so long.

IN MY OWN WORDS

Doug and I moved back to the East Coast just in time to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in the city where we were married, Boston, Massachusetts. We couldn’t afford to stay at the same hotel we had stayed in for our honeymoon, but I found a very good substitute. I was so excited. A weekend away with the love of my life in the city of our dreams. It couldn’t get any better for me.

Yet, for Doug, it seemed things couldn’t be any worse. I kept feeling like I had to cheer him up, prod him on. He didn’t seem very happy. I didn’t understand. In truth, this was how he was normally, but I thought on our 10th anniversary, away in Boston, staying in this really cool place, that he’d be a little happier.

I wouldn’t find out that weekend, but soon after I learned the reason behind his bad mood, behind all of his bad moods, and the night he finally explained was a very long and painful one. It was the night my husband confessed he had been living in secret sin.

Like Gayle, I had known of his struggles. I knew very well. And, like Gayle, I “assumed” that since his last “confession” everything was fine. I didn’t know I had a responsibility to hold my husband spiritually accountable. I didn’t even understand what that meant.

Instead of seeing my part in his failure, I got mad. I cried. I yelled. I accused. I threatened. I did everything wrong. Especially, when dealing with someone in addiction and brokenness. I didn’t know better, that’s for sure. I had a few lessons to learn. Yet, the worst thing about it all was that I lacked the spiritual strength to stand against the Enemy’s assault. I was so compromised in my own walk that faith could not rise up. Friends, it is much easier to point a finger of blame, than it is to conduct a rescue mission when our husband has sailed off course. It takes real spiritual muscle to grab someone out of the grip of sin.

As I said earlier, we are not one another’s correctional officers, and we are not to be the Holy Spirit’s conviction, but we should be making a deep, spiritual investment in the lives of the one whom the Lord has brought us into the most intimate of relationships. That spiritual investment is vital, if we are going to be able to support them as a help meet. It is also the groundwork we must lay, before we can hold our husband’s accountable.

BIBLICAL ACCOUNTABILITY

Someone on Twitter shared a list of rules a girlfriend has written up for her boyfriend. It was a very strict list of things he could not do, she would not do, and he had to do. I read it and felt sorry for any man who would submit to that kind of woman. Everything on her list was born from fear—fear he would be unfaithful, fear she wasn’t good enough, fear of being mistreated, etc. It was really sad. I felt sorry for her, too.

Trying to hold our husbands accountable by controlling them is not biblical accountability. Controlling your husband’s behavior will not help him become a godly man, or bring him freedom from sin. It won’t bring the fearful wife peace of mind, either. She is counting on herself, not God. That’s a fatal mistake. If we are not willing to give God control, we are denying His sovereignty over our lives and our marriage. We are hindering our husband’s spiritual growth.  We are denying the fact that he has an independent relationship with God, and that God loves him much more than we do—He has much more invested in him, and is much more wanting him to walk in righteousness. The controlling behavior is born out out of fear, and where fear rules faith cannot. I tell wives they don’t have to trust their husbands, but they do have to trust God. For most of us, we just are not walking close enough to the Lord for the job He has given us as help meet. Wives want the fix to all be on his side. He’s the one with the problem. He’s the one who needs help who needs to change. Well, he’s the one you married, sweetheart. And, God custom made you to be his help meet.

Accountability is important in our house. We believe we need to hold one another accountable, and as Christians we hold each other accountable to the Word of God. The Bible is our standard. And, that’s challenging! After I learned of this secret life of sin Doug lived, the first thing God told me to do was to minister to him. Minister to him? But, God, I’m the victim. I’m the one hurting here. God saw things differently, and I had a choice: see it God’s way, or try to go it on my own.

Well, I knew I couldn’t go it on my own. And, I feared disobeying God. The Bible is very clear that we are to obey God, so there was no way I could ignore His directive.

I don’t like that my husband came into marriage with sexual brokenness, and I have failed 500,000 times at being a godly help meet to him. However, the times I have been able to serve him well have only brought a blessing to my life, my marriage, and my family. More importantly, though, he is a transformed man. He is not the man I celebrated ten years of marriage with, and he’s not even the man I married again after 26 years. Years and years ago, God gave me a vision of who the Saxophone Player was called to be, and I have seen that vision come to life. That has been God’s work in his life, and his yielding to the Potter’s hand, but I know I have played a small part in who he is today. I am so thankful for a God who takes the broken and makes them whole. It is a process that will likely take our entire life on earth, and still not be completed until Heaven, but we must remember this life on earth is fleeting. As long as it might be, it is only a blink of the eye compared to the eternity we have before us. We must also remember that God is using our husbands to perfect Himself in us. Not every wife will marry a man with the same challenges, but every wife is still called to help her husband meet God’s expectations for his life. He may be a dandy fellow with no secret sin, but is he serving God in his community? Is he leading his family as the priest of his home? Is he laying up treasures in Heaven, or only on earth? Or, is he so busy working for the Lord he is not caring well for his relationships with his children, or family? I don’t know your husband, I don’t know God’s call on his life, but you do. As his wife, the Lord has entrusted you with this responsibility. Embrace it. He will help you accomplish it. He will help you learn to surrender to Him and walk closer to Him and trust Him more than what you see with your own eyes.

LET’S REVIEW

  1. Christian wives are called to be their husband’s help meet.
  2. Part of being his help meet means holding him accountable to God’s Word.
  3. We must have a strong, intimate relationship with the Lord in order to do this.
  4. Faith must rule us, not fear.
  5. Seeing our husbands surrendered and submitted to the control of the Holy Spirit should be our objective, not trying to control them ourselves.
  6. God cares about our husbands more than we do, and has a much more vested interest in his victory over sin.
  7. It takes obedience to serve our husbands as their help meet. God will equip us and lead us in doing this, if we will obey Him

I pray God bless any wife who is reading this. God will lead you and help you as you seek to obey Him in being a help meet to your husband.


*There are some important relevant differences between married and unmarried Christian couples where spiritual accountability is concerned, but that is a subject for another post.

**On January 31, 2009, Ted and Gayle Haggard were interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. LINK

***In January 2010, Gayle Haggard was interviewed again by OprahWinfrey. LINK