The Empty Pew: What If My Spouse Is Not a Christian?
Climbing into the car, I pasted on a brave smile and waved. “Bye, Sweetie,” I called out the window, swallowing hard to dissolve the lump in my throat. As I pulled out of the driveway, I watched my husband through the rearview mirror, growing smaller and farther away. That picture depicted exactly how I felt on Sundays; our marriage grew small and far away with miles between us. I longed to share the most important part of my life, Jesus, with the most important person in my life, my husband.
Once again, I was driving to church alone. Going to church by myself was the hardest thing I did all week, much more difficult at this point than when the kids were small and lived at home. They gave me accountability, a reason to go, and someone to sit with. Now I looked for excuses to stay home.
I always arrived after the service began. That way I didn’t have to greet everyone with a happy smile and tell people, “I’m fine,” when in truth I didn’t feel fine at all. My heart grieved. This unequally yoked life is a lonesome trek. After 22 years of walking alone in my Christianity, a large chunk of my life is separate from my spouse’s—lived singly. Sadly, Dean barely knows most of my Christian friends.
Spiritual singleness is a difficult role. Churches everywhere include married people who walk alone in their relationship with God. Their spouses either lack commitment or do not believe.
I was not as alone in this as I sometimes felt, and though it’s a solitary trek, I’ve learned that certain choices make it easier.
KNOWING MY LIMITATIONS
I avoid Sunday School classes for married adults, which only depress me and make contentment more difficult to achieve. For me, it’s like a magnifying glass, enlarging my grief and my total, complete aloneness. I also shun sad movies, because they leave me feeling down for days. I figure life’s sad enough—why torture myself? In other words, I know myself, and I don’t invite unnecessary struggles.
Kathy always enjoyed her class for married adults, even though her husband stayed home. I used to tease her, accusing her of being a Pollyanna. Attending a couples’ event alone didn’t daunt her. For me, it was worse than having surgery without anesthesia. So I play it safe and veer toward women’s ministry events. All the women are there alone, so it’s not an issue.
Since my kids are grown and gone from home, I also avoid family affairs. They only serve to remind me that my nest is empty and I walk alone with God. I attend a small church and am the only person without either a husband or a child. My pew is completely empty, except for me, and since adapting to a vacant nest has been a difficult adjustment in my life, I avoid tormenting myself more.
For me to feel I fit in, I needed to be involved in the service. I started by teaching a preschool Sunday School class. Since then, I’ve taught women, high school girls, and college girls. This is my niche, and I encourage you to find yours. Helping gives me a reason to get to church on Sundays, a place to belong, and a sense of purpose bigger than myself.
Every church has unfilled positions and needs more assistance. Ask God where He’s sending you. It’s commonly said that in any church 20 percent of the parishioners do 80 percent of the work. Think of the possibilities—nursery work, choir, hospital visitation. The list is limitless. Maybe God will use your gifts to start something new.
AGONY AND ECSTASY
“I think I’ll go with you today,” Ted informed Krista as she started out the door one Sunday morning.
Her stomach knotted. She glanced at him, wondering what brought this on. “Sure.”
“I’ll change my shirt and be right out.”
Joy and dread warred within her. Every time Ted attended church her hopes soared. Is this the day he’ll ask Jesus into his life? Will this be the first of many weeks we’ll sit in church together? Will anyone talk to him? Will he hate the sermon? The music? At best, the experience was bittersweet.
On the drive, Krista rubbed sweaty palms against her cotton skirt, praying fervently in silence. God, please help him feel comfortable, and send men to shake his hand. Let the pastor’s message pierce his heart with truth. Open his eyes to see his need for You. Her endless, noiseless begging continued as she walked toward the double doors.
“Where would you like to sit?” she whispered. No use dragging him up to the front, where she normally settled into one of the first five rows. He would definitely be intimidated then.
Ted pointed to the last row. Krista nodded and slipped into the second chair, leaving him the seat on the end. Her hands, balled tightly into fists, rested in her lap. Her tension mounted as the praise team took the stage.
“I was a wreck, scrutinizing everything,” Krista commented afterward. “Every word the pastor uttered—I wondered how Ted interpreted it. I left with a headache, a stomach ache, and wondered if my life would be easier if he just stayed home. His coming along put me on an emotional roller coaster that left me exhausted and depressed.
“I wished the pastor had said this instead of that, wished the man sitting in front of us was friendlier, and wished the associate minister who prayed for the offering had foregone his mini-sermon about tithing. I already knew how Ted felt about church and money issues.
“Anyway,” Krista continued, catching her breath, “one day the truth hit me. I wasn’t trusting God! Startled by the revelation, I cried. I needed to relax and not worry about all the details. God is sovereign, and He’s big enough to handle the particulars. This concept brought freedom. I still pray for God to take charge of everything said and done, but then I just enjoy the service. God can and will do the rest.”
I resided at the opposite end of the spectrum from Krista. In the early years I invited Dean to church often. If he went, I usually ended up regretting I had asked, be- cause he was miserable. When he said no, disappointment and sorrow nearly did me in. Either way, I lost, so I quit mentioning it.
I adopted a new policy: I would invite him only for special events and programs the kids were involved in unless the Holy Spirit directed otherwise. I would ask with- out pressure or expectation and pray for sensitivity to accept Dean’s answer graciously and trust the Lord for His timing. My spouse’s church attendance and salvation are God’s work, not mine.
Adam is our youngest son, and it was during his senior
My spouse’s church attendance and salvation are God’s work, not mine.
Adam is our youngest son, and it was during his senior year of high school that I felt God tugging at my heart. He wanted me to change churches! Now I’m a woman who likes stability. Dean and I have lived in the same house since before Adam’s birth. We drive a car we’ve owned since Adam was five. You’re getting the picture—change doesn’t come easy or often. And now God wanted my co- operation in willingly seeking a new Body of Believers to fellowship with.
This season held grief, tears, and confusion. I left be- hind the only church home I had known as an adult, the place my kids grew up, the place all three of them started their journeys with Christ. I had been employed there, and the staff and I were on a first-name basis. But hardest of all, I had to resign a teaching ministry in the women’s program that I loved, ministry that bore fruit.
I didn’t understand why God would strip me of everything comfortable and familiar during the difficult time of sending our youngest out of state for college. As I visited other churches, seeking where God wanted me, I sensed God’s will was a small church crammed full of large families. Kids filled every nook and cranny. Why here, God? My aloneness intensified.
I obeyed and joined that little Body of Believers, kicking and screaming all the way. Hindsight is wonderful. Looking back, I understand at least two reasons why God moved me, but I can honestly say it didn’t make sense at the time. His will makes perfect sense now.
The first reason was for Dean. My new pastor, Sam, was a cowboy who wore a pair of boots every Sunday. Those boots helped my husband feel comfortable. Sam prayed for Dean and reached out to him on numerous occasions. At my old church only two men in nearly 17 years ever extended a hand of friendship and welcome.
The second reason was for me. God knew I would need the accountability a small church affords. As I mentioned earlier, going completely alone turned into a huge struggle for me. I needed people who noticed when I didn’t show up, people who would call on Monday morning and say, “Hey, where were you? I missed you.” So God’s crazy idea wasn’t so crazy after all; He knows me better than I know myself.
As women alone on a spiritual journey, we need to prayerfully figure out what works for each of us. Find your place in a church where you’re comfortable, trust your hubby’s church participation to God, and don’t sweat the details. Last, trust God even if the way He’s leading makes little sense at the time. He truly knows best.
TWO SCRIPTURAL EXAMPLES
Now we’ll look at Scripture to examine the ways two Bible characters dealt with loneliness. The first fellow, John, referred to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 21:7, 20). The son of Zebedee, the brother of James, and a fisherman by trade, this man, along with Peter and his brother James, became Christ’s closest friend and confidant. He was the one whom Jesus entrusted with His mother’s care upon His death.
So John knew the richness of sweet fellowship both during Christ’s life as one of the 12 disciples and after Christ’s death as one of the apostles who continued tire- lessly to spread the gospel. In Acts we see him joining Peter on a mission trip to Samaria and praying with other believers. In Galatians he’s referred to as a pillar.
Find your place in a church where you’re comfortable, trust your hubby’s church participation to God, and don’t sweat the details.
Yet at the end of John’s life we find him in exile and very much alone. “I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 1:9). Apparently sent there for sharing his faith, John wrote the Book of Revelation from that isolated island.
I’m so impressed because, unlike me, John made the best of a bad situation. He wasn’t questioning, complaining, or throwing a pity party for himself. He used his loneliness wisely, at the feet of God, receiving divine revelation, recording what he saw, and sending the scrolls to the seven churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thy- atira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.
Solomon, on the other hand, tried to fill the lonely, empty places in his life with everything but God. He was David and Bathsheba’s second child. Though David’s life of spiritual faithfulness for the most part gave Solomon a solid example, the boy also grew up in a home where polygamy was practiced and jealousy and strife were evident.
Solomon started his reign well, but his first foolish mistake was choosing a pagan king’s daughter for his wife. This choice began his moral decline. Then God appeared to him in a vision and encouraged him to ask for whatever he wished. Admitting his weakness and ignorance, he requested a discerning heart. Pleased with Solomon’s wise selection, God not only granted his petition but also promised him that he would be the wisest of men and obtain great riches and honor as well.
As his wealth and fame increased, Solomon loved the splendor. He developed a taste for luxury and led an extravagant lifestyle. Marrying foreign women, he became excessively sensual. His many wives influenced him to sanctify idolatry, and eventually he even oppressed the people of Israel.
Though he was known as the wisest man, his decision to fill his emptiness with more—more women, more sex, more material possessions—proved to be a bad choice. According to one Bible scholar, “Solomon’s description of a fool in Proverbs is a vivid picture of his own failings.”*?I believe each of us has a void in our lives that only God can fill. Instead of letting God fill his void, Solomon found himself empty, and the more he acquired, the emptier he became.
Most believe Solomon is the author of Ecclesiastes. Let’s look at the words he penned there: “‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’ says the Teacher. ‘Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless’” (1:2). “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (5:10). This man had every- thing yet found satisfaction in nothing.
He ends his philosophical musing with this key verse: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (12:13). I wonder how differently his life might have turned out had he taken his own good advice.
Whether your life is filled to overflowing with people or you are in a season of isolation, choose to fill your voids with God alone. I’ve made both choices, having searched for answers in the things of this world and let- ting God be my all in all. Only in Him did I find peace, contentment, and joy—even in my empty pew.
PONDERING GOD’S WORD
“Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). ?
“‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jer. 29:11). ?
“God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I for- sake you’” (Heb. 13:5). ?
“A time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me” (John 16:32). ?
“O LORD, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God” (Ps. 38:21). ?
Dearest Father,? Please be with me in those lonely times that naturally arise out ?of an unequally yoked relationship. Make me aware of my limitations, and give me the wisdom to choose wisely the activities that will enhance my growth and not cause me to stumble. And God, please reveal where You want me to serve in Your Body of Believers. ?On the occasions my husband does attend church, I invite You to be in charge instead of me. Teach me to rest, knowing You are there with me. Open my spouse’s ears to hear what You know he’s ready to hear. Lay upon the hearts of men to reach out to him, and, Father, flood me with Your peace, that I may rest in You. ?I long to follow where You lead, so don’t let fear or lack of understanding paralyze me. May my trust be in You alone, knowing that You’re completely trustworthy. The plans You have for me are for my best, even when it doesn’t seem that way at the time. I thank You, my dearest and most faithful companion, for Your promise to never leave me. I love You, Lord. In Your name I pray. Amen.
From Spiritually Single.