Even with the best intentions and truest love, a marriage can go to some dangerous places. Ours went to a bad place, which is why I decided to blow it up and rebuild it on a surer foundation.
Listen to Rick read this post:
You may want to read:
- Rick’s 31-Day Marriage Devotional
- How to Overcome Self-Reliance
- Seven Things to Know When Living With a Harsh Husband
Lucia and I have always been best friends. From the moment we met, we clicked. There was hardly a time we didn’t enjoy each other. Though we had a few common interests, there were more things that were uncommon between us. These differences did not matter because of our desire to be together. Here are a few of our differences.
- I’m from the south. She’s from the north.
- I was hardly in a church as a child. She was always in a church.
- I did “big” sinning. She stole some Lifesavers when she was seven-years-old.
- God saved me when I was twenty-five. God saved her when she was six-years-old.
- I did not care for my family. She had affection for her family.
- My childhood had a few redemptive moments. Her childhood had many.
- I liked wrestling–also called “ras’lin.” She did not.
Our list of differences is longer than this but it did not matter. Lucia and I were buddies, partners, friends, and complementing lovers for life. Though we enjoyed each other, it was apparent early in our marriage something was missing. We loved God and each other, but our affection began to wane.
The little rub, in the beginning, turned into a bigger rub, with continuing and growing problems as we journeyed together. Most of the time we ignored the big pink elephants in our marriage. We kept enjoying each other as long as we pretended everything was okay. I’m okay; you’re okay. Let’s bury our collective heads in the sand and ignore the obvious.
Sometimes it was not possible to ignore the obvious. We were frustrated, and every few weeks our low-grade, hard to perceive anger would manifest as we vented on each other. We would not speak for a day or two as we gradually eased back into the marriage waters again.
Even though our Marriage Mission Statement was still important to us, we seemingly could not overcome this major hurdle. Neither one of us saw this kind of trouble coming when we were dating.
For the first five years of our marriage, this negative vibe kept a low-grade churn in our hearts. Though hardly perceptible to others, there was a dynamic element missing in our lives.
And layered on top of this problem was my job at the church as the staff counselor. I was the fix-it person, who helped people with weak marriages. My vocation led to more personal perplexity and frustration as I served others with their problems, but could not fix mine.
Then Came Jesus
About the five-year mark in our marriage, we began to experience the gospel in a way that we had not previously understood. While we knew the gospel was for our salvation, we did not see the gospel as a necessary solution for our sanctification.
We both were discipled in a legalistic culture, which emphasized the rules, while mostly ignoring the reason for the rules–Jesus Christ (the gospel). In one sense, we were a picture of what our Savior condemned:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. – Matthew 23:27-28
The difference between the folks the Savior was talking to and us is that we did love Him. The real problem was that we did not know how to be authentically motivated by Him or how to live for Him within our marriage construct practically.
Our outward lives appeared to be okay, but our dynamic, spiritual, animating, and internal lives was gospel-deficient. Behaviorally, we seemed to be okay, but our hearts were off-center. We were hurting and our frustrations had spilled over into hurting each other.
It was an uncomfortable antithesis: we loved each other, but we were frustrated with each other, which began to defile each other.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. – Hebrews 12:15
Practicalizing the Gospel
As the gospel began to come into view, we began to gain clarity. The gospel–the person and work of Christ–motivated us to be more honest, more transparent, and more vulnerable with each other.
A gospel-driven person knows they have nothing to prove and nothing to hide. I was worthless (Romans 3:12) before God found me, and what God gave me is a gift that I did not earn (1 Corinthians 4:7; Ephesians 2:8-9) and cannot lose (John 10:28).
The gospel provides perfect love (John 3:16), which should cast out my fear (1 John 4:18). I should be free to be honest and transparent with my wife. My problem was that I was not living in line with this gospel truth (Galatians 2:14).
I did not want to be honest with her. I was not letting her into the real world that harbored my real fears. It was as though I was going to lose something if I opened up and talked in a humble and vulnerable way to Lucia. I did not understand the protective power of the gospel.
The gospel frees us from striving. It releases us to trust God with our entire lives (Romans 8:31-39). It is true shalom and rest for the gospel-captured soul (Philippians 4:7). The gospel is God’s power but I was not willing to submit my life to it.
I chose to rely on my plans and methods, which became vain attempts to fix my marriage. In time, it became apparent God would not sit still for this. He began harassing me. Initially, I blamed Lucia for my confusion and turmoil, but I knew the real truth regarding my soul.
It was His great love for me that motivated Him to stir up my heart. His great love saved me and it was His great love that would sanctify me as well.
So to keep me from being too (proud)…a thorn was given me in the flesh…to harass me, to keep me from being too (proud). – 2 Corinthians 12:7
(I) had received the sentence of death. But that was to make (me) rely not on (myself) but on God who raises the dead. – 2 Corinthians 1:9
God was saving me from myself. My problem was not with my wife. I had focused on the wrong person. My Father wanted me to fix my relationship with Him first. Then He would help me to begin repairing the relationship I had damaged with my wife.
Learn More about Rick’s Marriage Book, “Get Ready”
Tearing Down to Build Up
Warning – I am not suggesting what I am about to say should be emulated by you, but this is what we did.
I called my friend and asked him if he and his wife would be willing to take our children for a few hours. They were glad to do it.
It is about as low as you can go on the hamburger food chain. To make matters worse, this particular Krystal’s was beside a truck stop. It was the perfect place for us to begin rebuilding our relationship.
- There were no children to distract us.
- There was no ambiance to draw our attention away from each other.
- There was no food worth praising.
- The smell of petroleum wafting through the restaurant was the perfect additive to keep us focused on the main thing.
With all of the distractions removed from our lives, it was just Lucia and me sitting across from each other in Krystal’s. We were about to have one of the more severe talks of our marriage.
Humble Pie at Krystal’s
There we sat looking vulnerable and a bit uncomfortable without our children. There we sat, staring at each other. It was probably the most challenging and humbling time of our marriage. It was time to put our Mission Statement to the test.
I told Lucia that I did not exactly know what to do. I was not sure what to say. It all felt a bit wooden and mechanical. We were going places we had not been before.
Then I told Lucia that I did not like her and I was not sure if I would ever like her again. I told her that I was angry and frustrated with her. I continued to share with her about my poor leadership, and added how I was not sure if I wanted to lead her.
These were not condemning statements as much as they were true statements. I was sharing with my wife where I was at the moment and where I had been for a while. I was sharing with her about how my relationship with God had plummeted and my faith was weak.
Revealing the Log
In times past, I would share my disappointment but quickly blame her. I call this the log/speak reversal. The gospel makes no allowance for this kind of foolishness.
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. – Matthew 7:5
My wife’s speck did not compare to my log. With this gospel perspective–who is the biggest sinner in the room–it was easier to take the next step. I began asking her to forgive me:
- Will you forgive me for my unkindness toward you?
- Will you forgive me for my harsh words of anger toward you?
- Will you forgive me for my bitterness toward you?
- Will you forgive me for my lack of biblical leadership in our marriage and family?
Before, I was modeling a husband made in my image. I was not modeling a man created in the image of the Father’s dear Son–the gospel. I look back on this now and think how I must have been out of my mind. I was. Sin is not being in your right mind–a gospel-centered mindset. It is a form of insanity. I was insane in that way.
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 2:3-5
I did not have the mind of Christ. For those of you who know Lucia, you can easily predict what happened next:
- She graciously forgave me.
- Then she began confessing her sins against me.
That’s my wife. She could not see the log in my eye from where she was sitting. The only log she saw was hers. She forgave me of my speck and I forgave her of the speck that was in her eye.
She continued to pursue personal humility while resisting the temptations toward pride. Rather than focusing on my sin, she asked me to forgive her for her unwillingness to complement the marriage effectively.
Living and Serving Under the Cross
From there, we began a new marriage. We cleared the deck. God neutralized the sin in our lives. We could now talk about our relationships with God and how we needed to change and how we could serve each other in the process of change.
- It is amazing at what can happen in a relationship when God neutralizes the force of sin by the power of the gospel.
- It is amazing at what can happen in a marriage when both spouses are willing to own their sins.
For the record, we were not comfortable in our Krystal’s conversation. We were not gospel-centered professionals, and we’re still not. At that table, at that Krystal’s, we were nervous and imperfect, but we were determined to launch our boat in a different direction.
Over the years, we have grown in our conversations about God and with each other. We have developed and borrowed many thoughts from many places that have helped us to keep the gospel in the center of our conversations.
For example, here are some of our favorite questions that we ask each other. These queries are how we began to talk to each other back then, and how we continue to speak to each other today. These are the questions that the Lord used to change us.
- What is God doing in your life?
- How is the grace of God working in a particular area of sin?
- What specific areas are you still struggling?
- What have you read (or listened to) lately that is helping you in your sanctification?
- Will you help me in this “particular” area of temptation in my life?
- How can I serve you in a particular area of sanctification in your life?
- What has God taught you recently? How have you applied it to your life?
Call to Action
If you want to learn more about how we rebuilt our marriage, I recommend you read my 31-Day Marriage Devotional. You can read the articles from our website here or you can download the book from our store here.
If you want help in your marriage, join our member community. On our site, you can receive ongoing coaching and community support through our webinars, forums, and articles. I will not be able to counsel you there, but you can receive life-changing help from our community.
Also published on Medium.