Reference Helps

…by Eric Stockholm

Melanie and I have been married for over 25 years. A major reason for our longevity and commitment to work through the many struggles that every marriage faces was our common faith. That faith has grown stronger each year as we have seen God’s hand on our marriage and in the lives of our children. But it wasn’t always an easy path to follow because we had a very different level of spiritual development as we approached our wedding day.

Melanie grew up in the proto-typical Baptist family. They were in church for Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday evening services. They went through AWANA programs, went to Vacation Bible School and attended “Baptist Park” summer camp. When Melanie was in college (a strict Christian college in upstate New York), she was a summer counselor at Baptist Park and even ran opening exercises (music and “sword drills”) for 400 children attending VBS at her church. She had lots of scripture memorized, was fluent in “church-speak” and loved to enter into doctrinal discussions with anyone and everyone.

My family also attended church regularly. My Lutheran faith had me in church each Sunday morning for Sunday school and worship. But my level of Bible knowledge was nominal, at best, and my connection to the church outside of a Sunday morning was pretty much non-existent.  Going away to college did not increase my participation or involvement,  and church became a distant memory as I began my career.   Although I considered myself a Christian, there was no growth spiritually. I knew lots of Bible stories, and was familiar with some Scripture, but I was essentially a baby in the faith.

As Melanie and I met and we began to move toward marriage, my desire to “catch up” kicked in.  Melanie gave me a Bible with study notes in it and the pastor at our church came alongside me to ground me in the essentials of biblical truth and doctrines. The weekly crash course each Saturday morning, as well as regular personal study and solid teaching Sunday AM and PM made a huge difference.  Planting seeds of truth in fertile ground produced much fruit.  God was faithful in helping us as a couple, overcome our spiritual mismatch because both parties were willing to allow and encourage that growth to occur.

I believe the key was that Melanie wanted to have me be the spiritual leader in our home. She never lorded over me that fact that she knew way more than I did.  Instead, she acted to facilitate the instruction by providing the resources (study Bible, pastoral instruction, etc.) necessary for my growth and then she was my cheerleader, encouraging me as I grew in my faith and knowledge of biblical doctrines.  The process has continued and the growth journey is still progressing.  Now she is the one asking me about the meaning of a particular passage.

Serving at church in various ways over the years has also allowed me to mature and for us to grow together.  We began as co-teachers of a Sunday school class, grades 3-4, then 5-6, junior high and finally high school. (I feel sorry for the kids that had us for 10 consecutive years…).  The teaching opportunity allowed me to learn and I was not put into a situation where the kids knew more than me.  Today, we still team teach. We’ve “graduated” to a college+ age group and we still have good theological discussions.

Melanie was patient, and the Holy Spirit did His work to instruct as the years have gone by.  If you find yourself in a spiritual mismatch, I hope that you would do what my spouse did: recognize the need, provide the resources and encouragement and then love your spouse through it.  The grace you offer will be a great investment in your relationship and will pay dividends across untold generations.