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Loving the Unlovable

Lisa Barry: All this week we've been sitting in on a conference Elisabeth Elliot spoke at in Omaha, Nebraska. Her topic is the omnipotence of love. And when we left off yesterday, she was right in the middle of a story about two people on the brink of divorce, but the wife decided instead to love her husband with a sacrificial love. The results were phenomenal.

Now, we'll hear the rest of the story of this Thursday edition of Gateway To Joy.

Elisabeth Elliot: Now I have a sequel from the lady who walked in and found her husband sitting on the sofa looking at the TV. Two years went by, she heard me tell that story on my radio program. "Then I thought I owed it to you to let you know where I was today after almost two years. Well I started, as you know already, very good. But I did not go much ahead. There were a few problems.

"One, I didn't know how to treat somebody like Jesus, who is just the opposite of Jesus. Two, I even did not know how to treat the real Jesus as if He were here. Plus, I had my own character flaws like fear, weakness, confusion, lack of courage, shyness, and hunted by my past sins that I thought God could not forgive, ever.

"Despite the above-mentioned problems, I tried to treat my husband the best I could. But after some time I felt that I give and give and give and I don't get anything in return." There's that wicked impulse, "What about me? What about my needs?" So she goes on to say, "Sometimes it worked and most times it didn't. The harder I tried, the situation became worse. We did not fight, instead there was silence between us. It was killing me."

Any of you have a husband who kills you with silence? "In order not to see his sour face, I tried to stay away from him. He did not seem to be suffering at all. After all, I still gave him dinner and washed and cleaned and earned money and suffered silently, rejection, getting more frustrated and angrier until this last winter I started thinking that certainly God doesn't want me to suffer." Or does He? Think about that one.

"Then, one day I had a serious talk with God. I told Him my story. I asked Him what to do, stay in this marriage or leave? Just one condition I put, 'Please don't let the answer be in my head or some kind of hints or whisper in my ear, I need loud and clear answers so I can understand. I am done.' I waited. Two days went past.

"On the radio I listened to Dr. Dobson describe a woman exactly to the smallest details in my situation. I even thought for a second he was describing me and asked him 'Should she stay or leave?' My ears went up and I stopped breathing to make sure I heard right. Dr. Palau, Louise Palau said, 'Stay and pray.' Who wants to hear that? I've done enough praying. It's time for me to get out of here.

"God did it again. I cannot imagine an answer louder or clearer. That day, I listened three times to Focus on the Family just to make sure, just to make sure it was not my imagination. So I stayed and prayed. In my heart I did not believe that anything would work. Nothing worked so far, why should this time work? But I obeyed.

"I prayed and prayed and prayed. Read my Bible, listened to you in the morning and others. God gave me the words and the thoughts that I needed for that day and I felt God with me all the time, helping me, supporting me. I sang hymns. I waited silently on the Lord. Memorized Bible verses. That helped me to calm down and sleep because I could not sleep either.

"So I prayed, 'Lord, heal my relationship with my husband.' Two years ago I had prayed that God would heal my marriage and prevent separation. This time, though, instead of working harder and harder I prayed harder and harder.

"Finally, God gave me the message. The next step, "Ask your husband what would it take for him to love you?" So I did. One day, with a low voice, with the usual distance from him, about five feet, I put my question to him. 'What would it take for you to love me?' Suddenly, after a pause, he looked at me and exploded with the loudest voice, 'Shut up, close your mouth, zip it' and left. I froze.

"Inside, my heart churned. He had never talked to me like that. I was hurt to the core but I swallowed my hurt, I was on a mission. I did not ask the question to feel good with the answer. Of course, I wished that that would end all of my problems immediately, I needed to know what was not working between us. So I ran his answer through my head again and again. 'Shut up, close your mouth, zip it.'" And remember, she asked God for a loud answer.

"I ran his answer through my head again and again and to my amazement I heard tremendous pain in his voice. Almost like a cry or pleading. The pain I had not sensed, that much even in myself, ever. So, I forgot, I put aside my hurts and started searching and analyzing the source of that pain. It clearly was pointing on my talk. I felt broken. Did I cause so much pain? How could I?

"So I stopped talking completely and started thinking, only answering him when he asked for something, in the shortest way. After all, I was determined to do God's will, whatever it took--forgetting myself, my feelings, and my wants...still hurting, but I trusted God and received strength from Him.

"After a few months, my husband came closer to me. I guess he felt safer and I started talking. But this time the only things I said were praising him and thanking him for the smallest thing that he did." And she puts five exclamation points after that. "I had just noticed what I wrote, isn't that how we treat Jesus? Praising Him and thanking Him for the smallest thing that He did. And I had to go around and around to find it out for myself and I felt as though I had invented it.

"Sorry Elisabeth, I'm a very slow learner, you can see that. But still, this was not the end of the road to happiness. Although I was still doing the right thing, but did it with resentment and expectation that he would love me. After all, I had worked so hard. Don't I deserve his love? But he did not love me.

"I was solving my problem my way instead of God's way. I did not stop there. I prayed and prayed, and listened to God, to you, to Dr. Dobson, to Chuck Swindoll, and others, not mentioning reading the Bible every day, and sang hymns. Then one day the message came. 'Empty yourself.'

"At first it did not make a whole lot of sense to me, but I worked on it. Consequently I released myself from the case and let God take care of the relationship. I continued praising and thanking him as an outsider. I was not in charge, but doing my duty the best I could. And I did not expect love or even if he remembered that I existed.

"So I became free. I was not worrying, nagging, or wanting anything. I did not care, it was not my business anymore. I did my duties at work and home, spent time with my church friends, called my own friends, went to museums, parks, did aerobics, rode bicycles and became a happy person. My vigor came back and" she puts a big long dash "my husband fell in love with me.

"I guess what I had some people would call 'attitude.' Almighty God and His mercy showed to me my stumbling block and helped me to overcome it. Indeed, to my surprise, after taking my eyes from myself, I found many excellent qualities that my husband had and I had never seen them before. What a shame. I could have had all of the past 35 years enjoying my marriage."

And then she refers to a little story that I've told many times about my dear Canadian mom, one of my spiritual mothers, Mrs. Cunningham up in Alberta. She and I were widowed right about the same time, I in Ecuador and she in Canada, and about four years later we got together. We hadn't seen each other in all those years. And we were talking about what it's like to be a widow.

And Mom Cunningham said to me, she was Scottish and she always called me "Betty" and it was always "Betty dear." But she looked at me and said, "Oh, Betty dear. There are so many things that you think of that you should have done for him. But you didn't do them. And oh, I thought of so many things that I should have said to him and I never said them. And I said, 'Lord, why didn't you show me?' And He said, 'Because you weren't ready to be shown.'"

"I want to be ready to be shown." And Mrs. G after all of that praying and praying and praying and praying and praying and praying was ready to be shown--the omnipotence of love. Never a question again, "What about my needs? How come he doesn't love me as Christ loved the Church?" What husband in human history has ever loved his wife as Christ loved the Church?

Of course, the answer is none. Because we are sinners, desperately in need of a Savior. Not once, back when I was four years old and got down on my knees and said, "Lord Jesus Christ I want You to be my Savior." That's valid. But there isn't a day that goes by that I don't need a Savior. He must save me from myself, save me from all of my sins, including the sin of lovelessness.

She says, "But as your friend in Canada said, 'I was not ready.' Today I'm stronger, wiser, freer. My husband loves me and can't have enough of me. We laugh together. We talk together. We are both free individuals who enjoy each other and both feel secure in Lord. I have an excellent husband. A real man." And that's in all caps. "He got a job; he works 70 to 80 hours a week. I thank God for him everyday."

Lisa Barry: What an encouraging story. And even though there were a few scary turns, it made me realize that detours don't mean the end of the road. That's what many of you have told us through letters over the years. So many times when you've found yourself facing uncertainty or an unexpected tragedy, you found comfort here. A word of encouragement or a nudge to do something you knew was right. That's what friends do for each other and we are honored to have you for a friend.

As we support your spiritual life, it's our prayer that you will want to do the same in return. When you support Gateway To Joy with you prayers and financial gifts, you transform the lives of people who listen. And we have the stories to prove it. So if Elisabeth's words have challenged and encouraged you, please consider joining with us to spread the message to others. You can be a part of impacting women's lives all around the country by giving to and praying for Gateway To Joy. Thanks for doing your part.

Here's how to get in touch with us. Our toll-free number is 1-800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. Our mailing address is:

Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, NE 68501. Our Web address is gatewaytojoy.org. Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow, when Elisabeth takes questions from the audience in Omaha. That's next time on Gateway To Joy.

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