Here’s a warning that’s not fun to hear, but I promise, I’m saying it to help. There’s a landmine sitting in many relationships that can’t be ignored. It won’t go away unless you talk about it—. Even if it’s painful, even if the conversations seem to drive a bigger wedge between you.
It’s what the Bible calls being “unequally yoked,” and it can wreck your marriage. I know, because it almost ruined mine.
The first time I heard the term unequally yoked in the context of marriage at church, I thought it meant I had to like the same type of eggs as my husband. Did I have to give up my eggs over easy for his ham and cheese omelet? Then I soon realized there is a big difference between egg yolk and the word yoke. One, they are spelled differently. That should have been my first clue, but sometimes English is hard. Two, the yolk is the yellow part of a bird’s egg, and a yoke is a wooden cross piece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plow or cart that they are to pull. Three, well, I don’t have a three other than I’m still laughing at myself for getting the words confused.
But the real question is, what does a wooden cross piece have to do with marriage? The Bible says it this way:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. - 2 Corinthians 6:14
When the animals are not equally yoked, they are not working together to get the task done but working at odds with each other. If you don’t have the same beliefs, values, or even morals, you will be working against each other in your marriage.
You are probably wondering, does this mean I shouldn’t get married to my fiance if we believe in two different theologies? That’s a great question with a hard answer that you might not want to hear. God makes it pretty clear. If you want to have a great marriage, you need to be equally yoked.
I understand this might sound dramatic, or you might even not believe it to be true. You might think not being equally yoked will be a nonissue in your marriage. You might have had a fairy tale wedding and even a good marriage, but eventually, it will come up and can destroy your marriage.
When Doug and I got married, he was an atheist, meaning he didn’t believe in God. I believed God existed, but I just didn’t think God was for me, so I wasn’t active in my faith at the time. It was there but just buried for a while. The funny thing is we had a huge church wedding. We stood up in front of everyone with the minister telling us marriage was created by God while Doug didn’t believe in God, and my faith had dwindled down to barely a mustard seed. Pretty ironic, right?
In fact, we had a reading from the book of Ruth 1:16-17, “But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
What I didn’t know when we randomly chose this verse for our wedding is Ruth is not talking to her husband, but her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth’s husband died, and Naomi told her to go back to her people so she can marry again because there is no point in staying with her since she will never have another son for Ruth to marry. Instead of leaving and going back to her home, Ruth made the bold decision to yoke herself to Naomi when she made the declaration your God is my God. The amazing outcome of this story is God did eventually bless Ruth with a new husband, Boaz, who was part of Naomi’s family.
While Ruth and Naomi is not a marriage relationship, it does show what it means to be equally yoked spiritually. Unlike Ruth and Naomi, Doug and I were on different pages, and our marriage struggled. We were not working together as a team, but working against each other, causing stress and anger in our marriage.
We had different thoughts on how to raise our children—from if and when they should go to preschool to how to discipline them. We didn’t talk about money or how to combine our accounts. He kept his account, and I kept mine. When I started exploring the idea of going to church, I knew he would flip out, so I just didn’t tell him.
When I finally got the nerve to go to a church, it was out of desperation of wanting something to change in my life because I was so miserable. The reason I knew he would flip out is that he was a very vocal atheist, so if I didn’t tell him, I wouldn’t have to hear all the reasons why I shouldn’t be going to church. More importantly, I didn’t want Doug to tell me why God didn’t exist because I was starting to realize God was for me and not against me. So I kept it a secret, and I was able to keep it a secret for six months while he worked 3rd shift and was sleeping when the kids and I went to church.
But one morning, we were getting ready to walk out the door, and he asked us where we were going. Instead of lying, I finally told him the truth, and that day Doug came to church with us. That day is when Doug stopped being an atheist and started believing in God. That day is when our marriage went from being unequally yoked to being equally yoked. It wasn’t the day we said “A-ha! We completely understand God,” but it was the day we decided to start our journey of seeking God together.
We were no longer working against each other but working together as a united team—Team Bryant. Yes, we still get in fights, and yes, we still have to work hard at our marriage. But when you have the same goal, when you are equally yoked, it makes fighting a whole lot easier.
I have to say, I know what a miracle it is that our relationship changed. And I realize that many of you may know this warning in the Bible, but you’re the only one in your marriage who cares. Maybe you’ve tried to reconcile it before. Maybe you’ve prayed for years or even decades about it. Maybe you haven’t tied the knot yet, and you’re terrified to bring it up because you’re afraid of what could happen.
Wherever you are, I want you to know that God is for you too.
Anything He ever tells us to do is because it’s for our good. He wants a great marriage for you. Whether you’re decades in or just got engaged, I believe God wants to do a miracle in your relationship too. It’s worth your prayers. It’s worth the difficult conversations.
If you lean in, I believe He will show up with mercy and miracles for you too.