The Ox and the Donkey
Words by Susie O’Neal // Image by Emily Magers
My husband and I stood face to face on the beach; our hands interlocking so tightly it was hard to discern where one began and the other ended. The sky, like an endless canvas, had been brushed by the Creator with striated hues of red, gold, and splashes of violet—colors and patterns no human artist could conceive.
I looked at my husband as the ocean breeze blew strongly through our graying hair. He smiled his familiar smile; deep laugh lines like bookends for his crystal blue-gray eyes. Twenty-five years ago, I stood in front of a boy and vowed to love him forever. The boy was now a man, weathered by life’s experiences, joys, and heartaches. Our lives had changed and blossomed in ways that we could have never imagined.
Twenty-five years had come and gone as gravity pushes and pulls the tide and the tide pushes and pulls the sand. We gazed at each other while we reaffirmed our vows. The sun and the moon were both visible as dusk approached and they stood as our witnesses. But, as we held each other, waves licking our legs, we knew that it could have been so different.
You see, when we were married we were unequally yoked.
According to Easton’s Bible Dictionary, yoke is defined as, “fitted on the neck of oxen for the purpose of binding to them the traces by which they might draw the plough” (biblestudytools.org).
In 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul admonishes us, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?”
The oxen were yoked together because they were both beasts of burden, designed for a similar purpose and mission. They would equally share the work. In Deuteronomy 22:10, God actually forbids the yoking of two animals that are not the same: “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.” In this scenario, the stronger ox will end up carrying the majority of the load. The often stubborn and unreliable donkey may refuse to move. The donkey may veer to the right or the left, leaving ground unevenly plowed and creating an atmosphere for important seed to go unplanted.
When my husband and I were dating, we ignored that we were on opposite ends of the spiritual spectrum.
I had walked away from God and the church several years before. He was a spirit-filled believer who attended church every Sunday. There were red flags and caution signs, but we ignored them all. We were deeply in love and blinded by that love. Looking back now, it is unbelievable that the discussion never came up. How good we were at planning the wedding, yet we forgot to plan for a lifetime of marriage.
After we were married, this issue grew from a tiny seed into Jack’s beanstalk in the middle of our living room. Every Sunday was the same. He invited me to church, I refused, he came home angry—rinse and repeat. This went on for several months and the strain of what we once ignored was like a thin rope that tore more and more each week. Anger, resentment, and bitterness were sprouting where only love used to grow. My husband felt spiritually divorced from me and it was hurting us both. I remembered a reading from our wedding from the book of Ruth, “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (1:16). I knew something had to change; I knew I had to change.
I loved him and I didn’t want to lose him. I didn’t want to be divorced. I swallowed my pride and agreed to go with him to church. The first time I went I felt uncomfortable and out of place. His church was so vastly different from where I grew up. I wanted to run away that first time. The weight of the guilt I felt was overwhelming. I know now that the Holy Spirit was convicting me. Like the prodigal son, my Father was calling me home and I felt unworthy of his love and acceptance.
After several months of reluctantly attending church, I made the decision to go to the altar and accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior. The giant in the castle was defeated, and the beanstalk was cut down. The rope was no longer tearing for we had added a third strand—Jesus—and “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12).
We were no longer unequally yoked.
Shortly after, I was water baptized. A few years later, I was leading worship, involved in children’s ministry, and dance ministry. Today I have an online ministry, and I have written my first Bible devotional which will be released in a few months. My life, my faith, my eternity, and my marriage were forever changed. I found out years after my conversion that my husband was praying for me every day. There were several members of the congregation that were praying for me every day.
“The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).
I want to encourage those who are reading this and who find themselves in a similar position. You know that you and your spouse are unequally yoked. An ox can plow alone, and a donkey can plow alone, but they cannot plow together. It takes two of the same kind to successfully cultivate the soil of your hearts. Perhaps you are feeling the strain of it and you are at the end of your thin rope. I want to encourage you to keep praying. All you can do is plant the seed and then wait for the Holy Spirit to do his part. In my situation, it was the fervent, unwavering prayers of my husband that saved me. It was not his insistence, his resentment, or his anger—it was prayer.
You can’t change your spouse’s unbelieving heart—only God can do that.
Remind yourself daily of Colossians 3:12–14, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
It could have been so different for my husband and I. Through prayer, trust, and belief, we are now equally yoked; partners in love, in marriage, as parents, and in our faith. We press on together, both of us at the plow. We walk side by side; equally pulling life’s load toward the next twenty-five years and beyond.