Two Salvation Army officers wrote to the organization’s founder, evangelist William Booth, expressing frustration and discouragement with the ongoing failure of their ministry and requesting his permission to shut it down. General Booth replied with a two-word telegram: “Try tears.”

Sexy Corte and I receive a lot of emails from people who are frustrated and discouraged in their marriages, and especially with their sex lives. We try to offer practical, Biblical advice — some sexual, some relational, and some spiritual. In many cases, we’ll go back and forth with someone who has “already tried everything” we suggest, with no positive result, and it’s in these situations that I’m reminded of Booth’s advice: “Try tears.”

Not tears of self-pity, frustration, or anger — those are all-too-easy to come by when your marriage is hurting. Those tears are generally selfish: I’m not getting what I deserve.

We often think that God wants us to be happy, but he doesn’t — he wants us to be holy. The process of becoming holy is difficult and often painful. Consider James 4:1-10:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

Godly tears are the result of humility before a holy God. Instead of focusing on how your marriage and spouse are failing you, humble yourself before God. Weep and mourn for your own sin. God’s will is for you to become holy, and for your marriage to become holy. That includes a marriage with humility, joy, gratitude, and yes, awesome sex. But those things are the result of holiness. Jesus says in Matthew 6:33:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Get on your knees and beg God for your marriage. Turn your laughter into gloom. Fast, pray, and meditate on God’s Word. Let your heart be broken for God’s will. Learn to see yourself, your spouse, and your marriage the way God sees them: infinitely precious, and in the process of being perfected through fire. Let God bring you to tears like Jesus’ in the Garden of Gethsemane as he faced his crucifixion. Luke 22:39-46:

And [Jesus] came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow,  and he said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.”

Try tears.

Some of the best marriage advice I ever heard was this: “no one will respect your spouse more than you do”. You set the tone for how your friends, family, co-workers see your spouse. Let me ask, how are you doing? I am part of a woman’s group at our church and it’s amazing how fast a simple complaint about a husband can snowball. Everyone has a story to share or a frustration that can be topped. While most of the time it’s playful, I don’t always find it to be honoring to our husbands. I am sure the same thing can occur in men’s groups. We should lovingly guard our spouse’s reputation. Here are a few ideas how:

  • When you are talking about your spouse, try to speak about them in ways that it wouldn’t matter if they overheard what you were saying.
  • Say good things! If you talk about your spouse in a positive way, it’s likely to make you feel more loving towards them. A session of complaining about your spouse will often make you have a negative attitude towards them. Think about how you want your spouse to talk about and treat you, then try to emulate that.
  • Tame your tongue. The writer of James was right in James 3:8 “it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”. Before you speak, think.
  • Be careful about who you talk about your spouse to when you have a problem. If your mom doesn’t particularly like your husband, definitely don’t share any marital problems with her.
  • When you are in a group that the conversation heads towards talking about spouse’s in a bad way, redirect. Try to have topics on hand that you can switch to.
  • 1st Corinthians 16:14 Do everything in love.