Life with a Doubter: What to do when the Christian you married loses his faith

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“I don’t know what I believe anymore. I don’t even know if I’m a Christian,” Jack* admitted.

What? Momentarily stunned, I stared at the shadowed face of my beloved husband. Was this the man I fell in love with a Bible college so many years ago? I wondered. The first time we’d met, Jack had just returned from a summer of helping missionaries in Europe, and his vibrant faith attracted me even more than his blond good looks. We were both certain God had brought us together, and together we would serve Him. Now my casual query about why he’d decided to quit teaching Sunday school had unleashed a torrent of doubts and despair far greater than I’d imagined possible. The recent deaths, less than a year apart, of our young niece and the daughter of close friends had shane us both, but I’d assumed Jack was coping fairly well. His words showed me that the girls’ death had hit him harder than I thought.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Jack explained. “How could a loving God allow those little girls to suffer so long just to let them die? Were our prayers worth anything? I can’t trust a God who would do that!

“And I’m not sure I believe the Bible, either,” he continued. “A good God would never order the annihilation of entire nations. How is He better than Hitler?” We stared at each other for a moment, and then he turned and walked out the door. I sat in shock, unable to move. As I trembled on the shoreline of his uncertainty, my faith in us crumbled beneath waves of fear.If you are experiencing a similar heartache, perhaps my story will offer you renewed hope and purpose. I cannot pretend to have the answers that would erase your loved one’s doubts; I can only share what God has been teaching me about a faith and hope that can withstand and even grow alongside the doubts. But before I could learn the les- sons God had for me, I had to realize the futility of following my own inclinations.

Frantic and Frustrated

My first inclination, I am ashamed to admit, was to run away— away from Jack, his doubts, and my fears. My beloved had become a stranger; I didn’t know how to cope. I wasn’t sure I could love a man who had turned his back on God. I had no plan, no destination. I simply wanted to escape. Jack’s doubts seemed to destroy the foundation of our relation- ship. As I drove to the grocery store the morning after our conversation, I remembered Jack telling me years before that the first time we’d met, he’d sensed God say to him that I would be his wife. I wondered what he’d done with that memory. Another scene flashed into my mind: our pastor explaining, as we stood at the altar, that marriage was like a triangle with God as the apex. When we grew closer to God, he’d promised, we would grow closer to one another. As I parked the car, I’d never felt more distant from my husband. For several days I rode the roller coaster of indecision. Stay in this unexpectedly uncertain marriage or go?

Stay? Or go? But even in my confusion I knew I didn’t want to inflict on our grown children the pain of a divorce or separation. And the vows I’d made on our wedding day would not let me go. My second inclination followed immediately: I would stay, but not complacently. There must be something I could do to relight the pilot light of Jack’s faith. I voraciously read apologet- ics books and battered Jack with arguments. I buried him under books he had no desire to read. I left my Bible open to passages I was sure would touch his soul. I did everything I could think of, but it didn’t seem to matter. Nothing I tried helped. It took nearly a year of frustrated efforts, but I finally gave up. I had failed. Jack no longer attended church, so I found it easier to stay home too. He wouldn’t pray with me, and my solitary prayers were mostly litanies of self-pity and complaint.

God’s promises seemed to mock me, so my Bible gathered dust. My husband and I lived together, but I felt abandoned.

“What now, Lord?” I whispered. My frantic soul had finally quieted enough to listen. And that’s where my Savior met me.

Just Love

It was a dreary winter day when I once again heard God’s voice in my heart. I was at home alone, feeling sorry for myself, when I sensed the strong, loving arms of my heavenly Father enveloping me.

“Fear not,” He whispered, “trust in Me.”
“But what about Jack?” I questioned. “His doubts are consuming him. What am I supposed to do?”
“Your job is to love him,” came the answer. “Leave the rest to Me.”

Just love him? Without strings attached? Allowing him to doubt and see my doubts? Could I do that? Not on my own.  In my misery over Jack ’s loss of faith, I had somewhat proudly identified with Jeremiah in the suffering he experienced for being faithful among the faithless people of God. Now I eagerly retrieved my Bible from the bottom shelf of the bookcase and read,

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
—Lam. 3:21-26

The passage talked of hope, love, compassion, faithfulness. I realized that even through that year of fruitless fear God had showered me with His gracious gifts, just as He had done my entire life. But when Jack needed those gifts most, I’d greedily kept them to myself. I had nearly given up hope for his faith. My love had been conditional in so many ways. My compassion was in short supply, and I had been the one who’d considered leaving the marriage. And I definitely had not been waiting quietly. God’s Word burned in my heart as I realized how dark my response had been. I, who had received so much grace, had been unwilling to share it with the one I called beloved.

“O Lord, forgive me!” I cried. “Teach me to trust. Teach me to love.”

I began to recall the qualities in my husband that had drawn me to him. His strength of character, his honesty, his work ethic, his tenderness, his intelligence, his faithfulness—these were integral to his being. Yes, I could love this man. But doing so has required some changes.

Letting Go

First, I’ve had to let go of my desire to make everything right. Instead of attempting to manipulate Jack back to faith, I have to trust God to work in his heart. This trusting is an ongoing process. I easily slip back into “control mode.” However, I am slowing learning that I am not responsible for anyone else’s relationship with God. My responsibility is to love, trust, and obey—period.

I’ve also had to release my demands that Jack fix himself. I no longer ask him to pray with me (but I continue to hope that he will reach out to the only One who has what his flickering faith requires). His church attendance is entirely up to him; sometimes he comes with me, but often he does not. I continue to read apologetics books and study God’s Word, but I don’t expect him to follow my example. Some days I still get frustrated when it seems Jack isn’t making any effort to find answers to his questions. But this is between him and God. His misery affects us both, but Scripture reminds me that I am to “be merciful to those who doubt”

(Jude 1:22) and show him the kind of love that “always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor. 13:7).

Finally, I’ve had to let go of my demands on God. At first, I assaulted Him constantly, insisting that He correct the situation. I didn’t want to wait; I had no desire to learn from this trial. I just wanted things back the way they had been. Now! I need this now! was my attitude. I was like a small child in the backseat of the car, crying because the journey is too long. I had to relinquish to Almighty God my need for a speedy end to this trip through doubt and fear.

After struggling to control what I never really could, what a relief it has been to let go! Not that it’s easy now. I still have days of distress, like the day I realized I might never see my husband’s faith reignite. But as I seek to give control continually to God, I find encouragement in Phil. 3:12:Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Grabbing God

After letting go, I’ve had to latch on to the fact that God is good, and He is in control. The goodness of God is a critical part of my husband’s doubts, and those doubts compel me to make certain of the validity of my faith. I may not completely understand why God allows some things to happen. (For instance, why did God let those precious little girls suffer and die? Why would a good God allow—even order—the destruction of whole nations? Why hasn’t God yet drawn my husband back to faith?) But His Word does hold some clues, and it assures me about God: “You are good, and what you do is good” (Ps. 119:68).

As I cling to God’s goodness, I am also holding on to His promise never to leave or forsake us (Josh. 1:5, for example). I felt utterly forsaken when Jack confessed we were no longer united in faith. But those feelings forced me to see how deeply my faith and relationship with God were dependent on Jack’s and how wrong that was. I still don’t enjoy going to church functions on my own, and I miss praying and talking about things of God with Jack. But God is generous enough to make up for anything I lack. Through His Word, He speaks love, hope, and peace to my fragile heart, and He assures me that He cares for my husband far more than I ever could.

I am also holding on to God’s promises for us. I believe that both Jack and I are engraved on the palms of His hands (Is. 49:16). God’s Word also tells me that “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Is. 42:3). Jack’s faith has been bruised by his doubts, and mine was singed by my self-centeredness, so this promise is especially precious. It has been more than three years since my husband revealed the depth of his doubts. Even though he has not returned to faith, I am confident that Almighty God is in control. I continue to pray for Jack, but I no longer demand that God change the situation. Instead my petitions more often echo David’s in Ps. 138:8: “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your love, O Lord, endures forever—do not abandon the works of your hands.”

a b o u t t h e a u t h o r

THE AUTHOR of this article leads women’s Bible studies at her church. She wrote this article because, “my initial reaction to my husband’s difficulties could have doomed my marriage and my faith. Instead, God graciously led me—in the depth of my fears—to a place of deeper trust in Him.”

Used by permission of Discipleship Journal magazine. Copyright © 2007, Issue 160, The Navigators.  Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. www.navpress.com.

9 thoughts on “Life with a Doubter: What to do when the Christian you married loses his faith”

  1. Thank you for sharing. I am going through something really similar and would like to talk with the author – how do I reach out?

    • Hi Connie, glad you liked the article. Unfortunately, this article was originally posted in Discipleship Journal and we don’t have a record of the author for the original.

  2. This is the same problem I am having too. What else can you do but love your husband when he feels lost? It’s a disruptive feeling to realize that you are not on the same wave-length as the one you love. But you must remember their good qualities and what drew you to him in the first place. Then just pray that your loved one reaches out to the One who loves him most.

  3. This is the same problem I am going through as well. This article has helped a lot. I will remember to be patient and loving, to put the situation in God’s mighty hands, to pray, and to draw strength through God’s Word.

  4. My husband has just told me that he has lost his faith and my heart is breaking. I don’t feel angry but desperately sad. We are in the process of being approved for adoption and it feels like our whole foundation has been shaken. I know what I need to do but it is incredibly hard when I can’t see through the emotions.

  5. I’m so sorry to read that Helen, that must be so hard and sad… I’m going through the same with my husband (no children yet) and this article and the comments have been life giving! I hope you are being fulfilled by God’s love, faithfulness and peace, and you can see your husband at God’s feet in repentance and worship soon, for His Glory and your joy in Him!

  6. Hi, I wrote a comment yesterday but I made the mistake of putting my entire name and I’d like to delete it or edit it. Please your help, thank you.

  7. I literally googled “ what to do when your husband loses his faith “ and stumbled upon this article. My husband has a masters of divinity and and additional masters of Hebrew Bible and ancient near east. He spent close to 10 years preparing to be a minister then an Old Testament professor. Through a long list of events he was not able to complete his PhD in Hebrew Bible and ancient near east to become a professor and when his calling fell apart, his faith crumbled. He calls it deconstruction and how he had to break down his former belief system to build a new one, but a new one is not there. In its place is a deep depression and searching for answers other places like triathlon groups and even a whiskey club. He says groups are all the same whether it’s a group of athletes or church members. he once led couples bible studies and loved sharing knowledge and experiences he has while living in Israel, now he never talks of those things. I struggle to watch him fill up how life with things that won’t satisfy and it angers me that he doesn’t lead our 3 boys 2 of which are school age in anything other than morality lessons. Thank you for sharing, I’m joining a women’s group at church tomorrow and am letting go of the idea of him using his gifts and education to bless others.

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