When He Doesn't Believe, with Nancy KennedyAn Obnoxious Christian Wife
Leslie Basham: Nancy Kennedy entered marriage, she and her husband were far from the Lord.
Nancy Kennedy: When we were married, we were equally yoked in faith: We were both unbelievers. We were happy pagans. Then, three years into the marriage, God got a hold of my heart.
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. It’s Thursday, July 14.
As we near our ten-year anniversary at Revive Our Hearts, we've been bringing you some of the most meaningful series over our history. Many women have responded to an interview Nancy Leigh DeMoss recorded with Nancy Kenneday. Tomorrow, you'll hear an exciting update to this story. Today, we'll listen to the first part of this classic series.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Every month here at Revive Our Hearts, we receive hundreds of emails, mostly from women writing to share with us what God is doing in their lives. Many of those emails are asking us to pray for women who are in, well, desperate circumstances.
I would say that probably 80% of those emails and letters and calls that we get from women who are in desperate situations relate to their marriage. Women pour out their hearts to us, really as total strangers, often asking us, “How do I deal with this situation in my marriage?”
We want to try, though the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, to encourage and minister grace and hope and practical help from God’s Word to women who are in these kinds of difficult marriage situations.
Our guest on Revive Our Hearts this week has a life message in the subject of marriage; in particular, marriage to an unbeliever. Nancy Kennedy is an the author of eight or nine or more books now and has written one that I think is particularly helpful called When He Doesn’t Believe. The subtitle is Help and Encouragement for Women Who Feel Alone in Their Faith.
Nancy, thank you for joining us this week on Revive Our Hearts.
Nancy Kennedy: Thank you, Nancy.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I’m so glad you wrote this book, When He Doesn’t Believe. Someone handed it to me some time ago and said to me, “This is a great book.”
As I began to read it, I realized it was a great book, not only for Christian women who are married to unbelieving mates, but I think it’s a great book for any woman who’s married or any woman who’s thinking about getting married because you have so much practical wisdom from God’s Word, and it's beautifully illustrated out of your own life throughout this book.
We want to talk this week about what God has taught you through more than 25 years of marriage to a non-believer. Nancy, let’s go back to the beginning and how you first met Barry. How did he come into your life, and how did the two of you get together?
Nancy Kennedy: Well, it begins in California. I grew up in southern California. When I was 19, I realized I was an old maid, and I needed a man. My brother had just joined the Navy, so a sailor sounded appealing to me. I went down to join the Navy, but the recruiter was out to lunch and the Air Force guy was in.
So I sat down with him and said, “Sign me up.” And that was it. I had plans to travel the world, but I ended up in northern Maine at Lorring Air Force Base working in base supply. My job was in the Receiving Department. I worked with paperwork. Barry worked in the Receiving Department receiving equipment.
Part of his job was to come into my office once a day to hand me the receipts. He started coming in once an hour instead of once a day. I liked him and he liked me, so he asked me out on a date. Stood me up.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Not a very great start.
Nancy Kennedy: No, not a great start. But on the second date he asked me to go ice skating, and he said he would rent me skates. He searched all over northern Maine for size seven ice skates to rent and he couldn’t find any, so he bought me a pair.
That so touched my heart because no man had ever bought me ice skates before, or anything really of any sentimental value. I saw something in him that I wanted. Basically I just wanted to get married at that time. But I liked him.
So because he bought me ice skates, I asked him to marry me. And because no woman had ever proposed to him before, I guess he assumed that he had to say "yes." So he agreed, and three months later we were married.
When we were married, we were equally yoked in faith: We were both unbelievers. We had gone to churches as children, but it didn’t really mean anything to us or to our families. So we were happy pagans. We didn’t know we needed Jesus in our lives.
Then three years into the marriage . . . actually at the time I was not going to church. No one was sharing the gospel with me. I was not watching Christian TV, listening to Christian radio, or reading Christian books.
But God got a hold of my heart. There was a van that used to travel around the Air Force base belonging to a family of Christians, I’m assuming, because on the side of the van was written “Jesus Saves.”
Now, to me that was a foreign term. I didn’t understand what that meant. I just knew that everywhere I went I saw that van, and that’s what God used to grab a hold of my heart. I found myself praying one night, “Jesus, save me; Jesus, save me,” over and over.
Actually, it was quite troubling. I went to work on a Monday morning. This woman named Rita, who worked in my office, said, “How are you?” and I burst out crying and ran into the bathroom. She ran in after me.
Rita was a Christian, but I didn’t know that. I told her, “Oh, Rita, I just keep praying, ‘Jesus, save me; Jesus, save me,’ but I don’t know what it means.” She pulled out her pocket Gideon’s New Testament, bright orange, and she showed me in Romans 10:13 where it says, “Whosoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
She said, “Is this what you want?”
I said, “Oh, more than anything!”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: God had been drawing your heart.
Nancy Kennedy: He had been. I remember reading a Scripture shortly after that: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jer. 31:1 NKJV).
All my life I’ve wanted to be loved. I’ve wanted to be cherished. I think all women—that’s what we want. We want to know that we are loved and cherished.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: And that’s often what women are looking for in a man.
Nancy Kennedy: That’s right. I was just going to say, we get married thinking that in this man we will find the satisfaction of our souls, and we can’t.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Even if he’s a believing mate.
Nancy Kennedy: Absolutely. Even if he’s a believing mate.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: There can’t be the extent of cherishing and expression of love that the Lord wants to give to us.
Nancy Kennedy: Right. We were created to love, and it’s so frustrating to find yourself in a marriage where you’re not receiving what you desperately want, and you’re also unable to give that which you desperately want to give. Because that belongs in our relationship with the Father.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: So you’re in this restroom back on a Monday morning with Rita, and you’ve just given your heart to Christ. This is the point at which you became a believer.
Nancy Kennedy: Absolutely. I had one of those dramatic conversions: 180 degrees. Before that I was moody and morose, and I cried a lot. I was 23 years old, but I think I cried every day of my life for those 23 years, just really wanting love.
So I walked out of that bathroom a slap-happy, babbling fool because I had found love in the bathroom.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: And you knew it right away.
Nancy Kennedy: And I knew it. I knew it. It was wonderful. It was glorious. I walked out of the bathroom and ran smack into Barry. He was walking down the hall, and I looked at him, and I was glowing. I said, “Barry, you’ll never guess what happened to me!”
Now, in hindsight, I can just imagine what’s going through his mind. “My wife comes out of the bathroom. I know she’s been crying for . . .”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: . . . as long as I’ve known her.
Nancy Kennedy: “. . . as long as I’ve known her. She’s glowing, and she’s smiling, and she’s laughing, and she’s babbling like a fool about Jesus.”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: What did you say?
Nancy Kennedy: I said, “Barry, you’ll never guess what’s happened to me in there! I think it’s called being born again. I’m not real sure, but I’ve given my life to Jesus.” I’m just going on and on and on because it was so exciting to me.
You know how new Christians are. You love to be around them. They’re so infectious. All zeal and no knowledge.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: How do you think this came across to Barry?
Nancy Kennedy: He thought I was Loony Tunes. He took off running.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It scared him.
Nancy Kennedy: It scared him. And I took off after him. I was chasing him through the warehouse. I’m running after him, telling him, “But this is the answer!”
I’m sure he’s thinking, “I wasn’t asking a question!” And I’m just trying to tell him, “This is the answer! This is it. This is it. This is what I’ve been looking for!”
I remember, when I came to faith in Christ, that was three weeks before we got out of the Air Force. Our enlistment was up. We moved down to Portland, Maine.
Barry didn’t know what to think. He was talking to his friends about what had happened to me, and he came to the conclusion that it was due to stress of getting out of the service and that this was just like a psychological diversion for me and that I’d snap out of it.
So he put all his hope into me snapping out of it, and I was clinging to the hope that he would snap into it. So that kind of set the stage for a good year of me trying my hardest to get him to see his need for a Savior.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: So how did you go about trying to convince him?
Nancy Kennedy: Well, like most women, I nagged. Women are very good with words, and men generally don’t like a whole lot of words. That’s why Scripture is clear in 1 Peter 3 that women who are married to unbelievers should keep quiet [see verses 1-6].
But I didn’t know that then. So at every opportunity, I would start a conversation about what the Bible says, what Jesus said. I would leave the Bible open to strategic verses, and I would place it throughout the house. My favorite place was the back of the toilet because I figured he has to go in there. You couldn’t miss it there. He didn’t appreciate it.
I bought a case full of gospel tracts, and I would put them in his lunch. He still talks about that.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You even got your little girl involved in this program to reach Dad.
Nancy Kennedy: Yes. Allison was a toddler at the time, and I would try to teach her to say, “Daddy, go church. Daddy, go church.” You know, God uses our children. I’ve heard stories of men just melting because their child came to them and said, “Dad, why don’t you go to church with us?”
But God doesn’t use our children when we manipulate. That must grieve the heart of God terribly, that we would stoop to that. We do that because we so desperately want the man we love most on earth to have what we have, to find what we have found, to know peace with God.
When I’m honest, a lot of times in the early days when I tried so hard, so desperately to bring my husband to faith in Christ, it was because I wanted it to be easy. I had this fantasy that if my husband was a Christian, then all our problems would disappear; our life would be bliss.
We would go to the church picnics; we would go to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night; we would pray together. Even our arguments we would begin and end with prayer, and it would be just total peace in our home.
I think we have this fantasy of what life will be like, and it’s not that way.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Now that you’ve known the Lord for nearly 25 years, you’ve known a lot of Christian marriages between two believers, and you realize that even in those marriages that’s an unrealistic expectation.
Nancy Kennedy: Well, it is. What I especially keep coming back to is, I’m no picnic. Even after being a Christian for twenty-plus years, I’m not ideal, so how could I possibly expect anybody else to be ideal?
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: So, talk for a moment, Nancy, about this whole thing of expectations—whether married to a nonbeliever or married to any man who is still in process of becoming what God wants him to be. What are some of the things a woman can expect in her marriage?
You say one of the things she should expect is opposition.
Nancy Kennedy: Opposition because when you’re married to a non-believer, there is a spiritual difference. One is spiritual; the other is not spiritual.
So maybe your husband is very agreeable to you going to church and developing your own faith, even bringing your children to church and Sunday School and raising them in the faith. But there’s a point where the opposition is: He just doesn’t want it for himself.
That could be very passive, and it could be very peaceful in your home. And then there are women who are married to very antagonistic unbelievers . . .
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: . . . who are unreasonable.
Nancy Kennedy: . . . who are very unreasonable.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Maybe angry men.
Nancy Kennedy: Yes. But even in those situations, God gives grace. He says His grace is sufficient. So when you start thinking, “I can’t go on,” that’s not true. You can go on because God’s grace is sufficient.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: What a powerful, powerful thing it is that you’ve just said! That really is at the heart of any of our life situations. We need to understand that whatever I’m facing in my marriage—and I’m thinking now, Nancy, about many of these emails I’ve received from women who are detailing the hard, hard things in their marriage.
Many times I’ll look at those and think, “I can’t imagine what to say to that woman that could really be helpful.” What you’ve just said, I think, is one of the most helpful things we can say, and that is that God’s grace is sufficient for you in that situation.
Nancy Kennedy: That doesn’t mean that you won’t cry, and it doesn’t mean . . .
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard.
Nancy Kennedy: That’s right. It doesn’t mean that you won’t feel desperate, and you won’t feel lonely, and you won’t feel frustrated and angry and resentful and all these emotions. But a lot of times when you’re grounded in the Word of God and you know what God says about Himself and about you and about how precious you are to Him, you can still have all these feelings, but your faith can be secure.
Often I say that if I’m going through a hard time and I’m crying and I’m fretting, somebody will ask me, “How are you doing?” and I’ll say, “My feelings don’t match my faith.” My faith is secure. I know the outcome. I know that God is sovereign. I know that He’s in control. I know I’m His child. I know He won’t let me out of His hands. But right now I’m sad, or right now I’m crying.
That is so freeing, to be able to admit that we’re just human.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You really believe that God can use even an unbelieving husband as a tool of blessing in your life.
Nancy Kennedy: Absolutely. In 1 Corinthians 7 it talks about the unbelieving spouse as sanctified (see v. 14). God has set these unbelieving husbands apart for His special attention. He has set our children apart for special attention. Does that guarantee their salvation? No. We have to be honest. The Bible never gives us guarantees.
But I’ve seen the heart of God, and I know that He has a plan for our families. His plan is far-reaching, and it’s beyond anything that we can imagine.
So when you are married to an unbelieving man and God has set him apart, you can trust that God will also use that man in your life. Often when I have to make a decision, I’ve prayed, “Lord, I don’t know what to do. You tell Barry what to do, and then he’ll tell me.” I trust God that He is able to give my husband wisdom.
I remember talking to a woman, and she was telling me all the things that she hated about her husband. I said, “Okay, tell me one thing that you can respect about him.” I stopped her. I said, “You can’t say nothing. You have to tell me one thing.”
She thought for a very long time, and then she said, “He lets me enroll our kids in Christian school, and he comes to the school functions.” I thought to myself, “That is major. That is big.”
I said, “Okay, you think about that every time you see him sitting on the couch watching what you consider to be trash TV. You remind yourself of this aspect of your husband, and you tell him how much you admire him for that and how much you are thankful and grateful. And then choose one more thing and then one more thing.
“And if you think that there is nothing else, ask God, because God knows this man, and He knows what is worthy of respect in your husband.”
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: So really, whether your husband is a believer or a non-believer, regardless of his spiritual condition, your trust as a wife has to be ultimately not in your husband but in God. I think of that wonderful passage in the Psalms, Psalm 62: For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken (vv. 1-2).
One of the translations says, “He alone is my expectation; my hope is in him.”
Let me encourage you as a wife listening today, regardless of the spiritual condition of your husband, to take comfort and be strengthened by the reminder that God is sovereign. He is good. He knows what He’s doing. He doesn’t make mistakes. He has a plan and a purpose for your life.No husband can thwart that plan.
He may be able to make your life more difficult. But even in those difficulties, God is sanctifying you. As you put your trust in the Lord, you are going to be a means of your husband and your children receiving spiritual blessing.
Leslie Basham: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss giving encouragement to women who are married to unbelievers. We’ll hear more in just a minute. If you’re in the kind of situation we’ve been hearing about today, I hope you’ll get a copy of our guest’s book. It’s called When He Doesn’t Believe, by Nancy Kennedy, and we'll send you a copy when you suport Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Make your donation by calling 1-800-569-5959, or donate online at ReviveOurHearts.com.
If you have thoughts on today’s program, I hope you’ll share them with Nancy Kennedy and the rest of our listeners. Nancy will be part of the Revive Our Hearts listener blog this week. Scroll to the bottom of today’s transcript, and leave your question or comment. Nancy will be addressing as many of those comments as she can. Again, join in the conversation at ReviveOurHearts.com.
Living with a husband who doesn’t share your faith gets complicated. For one thing, not only are you different in your beliefs, you’re also different because . . . well, men and women are just different. Nancy Kennedy will be back to help sort these differences out next time on Revive Our Hearts.
Now let’s join Nancy.
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Nancy Kennedy has given us some great practical counsel today. I want to challenge you, regardless of the condition of your marriage or the condition of your husband, to ask God to show you one thing that you can respect or admire about your husband.
Philippians chapter 4 tells us that we are to think on those things that are good and beautiful and virtuous, and that if we do, the God of peace will be with us and the peace of God will keep our hearts (see vv. 7-9).
So think about that one thing. Maybe you have a big long list, but maybe you say, “I couldn’t fill a 3x5 card with things I appreciate about my husband.” Ask God to show you one. Begin to thank God for that quality, that thing you appreciate.
And why don’t you decide before the day is over to let your husband in some way know that you appreciate that aspect, that quality in his life. Begin to express that admiration, that appreciation, and watch God begin to soften your heart and then perhaps even your husband’s heart as you express the love of Christ.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.