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Like Sweet Ice Cream

Recently, a woman I'll call Jill wrote me after reading my book about being unequally yoked, When He Doesn't Believe (WaterBrook). She'd grown up in a Christian family, had always been involved at church, and had had a vibrant faith. But then she moved thousands of miles from home for college and, well …

It's a common story: Girl stops going to church, stops feeding her soul and spirit, and meets boy. The boy isn't a Christian, but he's awfully cute and so nice, and they get married.

Then the girl starts longing for Jesus and returns to her faith, and the boy is indifferent or antagonistic. Either way, the girl feels lonely, confused, scared—and guilty.

I receive countless letters and e-mails from women tormented by guilt over marrying a non-Christian. Although my situation is different—my husband and I were both unbelievers when we married—I still dealt with guilt, albeit false guilt. I felt guilty that my children didn't have a Christian dad, that it was somehow my fault.

"I realize that it was wrong, and that I've grieved my Savior with my disobedience," Jill wrote. "My husband's a wonderful man in every way, even though he isn't a believer." She went on to say an older, godly woman told her to repent and make restitution.

"I don't know how to make restitution," Jill wrote. "I've repented of my decision to marry my husband, not because I've had any grave problems so far, but because I know I hurt the One who died for me. I don't know what more to do. Could you please advise me?"

Here's my reply:
"Jill, I'm so glad you wrote me. You're carrying a load of unnecessary guilt. My favorite Scripture, 1 John 1:9, says, ?If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness' (emphasis mine). Marrying your husband wasn't the unpardonable sin. You've realized your decision wasn't part of God's best plan for you, and you've repented. So as far as God's concerned, you're forgiven and free to get on with your life.

"In my opinion, from now on your main task is to love and honor and respect your husband, to be his friend and companion, to enjoy him, and to pray for him. Your situation didn't surprise God. Be encouraged that he'll use it to refine you and glorify himself.

"As for that woman's advice to make restitution, here's what I think: If you'd decided to steal something, you might be required to pay for it or give it back, but a decision to marry—you can't fix that. You can only repent, which you've done, and accept God's forgiveness.

"Imagine you have a young daughter who chops all her hair off. When she sees your face, she realizes what she did was wrong, and she's sincerely contrite. She asks you to forgive her, and you do. What's done is done. You both go on with your lives, and your relationship is fine, maybe even better, because you've shared a tender moment.

"But what if your daughter keeps coming back to you, crying, telling you she's sorry? You tell her, "I forgave you already—it's over. Let's have some ice cream."

"However, she says no, a friend told her to first do yard work for a month and not eat cookies for a year because of the haircut."

"As her parent, you think, Daughter, you sinned against ME, and if I say you're forgiven, then you're forgiven. What anyone else says doesn't matter. You're my kid, and I say let's go get some ice cream. I know this example sounds simplistic, but I hope it helps."

Relationships are difficult enough without unnecessary guilt playing havoc on our thinking and emotions. And from the number of women with whom I talk, who, like Jill, married a man they knew wasn't a Christian, the guilt seems multiplied. What's worse, guilt drives an even deeper wedge between people already feeling the effects of being spiritually mismatched.

For that reason, I urge any Christian woman contemplating marrying an unbeliever not to do so. Why invite trouble? As I said, relationships are difficult enough.

But for those already in that situation, for those who have already confessed their sin and know God's forgiven them, then they can get on with the tasks of living and loving the one they've married.

Has false guilt ever interfered in your relationship with someone? How have you dealt with it? What other troublesome emotions interfere with your relationships?

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

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