“We will be stepping outside of God’s blessing if we don’t get engaged.”
Was it a threat? Spiritual abuse? Or the Holy Spirit speaking through my supposed-to-be-future husband? If the latter, I was supposed to listen, submit, and obey, even though I disagreed...right?
I was 24 years old and 5 months into a serious dating relationship (which we called “courting”) when my boyfriend Peter* proposed to me. When he knelt down next to a mountain creek where he had brought me, and started taking off my shoes and socks, I knew what was happening and I froze.
I didn’t freeze because he was going to wash and anoint my feet with oil (though I should have, and I shudder to think of it now). I didn’t freeze because the letter he read to me was overly spiritualized and sentimental. I didn’t freeze because the ring he offered wasn’t really my style.
I froze because he was proposing, and I was supposed to say yes.
And I didn’t want to.
But I said yes anyway.
I knew what was expected of me, and as the good Christian girl and people-pleaser I was raised to be, I accepted a proposal for marriage even though I felt sick inside. The sickness grew until I couldn’t stand it anymore, and at a gas station on our way down from the mountain, I told him I didn’t think our engagement timing was right. He was furious, especially about what he was supposed to tell his parents. They were waiting for us at their house, where we were supposed to celebrate our engagement that night.
I gave him the ring back and the ride back to his condo was awkward. After I left his place, I called my sister, bawling.
“I don’t understand. God told me Peter would be my husband. Why don’t I feel peace about saying yes?”
About 5 months prior, I was on my way home after a date with Peter, who at the time was this new guy who had waltzed into my life. I was talking to God about a potential future with him, when a “voice” interrupted my thoughts. The voice in my mind spoke a sudden and forceful “yes” in response to the question I was beginning to ask: “Is Peter my future—?”
I was elated. My dream had come true: God had told me who I would marry. Everything was clear, and our courtship would be a powerful testament to God, because God had ordained that we would be married. No doubt. No question. Let’s do this.
Back to the present, 5 months after hearing that voice, and after having semi-rejected a marriage proposal, I was confused. Truth be told, I had expected to be engaged over a month ago. Peter and I had discussed it, and I was frustrated that he hadn’t gotten his act together yet. We had already talked about getting married in October, to fulfill my dream of having a fall color wedding, and now that it was the end of August, I had resigned myself to getting married next year.
But now that he had proposed, it felt all wrong. I had come to terms with a longer dating period that I had originally anticipated, and now that this season was being asked to come to an end, I wasn’t sure engagement was the right step, right now.
The next day, Peter and I talked in depth about what had happened. Emotions were high and at one point, a nail clipper flew across the room in anger (Peter had a nervous habit of clipping his nails and trimming his cuticles when frustrated). After 3 hours of circular arguments, we came to an impasse.
Peter was convinced that if we did not get engaged now, we were stepping outside of God’s will. The Holy Spirit had impressed it very clearly upon him that we were to get engaged. I did not sense the same thing. I did not hear a voice from God saying we shouldn’t get engaged, but I did not want to get engaged right now, and I thought it would be wise to take more time to date.
To Peter, it was now or never. If we weren’t going to get engaged now, then the relationship would be over.
I took a walk. While my feet moved, my brain processed.
I felt an internal struggle pulling me in two different directions. On one hand, I did not feel peace about getting engaged. Nothing about the engagement felt right: he had proposed at the end of a long day, when I had a headache, was tired, sweaty, and wearing a gross T-shirt. We had been riding around in the mountains on his motorcycle for hours. I had already asked to go home a few times; I just wanted to go home and watch a movie to relax. But he was adamant about staying out, and the day dragged on (I learned later that he was looking for a specific place to propose, which he never found).
By the time he finally proposed, at a creek on the side of the road, I froze: my mind was racing, my heart felt nothing, and I asked God in that moment as Peter was reading his sentimental letter, if I should say “yes”.
I didn’t hear anything.
...But I knew that “yes” would elicit a more pleasant response than “no”, so that’s what I said.
That wasn’t how it was supposed to be, right?
On the other hand, I believed that God had spoken to me clearly about who Peter was to be in my life: my future husband. And if he was to be my husband, then I should submit to him. I should trust him. This was a test, and to be a good future wife, I needed to practice listening to and trusting my husband. We were going to get married anyways, so why did the timing matter after all? Peter was so much more in tune with the Holy Spirit—that is what had attracted me to him in the first place. I didn’t know why I wasn’t “hearing” anything, but I felt I should trust my future husband’s spiritual ear.
So I decided that Peter knew better than I did, and that I should trust him. I thought that perhaps it was just the way the engagement happened that had made me unhappy, for all those superficial reasons of being tired, not feeling pretty, not finding the romantic creek, etc. If I was showered and cute and prepared and we found the special spot, then it would be a good engagement and it would feel right, and this would be the love story I had wanted.
Additionally, if it happened before Monday, I could show off my ring to all the girls at work, who would be wildly jealous and excited.
Immediately, the struggle stopped. The internal conflict was gone. I was relieved. I called it peace.
What had really happened was that I had given up. I had decided to marry a man I had only dated for 5 months, despite the red flags that had presented themselves (throwing something across the room during an argument was just the tip of the iceberg).
Guess how this super spiritual “ordained-by-God” love story ended?
We weren’t even back from our honeymoon when I started to realize that I was in over my head. That “uh oh” feeling when he emotionally shut down and stonewalled me in an inconsequential disagreement. By the holidays, things had devolved so badly that I pleaded with Peter to ask our family members to gift us counseling therapy instead of presents. But telling them how much we were struggling would have been too embarrassing for him. So I got a $400 Coach bag, a chic pajama set from Nordstrom, and drank myself to sleep on Christmas Eve.
Even when we finally got financial help for therapy from the megachurch at which we’d met, I couldn’t intelligibly articulate the emotional and spiritual abuse I was experiencing. Our counselors didn’t even see the abusive behavior until I left Peter in desperation (with the intent of returning after working through our issues in separate, safe spaces).
Unfortunately, this last-ditch effort was futile. Peter’s heart was hardened and he was not responding to therapy. It only took 3 sessions of witnessing his response to my perceived abandonment before my Christian counselors advised me to file for divorce and leave town in case of physical retribution. It was obvious to all involved that he was unwilling to even discuss making any changes to pursue true and lasting healing. Again, we were at an impasse; only this time, my safety was at risk.
Peter and I dated for 5 months before we got engaged.
We got married 2 months later.
I left 8 months after our honeymoon.
And filed for divorce before we celebrated 1 year of getting engaged.
All because I submitted to my supposed-to-be husband, who I trusted had heard the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit speaks. He is our counselor and comforter, our advocate and friend (John 14:26, see definition for paraclete). When we choose to follow Christ and submit to his authority, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. He is our guide and leads us in discernment (John 16:13). He does not always communicate audibly, but he always communicates personally. We are the Lord’s sheep and we know his voice (John 10:3-5).
What the Holy Spirit cannot do is contradict himself. If someone says the Holy Spirit is saying one thing, but you are not hearing the same thing, take a moment to pause. Take time to discern. God is one, he is Truth, and he cannot lie.
Unfortunately, his name can be used to manipulate others, and that is spiritual abuse. That is a red flag, not only for a future marriage, but for submitting to any form of leadership. If the Holy Spirit is ever used to justify an action that makes you freeze, stop and seriously evaluate in good counsel what is going on. Don’t allow yourself or anyone else to be pressured into doing something that may have irreparable consequences.
*Name changed for confidentiality.
Contributed by: Natasha E. Fish, NWM Board of Directors Secretary