Editor’s note: This post is shared by the wife of a Chinese Christian worker who currently lives in the States. It is a personal and deeply heartfelt testimony of God’s work in a marriage over the course of several decades. While this is one individual’s story, the themes of romantic idealism coupled with realism reflect attitudes historically prevalent in China.
Wang Jianguo is the collective pseudonym for a group of Chinese house church pastors thinking about writing about issues related to the spread of Christianity in their nation. They are committed to preaching a grace-centered gospel, developing resources for the church, and loving China’s urban centers.
To protect the privacy of this family, some identifying features have been changed.
God has used marriage to shape me, challenge me, and to help me want to have a deeper relationship with him. This is my testimony.
My Desires Growing Up
I grew up in a pretty traditional Chinese family. My parents had a good relationship, but I never saw them hold hands and they never said, “I love you.” They never showed emotion, rarely hugging or expressing physical affection. Part of that was because of Chinese culture; part was because of their generation.
Would You Pray With Us Today?
They loved us, their children, very deeply. There are three children in my family, and I was the youngest, so my parents showered a lot of love onto me and treated me very specially. But they did not show much emotion. There was not much physical contact.
As I grew up, I desired a closer relationship [than the ones I experienced in my family]. In middle and high school, I read a lot of romance novels and was very influenced by them. I desired a very close relationship to which I could devote all of myself, and I hoped my future husband would love and cherish me. That was all I wanted in life. I thought if I had that, I would be very satisfied.
My husband and I were high school sweethearts and we got married after finishing college but before moving to the United States for graduate school. I became a Christian when I was in college, before I got married.
The Realities of Marriage
Given how I grew up and my previous understanding of marriage, you can imagine the situation we were in after getting married: I put high and perfectionistic expectations on my husband and had idealistic desires about the type of husband he would be.
The first year of our marriage, we lived in different cities. We had both come to the states for grad school: he was in one state, while I was halfway across the country. After a year, I moved to Michigan to be with him. We were not that busy while in school, so we were able to share household chores. Occasionally he disappointed me, but our relationship was good.
Seven years later we entered a period of time that was quite challenging for us. He graduated, I finished the main part of my research, and we moved to the Midwest. We also had our first child.
He was working and I was staying home, finishing my thesis and caring for a newborn baby. We had a new house that needed to be taken care of, the baby had a lot of demands that needed to be met, and there was much to do. I expected him to help more at home, but he had his own agenda. We started to have a lot of conflict in that season, but we were also able to deal with it.
We were both Christians. We knew our marriage had issues, but we did not know how to solve it. Once, we attended a family retreat. A pastor and his wife were our counselors during the retreat, and they made suggestions like, “Just hire somebody to take care of your daily chores.” They had all sorts of methods for lessening our conflict; yet, they were not actually very helpful. I wanted to tell them that hiring somebody to do our chores would not solve the real problem! What I desired was for my husband to be more active and involved in family matters.
In that season, we were each disappointed in the other, although overall we got along. We eventually moved again, and at that point I became even busier than before as I began my [medical] residency. For three years, I was so busy that we did not have time to fight with one another. But when residency finished, the conflict began again.
Living with High Expectations
As I mentioned earlier, I had expectations regarding what a husband should look like. But the things I wanted went nowhere. I was disappointed with him, and I am sure that at times, he was also disappointed with me. We went to a lot of Christian marriage conferences and they would help for a short time, but later, we would fall back into the same patterns. Nothing was changing the root problem.
When my husband started attending seminary, he began to study biblical counseling and I immediately became a case study for him. He began to dissect and analyze my problems. He pointed out my self-righteousness, self-centeredness, and self-pity. I felt that although he was pointing out my problems, he did not have the mercy to help me out of the situation. I knew intuitively that much of what he said was right, but I did not want to listen to him, and I did not want to change.
At the same time, I felt like he was not following through on his responsibilities and was not doing the things husbands were supposed to do. Although I tried to talk with him, it seemed like there were no results. Our marriage was like this for many, many years: some days were better, some were worse. My heart became hardened. I loved him, but felt emotionally disconnected from him.
As I continued to be disappointed, I decided to accept reality and that pouring my life out for my children and family was worth it. At the end of life, before closing my eyes and going to be with the Lord, I wanted to have no regrets. I started to feel more balanced and I experienced more peace inside. I did not nag my husband as much as before. I felt distant from my husband and cold toward him, but I believed I was a martyr for my family.
A Turning Point
Tim Keller’s sermons have been translated into Mandarin, and in the last several years I began to listen to them. One day, Keller talked about idols. I felt like he was talking to me: pointing out how my family and my relationship with my husband have been my idols. It opened my eyes. I thought if I had a good family, then I did not need anything else, including God. If my heart was satisfied with life, then that was all I wanted. Marriage was my idol.
I am so thankful God was never satisfied to let my desires for my husband or for a strong marital relationship be enough. God used my disappointment with my husband and marriage to point to something more important: the relationship I have with him.
Once I realized marriage was my idol, I shared this with my husband. Of course, we did not change right away. It takes time.
One day, I kneeled down and prayed and brought my marital relationship in front of God. I told God I was so disappointed with my husband, and I so longed for a closer relationship. In that moment, God opened my heart and eyes and put this thought in my head: “Why are you searching for perfect, self-denying love from a man who is not able to do that for you? Instead, why aren’t you turning your eyes to Jesus? He is the one who died for you on the cross!”
I realized: “That’s right! My husband does not have this capability—why haven’t I shifted my eyes toward Jesus? Why don’t I seek for this love from him?” That day and that prayer changed me.
In the last few years, I have passed through a season of illness. In that time, God has been working in my life, and through this season, I have become closer to him. I read the Bible more, I pray more. I like to read the Psalms, to read David’s songs and see how much he desired God as he went through the trials and sins of his life. I admire David’s closeness with God, his heart that desired God, and his relationship with the Lord.
As I have prayed and read the Bible more, God has also opened my eyes to show me that I’ve used my marriage relationship to satisfy myself, rather than being satisfied in the Lord. And this realization has blessed our marriage. When I have a desire for a closer relationship with my earthly husband, then I know I need to kneel down, talk to God, and tell the Lord how I feel and what I desire. That has really helped my spirituality and my relationship with the Lord.
As I desire less from my husband, I actually see more good things in my husband. I can see he does care for me, and—although he is not perfect—he does things to serve our family. When our son was still in high school, he was the one who drove him to school every morning, no matter how tired he was. He is also the one who calls us for family devotions, asks us to read spiritual books, and leads spiritual discussions with the children. He is the watchman for spirituality in our household. I see the work God has done through him in his ministry, and the devotion and effort he gives to that work. I have begun to understand him a little bit more: the things that grasp his heart, get his attention.
At times, my husband is also romantic. One Valentine’s Day, he was on the other side of the world. The snow was really bad that day and school was closed, so I was in the basement watching a movie with my children and texting with my friend. She told me her husband had just sent her flowers from London. Just as I was about to respond saying I had not received anything, the doorbell rang. I went upstairs, and a man was there holding a big vase of beautiful flowers. I was stunned by the timing. I know that my husband sent me the flowers, but I also think God was showing me that my husband loves me.
God has used our marriage and my emotions in marriage to shape me. In the past, I thought I was a martyr, that I bore a lot for the family. But now I think God used marriage as an instrument to show me what was the true center of my heart. As I was disappointed with that center, I realized there is only one, true God who can satisfy. God is the one, he is my true love, and I should love him the dearest. After I put the order right, it has brought blessing to my marriage and family.
This season is the best one we have experienced in our marriage. I see my husband is good, lovable, and handsome. I have begun to love him and feel affection toward him. As we were talking recently, I told him, “My heart is not cold toward you anymore. My heart is much softer. I feel like it is bigger—really in love.”