Wake Me Up for the Miracles
By Tricia Cunningham
A minister and his wife came to National Institute of Marriage in Branson, Missouri, to attend one of our couples counseling intensives. As they sat on opposite ends of the couch, their body language spoke volumes. They appeared to be emotionally disconnected and in desperate need of a marriage miracle.
Neither of them had engaged in adultery or any other kind of immoral behavior, but the relational distance between them was immense. The other therapist and I began to ask them questions. As they shared their story, I felt an enormous amount of compassion consume my heart.
We worked with this couple during 4 days of intensive therapy. We were able to uncover what was driving their fears and behavior, and what hindered their being able to experience an intimate relationship again. Once we talked through the obstacles, they began to gain insight into their own heart as well as into each other’s heart. It was amazing to see the transformation that took place over this 4-day period. Before they left they told us they felt like they were on their honeymoon. They could not wait to return home and bless their children and congregation with their newly embraced love and commitment.
On the way home that night tears streamed down my cheeks as I praised the Lord. I had a profound sense that the enemy had been working overtime to knock this couple out of the race. But once again, God was victorious. I had witnessed God come through in a supernatural way.
I cannot explain how or when it will happen, but in almost every intensive we witness heart transformations that seem miraculous.
Restoring Marriages Through God’s Intervention
As an intensive therapist at NIM, I work with many couples each month. These couples come from across the country and from all walks of life, but they have several things in common. They are usually Christian couples who feel stuck, exhausted, and disappointed in their marriage. They often sign up for an intensive as a last-ditch effort before signing divorce papers. I have heard some couples on the first day of their intensive state that their divorce papers are at home, waiting to be signed if this intensive does not work.
Each week therapists at NIM witness seemingly hopeless marriages revive and become infused with hope for a far better future. It is common to walk away from the intensives in awe of what God has done.
The therapists at NIM are highly trained, but regardless of their experience and skill, each of us relies completely on God’s intervention. We are keenly aware that all the training in the world will not provide miracles. But we are thankful to serve a God whose presence and power provides hope and healing for those who ask for it.
A few months ago during an intensive I watched a man’s heart change. For years his heart had been hardened toward his wife, and he looked angry and hateful. There was a specific moment, however, when something that was said hit him, and his countenance changed. His face softened, and tears began to flow. He turned toward his wife and said, “I get it. I get it. Oh, I’m so sorry. Honey, I’m so sorry. I get it.” She, too, began to cry, and they lovingly embraced and wept together.
The transformation was miraculous, and my heart felt full of wonder and amazement at what I had just witnessed. Suddenly, a thought came to me. This feeling I was experiencing was familiar — not just from previous intensives — but from my childhood.
My parents are Assemblies of God regional directors for Latin America and the Caribbean. When I was young, they were missionaries to Argentina. My dad planted many churches while we were there. Typically, he began the church plants with tent crusades. I remember going to the nightly services as a child; and, when I became tired, I would put my head on my mom’s lap during the sermon and say, “Mom, make sure you wake me up for the miracles.” After prayer for healing, people lined up along the platform to give testimonies about the miracles they had just experienced. I did not want to miss hearing the testimonies about the miracles that God had performed that night.
Witnessing God’s supernatural ways was a common occurrence in my childhood, but it never became old or boring. Even now as an adult in the United States, though the setting is far different, the same God shows up in the counseling room to transform hearts and marriages. When God moves, I sometimes get a glimpse of what it must have been like to watch the parting of the Red Sea. It is always inspiring, always amazing, and always a God thing.
I have a special place in my heart for ministers and their wives not only because my husband is an Assemblies of God minister, but also because I believe the enemy’s attack against them is frequent and often underestimated. The enemy works overtime to steal, kill, and destroy their lives and effectiveness in ministry. One target area seems to be their marriage.
The two professions we see most in our intensives are doctors and pastors. People in these professions give much of themselves to a worthy cause. They work long hours. Their work is understandable and important, but it often takes a toll on their marriages.
Some pastors and their spouses who attend intensives have experienced infidelity in their marriages. Others have not, but are unhappy and emotionally disconnected. Some feel hopeless that anything could change; but often, if they are willing and available, their marriage does change.
Investing time, energy, and finances into your marriage is well worth it. There are many great books on marriage as well as many great counselors. Whether you feel your marriage is in a state of disrepair or simply in need of enrichment, investing in your marriage will benefit far more than just the two of you.
One of the greatest gifts you can give your children is a great marriage. A church that has a pastor with a healthy marriage is blessed because his relationship will speak louder than many of his sermons.
Principles For Improving Marriages
Hope is available for every struggling marriage. Implementing some principles and techniques will often be enough to dramatically improve the quality of the marriage relationship. Below are five key elements that are taught at NIM, and are expounded on in the book, The DNA of Relationships, by NIM copresident Robert Paul and founder Gary Smalley.
If you or your spouse does not feel emotionally safe in your relationship, experiencing intimacy will be virtually impossible. Trying to create intimacy when people do not feel safe is similar to trying to pry open a manhole cover while standing on it. When people feel safe, they naturally open up, and from that posture intimacy has a chance of developing. If your spouse calls you controlling or says she does not feel safe with you, put your energy into being kind, loving, compassionate, slow to anger, and interested in what your spouse is saying. Convey empathy and care on a regular basis, and your spouse may begin to open toward you sooner than you might think.
When a couple is dissatisfied in their marriage relationship, they often try to change their spouse. Nothing could be more disempowering. Share with your spouse what you are feeling, but own everything you can. Whatever you do, do not wait for your spouse to change for you to be happy. Start changing the things you can change within you. Even if you are only 10 percent of the problem, you have control over that 10 percent. Often, if one person will change within the system, the system will change.
If you are starting to feel empty or needy, you are probably not taking adequate care of yourself mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically (or a combination of the above). You cannot expect to have an endless reservoir to give from if you are not taking care of yourself. You must focus on caring for yourself so you have something to give. Remember, the greatest command is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Self-care is different from selfishness. Selfishness only benefits you, self-care benefits everyone involved in your life. The purpose of self-care is to get filled up so you have something to give.
Self-care might mean taking your allotted days off, as well as vacation days. Mark time on your calendar for just you, whether it is to go to the health club, to have coffee with a friend you enjoy being with, or just to pray.
Also, learn to delegate responsibilities. Good managers know the importance of delegating. If you feel you are the only one who can do everything well, eventually you will suffer.
Care for your mate
Get a Ph.D. in your spouse. Learn her love language and do the things you believe will be meaningful to her. Whether it is weekly date nights or frequent weekend getaways, make every effort to have fun together. Pray together daily. George Barna’s research shows that the divorce rate in the church is as high, if not a little higher, than the divorce rate outside the church. But National Association of Marriage Enrichment polled couples that daily prayed together and learned their divorce rate was less than 1 percent.
Become a team
You and your spouse are on the same team. On any sports team it is impossible to have an outcome where one person on the team wins and the other loses. You either both win, or you both lose. If you frequently look for ways to win arguments with your spouse, most likely she will walk away feeling like she lost. The fact is you both lost. The goal is for a win/win in every interaction. Listen to one another with open hearts during times of disagreement. Agree to talk through disagreements until you find a solution that feels great to both of you.
There is little in life that will give you opportunities for personal growth like marriage. Within marriage you will experience sorrow and joy, agonizing turmoil and profound peace, feelings of defeat and feelings of triumph, overwhelming fear and overwhelming love. This endless list of experiences and emotions gives us opportunities to look inside our hearts and explore the wonder of our human existence. We choose how we will respond to every experience, and it is in this series of choices we discover ourselves in light of our Lord.
If you have a great marriage, embrace it and continue to cherish the gift you have. If you are struggling in your marriage, there is hope for you. Read books on marriage and implement changes immediately. Find a couple that is willing to mentor you and your spouse. Meet with them for accountability and support. Seek good, reputable, Christian counseling and commit to the process. Rely on the Lord for insight, wisdom, and understanding as you continue the journey of marriage. I pray you will embrace the adventure.