What can be wrong with telling wives to pray for their husbands?
Absolutely nothing! But when you tell them that the answer to your husband’s abuse, addictions, or bad treatment of you is prayer, and that you have to believe those prayers will work in order for the prayers to actually work, and that you have to be free of anger at your abusive spouse before he will change–there’s lots wrong.
And that’s what the book Power of a Praying Wife does.
Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:
Timeline of the Podcast
1:30 Gretchen and Sarah join to discuss “The Power of a Praying Wife”
4:15 The thesis of the book
9:15 The marriage Stormie Omartian was basing her advice on
22:00 “The heritage of divorce”
27:00 The theology of prayer used in the book
37:25 Marriage survival advice to ‘shut up and pray’
42:00 A personal story and a Saul analogy
54:10 Anecdotes from the book
1:11:30 How sex and women’s roles are framed in the book
Power of a Praying Wife has a distorted view of abuse and of prayer.
As we talk about in this podcast, God is not a prayer vending machine, where you insert the right prayer, in exactly the right way, and you get what you want. And God is not a pagan deity that has to be appeased with just the right attitude and prayers.
No, God wants a relationship with us. But he does not override free will. And for that reason, we can pray really hard and never see our husbands change–if our husbands don’t want to change.
Putting the responsibility for changing an abusive or destructive marriage on the wife’s prayers isn’t okay, and it’s important to look at this book through that lens.
Yes, many women loved the book and loves its prayers. But for others in destructive marriages, it caused them to stay longer than they should. It caused them to question their faith, whether they were actually a good Christian (since God wasn’t answering their prayers). It caused immense harm.
That was never the intention of the book. But in the podcast, as we walk through what Stormie says about her own marriage, and listen to the words in her book, we’ll get a picture of why this book needs to stop being used in small group Bible studies. Let’s stop heaping burdens on women without lifting a fiinger to help them.
I think prayer can make people in a helpless situation feel powerful–and that’s why the message is so seductive. But we need to be very careful, because these vulnerable people need a message that will actually bring peace, not just false hope. Let’s teach prayer in conjunction with safety, setting boundaries, and effective communication, rather than as an excuse to not to have to draw good boundaries.
Things Mentioned in the Podcast
- Join our Patreon! Support us for as little as $5 a month, and get exclusive access to our Facebook group–and even free merch!
- A Synopsis of all the problems in Power of a Praying Wife–with an optional download
- Gretchen Baskerville at the Life-Saving Divorce, and her book The Life-Saving Divorce. Follow her on Facebook and YouTube.
- Gretchen’s articles with info on the effect of divorce on kids; the ACE study; and more.
- Sarah McDugal from Wilderness to Wild. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram and YouTube, or join her support groups.
- Sarah’s free online course to recognize red flags of abuse, plus a slew of resources to help identify abuse.
- Sarah’s article on how God honors free will: Happily (N)ever After, and Does God Say You Can’t Divorce for Abuse?
- Keith’s series on the issues with the Danvers Statement
What do you think? Do we have a distorted view of prayer? How did that happen? Did this view of prayer make you put up with things you shouldn’t have? Let’s talk in the comments!
Sheila: I am thrilled to bring to the podcast two of my favorite people and my real life friends, Gretchen Baskerville, who is the author of The Life-Saving Divorce, and Sarah McDugal from Wilderness to Wild. Hello, ladies.
Gretchen: Hello, Sheila.
Sarah: Hi, you guys.
Sheila: Yeah. And both of you spend a lot of your life talking about abuse issues and how marriages can go wrong in conservative churches and some of the really bad advice that we’re given. And so when I wanted to do this podcast on Power of a Praying Wife, I thought, “You know what? I am going to ask some of the women who lead really large groups—both of you do—for women who have come out of destructive marriages.” And you’ve seen firsthand how this book has impacted people. So I’m really looking forward to your thoughts.
Gretchen: All right. We’ve got them.
Sarah: Oh, and do we have thoughts.
Sheila: I know. I know you do. I know you do. Okay. So we’re going to take a bird’s eye view at the book Power of a Praying Wife by Stormie Omartian. Is that how you say her last name?
Sheila: Omartian. Okay.
Gretchen: Omartian. Yeah.
Sheila: I’ve been doing that wrong my whole life. Okay. Omartian.
Sarah: I’ve been saying Omartian too. I didn’t know that.
Sheila: Yeah. So there you go. It was one of the books that we scored for our book, The Great Sex Rescue. We looked at 13 of the best selling sex and marriage resources out there, and her book did score in the harmful category with its advice on sex. But it’s not specifically the sex advice that I want to look at today. It’s the book as a whole. And yesterday on the blog, I published a one sheet download that summarizes all the stuff we’re going to be talking about today. So if you are liking what we’re saying, if you want more information, if you want it in an easily readable format, I will put the link to that in the notes. Before we jump in to our commentary though, I want to say one big thing which is that all of us believe in the power of prayer. Right?
Sheila: All of us believe in praying for your husbands.
Sheila: And for your kids.
Sheila: And for people.
Sheila: So it’s not that we don’t believe in praying for the people that we love. It’s that we find this particular book can be problematic. And I know that a lot of people have used the book and have really liked it. And I’m not trying to discount their experience. And so if that’s you, if you’ve used the book and you’ve liked it, that’s great. And I’m glad that the book helped you. But what we want to show in this podcast is that, for many people, the book actually can be quite harmful. And if there is harm being caused, then we need to take that seriously and, perhaps, reevaluate what resources we recommend because it’s quite possible to write a book that doesn’t harm. All right. So I’m going to read you guys what I think that the thesis of her book is and then I’m going to ask for your reactions. All right? So the thesis of The Power of a Praying Wife says this. And this is what Stormie Omartian says that you have to believe. “I will not allow anything to destroy my marriage.” And she explains, “You have to trust that abuse or infidelity can be relieved of its death group. You have to determine that everything consuming you and your husband such as workaholism, alcoholism, drug abuse, or depression can be destroyed.” What do you think, Sarah?
Sarah: Oh my goodness. I’m about to knock my computer over with these thoughts. Okay. So the categories infidelity, abuse, alcoholism, workaholism, depression. Did I miss any?
Sheila: I missed some. I didn’t read the whole thing because I was making it shorter. But yes. Those are the big ones. Yeah. Drug abuse. Drug abuse is the other one. Mm-hmm.
Sarah: Drug abuse. Okay. So here’s my first thought is that this is a promise that God Himself does not even make.
Sarah: Which makes it—I’m going to just state it right out of the gate. That makes this blasphemous.
Sarah: God does not promise that if we follow a specific formula for anything that we can force other people to bend to our will even for their good. I mean beyond that she names medical issues, addiction issues, integrity issues, and all of these things are outside of the sphere of personal responsibility of the person doing the praying. Does that mean I—like you already said, I’m just going to reiterate. Does that mean I don’t think we should pray for others? Of course, we should. But should we expect it—the answers to our prayer to be the equivalent of a magic formula that allows for the violation of other people’s free will? No.
Sheila: Well said. What do you think, Gretchen?
Gretchen: Right. I mean it kind of ends up being—it’s also a little bit dismissive to people like Sarah and me who did pray and fast, come before the Lord on our knees begging God to fix our marriages. And both of us, in both of our cases, we had husbands who were involved with really horrible stuff. My case both immoral and highly illegal. And I’ll tell you. There’s nothing more I wanted as a young bride but to have a wonderful, God-honoring marriage. I mean I believed in prayer. I still believe in prayer. But I also know that we don’t always get what we pray for. That’s just the reality. And anybody who is selling the snake oil that if you just pray hard enough that God is going to do what you ask Him for is just lacking in spiritual maturity, and I don’t mean to make any slights against Stormie herself. But really we don’t get everything we ask for because God knows best. And sometimes we pray. We want to avoid divorce. I’m sure, Sarah, you, wanted to avoid divorce at almost all costs. I know I did.
Sarah: Yes. Absolutely.
Gretchen: I even had clear biblical grounds for leaving my husband. I mean over and over, repeated. This was chronic. It was a pattern. It was serious. And I still believed that if I left my marriage it would be—it would show that I was spiritually immature or emotionally immature. Something like that.
Sarah: Or just a quitter.
Gretchen: I can tell you that I prayed every Monday. I fasted every Monday for my marriage. For Stormie to suggest that all of this, not only God can get rid of but will get rid of which is kind of the unspoken promise here if you’re just a good enough wife, is cruel. And it’s mean. And it’s not what God teaches. It’s not what the Bible teaches.
Sheila: Yeah. And I do want to say. She does have a few disclaimers, which we are going to talk about later. How she does have some disclaimers in the book but they go—again, it’s almost like it’s two different books. But we’ll talk about that in a minute because her disclaimers make no sense when she also says that you need to say that I will not allow anything to destroy my marriage. Okay. So let’s take a step back and ask the question what was Stormie Omartian’s marriage like because she does talk about it in the book. And I think it’s important to understand this because it sets up the rest of the book. So I want to read to you what she says herself about her marriage and the picture that she paints. So she says this, “The biggest problem I faced in our marriage was my husband’s temper. The only ones who were ever the object of his anger were me and the children.” So nobody else ever saw it. “He used words like weapons that left me crippled or paralyzed. I’m not saying that I was without fault. Quite the contrary, I was sure that I was as much to blame as he, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I pleaded with God on a regular basis to make my husband more sensitive, less angry, more pleasant, less irritable. But I saw few changes. Was God not listening? Or did he favor the husband over the wife as I suspected?” And then she talks about how she wanted to leave, and she considered leaving several times but that she felt God telling her to stay. And then she says this, “As I sat there, God also impressed upon my heart that if I would deliberately lay down my life before His throne, die to the desire to leave, and give my needs to Him, He would teach me how to lay down my life in prayer for Michael. He would show me how to really intercede for him as a son God. And in the process, He would revive my marriage and pour His blessings out on both of us.” And so she began to pray every day for Michael. And yeah. So she’s talking about how she was married to a man, who had a real anger issue that he would take out on the children.
Gretchen: She is married, by the way. So this is actually her second marriage. Yeah.
Sarah: But she’s describing her second marriage. Her current marriage.
Sheila: Yes. Yes. That is her current marriage.
Sarah: I do want to say. I want to be gentle speaking about other women and their current marriages. And I also, at the same time when someone puts this out publically, it is appropriate for us to look at it and discuss it publically, right? Without any harsh criticism or acrimony towards Stormie as an author and a person. There’s just so many things. Like intercession for your spouse is wonderful but not at the expense of safety.
Sheila: And for your children too.
Sarah: And for your children.
Sheila: Rages. Uncontrollable rages that were leaving her crippled and paralyzed. What was the effect on the kids?
Gretchen: Exactly. Exactly. Because we’ve known since the 90s—in fact, I looked it up. This book was written in 1997. Power of a Praying Wife. And we already know from scholarly, academic journals by 1995 that in these highly anger-filled, conflict-filled, rage-filled homes they were up to—they would do up to 10 times more damage to a child’s wellbeing than divorce itself. And so I feel like Stormie was—I get it. I mean I was one of those dedicated wives too who was willing to sacrifice herself and not divorce. I was raised in a very much anti divorce frame of mind and being a very good two-shoes, Christian wife and a Wheaton college grad. But basically, we already knew. The scientific world already knew that abuse was worse than divorce for the wellbeing of children. High conflict marriages. Of the tension going on in that home is far worse for kids than divorce would have been. And then a year after she wrote this book, the giant ACE study—the very first version of the giant ACE study came out that said if there is psychological or physical or sexual abuse or there is someone with a mental disorder or so forth or criminality—and we don’t know how much his rage got to. I mean most people won’t admit in a book like this that there was anything illegal going on, right? You don’t want to put that out in public. But we found out through the ACE study in 1998 that this kind of home is actually leading to lifelong physical problems that show up in your 50s, 60s, and 70s.
Sheila: Yeah. And I just want to reiterate what she says here. God would teach her how to lay down her life in prayer for Michael if she would give up the desire to leave. And so she had to totally shut the door on the idea of separation. And it’s just never a good idea to shut the door on—you know what? You should always leave that door open because especially when you have children there are always some things that you should leave over. And the idea that we should put that aside and that only if we put that aside will God work, only if we say, “No matter what happens, God, I will not leave,” will God change your husband? That’s nowhere in Scripture, and that’s just plain dangerous for your children.
Gretchen: Right. I mean when we look at the life of Jesus one of the temptations of Jesus by Satan, by the devil, in the wilderness was, “Hey, why don’t you go to the top of the pinnacle of the Temple and throw Yourself because of the Bible verse that says God will—His angels will rescue You lest Your foot hit the stones.” And Jesus said, “You should not tempt the Lord, your God.” So Jesus is saying do not put yourself in danger and do not leave yourself in danger when you could leave which she could have done. And don’t do that. That’s tempting the Lord, your God. That’s not faith. That’s tempting the Lord.
Sarah: Presumption. I want to point out some things that I see in what you read of her description. One of the things that we have is all of the different categories of abuse in our big, red flags chart. And I see multiple categories just in those three or four sentences.
Sheila: Yes. And Sarah does have a great red flags abuse chart. I will put the link to that in the podcast notes too. Yes.
Sarah: Oh cool. Yeah. Yeah. This is an area where I’ve done a lot of—I’ve spent a lot of time. And what she is describing here is not just, “Oh, he got mad. He had anger issues.” She’s describing verbal abuse. He used his words like weapons. She’s describing psychological abuse and gas lighting because he only used his words as weapons to her and the kids which means he had a split identity. She’s describing someone who presented an affable, charming, public face but was monstrous and weaponized his words at home in private. So that’s crazy making, which is psychological abuse.
Gretchen: It is psychological abuse. And living a double life. Absolutely.
Sarah: Yes. So we have verbal abuse. We have psychological abuse. The fact that she was frozen and paralyzed by these shows there’s also emotional abuse going on because it’s—you’re on pins and needles. You never know what’s going to happen, and you’re emotionally on a roller coaster. When you are in the middle of these kind of things—just like you brought up, Gretchen—with the ACE study, if you’re living in this environment, there will be physical ramifications, which means that emotional, psychological, verbal abuses are physical abuse of the brain and organ tissues because the body begins to break down in response to the adrenaline and the cortisol and the heightened—hyper vigilance and living in survival mode all the time. So we have four types of abuse right there. Physical, even if it wasn’t punching walls or leaving bruises—we don’t know. But there’s a physical impact. There’s a verbal impact. There’s emotional impact. There’s psychological impact. The result also—it brings in social abuse because if everyone else sees him as great but this is a private thing at home then you’re scared to be open and public with the reality that you’re living at home which isolates you from people who could help. So we have he’s entitled. He’s isolating them. He doesn’t seem to feel sorry about it, so he’s deflecting. She is the one who is changing herself. These are the tools of abuse in the four tools framework that we teach as well, and Psalm 82 Initiative has some really great stuff. You might want to link to that one too, Sheila. But I see multiple facets of an abusive family system just in the one paragraph that you’re reading.
Sheila: Yeah. And she also said—I found this sentence, in particular, very disturbing. “I was sure I was as much to blame as he, but I didn’t know what to do about it.” That is the psychological abuse and the gas lighting right there.
Gretchen: Well, and that’s straight up what we call mutualizing. It’s a form of spiritual abuse. And mutualizing says, “Well, you’re a sinner too. And all sins are the same in God’s eyes.” So if you attend a church that tends to talk about these kinds of things and use mutualizing language like, “How can you point a finger? You must have three fingers pointing back at you. We’re just sinners sinning,” but what that does is it attempts to say his rage that is so destructive that she is having issues about it—physical issues over it—is exactly the same as you pushing back and defending your kids and saying, “No. Don’t do this. You’re being mean and cruel to the kids,” or whatever she—any good mother would say stop this. Don’t talk to me that way.
Sheila: Or if you feel so—
Sarah: It equalized the response.
Sheila: Yeah. Or if you feel really alone and so you withdraw from him and maybe you don’t have sex that night because he was angry at you, then now you are sinning against him too.
Gretchen: Right. So the way that mutualizing, which is a form of spiritual abuse, works is it says, “Well, how can you say he’s the problem? You’re clearly the problem too because you’ve sinned.” I mean how many of us—I’ve slammed doors. I’ve raised my voice during my marriage. I got angry. But wow. That is not the same as what my husband was doing in an illegal and immoral lifestyle he was living. So that’s one of the issues of spiritual abuse going on here.
Sheila: Mm-hmm. So let’s paint the picture now. So what I read to you was from page 15, 16. It’s in the very first chapter. So you have women reading this book, and this book is being set up to say, “When you are in a destructive marriage, the thing that you need to do is give up any desire to leave. You have to promise that no matter what you won’t leave, so that your prayers will work.” And that’s the way it starts. Now if you’re not in a destructive marriage, you can read this book and not really notice that in the same way. And I think this is what happens at women’s Bible studies. Gretchen, you mention that the book was first written in 1997. But I want to say that out of all the books that we looked at for The Great Sex Rescue this is the second highest selling book today.
Sheila: Love and Respect is the highest. This is the second highest.
Gretchen: In the sex and marriage category.
Sheila: Yes. Of the 13 books that we looked at. So this is still selling. And it’s selling largely because it is being used in women’s Bible studies. So please know if you’re using this book in a woman’s Bible study, you may not be in a destructive marriage. But from the very beginning of the book, she is setting up this framework of a destructive marriage where you decide that no matter what you aren’t going to leave. And to go even further back in the book to the forward, her husband wrote the forward. And in the forward, he jokes that they—he says they’ve been married for 40 wonderful years. But for Stormie, they’ve been 40 miserable years.
Sarah: I have it right here. Can I read the exact line?
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. Please. Mm-hmm.
Sarah: “There is a joke in our household when I refer to the number of years Stormie and I have been married. I always say, ‘It’s been 40 wonderful years for me and 40 miserable years for her.’”
Gretchen: And we believe it after reading this book. We absolutely believe what he just wrote in that forward because she describes his anger all the time through the whole book. And in order to stay with him, she has to do two things. She has to embrace suffering as being godly. In other words, staying in danger as being godly. And I think we’ve already talked about that. But then she also has to come up with something she calls the legacy of divorce and the idea that divorce is this horrible sin. Notice how she—in the first chapter, she prays that God doesn’t bring in adultery or a divorce into their lives. And nowhere in the Bible is divorce on any list of sins in Scripture. Divorce is the result of marriage endangering sin that one party commits or both parties commit. And she has to—and then she has to also tell herself, in this first chapter—and I’m probably not using the right language here. But it just struck me as a person who writes on life-saving divorces that she has to talk about this legacy of divorce or heritage. She calls it the heritage of divorce that she does not want to pass on to her children. Well, 8 in 10 children of divorced turn out just fine. Just like kids from—yes. Thank you. Thank you, Sheila.
Sheila: That’s me.
Gretchen: And my kids turned out fine. I’d put up my kids against anybody’s kids. And the idea that kids are universally destroyed by divorce is common among these women Christian authors—Christian women’s authors—sorry. Nancy Leigh DeMoss also—she’s now married. Wolgemuth. She also says that—describes divorce as being this sin that only hard hearted people do. Well, hard heartedness is a word that’s reserved for people who are angry.
Gretchen: Yeah. Angry. Greedy. Vicious. Malicious. Anyway, I find that—so what she does in this very first chapter is trap you. You’re supposed to suffer. You’re supposed to be against divorce at all costs. You’re supposed to stay there, and you’re supposed to put up with—it’s basically putting up with—his rages against you and your innocent little children. And whatever results—I mean all you can do is pray. And I believe in prayer. I mean I have seen miracles. Absolutely miracles. Amazing miracles. I saw my mother of MS when I was 14 years old just after the laying on of hands of the elders at my church. So I absolutely believe in miracles. But to presume upon God by just praying and staying in this level of danger, I think is really bad advice. And the fact that it comes in the very first chapter is very problematic.
Sarah: It comes even earlier than that though. In the forward—okay. We have to acknowledge that in many Christian subculture circles the words written by a man carry even more weight than the words written by a woman as people read them to some readers. I’m not saying that to everyone. But when a man writes a forward or an endorsement of a woman’s material, it adds that much extra weight to it, right? So when he starts the forward—
Sheila: And this is her husband. Yeah.
Sarah: Yes. This is her husband. Yes. So when he starts the forward and he’s laying the foundation, it’s been 40 wonderful years for me. 40 miserable years for her. We see right there in that statement in line 5 of the forward. The very beginning of the book. That he believes he is completely entitled to wonderfulness at the cost of misery for his life partner.
Gretchen: Right. That’s shocking.
Sheila: Yeah. And that’s how it’s set up.
Sarah: But it’s 40. 40. It’s not I was a complete jerk for the first 2 years of our marriage. And there was prayer. There was work and messy relational stuff, and we worked through some really hard stuff. And then for the next 38 years out of the 40, this is how our marriage changed. No. The entire 40 has been his wonderful at the price of her misery.
Sheila: Yeah. And the thing that she has to show for it is that they’re still married. And that’s what the big thing is that she’s working towards in this book. Okay. Let’s move on to the next thing. I want to talk about the theology of prayer that is in this book. God does not change other people’s free will. And this is something that I don’t think we understand really well. Prayer is important. Having a theology of prayer is important. All of us should be praying. There’s tons and tons of great books on prayer. I encourage people to read books on prayer. I encourage people to pray. But remember that God limits Himself. When He created the world, He limited Himself because He gave people free will, and He doesn’t interfere with free will. So He can change circumstances. He can draw people. He can soften hearts. He can harden hearts. But ultimately, your heart is yours. And God doesn’t change it.
Sheila: People have the right to decide. God gives us the ability to decide. Okay. Sarah needs to say something. Sarah is going to have a conniption.
Sarah: Michael gets it on—in the forward. He says, “She has seen me angry at God because He wouldn’t jump when I asked Him to.” He realizes God does not operate in immediate response to his demands in prayer. God doesn’t jump on his command. But the entire message of the rest of the book is that if you pray right and you pray hard enough, as a woman, God will jump at your command.
Gretchen: Right. And she even says that. Sarah, you’re dead on. God will jump at your—because you prayed just the right way and because you’re a woman.
Sarah: It’s the prosperity gospel for marriages. It is.
Gretchen: Yeah. In fact, did you see the place in the book where she said that God honors a wife’s prayer more than his own mother’s prayer? Where does she get that?
Sarah: Where is that in Scripture?
Gretchen: I know. Where is that in Scripture?
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. She says a lot of things that you don’t find in Scripture, and here’s one of them. I want to read you a quote, again, from page 15. “You can submit to God in prayer whatever controls your husband. Alcoholism, workaholic, laziness, depression, infirmity, abusiveness, anxiety, fear, or failure and pray for him to be released from it.”
Gretchen: Well, yeah. And she goes on. You can pray to be released—that he is released from it. But she even goes on—I think it’s on the same page. She uses Matthew 18 saying, “Whatever you bind on earth is bound in heaven,” meaning that you can keep your spouse from divorcing you or from behaving badly, I guess, if you claim it. I mean that’s just magical thinking. I’m sorry. If we could bind everything on earth that is bound in heaven, we would all be good looking. We would live to 100. And we’d all have plenty of money and never have to sweat the rent.
Sheila: Yeah. That is not what those verses meant.
Sarah: It’s this vending machine idea. If I pop in the right formula and put in the thing, I’m going to get the Funyuns and not the Doritos. I can get exactly what I want if I put in the right coins and I put in the right code. And nowhere in Scripture do we have God responding to our demands in a way, one, that just matches what we want all the time because we did it right. And, two, in a way that violates someone else’s freedom to choose sin.
Sheila: Yeah. And that’s the big thing. People have the right to choose sin. And all of these things that she mentions—I also want to note how she frames them. “So alcoholism, workaholic, laziness, depression, infirmity, abusiveness, anxiety, fear of failure, pray for him to be released from them.” So she’s seeing these things as an external force that he needs to be released from instead of something that he is choosing to do.
Sheila: So she really is—
Sarah: That being said we don’t always choose anxiety. And we don’t always choose—
Sheila: No. That is true. That is true. Yes. Or infirmity. Yes.
Sarah: It could be medical conditions. They may be trauma responses. They may be psychological things that need therapy or medication or a physician’s intervention.
Sheila: Actually, I was going to bring that up later. Let’s just jump to it now that you’ve mentioned it. I do have a bit of a problem in that she says a lot of things that go against best practices for what we know about mental health. So she talks at different points in the book about depression, about anxiety, about suicidal ideation and suicidal thoughts and attempts, and about trauma like real abuse trauma in your past. And in all cases, her answer is prayer.
Sheila: And yes. Prayer is really good for that. But for trauma, so is evidence based trauma therapies from a licensed counselor. Anxiety and depression. Sometimes you actually need to see a physician. And when these things are mentioned and prayer is told to be the answer, especially in cases of suicidal ideation, that’s just malpractice.
Gretchen: Right. It is malpractice.
Sarah: It is.
Gretchen: It’s so interesting what she says is that she—she says that divorce could be avoided. These bad things could be avoided if you just share with your friends and have them pray for you. So apparently, it’s not enough for the wife to pray diligently. You have to have all your friends pray for you too. She talks about this in—let’s see. Page 21. And she says that by having other people pray for you but Christians are too proud to ask for prayer. And I thought, “No, Stormie. They are too embarrassed.” They’re too embarrassed that their pastor husband is cheating on them. They’re too embarrassed that their husband is secretly a drug addict or an alcoholic. They’re too embarrassed. They don’t want your kind of advice, which basically says the wife is responsible for all the man’s sins. Who wants to be condemned by their women’s Bible study? Oh, he’s hitting you. He’s yelling at you. Well, you need to give him more sex. That’s what happens in our churches when you bring up serious marital problems. I never brought up my serious marital problems with anyone at church. I kept it a complete and total secret. I fell on my sword. I covered it all up until I couldn’t cover it up anymore.
Sarah: Well, I think a good hearted spouse typically will respond with—okay. Which part of this is my fault? And yes. In most dynamics, it’s healthy for us to say, “Hey, hey, there’s a conflict here. How am I contributing?” With two good hearted people, that’s a very good thing for both partners to do. Right? Say, “Okay. Have I contributed to this conflict?” But when you have an abusive spouse and a spouse that has good faith, if—for the relationship, then you have this dynamic where they are not—they do not share the same goal. And I realize there are problem women listening who may not be in outrageously destructive marriages. And you may be dealing with a good hearted person where you need to communicate much better or something. But, Gretchen, I know you and I end up often dealing with some of the very, very highly dangerous deep crisis abusive situations. So that’s sometimes my mental framework. And when I come to this kind of—this material, I’m thinking that it sounds a lot like telling prisoners of war to just continue to erase themselves further so that their captors have no barriers to their cruelty.
Sarah: It’s like telling people in—who have been captured and are being tortured and are living in cruelty to just erase your human identity, become a robot, and that way you don’t ever actually need to be rescued. And if someday there is a liberating force and there are—the allies show up and you have the opportunity to leave, you should not because you were captured. And even if you were lied to and you were taken by force or you were taken by deception, you should stay in the concentration camp and allow those cruel soldiers or your guards to continue perpetrating torture and abuse and cruelty upon you because God put you there. You should never leave even if you have the opportunity to do so. It’s just insane when we look at it from that perspective.
Sheila: But this is very much what the book is saying and, again, I know that many people have read it and have really appreciated her prayers. At the end of each of the 31 days, she has a prayer that you can pray over your husband. A lot of those prayers are really lovely. It’s just that commentary that goes along with that is so problematic because what she’s really telling is, “Hey, God is going to override his free will. God is going to stop him from being cruel if you just pray the right way and you pray fervently enough,” and that just isn’t the way that God works. God does not override free will. And so much of what she is talking about is actually going against best practices. It’s going against best practice of what we know about childhood adverse effects. It’s going against best practices about trauma and mental health but also even just relationship stuff. So she has these little phrases throughout the book of how she sees marriage. And one of them is shut up and pray. So don’t bring up issues. Right? Instead of when you have an issue, shut up and pray. And she does say that you can eventually bring it up but only after you prayed which isn’t necessarily bad advice. But throughout the book, she’s telling women, “Don’t use your voice. Don’t rock the boat. Just pray and stay out of His way. Stay out of God’s way.” So if you talk about it, if you bring up this issue, then you are getting in God’s way. And so you need to stay out of God’s way. You need to shut up and pray and just let God do the work.
Gretchen: Yeah. Letting God do the work and not getting away is really a key, as you said, over and over in this book. And I just want to bring up one more thing, and I’ll pass it over to you, Sarah. One of the things she says on page 41 is that separation is merely the threshold of divorce. So if you’re being physically abused, you’re being verbally abused, she doesn’t even want you to separate to protect yourself because that, too, is the slippery slope to divorce. And so she’s got you completely locked in. And even though, like you say, Sheila, the prayers are lovely. Which one of us hasn’t prayed for our husbands? Which one of us hasn’t been absorbed with finding our own guilt, our own—maybe there’s something I did wrong that is causing my husband to act this way? But in the end, I think it’s just really important that we don’t cut off the ability to escape horrendous situations. I mean Jesus came to set the captives free. Jesus came to release us from bondage. He did not tell people to just suck it up. And that’s what she’s saying. She’s saying—
Sheila: But she’s also saying that you have to commit to sucking it up no matter what before your prayers will work. So she’s not just saying suck it up. She’s saying you must shut the door completely on the idea of ever leaving, of ever getting yourself safe in your own power before God will intervene.
Gretchen: Right. Another way of manipulating God. Yeah. If you do it just right, again, God will give you what you want.
Sarah: Right. And if you choose to stay with an angry person that long, truly the only way to survive is to erase one half of the equation. Just wipe it off the board. Otherwise, you will be constantly, just by existing, triggering the ire and the rages of the angry person. And the whole subtext of it is that if you, as a wife, control his environment and yourself enough, he will never be required to control himself which turns you into a very controlling, manipulative person even if you’re sanctifying it and baptizing it in righteous jargon. It’s making you the opposite of God because God does not manipulate and control us to make us stop sinning.
Sheila: Yeah. So good. There’s an interesting anecdote that she has where she says her husband would call in the morning and say, “Hey, you know what I’d really like is lamb chops for dinner.” And so she wouldn’t have any lamb chops. She would go out to the store and buy lamb chops. She would make lamb chops. He would come home and say, “Oh, I changed my mind. I’d rather have chicken.” And so she would have to put the lamb chops away, get out the chicken, and make the chicken. And he would do this countless times. And she would be upset at him. But then she realized, “No. You know what? This is a way that I can serve him.”
Sarah: No. Let’s rephrase that. She realized that in the dynamic of their relationship he was entitled to be a complete jerk. He was entitled to privileges she did not have in equal return. And he, in his entitlement, felt that it was perfectly okay to control her. And if she did not obey and follow that control, he would coerce. So the only thing left for her was compliance. And those are actually the four elements of an abusive relationship. Entitle, control, coercion. And then if the victim complies, then you have an abusive dynamic, abusive relationship. If the victim doesn’t comply, then the abuser gets nowhere. And they move on to someone else. But if the victim complies, then you have all four elements of an abusive relationship. Can I share a personal anecdote?
Sheila: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Sarah: This was the first married book I ever read as a newlywed. 2003. 20 years ago. Brand new seminary spouse. 22 years old. 23 maybe. And brand new married, just moved to seminary, and the other newlywed spouses said, “Hey, girls. Let’s get together and have a Bible study as new pastors’ wives.” And one of the girls picked this book. We were all in our first year of marriage. Looking back on it, many of us—probably most of us were married to abusive men in the pulpit. Most of us are not married anymore. I know now looking back that the majority of the girls in that group were married to porn, sex addicts, porn addicts, sex addicts, and control—high control men with secret lives. And this was the book we read. So as a brand new wife, trying to figure out why my marriage looked so different from the healthy, mutual, equalized love that my parents had always shared in front of me—and my parents were married in 1970. They’ve been together for decades and decades and decades, and that’s still their dynamic is commitment and kindness and love. And I couldn’t figure out—I thought that was everyone. Why was everything here so different? Why was there so much secrecy? Why was nothing give and take? Mutual influence? Mutual team work? Mutual involvement? I didn’t have any of the language for this. But we did this book. And I took away from it that if he was a failure in the ministry it was going to be my fault. That I needed to change the meals on a moment’s notice because he was entitled to be the worst kind of jerk without repercussion. He could sin with impunity. All I could do was shut up and take it.
Gretchen: Yep. Shutting up and taking it. We’ve got that whole problem, the whole dynamic, another form of spiritual abuse. That men oftentimes—especially Christian men—have this mulligan. This free pass to sin over and over. And it all gets blamed on the wife, and this book does that.
Sarah: (cross talk). Not just, “Oh, I lost it at the end of a really hard day.” Not just even immoral. Illegal sin. Crimes. They get the mulligan. And does that mean that women can’t be abusive? No. In fact, I feel like books like these are evidence that abusive women exist because there are women who write books that abuse other women, that keep other women in tyranny. And if you are a man reading one of these books and you happen to be a good hearted man married to an evil hearted woman—and we’ve all been in middle school where we were absolutely terrified of the queen bee. And some of those queen bees grow up, and they do not become nice girls or kind hearted adult women. We know that. So if you’re a good hearted man married to an evil hearted woman and you read a book like this, it doesn’t work the other way around any better than it works this direction because God does not violate the free will. And just like the rich young ruler had the freedom to turn away and say, “No. I’m not going to give up everything and follow You,” our spouses have the freedom to choose to stay jerks. They have the freedom to choose to stay dishonest. They have the freedom to choose to live without integrity. And that is not a marriage.
Gretchen: No. It’s not a marriage.
Sarah: It is no longer a marriage.
Gretchen: It isn’t a marriage any long when they’ve broken their—the marriage is supposed to be loving, undefiled, faithful, lifelong. And when they walk away from that, I mean that’s on them. A lot of women think, “God brought me this man. I prayed about it. We prayed while we were dating. He is the man that God chose for me. He’s the one I’m supposed to be married to.” And so if God brought this man to me, if we prayed about it, if I even prayed, “God take him away if he’s not the right person for me,” and many of us did that. And we walked forward with our father’s permission, with the church’s permission, with the pastor applauding. “Oh, good. Another Christian couple.” And then I have people saying to me, “Well, then it must be God’s will for me to stay with this person.” And I said, “No. No. No. No. Remember the story of King Saul in the Old Testament.” King Saul was God’s chosen king for the nation of Israel. God put him there. And over the course of Saul’s life, he started disregarding God. He started wanting things his way. He started consulting with mediums. He used the Ark of the Covenant as a weapon rather than as a way of serving God. He disobeyed God’s direct commands. And God walked away from him. God abandoned him. And Samuel, who had been the prophet who had anointed Saul—from that point on, never saw Saul again. He prayed for him at a distance, but he walked away. So—
Sheila: And he anointed David in his place.
Gretchen: And he anointed David in his place. And so it’s very possible that it was God’s will for this—these two devout believers to come together and to serve Him. And one of them chooses not to. One of them disobeys. One walks away. One consults mediums. One takes God’s commands and spits in His face. And so there’s no magic formula. Okay? Prayer is not a magic formula.
Sarah: Paul talks about similar things in the New Testament as well. And if we’re just looking not strictly at marriage only verses but at verses about Christian character and integrity across the board, right? Which I think we must do because when Paul talks about the importance of Christian character and integrity, he does not give any caveats for unless you are married to this person then none of this counts. So when we have things that are integrity issues, moral issues—like if you list—that original list in your thesis statement that you read, Sheila, I remember laziness—
Sheila: Infidelity, abuse.
Sarah: Infidelity, laziness, abuse.
Sheila: Addictions, drug addiction, alcoholism.
Sarah: Greed, addiction. Some aspects of addiction. Certainly not all but some aspects of addiction could go under gluttony, having an addictive mindset where I just take everything in for myself.
Gretchen: Selfish, arrogant.
Sarah: Selfish and arrogant. All of these things. So Paul talks in Galatians and Ephesians about how we are to have nothing to do with the works of darkness. Well, against anger, abusiveness, divisiveness, gluttony, infidelity, sexual immorality, laziness, these are all named in those works of darkness in numerous lists in the New Testament. So when Paul says have nothing to do with these, do not even eat with people like this. Don’t have social casual interaction with them. Don’t be sitting around with them in your household spending comfortable time with them but expose them. Bring it into the light. How have we skipped that for entire books about prayer?
Gretchen: Right. Right. 1 Corinthians 5:11. Exactly. It’s exactly what you’re talking about. We’re not supposed to associate with them. We’re not even supposed to eat with them.
Sarah: Correct. And so then—and then you have Galatians 4? 5? I’m blanking on the exact verse where it says have nothing to do with these works of darkness but rather expose them. And so how do we get to the point where in a book for Christian women we are telling women stay? Stay connected at the hip with all of the works of darkness.
Gretchen: And shut up.
Sarah: Stay silent. Help him cover them up by your good character. Let your good character cover up the works of darkness instead of exposing it, instead of fleeing it, instead of refusing to have anything to do with it. I fail to see how we have completely overlooked this with every editor, every publisher, every reader, every beta reader. We have baptized a heretical gospel of salvation by spouse’s suffering that removes Christ from the cross and places your abused spouse on the cross in His stead. And we’ve called it holy.
Gretchen: Right. Well, there’s that one line, Sarah. Exactly what you’ve said. Putting the husband as your focus, not Jesus. And there’s a line in here. Does anyone know where that line is?
Sheila: Yeah. That your first priority should be your husband.
Gretchen: Yeah. Your first priority is your husband. No. Your first priority is God.
Sarah: Jesus Christ.
Sarah: Your conscience. Your integrity. We ought to do God—we ought to obey God rather than man. We should be—and I love this from my friend, Tom Pride, over at Psalm 82 Initiative. He says the goal for every abuse victim is to be fearless, free, and uncontrollable.
Sheila: Yeah. Exactly.
Sarah: There is no fear in love. Okay. And we’re free. The truth will set you free. Live absolutely, constantly, directly attached to truth. But then we ought to obey God rather than man which makes you absolutely uncontrollable by anyone who is not also obeying God. And then people get freaked out because they define marriage—many people define marriage as—where control is acceptable.
Sheila: Yeah. Exactly. And, again, I just want to bring it back to the women’s Bible study where someone is leading this book. And you think this is a great book because I like the prayers. Please, please, please read it next time as if there is someone in your group who is married to an alcoholic or to a chronic porn user or to someone who has these rages and think about what they are going to take away from this book because there are women in your group exactly like that. And this book is hurting them.
Sarah: This book is one of the reasons I stayed 12 years too long.
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. Okay. I want to read some more excerpts. Can I do that? Okay. Okay. Hold on a second. This one is really formative because this is really her philosophy of why we should pray and how prayer works. All right? So I’m going to read a conversation that she is having with God about prayer. So this is Stormie writing about this conversation. She says, “’Do you see the way He is, Lord?’ ‘Do you see the way you are?’ ‘Lord, are you saying there are things You want to change in me?’ ‘Many things. Are you reading to hear them?’ ‘Well, I guess so.’ ‘Tell me when you are really ready.’ ‘Why me, God? He is the one that needs to change.’ ‘The point is not who needs to change. The point is who is willing to change.’ ‘But, God, this isn’t fair.’ ‘I never said life is fair. I said I am fair.’ ‘But I—‘ ‘Someone has to be willing to start.’ ‘But I—‘ ‘How important is preserving your marriage?” ‘Very important. The other options are unacceptable.’ ‘I rest My case. Let’s get on with changing you.’ ‘Help me to have a good attitude about this, Lord.’ ‘That’s up to you.’ ‘Do I have time to pray for my husband even if he’s not praying for me?’ ‘Precisely.’ ‘But that’s not—okay. Okay. I remember. Life is not fair. You’re fair. Oh, I give up. Go ahead. Oh, this is going to be painful. Change. I can’t believe I’m saying this. Change me, Lord.’”
Gretchen: Ouch. Change me. And the message is you cannot ask God for fairness, for righteousness, for justice, for a God-honoring marriage if you aren’t perfect yourself.
Sheila: Yeah. And then she explains. Let me just read this one bit. This is how God worked as she started to pray. She explains it, “Now when Michael became angry instead of reacting, I prayed.” So it’s not that he’s not angry. It’s not that he’s not raging anymore. It’s just that he stops doing anything about it, and she stops drawing any boundaries.
Sarah: And that’s how it was still 40 miserable years for her because he never changed. So her whole premise is that you pray so that God will change your husband is actually undercut by her own testimony. But when we talk about God wanting to change her, I would say God did want to change her.
Sheila: God wanted to show her she could set boundaries.
Sarah: God wanted to change her to be able to have the strength to say, “I will no longer live in an environment that is destructive and toxic to my children, that is making them grow up with capital T trauma, and that is consistently destroying and disassembling my personhood as a child and a daughter of God. Therefore, I will share with my husband in a safe and well planned way the limitations that I am going to place on what treatment I will accept. I realize that he may not choose to change. And if he chooses not to change, that is his right. And I will respect it by removing myself and my children from this environment.”
Gretchen: Right. Right.
Sarah: “I will take action. He is welcome to join me in the purpose of having a healthy, happy, peaceful, well regulated home. If he chooses that he would not like to do that and would not like to do what is necessary for us to have that to raise our children in safety then I will do what I am able to do. I will take control of what I can control for myself, for my children under everything that is within my purview.” So I would say God did want to change her and give her the courage to take action to walk out.
Sheila: Yeah. And that’s not what happened is that over and over again in the book she talks about how you have to change your expectations. You have to change what you want. You have to get out of his way. You have to shut up and pray. And so if he—
Sarah: I don’t know how he can go any lower though. The bar was already on the floor.
Sheila: Yeah. And so let’s read some more. I’m going to read a couple more. So she equates abuse with more minor issues. So just listen to this sentence. “A husband can hurt your feelings, be inconsiderate, uncaring, abusive, irritating, or negligent.” So she’s equating abuse with hurting your feelings or being inconsiderate. But whether the husband is abusive or merely irritating, the answer is always prayer.
Gretchen: Yeah. And she says that on page—
Gretchen: – 13 also. “I tried other methods first such as arguing, pleading, ignoring, avoiding, confronting, debating, and, of course, the ever popular silent treatment. All with less than satisfying results. It took some time to realize that by praying first these unpleasant methods of operation,”—or what I would call her methods of protesting and asking for justice—“could be avoided.” So she’s just silencing herself. Prayer becomes—
Sheila: Because in that list, she never had to set appropriate boundaries the way Sarah modeled a minute ago of saying, “Hey, this is what I am willing to accept, and this is what I’m not willing to accept.” That was never something that she tried. And so she didn’t try proper boundaries. Okay. Let me read one more thing. Okay? And this one is important. She equates a woman’s anger at being abused as an equivalent to the abuse.
Sheila: And she requires forgiveness of abuse before your prayers will work.
Sheila: So listen to what she says. “This whole requirement of a pure heart is especially hard when you feel your husband has sinned against you with unkindness, lack of respect, indifference, irresponsibility, infidelity, abandonment, cruelty or abuse. But God considers the sins of unforgiveness, anger, hatred, self pity, lovelessness, or revenge to be just as bad as any others.”
Gretchen: Yep. Perfect mutualizing. Just as your sin of protesting his abuse is just as bad as the abuse itself. And this is what traps women in these abusive marriages. I mean the women in Sarah’s group and my group—we’ve got women in 30, 40, 50-year-long marriages who are finally seeing that this is not—God did not call them to be treated this way. God did not call—their life was not given on this earth to cover up for sin, to make excuses for a sinner, to pretend that abuse and incest and pedophilia didn’t exist.
Sheila: And let’s just be clear what she’s saying here because in the context she’s saying that your prayer for your husband will not work unless you have a pure heart. And a pure heart means that you have totally forgiven him for anything that he has done, that you feel love for him, that you don’t feel lovelessness. You don’t feel anger. So if he has had an affair, God will not mend that affair until you have forgiven him for having that affair.
Sarah: And feel love.
Sheila: And feel love for him.
Sarah: And have the feeling.
Sheila: Right. I mean this is so—this actually sounds a lot like—and this was going on in a lot of books that were written around this time. I remember Elisabeth Elliot when she wrote Passion and Purity, she was talking about their courtship and how Jim Elliot, who was the missionary who was killed in 1956 in Ecuador and Elisabeth Elliot became really famous in writing about that afterwards. But she talking about how after declaring that if he was ever going to marry which he wasn’t sure if he was going to it would be to Elisabeth. He spent the next year of his college life kissing all kinds of other girls. But she said, “How could I be upset? I had sinned too. Hadn’t I sinned as well?” But like no. You hadn’t been unfaithful. This equalizing, this mutualism of sins is so common. And I think it’s because we truly think that God will not listen to us. God will not give us the desires of our heart until we have completely emptied ourselves of any personhood at all.
Gretchen: Yeah. We have to be absolutely perfect. We have to obsessively self examine and root out any evil in order to get our prayers answered and in order to come before the Lord and ask for justice to be done.
Sheila: But how is this different from the virgin sacrifices in the—I don’t know if it was the Mayans or the Incas. And I don’t mean to—okay. Let’s just do Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or something instead of disparaging other cultures. Where you had to have this person, this human sacrifice, to appease this pagan god, and I think we’re treating God like a pagan god where we need to empty ourselves of everything if we’re going to have God work for us.
Sarah: That’s what I’ve been thinking. Everything that you guys are saying is this comes down to a complete and total misunderstanding of the theology of the character of God. I’m looking at page 14 now. I’m linking in the Kindle version, so I don’t know if it’s also page 14 in the print version. And it’s under the heading “Wait Before You Write Off the Marriage…” And she says, “I confess that there was a time when I considered separation or divorce. This is an embarrassing disclosure because I don’t believe either of those options is the best answer to a troubled marriage. I believe in God’s position on divorce. He says it’s not right, and it grieves Him. The last thing I want to do is grieve God.” So from the beginning, again, we’ve talked about that whole setting it up so that the rest of your communication throughout the rest of the book is all based on the lexicon, the set of definitions that you have— the parameters you have established right at the foundation of your communication. Right? So what she’s saying there is if you’re considering separation or divorce, you should be embarrassed too. If you’re considering separation or divorce but even just separation, that’s not going to be the answer for your troubled marriage. If you are considering separation or divorce, not only should you be ashamed of yourself, you are going to grieve God.
Gretchen: Right. God is going to be very disappointed with you.
Sarah: You are going to let your God down. And that is something that I have said over and over again that women in secular circles who are dealing with domestic violence, trauma responses, freeze response, fawning responses, fight or flight, where they’re dealing with emotional and psychological disassembling, where their personhood has been taken apart by their coercively controlling partner, where they’re dealing with sexual coercion or whatever it is, they have all of those things, all of those hurdles, to finding their personhood again. But women in conservative Christian circles have an extra one, and it’s not just a hurdle. It’s the size of Mount Everest. And it is because of books like The Power of a Praying Wife that women have this extra Mount Everest to cross. And that is even with all of the trauma you’re experiencing if you are in a dangerous, destructive, trouble, abusive, toxic marriage and you consider leaving you are letting down your God. You are a failure. Not just as a wife but also as a Christian.
Gretchen: Right. Right.
Sarah: And there is nothing in Scripture that actually supports that. It is all the mistaken ramblings of people who—I personally believe a whole lot of these books are all their own trauma responses. They are people who are trying to make sense of sexual assault, of poor prior decisions, prior pain, whatever. I know, Sheila, you and I have talked about a whole rash of books being written as trauma responses.
Sheila: And I think is also why older women have such a hard time with younger women getting divorced because many older women have put up with it for 40 years. And if I say this younger woman can get divorced, then it’s like saying to me, “I could have been free 30 years ago.”
Gretchen: Yeah. I’ve talked to so many people in my group who have said, “I was that woman. I was that woman who pressured younger women who were being abused to stay. And now I finally get it. God let me go. I got free. But I was part of it.” And I have to say that I, myself, have been part of that milieu too of automatically thinking that anyone who would want to leave is just a quitter who wants the easy way out. And it’s not until you listen to hundreds, if not thousands, of stories that you realize there are very few people of faith who are quitters, who want the easy way out.
Sheila: No. Exactly. But I do think that’s just such an interesting dynamic is that I think that’s what’s going on for a lot of these women is if they meant that yeah. It’s okay for divorce in destructive marriages then they’re saying, “I have given up 30 years of my life that I didn’t need to give up,” and that’s a hard realization.
Sarah: (cross talk) is so heavy.
Sheila: That’s a hard realization. Okay. I want to read one other thing. And this is how the book seems to be two different books because she spends the vast majority of the book both before and after the quote I’m about to read talking about how you’re not allowed to leave. God is going to change the abusive marriage. God is going to change all these things. But then she says this on page 69, “I have another friend whose husband had numerous affairs before they finally divorced. Each time it was with one of her best friends. She prayed, but a heart that refuses to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit will not change no matter how hard you pray.” So she acknowledges there that the husband didn’t change because he refused to listen to the Holy Spirit. No matter how hard she prayed, it wasn’t going to work. But then she still spends the rest of the book telling women that they need to pray to get their husbands over infidelity. So it’s like she admits it in one place.
Gretchen: Read the rest of that quote. Have you looked at the rest of the quote?
Sheila: Yeah. Which part are you looking at in particular?
Gretchen: So the rest of the quote is—okay. So the husband doesn’t listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and it’s really because—is the quote where it was he had affairs one or two of her friends—with some of her friends? And so Stormie says, “She just picks lousy friends. Something is wrong with her.”
Sheila: Yeah. She does. She says, “I questioned her choice of friends, but I never questioned her godliness or commitment to pray.” So it’s just bizarre.
Sarah: At any point, did she question the sanity of her husband?
Sheila: I know. But here we have her admitting on page 69 that sometimes you can pray and the Holy Spirit doesn’t work. And then on—she spends a whole day in the new edition, so this wasn’t in the original edition. So I think this was added in 2014. She adds day 30, which is really about how you don’t need to stay in a destructive relationship, and you can separate. She doesn’t say you can divorce, but you can separate. But it’s like you can’t say that on day 30, which is basically the end of the book when you have spent the entire book telling women that you need to shut the door on divorce, that separation is embarrassing. You should never do it. It’s not the right thing to do. You can pray against abuse. It’s just really problematic.
Gretchen: Yeah. And the same thing on page 192. She says, “Well, who among us can judge her for divorcing for infidelity, gambling, verbal abuse, physical, cruelty, financial ruin, and even inconsideration?” So she does this 180 but way at the end of the book. If you’ve gotten to that point, you are so full of fear about this mythological legacy of—heritage of divorce, feeling like you’re letting God down, starting to believe that God is just as mean and egotistical as your partner is, and He wants you to stay there. He doesn’t want to rescue you. He wants you to suffer. You can’t do that little 180 on page 192 at the end of the book.
Sheila: No. You really can’t. And that’s the problem is that—this is what a lot of authors do is they get so many complaints—because she was flooded by complaints from people who said that this book made them stay in an abusive marriage. And so she knew she had to do something. So she puts this disclaimer at the end. But you can’t just put a disclaimer. You have to change what you’re teaching. And so many authors do this. Emerson Eggerichs does it too. Obviously, I don’t condone abuse. And obviously, abuse is wrong. But isn’t it great how this woman whose husband was abusive and was in jail for abuse decided never to bring up the abuse again and just decided to unconditionally respect her husband? So the caveat means nothing when your advice is toxic. I want to end with the stuff that I write about all the time which is sex. Okay. So we’ve talked about all the weird abuse things and her whole philosophy of marriage, which is make yourself nothing. Don’t have any desires. Don’t have any expectations, and then marriage is a lot easier.
Gretchen: It sure is for him.
Sarah: You don’t need two people in that marriage.
Sheila: There’s also the way that she frames a woman’s role, which I think is really problematic. And this is what we looked at in The Great Sex Rescue. And so just really quickly. We don’t need to go on this a lot because I did talk about it in The Great Sex Rescue. But I want to just give a bird’s eye view into the super creepy view that Stormie Omartian has about wifehood. So she does view sex as a cure all. So she says this. “For a husband, sex is pure need. His eyes, ears, brain, and emotions get clouded if he doesn’t have that release.”
Sarah: Did she get her data from Shaunti?
Sheila: So you have to give him release. It’s not about intimacy. It really is about a man needing release. And she talks about how it’s really important for you even if you don’t want sex to go off by yourself for a couple of minutes to get yourself in the right frame of mind so that you can do it.
Sarah: Go force yourself to accept coercion.
Sheila: Yeah. She talks about the importance of keeping up your appearance and wearing lingerie so that you can keep him happy. So that’s super creepy. But then there’s this other super weird thing that she says which is she states that even when a wife is working outside the home, the home and the kids are her responsibility. Not his. And she frames it this way is that the home and the kids are her responsibility, and she says this quote, “You will also be expected to be sexually appealing, a good cook, a great mother, and physically, emotionally, and spiritually fit. It’s overwhelming to most women, but the good news is that you don’t have to do it on your own. You can seek God’s help.” That’s on page 34. She isn’t saying that ironically. She isn’t saying, “Yeah. You’re going to be expected to be sexually appealing, a good cook, a great mother, and all this stuff. Isn’t that awful?” No. She actually means that you are expected to do these things. She has a whole list of how you are expected as the wife to do these things whether or not you work outside the home. And that is her view of marriage.
Gretchen: Well, and we know that that inequity of—where everything gets piled on the wife leads to—well, it leads to divorce. I mean that’s the reality.
Sheila: And it didn’t for her. She stayed married. And I believe that he passed away. But, again, the question is—
Sarah: It leads to misery though if it doesn’t lead to divorce.
Sheila: It did lead to misery. And this book has sold 10 million copies. And if you think about how prevalent divorce is in Christian marriages—it’s at least a quarter. So that’s 2.5 million women have read this book while being in an abusive marriage. At least.
Sheila: 2.5 million women have read this book while being in an abusive marriage. And what I’m asking is that no other woman read this book in an abusive marriage. And that will only happen when we stop using this book as a woman’s Bible study curriculum.
Sheila: It’s usually in the top 1,000 of all books on Amazon. This is an incredibly good seller even today.
Sarah: It’s not just that it’s so dangerous for the women who are already in an abusive relationship. Because if you are a newlywed and you don’t yet know that your topsy turvy new relationship is going to become full blown abusive and this is your foundation, you will feel 10 years later with 2 kids that you are not okay morally to start life over again or to flee assault and exploitation and infidelity and lying and deceitfulness and integrity abuse and all of these things because you may have read this in the first 6 months of your marriage.
Sheila: And then instead of learning how to set proper boundaries, you were told, “Shut up and pray. Get out of God’s way. Stop expecting anything. It’s your fault as much as his.”
Sarah: And if you’re praying and he’s not changing, it’s your fault. Not because of his choices but because you’re not praying right.
Gretchen: And because you’re not perfect enough. You haven’t confessed all of your sins. You have forgiven him for everything. You haven’t lovingly reconnected with him. You’re probably not having enough sex with him. And it all comes down to it’s your fault, honey.
Sheila: Yeah. Yeah. And so that is the power of a miserable wife. And it’s really sad. And so we just wanted to stop. So thank you, ladies, for this conversation. It’s been great. Again, we have a one sheet download that you can access that goes over pretty much everything that we talked about. But tell us how people can get a hold of you. So, Gretchen, where are you?
Gretchen: I am at—lifesavingdivorce.com is my blog. I’m on Facebook a lot at The Life Saving Divorce. I have a private group. Members only. Life Saving Divorce Private Group. And I’m on YouTube.
Sheila: Yeah. And, again, Gretchen’s book is great if you’re trying to figure out okay. But isn’t divorce a sin? So let’s take a look at what the Bible says, and let’s take a look at the stats. Really great. And, Sarah, where can people find you?
Sarah: I am online at wildernesstowild.com. And that’s not the number 2. It’s like out of the wilderness and moving into the wild. So wildernesstowild.com. I’m on Facebook all the time at Sarah McDugal wildernesstowild.com. On YouTube at Sarah McDugal. And we have free support groups. We have between 9 and 10,000 women now in support groups specifically for women who are parenting after trauma, going through divorce and custody court, and dealing with all of that added layer of trauma. We have a ton of resources for that. And for women who are going through betrayal trauma from infidelity, compulsive porn consumption, integrity abuse kind of situations, and they’re trying to figure out which way is up and where they can set those limitations for what they will allow in their lives.
Sheila: Awesome. I will put all those links in the notes. And thank you so much for your time, ladies. I really appreciate it.
Gretchen: Thank you, Sheila.