It’s a joy for me to introduce you to my friend, Toni Nieuwhof. Although she has worn so many hats, as pastor’s wife and divorce attorney and church planter, one I love dearly is her voice that speaks into a marriage gasping for breath. Toni shares what it took to heal the heartbeat of her near-dead marriage. As a farmer intimate with planting and seedlings and reaping, I know what she knows. The principle of the harvest offers us all real hope. You reap what you sow, later than you sow, with joyful abundance. If your marriage harvest now is not to your liking, sow some new seeds and keep on sowing and fasten your eyes on the Creator of the harvest. Your marriage can change. Dramatically. It’s an absolute grace to welcome Toni to our farm’s front porch today…
o You Have the Courage to Serve?
Staring away from Carey and through the living room picture window to the end of our driveway, I surveyed the silhouette of our neighbor’s barn across the way, silo black against the ink-blue twilight sky. It was such a familiar sight, having stood unchanged over these eleven years since we moved to this hamlet of rural Ontario.
I found myself whisper-yelling my retorts to what Carey was saying during yet another argument.
Angry, but not wanting to rouse our kids to our raised voices, I wrestled my voice down. Then all the competing emotions in me spilled over each other and blended into a bland numbness that had no more words to speak.
Should I ignore what Carey is saying? I wondered. Should I walk away and focus on something more constructive?
I didn’t know how to engage our differences anymore. I wondered whether I should reach out and let the people close to us know how deeply we were struggling. Should I get our counselor on the phone and ask for help? Or how about just driving away?
I let the force of my feelings spill over my face as I sat there, weeping and in a daze.
In the middle of our living room, Carey turned toward me. As he usually did, when I emotionally moved into my own world and away from him, he resisted.
What he said next jolted me back to the moment. Of all the seeds we’ve planted in our marriage since the drought years, this one perhaps carried with it the greatest promise.
Carey drew a deep breath, looked into my eyes, and said, “You know what? You deserve better than this. You deserve someone who cherishes you. And cherishing you is what I’m going to focus on from now on.”
I was stunned. And the truth was, I didn’t really deserve it.
I hadn’t been very loving, or engaged, or available to Carey. I’d had an antagonistic attitude toward him. But Carey stepped away from his dashed expectations and his own hurt, his own disappointment and his own fear, and took a courageous step. He planted the seed through the tears.
He chose to set his own emotions of the moment aside and decided to serve. He committed to focus on cherishing me.
Since that day, we’ve lived out the cumulative effects of the moment-by-moment decisions, actions, kindnesses, undeserved acts of forgiving, and on and on.
Tiny seeds have the potential to bear the richest harvest when we keep on and keep on planting over time.
There’s an understanding of tenacity that comes from ancient wisdom explained with the analogies of planting and harvesting: “Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.” Psalm 126:6
Tenacity and the principles of the harvest have something to say about taking the lead to help save your marriage. The principles of the harvest say that you reap what you sow, you reap later than you sow, and you reap more than you sow.
You Reap What You Sow
Are you sowing seeds of kindness, patience, and love? Or are you sowing indifference, criticism, or suspicion? What is the quality and nature of your words and actions—the seeds you’re sowing in your relationship? Don’t be worried about the size of the seeds you’re sowing.
Every little kindness, every little gift, every small apology, and every overlooking of a slight has the potential to create results that vastly outsize what you planted.
Remember that a tiny mustard seed can give birth to a splendidly spacious tree.
You Reap Later than You Sow
Don’t expect instant results when you start planting the seeds of new life in your marriage. Enter your willingness to wait. Anyone who’s had experience with planting knows it’s futile to keep eyes fixed on the spot where you planted.
Don’t plant the seeds of generosity and kindness, and then watch your spouse to measure the response. Don’t stare at the spot! You’ll only set yourself up for disappointment if you expect your partner to spring into action once you’ve extended yourself for him or her.
Watching doesn’t make the seed grow faster. But fastening your hope to the promise of your harvest and your joy in the future will make the waiting easier.
You Reap More than You Sow
Your more grace-filled attitude toward your spouse and your new, loving habits will have a cumulative impact over time. People and marriages may sometimes appear static, but they really aren’t.
A marriage is either building and growing or it’s deteriorating and declining. Habits of love consistently practiced between two people over time will build into a deeper and more abundant relationship.
Chances are, you have the potential to build a richly satisfying future marriage by sowing the seeds of love now. Even if you have to sow the seeds into the cold, hard ground.
Hatred and indifference accumulate over time too, and they do so in such a way that sucks the life and joy out of those involved. Carried on over time, these destroy both self and others.
Even if your partner doesn’t reciprocate while you’ve been planting seeds, you will reap a harvest when you authentically sow seeds of love and keep on sowing.
The harvest may not appear where you intended, but the promise stands, and you will experience a reward that is worth your waiting.
You can be the leader your marriage needs. But it takes courage.
Don’t play it safe. Take a risk. Act. Be tenacious.
Plant seeds for a good and rich marriage harvest and hold out for joy.
Toni Nieuwhof has served alongside her husband, Carey who led Connexus Church for many years. From roles as diverse as hospital leader and prayer warrior, collaborative divorce lawyer and defender of the vulnerable, she distills broad perspectives on being human into healing wisdom for your marriage.
In her book Before You Split, Toni speaks to the brokenhearted whose marriages are starved for love. During the dark days, she barely dared to ponder their own future. Have I signed up for a lifetime of misery? Is it even possible to ever be ‘in love’ with Carey again?” She and Carey now attest to the answer, after more than 30 years together. The pathway back to love was cobbled with the learnings she openly shares. Through the surges and setbacks, they found their footing on the Rock. Toni writes, “Would Carey and I share the intimate connection we have today if we hadn’t held tightly to our faith? Ancient wisdom says, ‘A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.’ At times, Carey and I were two broken strands. But Jesus was the only one left intact, holding us together.”
In Before You Split, you’ll see the options for your future through the vantage points of a divorce lawyer and a pastor’s wife. Discover how it may be possible to leave your unhappiness behind instead of your spouse.