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Somewhere within the first decade of our marriage, my husband and I began to notice a disturbing trend: marriages dissolving all around us. In the church we attended at that time, three couples went their separate ways in a single year. They were active, visible members — regular attenders. We looked at each other, both deer in the headlights and knew, deep in our bones: This could happen to us, too.
Shauna Shanks writes about marriage from the trenches, and A Fierce Love is a manual for marriage preservation in the wake of unfaithfulness, betrayal, and emotional abandonment, for Shauna has invited readers to witness the anguish of the days, weeks, and months that followed her husband Micah’s announcement that he wanted a divorce. The book is a record of her resolve to fight for her marriage, even though Micah gave her absolutely no hope for reconciliation.
The Love Filter
” . . . this man with whom I had built a life, made promises to, and shared our children, opened his mouth and declared, “I do not love you. . . I am not attracted to you . . . I shouldn’t have married you. . . I have wasted ten years of my life with you, and I don’t want to waste any more of my time. I feel nothing for you.”
God directed Shauna’s thoughts to I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, and she made a decision that her love would not be based on mere feelings. Rather than reading Paul’s words as lovely sentiment or tired poetry, for Shauna, they became a call to a fierce love — a battle cry based on the truth and a posture of grace and restraint.
Instead of remorse over his sin, Micah communicated only rejection. If the marriage was to be saved, the ball was entirely in Shauna’s court, so she employed the truths of I Corinthians 13 as her Love Filter. Responding in kindness, patience, and hope while rejecting rudeness, pride, and jealousy, she was free to persevere because I Corinthians 13 love never fails.
A Specific Calling
Shauna is very quick to say that not everyone will be called to fight as she did, and not every marriage on a broken planet is salvageable. However, her specific calling was to hang in there, to speak only to a few very close friends about her plight, and to expend all her energy in the direction of preserving that relationship.
So completely was the Shanks’s marriage transformed, Shauna speaks of their first ten years pre-crisis as their “first marriage” (even though there was no legal breach) and the time since the reconciliation as the “second marriage.” The challenge facing you and me today, then, is to reject a “first marriage” mindset and to fight each day for that “second-marriage”-level of commitment to self-giving as a rescue for a failing marriage — or as a safe guard to an already stable and healthy marriage.
In reading Shauna’s courageous account of warrior-level faith, I gleaned five principles that seemed to be sign posts on her journey of fierce love:
1. Beware “blatant indifference.”
The roots of Micah’s cold detachment from a ten-year marriage can be traced to his troubled childhood coupled with the distraction of a competing love, but even so, Shauna admits she, too, had been practicing some behaviors that could also be considered “blatant indifference.” Binge-watching Netflix series, failing to prioritize time with Micah, and viewing the marriage as a utilitarian childcare arrangement also set the stage for weakened ties. Of course this does not excuse Micah’s infidelity but Shauna laments, “My sin may have looked different than Micah’s, but it was still sin.”
2. Find “Aaron and Hur” caliber support.
God provided two friends for Shauna who upheld her through the darkest days. So strong was her resolve to fight and so clear was her understanding that God was directing her toward reconciliation that she did not want to risk telling her family about their rift in order to keep them from turning against Micah. (She and Micah continued to live in the same house so to the outside observer, nothing had changed in the Shanks household.)
Shauna was not being abused or endangered, so she does not intend for her practice to be prescriptive for those who are in an abusive relationships. This is an important distinction given the tendency of abuse victims to hide unhealthy relationships out of shame or fear. With that firmly established, in a culture in which husband-bashing has become acceptable even in Christian circles, there’s a place for respectful silence about our spouse’s shortcomings as well as an honoring curtain of privacy sheltering a marriage relationship.
3. Refuse to receive the damaging effects of a wayward spouse’s rejection.
Shauna clung to the truth that God had already set a high value upon her, and this guarded her heart from dwelling on negative thoughts and helped to pull her out of depression and despair.
“The Bible instructs us to take our thoughts captive. We act as though we have no control over our thoughts . . . as if once they pop into our heads, we have to let them live there.
Take them captive. They will kill you.”
4. Chase after God.
If two people are determined to seek God faithfully, their marriage relationship will be impacted as well. Before working on her marriage, Shauna focused on her relationship with God and, mercifully, Micah’s heart for Shauna changed after his heart warmed once again to his Lord.
5. Take grace.
There’s a prideful rising up of the spirit that is death to relationships because it rejects the gracious offering of forgiveness. Shauna found that one of the obstacles to reconciliation was that, although she was willing to extend grace to Micah in a supernatural way — he had to become willing to receive it.
From a dark and oppressive place, Shauna trusted for grace, and God met her there. No matter what the state of your marriage (or even if you are single) there is merit in being reminded that when God becomes involved in the process of restoration, He does not merely patch us up or send us backward into a former thing. God’s work of redemption restores forward into a brand new and beautiful thing that only He can accomplish.
This book was provided by Zondervan through BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
- Jamie Ivey interviewed Shauna on Episode #153 of The Happy Hour Podcast. Together, they talk about life and Shauna’s book — and the house the Shanks family is building together out of shipping containers. Click here to listen.
- My friend Crystal Storms blogs about marriage and recently shared A Prayer for the Wife Feeling Abandoned. She has experienced the heartbreak of a husband pulling away, and describes the distance between them in that season as “a wall of insurmountable heights.” Click here for encouragement from Crystal’s heart.