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Honest to God

When Steve Green admitted his spiritual emptiness, it transformed his relationship with Marijean

After selling 3 million copies of his recordings in 14 years, Steve Green is finding his life taking a few new turns. His music has earned him four Grammy Award nominations and six Dove Awards. He has performed in concerts around the world, but in recent months his focus is much closer to home.

At age 41, he's finding new challenges that require his attention. One is his father's struggle with the debilitating effects of Parkinson's Disease. Since his parents live nearby, Steve can be more involved in their care. Then there's the challenge of nurturing his marriage despite his sometimes frenetic tour schedule. Added to that are the responsibilities of parenting a teenage daughter, Summer, who is making plans to attend college; and a pre-teen son, Josiah, embarking on the road to manhood.

The demands of his private life have never been greater, so Steve is thankful for the partnership he shares with Marijean, his wife of 19 years. However, the bond that enables them to face life as a team almost never developed. It owes its beginning to a brother who had the courage to confront Steve when he was living an inauthentic Christian life.

Coming Clean

Reared by missionary parents in Argentina, Steve longed to escape the foreign environment and humble lifestyle he grew up with. So at age 18, hoping for a future full of prestige and money, perhaps as an attorney, he enrolled in an Arizona university. His desire to minister, especially among the poor of Latin America, further declined when he experienced the affluence of life in North America. But because he was a gifted singer, he ended up in Christian music rather than pursuing a career in law.

In the late seventies, Steve met Marijean when they performed with the vocal group Truth. Their year-long friendship culminated in an engagement. After they married, they moved to Indiana to sing back-up for the Bill Gaither Trio. Together, he and Marijean toured the country.

On the outside, the Greens were the ideal Christian couple—attractive, talented, leaders of their church's youth group. But Steve was struggling with a sense of spiritual unrest and beginning to suffer the consequences of his shallow commitment.

"A Christian was something I was raised to be," he explains. "I was more interested in the form, rather than the substance, of ministry. And in many ways, my vocal abilities were just for hire."

Steve's relationship with God had been deteriorating since his teen years. He had rejected his parents' style of Christianity, which was built on commitment, sacrifice and service to others.

"I felt my parents' Christianity was too binding," he says. "I kept bumping into their list of prohibitions. I wanted to see the movies and listen to the music my friends listened to. Of course, I wanted to make sure that when I died I went to heaven. But my Christianity wasn't much more than that. What I didn't understand was that my parents' obedience was joyful because they knew and loved the Lord."

The turning point came at a family reunion, five years after Steve and Marijean were married. An older brother, Randy, noticed Steve's hesitancy to answer direct questions about his faith. Randy was eager to talk about his own recent spiritual renewal, and he asked Steve if he was merely going through the motions. In an emotional confrontation, Randy said he thought Steve was covering some hidden sin. Steve responded in anger. Wasn't he part of a well-known Christian music group? Wasn't God using him? Yet, even as he defended himself, he knew his brother was right.

"His direct confrontation made me admit I was deceiving myself," Steve says. "I wanted to define Christianity in my own terms. God could have a certain part of me, but the rest of my life was my own."

That night he fell to his knees, asking God for forgiveness. Then Steve poured out his heart to Marijean. He confessed his hypocrisy and spiritual hollowness, his years of being a Christian in name only. "I told Marijean things I had never told anyone," he recalls. "I had a burning desire to be right with God and with everyone else. For the next two weeks I called or visited anyone I had wronged or sinned against, asking for forgiveness. For the first time, I had a clean conscience with nothing to hide." The result was a spiritual renewal—a "resuscitation," as Steve calls it—for them both.

"When God got hold of Steve, he began doing a deeper work in me, too," Marijean says. "For the first time, Steve became the spiritual leader of our home. Now, I was just trying to keep up with him!" They recommitted their lives to Christ, forming a bond stronger than any they had experienced previously.

"We realized if we didn't communicate with God at the deepest levels, then communication with each other wasn't possible," Steve says. "If we didn't have spiritual intimacy with our Savior, then we wouldn't have true intimacy with each other."

A New Marriage

The Greens' spiritual turnaround did more than strengthen their bond as husband and wife. It also affected the way they deal with conflict. In five years, they had grown adept at keeping their feelings inside—hiding their anger in silence rather than talking things out. And on the infrequent occasions when they did argue, rather than work to resolve their differences, they would withdraw in silence. Now, with a new transparency and deepened love, they began communicating instead of retreating.

"In the past, both of us could get pretty defensive, but after our renewal, we focused on approaching each other in humility," says Steve. "When we had a conflict over finances or a disappointment over failed expectations, I realized that I should take the first step to confess my wrong and make things right. Pride builds walls of self-protection, but love seeks to be reconciled."

He admits that such humility takes practice. "Every day, we have to come before the Lord and ask him to melt away the hardness of our hearts and fill us with his love," he adds.

A marriage that Steve says used to be based primarily on personality and physical attraction now relies on honesty, spiritual unity and unconditional love. Not long ago, he wrote the song "'Til the End of Time" specifically for Marijean.

"I wrote it realizing she needs the constant reassurance that whatever the years bring, I will be with her. I wanted to renew my vows to her and say, 'I will have you and will hold you … 'til death do us part.'"

With two kids needing extra attention during adolescence, and with Steve's dad's health declining, the Greens don't know what the future might hold. But they're confident that whatever life brings, it won't erode the bond they share.

Joan Brasher is a freelance writer who lives with her husband in Kingston Springs, Tennessee.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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Commitment; Marriage; Renewal
Today's Christian Woman, Summer, 1998
Posted September 12, 2008

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