Editor’s note: This content was excerpted from a panel at a marriage retreat for Chinese pastors and their wives. Today, a wife and husband talk about their experiences with learning to trust one another through difficult seasons, and what partnership and commitment look like over the years in marriage.
Moderator: Have you ever had a trust crisis in your marriage? How did you navigate it and build a strong bond of trust?
Ning Xumei: Only for short periods of time. We experienced a “seven-year itch,” which was a trust crisis. God’s grace is always sufficient. We also go through times when there is tension in our relationship due to things happening within our family and church.
After overcoming the trust crises in our marriage, I feel I have a bit of control over my own heart again. We should not put our trust and security in people, because people aren’t steadfast. If you think you are a good person, it’s because you haven’t experienced a hard circumstance which allows your sinful nature to show itself. Only God’s grace can protect us in the midst of suffering and hard circumstances.
I have the responsibility, as my husband’s wife, to protect him to the best of my abilities. However, if it’s beyond my ability, then I can only put my trust in the Lord. By trusting in God, I can live with peace of mind.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
Moderator: Are there specific ways both of you have agreed to protect your marriage and your trust in each other?
Ning Xumei: When we were first married, we didn’t have a lot of experience. He was busy with ministry, and I stayed at home. I tried my hardest to pull him back into our relationship. However, he was busy, and I wasn’t successful.
Eventually, I realized that God provided us with an opportunity. While we were facing our seven-year itch, God convicted me that I wasn’t fulfilling my responsibility to my husband while he was busy with his ministry. The Lord reminded me that failure in my responsibilities could create cracks in his ministry. For example, there were times when church sisters would request to have a conversation with my husband without my presence, and I would happily oblige. However, looking back, I realized this could create the appearance of improper conduct. I didn’t have to go, but we needed to set up boundaries for our family and church’s protection.
Moderator: Pastor Yang, what’s your opinion?
Pastor Yang Xu: In our church, all the pastors’ wives are full-time ministers, companions to their husbands in ministry. I really like this structure. In the past year or two, the greatest help and protection my wife has given me is her willingness to accompany me in ministry. She is with me every Sunday service. My wife is deeply involved in my life, and we bear all the burdens of ministry together. She is my shield and protection.
Moderator: We tend to doubt our spouses when we hear others share something contradictory to what they may have said. How do you build up a trust based on mutual understanding? Du Jinli shared how she protects your marriage, but how do you do this?
Pastor Yang Xu: It’s hard for me to define “trust” in the context of marriage. I tend to think more about “commitment.” Our marital commitment means my wife has completely entrusted herself to me. She has the right to my entire personhood, including my personal sins and problems. She may criticize me, but I know she will always support and be with me unconditionally. I don’t think we can call this “trust.” Instead, it is a deep, covenantal commitment. This kind of commitment is foundational to building our relationship.
Moderator: You are very different. One of you deals with tension by neglecting the other, while the other profusely apologizes to try to restore peace. The gospel helps us see ourselves as we truly are. How can you begin learning to appreciate the other person’s differences? God created you differently. How do you appreciate those differences and treat one another with kindness?
Pastor Yang Xu: We definitely are two very different people. We probably wouldn’t have gotten married if we knew we were so different. When we were chatting last night, we came up with an apt analogy for our marriage. Chinese people love playing mahjong. I think Du Jinli is like the “chow” combination in the game. It’s useful, but not conspicuous. In a similar way, she can help me with counseling others, teaching Sunday School, playing the piano, and leading our fellowships. She’s very versatile and accomplished, and she likes serving behind the scenes.
According to her, I am like the “Five Thousand” tile. This tile doubles the winning hand’s points. My wife said my appearance in a winning hand makes everything more valuable. I’m shining, glorious, and beneficial to the owner of the winning hand.
She described me as “eager to please” and a “complete show off.” She doesn’t like showing off at all. Instead, she prefers to serve quietly and be productive. We are two extremely different people. When we first started noticing our differences, I resisted her judgment about my sins. I initially wasn’t willing to confront my inner sins, but the gospel has gradually helped me change.
Now I understand that my wife is an essential part of my life. For instance, we recently held a Christmas worship service at church, and I was in charge of the Sunday afternoon service. The night before, I asked Du Jinli whether we should invite the staff to our house for lunch. I made this suggestion because I’m a people-pleaser. Everyone was coming to the worship service at the church next to my house, and I was worried it would be a faux pas if I didn’t treat them to a meal.
However, my wife told me, “No.” If this incident happened when we were younger, we would have gotten into a big argument. I would have criticized her for being rude and improper, and she would have called me a people-pleaser. Our fight would have erupted from there. However, her response reminded me that I do have a need for people to like me. She explained that the most important activity of the day was worship, and I needed to preach in the afternoon. If I invited everyone for lunch, I wouldn’t have additional time to prepare my sermon.
Our marriage has polished us like iron sharpens iron, and we have become very good partners. She values truth and principle, while I care more about emotional health and reputation. We balance one other. We used to attack each other due to our differences. However, the gospel has taught me to see my own shortcomings, and I’ve come to realize that I need a helper who can partner with me. I think this is very beautiful, and I’m thankful I can experience it.
Yang Xu and Ning Xumei are pseudonyms for a pastoral couple who live in Beijing.
FOR PRAYER AND REFLECTION
Pray for Chinese Christian couples to listen to one another and grow in trust and commitment within their covenantal relationship.