Transformation on the Path to ‘Happily Ever After’ by Denise Renner

Transformation on the Path to ‘Happily Ever After’
Denise Renner

This article was adapted from Denise Renner’s new book Who Stole Cinderella? The Art of ‘Happily Ever After’. To order copies of this title, visit or call RENNER Ministries toll free at 800-742-5593. Denise Renner is a minister, author, and classically trained vocalist. Alongside her husband Rick Renner, Denise spent more than a decade ministering stateside before they co-founded their international ministry. Together they have proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the former Soviet Union and around the world for more than 20 years. In addition to serving as senior pastors of the Moscow Good News Church, Rick and Denise are founders of the Riga and Kiev Good News Churches, the Good News Training Center, and the IMPART Pastors Fellowship, through which they assist various pastors and organizations. Denise is also the founder and director of Making a Difference, a ministry that reaches out with God’s love to hurting people in Russia and provides humanitarian outreach to prisons, hospitals, and orphanages. Meanwhile, Denise continues to minister with her remarkably gifted voice in a wide variety of venues — whether on a church platform, on a concert stage, or in the stark, bare room of a women’s prison — bringing the tangible presence of Christ’s burden-destroying anointing each time she sings.


Who Stole Cinderella?In so many marriages, a wife begins her journey as Cinderella. She glides down the aisle in her beautiful white gown to marry Prince Charming and to become his crowning joy as the wife of his dreams. But in time, Cinderella can find herself knee deep in housework and tasked with changing diapers and refereeing arguing children. She may deal with sickness and setbacks in the family, ailing parents, a husband who works too little or too much, and a number of other challenging circumstances along the way in her “happily ever after.”

Imperfections — in ourselves, in our husbands, and in our circumstances — have the potential to crowd out all those initial wonderful feelings in marriage and replace them with disappointment, disillusionment, and even a negative, critical attitude. Instead of living happily ever after like Cinderella with Prince Charming, we’re not even sure where Cinderella and Prince Charming went! It’s as if our dream was stolen, and we question whether recovering it is worth the pain. Could we be telling ourselves that “happily ever after” is just going to appear without any struggle, problems, or price — or that we’ll simply glide through our journey as easily and gracefully as our walk down the aisle?

There Are No ‘Quick Fixes,’ But You Can Start Now!

It is most likely that the journey to your “happily ever after” will consist of some struggling along the way. Just as a seed planted deep into the soil of the earth must take firm root and then struggle to wind its way upward through the dark, so many of our victories in life are about the process — the journey. Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” (John 12:24). How true this becomes in our lives when we finally make the decision to bear peaceable fruits of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11) where there has been desolation or very little fruit. We come to realize that we must “die” to doing things the same unhealthy way we’ve been doing them.

Those old ways of doing things might include a pattern of trying to control others so we can feel a measure of comfort ourselves. Or it might require us to return our gaze toward Jesus when we’ve looked away and fixed our focus on someone else to help us. As long as these patterns are allowed to influence our lives and our relationships, our brokenness will remain undealt with and unsubmitted to Jesus’ Cross and His resurrection life.

Jesus, the Word of God who was made flesh, was “buried” as a seed for three days — but He rose from the dead, bringing us to new life with Him. Because of His great sacrifice and act of redemption, we can take His Word into our lives and allow Him to bring forth from the darkness something new that never existed before. Whether it’s healing from our brokenness, deliverance from our shame, or freedom to love without fear, God’s Word and His Spirit are powerful to transform our lives — to do in us what we could not possibly do for ourselves.

Life Presents Each of Us With Opportunities To Change

Our journey of growth that leads to a deeply fulfilling relationship with our husband always places Jesus firmly at the center of the marriage. Jesus is our Rock and Fortress (Psalm 18:2) — only Him. When we enter marriage with all our imperfections and insecurities, we have an opportunity to allow God to lead us to a place of security in Jesus rather than try to gain that security from our husband. As wonderful as our husband might be, his shoulders are simply not that big, and our false expectation that he can meet our every need sets us up for undue disappointment.

My opportunity to change presented itself shortly we moved to the former Soviet Union to launch a new phase of our ministry, and I began the struggle of my life with my emotions. Engrossed with everything that comes with embarking on a new assignment from God, Rick quickly poured himself into the work we had come here to do. I was engaged in helping in the ministry and in serving by Rick’s side. But as his responsibilities increased as he worked to lay our ministry’s foundation here, I began to fear that I was losing the place in my husband’s heart that belonged to me as his wife, and I became bitter and resentful. Before I knew it, negative feelings had consumed me. Unforgiveness opened the door to a great deal of fear in my life, including panic attacks at times. I remember thinking to myself, I’m a Christian — this is NOT supposed to be happening to me! After much time spent genuinely seeking God in prayer, I came to the difficult but life-changing realization that, although my emotions were directed toward my husband, I was the source of my own frustration.

God Has a Way of Escape for You

As women, we have great hopes for a marriage that’s always peaceful and happy, but often life brings just the right circumstances that cause us to see in full color some of the ugliness inside us that disrupts that happiness and peace. When we feel vulnerable and become needy toward others, that hidden ugliness floats right up to the surface. Although we want to escape from our issues, if we don’t bring them to God and find His way of escape, they will continue to raise their ugly heads again and again.

Often it’s in our desperation that we discover the truth that our only real means of escape and freedom are found in God — through turning to Him and sincerely seeking His face. James 4:8 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you….” Only when we draw near to God will we find the true security we desire that no person can provide for us, no matter how hard he may try.

The Trap of Isolation in Marriage

Just as a trap designed to catch a wild animal is usually hidden from sight, the traps the enemy sets for us are not always obvious. They often start as one small thought, feeling, or suggestion that can seem very good, right, and reasonable at first, especially if we feel someone has wronged us in some way or that life’s circumstances have been unfair. In times like these, it’s so easy to begin feeling sorry for ourselves — and it’s in those weak moments, the enemy moves in with negative thoughts that serve no other purpose than to keep us stuck in that one place, unable to move forward.

As time passed during our season of new beginnings in the former Soviet Union, I became more and more isolated and withdrawn, and let me tell you: Isolation is a terrible and lonely trap! I felt I had no one to talk to so that I could be encouraged and strengthened while Rick was away doing the work of the ministry. I couldn’t expose the negative parts of my soul —bitterness, resentment, and unforgiveness — because I didn’t want to say anything that might dishonor my husband. So I chose to say nothing at all. I kept my feelings to myself, and I thought about them day in and day out, again and again and again. I was alone, stuck with just me, and I wasn’t very happy.

I didn’t know who I could turn to in my situation. As a pastor’s wife, I knew it wasn’t wise to talk to anyone in our congregation about challenges I was experiencing relating to my husband. And at the time, I couldn’t see that my problem was with me and not Rick — that I was expecting way too much of him. No one could fill my bill of request — only Jesus. But I wasn’t looking to Jesus; I was looking to Rick. And because I was expecting so much of him, I was disappointed with him on a regular basis.

I should have stood beside Rick in a different way than I did to help shoulder the load of those difficult first steps in a brand-new country. But I was ill-prepared emotionally to handle the onslaught of thoughts and feelings that I was constantly barraged with. This huge, new part of our assignment and my own imperfections and insecurities created a “perfect storm” to bring me to a place with the Lord I had never been before. I had to learn to allow Jesus, not Rick, to become my comfort, shelter, and source of help. Before I could reach that place, however, I had to move past the bitterness and unforgiveness I’d allowed to fester in my soul.

Remember, It’s a Process

In every circumstance of life, there has to be an answer — a way of escape — that brings deliverance, and there is (1 Corinthians 10:13). But deliverance doesn’t always come quickly or overnight. Sometimes it takes time to come to a place of understanding with the Holy Spirit’s help that our biggest problems are not the result of what someone else is doing or has done to us. Our biggest problems have to do with us and how we respond to the situations and circumstances of life. We have to be willing to ask, How can I change? In other words, we must ask God for help and then take responsibility to humbly receive and submit to whatever He tells us.

Every married couple should be experiencing an ongoing journey of growth and change. When a man and a woman make a covenant in marriage, the Bible says they “become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). The word “become” includes in its meaning the idea of something engaged in an ongoing process. In other words, a husband and wife do not just become “one flesh” the moment they experience physical intimacy together. That physical oneness happens in a short time, but genuine oneness takes a lifetime.

We may not see all the imperfections in ourselves or in our spouse in the beginning of our marriage, but those imperfections will show up in time. Along our journey, we will begin to see the “imperfect,” because life has a way of uncovering the worst in each of us. The question is, what will we do? Will we focus only on what’s imperfect at the expense of our relationship? Will we run away and hide? Will we throw in the towel and forget the words of the covenant we made in our pretty white gown — “…for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish…until death do us part”? Or will we choose to run to the Lord for wisdom and counsel and remain steadfast on the path in our journey?

Perhaps you feel as if you’re in a laboratory with just the right mix of components — your weaknesses, your husband’s weaknesses, disappointment and discouragement — to cause you to believe that your marriage will never change. We all deal with these same components at different times in our lives, although our situations vary. Maybe some of your “laboratory” ingredients are more staggering, such as childhood abuse, and you’ve never dealt with the damaging emotional fallout. My friend, the transforming power of the love of God through His Word and His Spirit can make you whole again. But if your wounded emotions aren’t dealt with and healed, you may find yourself creating something very toxic, volatile, and unhealthy in the laboratory of your life, and it will adversely affect every relationship you have.

However, when we focus on Jesus and give all the components of our brokenness to Him, they become the perfect setup for Him to do His best work in us and in our family. And the best part of those inner workings is the new image of ourselves that we come away with as we are transformed. We begin to see ourselves as God’s precious daughters who are humble, pliable, and yielded to the Holy Spirit as He creates something wonderful in us — a beautiful, teachable spirit that will cause blessing to come to us and our family for a lifetime.

Who Stole Cinderella?