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As I strive to honor God in my marriage, I am consistently learning—and observing—that a godly marriage is strengthened when a husband meets the highs and lows of life with consistent faithfulness, love, and devotion.

I didn’t see the snake.

Had I not heard the rattle, I would’ve stepped on it.

The serpent was coiled in the middle of the path, forked tongue dancing, scales offering a perfect camouflage for the remote Montana terrain. With heart punching my ribcage, I backpedaled ten yards and waited for the reptile to move.

It didn’t.

I was alone. The mountain path of winding pine and dry landscape had no cellphone service. No one knew I was there.

To my left, the trail had a sharp drop-off. To my right, an impassable incline with no way to get around the snake.

I was armed, but what good would a pocketknife do?

I had two options.

  1. Retrace all the miles I had hiked
  2. Risk getting bitten

As I settled into a staring contest with my foe, a sobering realization took hold—I was not prepared. Even so, the snake showed up in the path.

Just me, the snake, and God’s country.

While I contemplated what to do, I thought of my wife.  If I lost a tussle with the snake, what would happen to her? I understood that, though no one watched, whatever I chose, to advance or retreat, would have a direct impact on my marriage.

As a film and media professor, I use this anecdote to help my students understand the nature of conflict in screenwriting. In fiction and movies, tension drives story. When two opposing forces collide, it creates friction, which generates drama — the itch underneath the audience’s skin that is only scratched when we learn the outcome or see the twist revealed.

Without tension, stories fall flat.

Conflict, in screenwriting, allows characters to show us who they are. When adversity and pressure is applied, the protagonist or hero is forced to act. What they do in response to conflict, tension, and obstacles reveals their true nature. It helps us root for them and endears us to their journey.

The same, is true, I believe, of husbands and how we respond when adversity threatens our marriage. In married life, maybe not on a trail in Montana, but somewhere, somehow, a snake may show up in our path. Perhaps something health related, a career issue, past trauma, or external temptations. Somewhere, somehow, a snake is waiting—an obstacle that refuses to move and forces us to reveal our character. It may not feel deserved or fair, but, as husbands, how we respond will impact our marriage.

Here are some axioms for when a snake shows up in your path.

Be Faithful in the Little Things

For me, meeting the snake was a test for which I was unprepared. I hadn’t trained for this scenario. I hadn’t researched how to confront a snake, much less how to treat a bite. I had ignored the numerous signs at the trail entrance warning of rattlesnakes. I thought it wouldn’t happen to me. I hadn’t been mindful with each step. I had my eyes on the horizon instead of paying attention to what was right in front of me.

I hadn’t been faithful in the little things.

I think Oswald Chambers says it best in his devotional book My Utmost for His Highest, “The test of a man’s religious life and character is not what he does in the exceptional moments of life, but what he does in the ordinary times, when there is nothing tremendous or exciting on. The worth of a man is revealed in his attitude to the ordinary things when he is not before the floodlights…”

As I strive to honor God in my marriage, I am consistently learning — and observing — that a godly marriage is strengthened when a husband meets the highs and lows of life with consistent faithfulness, love, and devotion. When the day of adversity arrives, he is prepared to embrace the challenge because he has practiced daily integrity. To build the muscle of integrity, a husband is equally faithful in the mundane details and grand gestures. He does the right thing when nobody’s watching and possesses the diligence of doing what needs to be done even when he doesn’t feel like it. As Jesus says in Luke 16:10, “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.”

Had I been faithful in preparing for the rattlesnake, I would have known what to do. I would have risen to the occasion. I could’ve better avoided disaster.

Have a Servant’s Heart

When I had my stare down with the snake, I wished it would slither off the path. I prayed it would leave, but the fiend was content sunbathing. After all, I had invaded his territory. I was the uninvited guest. If anyone should’ve moved, it was me.

However, my selfish pride wanted to somehow conquer this foe. Wouldn’t it make a great story? Wouldn’t such a feat prove my manhood?

In my faith journey, I’ve witnessed various approaches to marriage and found a common thread in strong couples — the husband possesses a servant’s heart. He honors God and his wife without the expectation of receiving praise or acknowledgement. He doesn’t live for the approval of others but holds himself to God’s standard. In doing so, he knows he will reap a harvest if he doesn’t give up (Galatians 6:9).

On the Montana pathway, I could’ve cared more about my ego than preserving my marriage. Instead, I lost the staring contest with the snake. I decided I couldn’t serve my wife or God’s calling if I was dead. Instead, I walked back to the end of the trail and returned the way I had come, which, I researched later, is the proper procedure in such a circumstance.

A servant’s heart saved my life and my marriage. Literally.

Strength in Numbers

My dilemma with the snake might not have been so hazardous had I not been alone on the trail. Christian men benefit from the encouragement, counsel, and friendship from brothers in Christ. When adversity threatens our marriage, the prayers and support of other believers can help build us up. As Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” In my own experience, maintaining a steady group of Christian brothers has helped me become a better man and husband. If you feel alone, getting involved in a local church is a great step toward building fellowship with other believers.

Today is Training Day

Who we are when no one is watching is preparing us for a moment of reckoning when our marriage may be tested. Odds are, it will be. No one goes through life without adversity. So, as husbands and brothers in Christ, train every day by being faithful in little details, developing a servant’s heart, and encouraging each other toward love and good deeds (Hebrews 10:24). And, of course, watch out for snakes.

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