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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Your Mate Loses Faith

Most of us marry with some equality of faith - we're looking up to God together, and that's as it should be.

We want to live out our lives in that faith, and we want to experience its deepening and growth.

And sometimes, it doesn't happen/ We find ourselves married to someone who's lost faith.

It's a lonely feeling. Where once we were able to worship together, suddenly there's been an amputation. Your mate may be there with you in church, but you know...they're going through the motions.

Or they just decide to stay home, and watch NASCAR.

The bottom of the slide is being ridiculed for your own faith.

What do you do? Where can you take a situation like this? How can you help? Can you even help?

There are no easy answers, no 'one size fits all' solutions, because loss of faith is anything but an easy process, and it hits people individually - and it hits them hard.

Still, there are some things we can do, some common threads we can at least pick up in the hope that they'll somehow be woven together once again.

First and foremost, don't judge. No one wants to lose faith. No one wants to feel cut off from God, or worse, adrift in a world without God and without hope. This may not equate to the person making an effort to regain faith. Loss of faith kicks the legs out from under a n individual, and there may be no readily apparent road back.

Second, don't preach. The worst thing you can do is 'witness'. You'll hit resostance, and that resistance will harden. There's a metalworking process called 'work hardening', in which deforming a piece of metal makes it stronger. Hammer your mate who's lost faith with your faith, and you'll only work-harden their isolation.

Listen. Most people whose faith has failed want to talk about it, want to relate what happened. It's like a car accident - people who live through a spectacular wreck relive it endlessly, as a way of processing something they fundamentally don't understand. They need listeners.

You have to draw a fine line, though, between listening and being the object of an attempt to undermine your own faith. Often this isn't a conscious effort; it's more a subconscious act of self-validation (if someone agrees with me I must be partially right...).

But be nice, if you have to pull back from listening. You're dealing with a person who's lost something precious, and however defiant he or she may be - that just masks misery.

Be supportive. Often a person who turns from Christianity will seek solace in another faith, usually Eastern. I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say roll with it.

Don't change your own faith, but recognize that there is some effort going on to reach back to God. let God work in those spaces - give Him room, and help Him.

Supportiveness does end here if there are children involved - you can't tolerate attempts to influence your kids away from Christ. That is proscribed by Christ Himself, and in this place - stand firm. (If your mate is not trying to influence the kids, you simply have to remain watchful.)

Encourage churchgoing, even if your spouse stays in the car. Make Sunday an outing day, and make plans for lunch, or some sort of 'treat' that your spouse will enjoy - after church. Sure, it's a trick, but most people - even those whose faith has vanished - are good-natured enough that they'll eventually go into the service with you.

And let them sleep through the service. people hear things when they sleep. Again,.give God the room to work.

When faith returns, celebrate cautiously. Don't throw a party, either literally or figuratively, because it can make the 'guest of honor' feel that they've returned from some sort of failure, may make them feel like a 'baby Christian' again. It's not humbling - it can be humiliating.

Also, the return to faith may bring on excesses, the l;east of which might be a desire to attend as many services as possible, to listen to Christian music exclusively, and to take on political and social views that seem extreme.

This is panic. The returned faith isn't strong, and the newly 'reborn-again' believer is doing everything possible to encourage the growth of faith - and everything possible to prevent its loss again.

Pray Pray for your spouse, as much as you can./He or she needs it.

Norman Vincent Peale described a technique called 'shooting' prayers, imagining them as arrows impacting the intended 'target'. The evidence he collected indicates that they are quite effective, so give it a shot...pun intended.

Love. Remember that loss of faith is agony. Carl Sagan, the astronomer and poster-boy atheist who wrote Cosmos was miserable during his final illness. It was one thing to talk about the majesty of evolutionary theory when one was healthy and young...but when Sagan became old(er) and frail, the threat of personal extinction became real, and by all accounts, he was desperate.

So don't pull away your love. The person you married deserves it, and needs it, more than ever.

If all else fails, and faith never returns - make that love your witness.

This post is linked to Wedded Wednesday, a compendium of really cool posts on marriage. If you click on the logo below, you'll be taken to www.messymarriage.com, which is the springboard to a wealth of information.


  1. Very helpful tips, people are often tempted to get preachy at their spouse of someone who loses faith. Thanks for sharing these helps Andrew, God bless.

  2. Amen! This is great, Andrew. It sounds like you're speaking from first-hand experience. I don't know which role you played in this conflict, but I do know your words here are wise and so very true! I'll be sharing with friends who struggle in this way. I know this will be a help to them!

    1. Thanks, Beth! Yes, it is something I have had to deal with, though not in my marriage - when I was teaching at college level, older students would come to me for counsel.

      Not only Christian - all faiths. I had a pretty good religious library in my office.

      I only pray I helped them.