Up In Flames
by Nancy Missler
God has had me preempt the article I had intended to write this month, in
order to write about something that is very near and dear to my heart - our
As Chuck and I have been extensively traveling this past month, we have been
deluged with questions about failing marriages. Recent letters have
expressed the very same concerns.
So, before I begin an overview of my new book, Ascent to the Son
(faith in the "night seasons"), I thought I would first recap our own
personal story of how God saved our marriage and turned it around by His
Love. Then, in the following few months, we'll talk a little about God's
Love, examining exactly what it is and how it's completely opposite from
natural, human love.
Many of the Christians we've talked to and heard from are confusing God's
Love with human love. Thus, their marriages are failing, their lives are
empty and unfulfilled and many of these precious people are nearly ready to give
Twenty years ago, Chuck and I had what seemed to most people a fairy
tale life and a "perfect marriage." We had been married, at that point,
for about twenty years. We had four beautiful children, two boys and two
girls. Chuck was a successful business executive-CEO of a major computer
firm. We lived in a gorgeous, sprawling, three-acre ranch house with pool,
stables and guest quarters. We drove a Ferrari and a Mercedes. On
the outside it looked like we had everything anyone could ever want.
But on the inside we were like so many Christians we talk to today; just
existing. We were experiencing no real love or joy, no meaning or purpose
in our lives and were incredibly unhappy and unfulfilled in every way. We
were what the Bible calls "whited sepulchres," which look beautiful on the
outside but on the inside are "full of dead men's bones and everything
unclean." It says "outwardly (you) appear righteous" (and loving), but on
the inside you are full of hypocrisy. (
Matthew 23:27-28) This describes us
exactly and, I believe, many other Christians today.
What makes our story a little different from so many others you might hear is
that we were Christians at this time. We weren't "backsliding" Christians;
we taught Bible studies in our home, we went faithfully to church and we prayed
daily. But we still had no idea what God's Love really was or what it
meant to love Him in the way He wanted us to.
Both of us were teaching others in our Bible studies that Christ is the
answer to all our problems, and in our hearts we knew this to be true.
Yet, in our lives behind closed doors, it wasn't true at all-our lives were
totally falling apart. And our boys, who were teenagers at the time, saw
the whole thing! Sarcastically, they would ask us, "Why would others want
what you have? You are no different from people who don't even know
God." Oh, how those words hurt! They hurt because we knew them to be
Recent statistics show that one out of every two marriages fail - Christian
and non - Christian alike! How can this be? Don't we as Christians
have Someone special inside that is supposed to prevent this? Many of
these marriages are said to be, "loveless, utilitarian relationships to protect
the children." And that's exactly what our marriage had become.
what I like to call a "professional marriage"-that's a marriage where two people
are existing together only for the purpose of convenience, show,
security or, as that statistic stated, "to protect the children."
Let me back up and briefly try to explain how we got to that point in our
marriage. I was raised by parents who always gave first priority to their
marriage relationship. My dad was always there for my mom and her needs,
no matter what they were. He was there for us kids, too, whenever we
needed him. Dad and Mom always seemed to have a "united front" on all
matters. I remember a very calm and undisturbed household with no internal
tensions or outside pressures tearing it apart.
When I thought of marriage, then, Mom and Dad's was the kind I envisioned and
hoped for. I didn't know any other kind existed. So it was a huge
shock to find myself married to this "dynamo," who began to place ten times more
importance on time spent in business and at work than he did with me or the
kids. And it seemed the tighter I grabbed hold of him and tried to make
him change, the more he just pulled away and threw himself even deeper into his
At this time, Chuck was chairman of the board and chief executive
officer of a major computer company. He "lived, ate, and breathed" his
company and thrived on the high stress and challenge of "growing" a big, dynamic
corporation. His typical workweek consisted of six eighteen-hour days,
besides bringing home mountains of paperwork in the evenings and on the
weekends. His secretary used to tell me he received between 40 and 50
important phone calls a day to return. I can't imagine that kind of
pressure, but Chuck loved it. He also loved to travel. He was on the
road - or more precisely, "in the sky" -an average of one-to-two weeks each
As you can imagine, the result of this kind of lifestyle was that he had very
little time for home and family. And when he was home, with all the
tremendous pressures on him, he was always totally preoccupied on the phone, the
computer, doing business reports, mail, and other pressing issues.
When I would complain about his long hours at the office or his
travel, he would just respond, "Hey, that's what you married; that's what you're
stuck with!" In other words, "Don't rock the boat! Don't try to
Chuck has incredible verbal abilities. These abilities are great
assets in the business world, but these same attributes are devastating if you
are on the other end of an argument with him.
I used to have the best "fights" with the bathroom mirror before or after
confronting Chuck. In the bathroom I could always say just the right
things. But when actually talking with Chuck, it would all come out wrong;
or he would use a word I didn't understand, and it would send me to the
dictionary to find out what he had just called me.
I'm not an explosive person. I have, in general, a rather placid
temperament and I tend to shy away from confrontation. But when hurt or
attacked verbally, I used to take everything inward and allow it to stay there,
to fester and grow, because I didn't know what else to do with it (this was
before I found The Way of Agape). On the outside, I would smile
and pretend everything was fine, but on the inside, without realizing it, deep
roots of bitterness and resentment began to grow. Unknowingly, these
things began to motivate some of my actions.
Financial "Roller Coaster"
In addition to our marital trials, we've also had tremendous financial
trials. We have never in our 40 years of marriage (maybe with a few
exceptions at the very beginning) had an eight-to-five job with a stable
income. We have either been millionaires (I think we've been there twice!)
or at the other end of the gamut: totally broke and paupers.
The last several years of our marriage have probably been the hardest of all
financially. In 1990 we lost our beautiful dream house in Big Bear Lake,
California, our cars, and our medical and life insurance through bankruptcy when
Chuck's company failed.
Then, five years ago, the rented home that we moved to after the bankruptcy
turned out to be on the epicenter of a 6.8 earthquake. As a result, we
lost many of our personal possessions. So, financially and materially, it
has been an incredible roller coaster ride.
When we were first married, Chuck used to say to me, "I can't promise you our
marriage will be easy, but I do promise it won't be dull." He has
definitely kept that promise to the letter!
Problems With Our Children
As if our marital and financial problems weren't enough, we've also had
tremendous problems with our children. A main contributor to our family
problems was that we were always moving. We have moved 25 times in 40
years of marriage (most of those moves were in the early years when the children
were home). The kids used to ask after each move, "Shall we keep our bags
We have four beautiful children: Chip, Mark (both in their 30s), Lisa and
Michelle (both in their 20s). But in the midst of our trials, 18 years
ago, the boys were just teenagers. And as a result of our continual
moving, they had their own set of problems. Adjusting every year or so to
new friends and new schools can be very traumatic and, thus, they began to look
elsewhere to fill the emptiness that they too were experiencing.
In addition to the boys' problems, our last child, Michelle, was born with
extreme medical problems. She was allergic to the "entire" cow. If
she drank or ate anything from the cow (milk, meat, cheese, jello, whey, casein,
etc.), she would vomit uncontrollably and have diarrhea for days.
Then, when she was 18 months old, we discovered that she was
hyperactive. And thus began an incredible period of about four years where
we tried desperately to find a suitable diet for her. The doctors urged us
not to let her have anything containing artificial colorings, flavorings or
It even got worse when we had to withdraw apples, peaches, grapes and other
fruit from her diet because they, too, contained the natural chemicals that
cause hyperactivity. This left us with a diet consisting of papayas,
bananas, fish, lima beans, squash, spinach and rice cakes. Try cooking for
a two year old with that diet! It was horrible!
If that wasn't enough, at the age of two Michelle began to limp. One
day she just started dragging her leg. The doctors told us she had
"a disease of the bone marrow" and if we ever wanted her to walk again, we had
to keep her off her feet and in bed for an indefinite period of time. Have
you ever tried to keep a two year old in bed for any length of time-let alone a
hyperactive two year old?
Excruciatingly Painful Time
This time in my life was excruciating, with our marriage on the verge of
breaking up, our financial roller coaster, the boys' problems, our continual
moving and little Michelle's situation.
As my feelings of rejection, bitterness and frustration over these things
would become unbearable, I would go the Lord and say, "Where is the abundant
Life that I'm supposed to have as a Christian? If You are the answer, then
why am I so miserable? (My marriage is falling apart, my family is in upheaval
and everything is crumbling.) Where is this Love You talk about in Your
What I didn't understand at that time is that Agape (God's Love) is not a
human emotion or feeling, but it's God Himself loving through us. God is
the One doing the loving, not us. And all God desires from you and me
is the willingness to set our selves aside, so that He can love His Love through
Now, when I say "self," it's important to understand exactly what I
mean. Self is all of our own thoughts, emotions and desires that are
not of faith (things that are not of God, things that are contrary to
God). For example, anger, guilt, bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness,
criticalness, doubt, pride, fear and so forth - these are things that would be
defined as "self." Even if these things are "justified" by the world's
standards, if we hold on to them, they will end up quenching God's Love in our
And so, all God wanted from me was the "willingness" to yield and surrender
these things to Him, so that He then could freely love His Love through
me and, thus, begin to change my world. In other words, God's Love
doesn't automatically flow through us just because we are Christians. All
of our hurts, anger, resentments, etc. that we choose to hold on to, block His
Love in our hearts and cause it to grow cold in our lives.
So, the key is that we must be clean vessels in order to experience His Love
in and through us. And this was exactly the problem in my own marriage.
Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 24 about all the things that will happen
in the end times. One of the things He mentions is that God's Love "will
grow cold" in Christians. I was one of those Christians.
Next month, we'll continue the story of how God saved our marriage by His
Love and the secret to staying that open and cleansed vessel so His Love can
This article has
been excerpted from Chuck and Nancy's books, The Way of Agape and
Why Should I Be the First to Change?