LeRoy and Kimberly Wagner describe how their marriage was once headed for ruin because of his passivity and her strong-willed nature, and how God transformed their relationship through His healing power. The Wagners offer hope and encouragement to struggling couples in a discussion based on their book, Men Who Love Fierce Women. (Part 1 of 2)
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LeRoy Wagner: What I thought was gonna be the death of me or our miserable marriage was the death of me, but it was the proper death, the biblical death, that we need to die in Christ in order that He might resurrect us and bring us the life that He desires for us to have, not what we think we can work out on our own.
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John Fuller: Well, that's LeRoy Wagner and he and his wife, Kimberly are our guests today on "Focus on the Family." Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, marriage is a beautiful gift from God. I think we can all agree on that, but sometimes getting' the bow just right (Chuckling) in that gift is a little difficult. And we're gonna have conflict from time to time and one of the things we're wanting to accomplish here at Focus on the Family is to equip you to communicate better, to love each other better, to do marriage well.
One of the things I've said often here in the studio is, that our marriages are on display. Divorce rates for the Christian church are too high and that's one of our grand goals, is to reduce the number of people in the church who are divorcing. And people are watching. That is true today.
And we want to talk today and put some tools into your hands to allow you to communicate and to better understand each other as husband and wife, so these conflicts can be better smoothed out and that you'll, in essence, love each other more deeply.
John: And as I said, LeRoy Wagner and Kimberly Wagner are here with us. They were here before. In fact, as they shared their story about their marriage last time, Jim, in 2015, there was such a resonance with our listeners, it was the top response program of the year.
Jim: Of the year.
John: And we'd like to make that available to you today as a free download. If you didn't hear that first program with the Wagners, it's a free download at our website today. And if you were intrigued, if you remember that broadcast, I think you're gonna really find some great stuff in today's conversation.
The Wagners have been married over 35 years and have two adult children and a growing tribe of grandchildren. It's up to what, five now, Kimberly?
Kimberly Wagner: Yes, five grandchildren.
John: That's terrific. The book that we're gonna talk about today is Men Who Love Fierce Women: The Power of Servant Leadership in Your Marriage.
Jim: LeRoy and Kim, welcome back to "Focus."
LeRoy: Thank you so much, Jim. It's great to be back.
Kimberly: Thank you.
Jim: Well, this is a new work, this Men Who Love Fierce Women and it was kinda borne out of the last program or at least, you guys may have been thinkin' about it and that puts some heat under the kettle to get cookin'.
Jim: Talk about that motivation, Men Who Love Fierce Women. What was goin' on in your marriage that now has created this work?
LeRoy: Well, our marriage was in a complete state of miserable dysfunction for a long period in our marriage, even though we were both committed to Christ, committed to serving the Lord. But we had some difficulty in relating to one another that kept reoccurring. And we didn't really understand. We couldn't get a handle on what was going on, why we could not have the harmony and the peace in our relationship.
And it was about 15 years of marital misery that we just thought there's no way that we can work this out on our own. And we were just consigned to living in misery, which is not what God intended, because we didn't believe in divorce. And I think there are probably a lot of couples out there that are Christian couples, but are not experiencing what God desires for them to experience.
Jim: Well, and I think it's a lot more prevalent than what we display.
Jim: And I think that's why I'm so excited to have you guys back, because you spoke so vulnerably about what was happening in your marriage and it helped literally thousands of people reconsider God's way for marriage. Let me ask you that right there. Let's start with that question of why is marriage important to God who created us?
Kimberly: Well, marriage does parallel the gospel and the work of God.
Jim: In what way?
Kimberly: And Ephesians 5 describes it, but just to put it in layman's terms, it is the picture of Jesus Christ, laying down His life, pursuing a bride—the church, His people, people He calls to Himself—laying down His life at the cross to purchase or redeem or love this bride well.
And in Ephesians 5, it gives the man the mandate; you're to love your wife as Christ loved the church, which is pretty impossible to do. It's impossible on your own and then the wife is to be responsive to that love, as the church responds to Christ.
So, we as a couple, when we claim to know Christ, we claim to have been changed and transformed by the power of the gospel. When we're not living that and people know us, especially like our children in our own home, we claim that the power of God has taken over our lives and yet, we can't even get along?
Jim: What is causing that "not getting along?" When you counsel couples and you talk with the folks, what are you hearing? What is that obstacle that the enemy of our soul is using to defeat us in this area of marriage?
LeRoy: Well, I think that the enemy does, Jim, attack very strongly and specifically marriage because of how it is meant by our Creator to display His glory, to display His character, His goodness, what He desires for us.
And so, if the enemy in any way can diminish or detract from what God intended originally for marriage couples to live out and to show a watching world, then the enemy believes that he gains an advantage in that. So, I believe it is an attack. It is a spiritual attack and so, I don't believe that any believers are immune. In fact, I think that believers may actually have more difficulty sometimes in their marriage than unbelievers.
Jim: Boy, it's so true and people that don't understand this, I know I was working on a marriage book a while back and I thought Jean and I probably had more disagreement during that time in our marriage. And I was thinking, what is going on here? (Laughter) We haven't changed that much. (Laughter) But …
John: Book illustrations, I guess.
Jim: But, now, it was just the fact I think, spiritually, that I was working on a book that reinforced exactly what you're saying, LeRoy, that this is God will for us to display His image in humanity. And Satan just does not like that and you try to defend marriage God's way, you come under severe attack from the culture, from people who disagree with us, as well as spiritual attack. So, that's where that's at.
Let's get back into your story, 'cause that's where we're gonna learn so much, this idea of a fierce woman and a fearful man cycle. We talked about that a couple of years ago in that program, but refresh our memory about the fierce woman and the fearful man, which is where you were in your marriage.
Kimberly: And we found that so many couples are there.
Jim: Describe it though. I know. There's elements that you, the listener, are gonna say—
Jim: --this is me as the wife—
Jim: --and yep, that's me as a husband. Describe what it looks like.
Kimberly: Okay, a fierce woman does not necessarily have to be an obnoxious, loud, rude woman. That may be what you think of when you first hear the word "fierce." But she's strong and she has maybe strong opinions.
Now some fierce women are quiet and they go about it in a different way of expressing their fierceness. But it's usually a woman who like all women, we desire to be loved by our husbands. We desire to have our husbands lead us spiritually and yet, we have certain ideas about how things should be done and we want to get that across. And so …
Jim: I've never noticed that in Jean. (Laughter) Have you noticed that in Dena?
John: That does not describe (Laughter) Dena in the least. (Laughter)
Kimberly: And so, we may push our husbands without even realizing we're doing it. We put pressure on them. Now some women, they don't even have to utter a word to exert their fierceness. They may just raise an eyebrow or it may be the tone of voice. But a fierce woman can be one of two things. She can be beautiful and encouraging and inspiring to a man to be all that he can be, all that God created Him to be or she can be destructive. She can emasculate him. And that's what I was doing to LeRoy for so many years and I didn't even realize it.
Jim: Can you help us better understand that? There is the humorous side of it and you guys have gone through this now and you 're on the other side where you understand each other, you understand the pits and the bumps that we have in this life as a fallen world. Describe that early part of your marriage. You touched on it, LeRoy, but give us more context. How did that work out kind of on a day-to-day basis? In fact, you have a story about trying to teach your good wife here how to shoot a firearm. (Laughter) And that didn't go so well. I wouldn't pick that environment (Laughter) to have a little contest.
John: If marriage trouble is existing, don't use firearms. (Laughter)
LeRoy: Do not try this at home.
Jim: But let's go for it and describe that story for us.
LeRoy: Well, I knew that I'd married way over my head, as most men probably, you know, at some point feel like they have, because Kim was just so brilliant and so driven and had such an intensity for life, had such a passion and I was drawn to that.
But consequently, how it worked out in our daily life is, I mean, she just excelled in everything and it seemed like almost a competition that I could never measure up. She wasn't consciously trying to do that, but she was always seemed to me like you can do this better. Here's how I would do this.
And even in, you know, I thought, well, there's one area, you know. I was raised in the country, so she was never raised around firearms, so I'll show her how to …
Jim: This is your environment now.
LeRoy: Yeah, this is my wheelhouse. I can handle this.
LeRoy: So, I can show her that I'm a man and she's not better than me at something. And so, we were at our home there in Northwest Arkansas, rural Arkansas. And so, I showed her all of the details of how to operate a firearm and I'd put a little evaporated milk can, just a small can—
Jim: Extra small target, right? (Laughter)
LeRoy: --an extra-small target. (Laughter)
Jim: Just to prove your point.
LeRoy: Yeah, pride (Laughter), yeah.
Jim: I know where this is goin'.
LeRoy: I couldn't have hit it and (Laughter) I knew she couldn't hit it with this small pistol and it was about 25 feet away at the base of the tree. And she pulled the gun up and she squeezed off a round and I looked and the dirt flew and I thought, well, she came pretty close.
And so, I made sure the firearm was secured and I said, "I'm gonna go look at it." And I went over to the can, picked it up and Elsie, the cow had a hole right through her nose.
Jim: I mean, it's like a dead-eye shot.
LeRoy: It was unbelievable and I said, "Okay." She said, "Did I hit it?" I said, "Yeah, you hit it." I said, "That's it. We're through for the day." (Laughter) I give up.
Jim: So, how did that make you feel--
LeRoy: Well, I mean—
Jim: --Mr. Man?
LeRoy: --I was always feeling like that I just couldn't measure up. I couldn't measure up to her expectations. I couldn't measure up to what she wanted me to be and in every area. She was more spiritual than I was. She was smarter than I was. She knew better where to park than I did. If we would pull into place and I would park, she'd say, "Now how come you didn't park over there?" (Laughter) And so …
Jim: I think that's like a DNA thing for women.
Kimberly: Yeah. (Laughter)
LeRoy: It's … it's a spiritual DNA that really I believe, Jim, goes back to the Fall—
LeRoy: --where the woman has that desire because of our rebellion and our diving into sin headlong against our gracious Creator that, that is one of the spiritual DNA strands that a woman has that desire to rule over her husband, but God says no. The rub is gonna be that my will, how it's supposed to work is, he is supposed to give you guidance and direction.
Kimberly: But Jim, I will—
Kimberly: --say that I did not realize I was doing that and I think a lot of women, fierce women, have good intentions. They think they're just helping their husbands. That's really what they think they're doing.
Jim: Help them in what way? Help them to be better? Help them to—
Kimberly: To improve.
Jim: --be stronger?
Kimberly: Yeah, to improve, to do things better and of course, our way is the best way or we wouldn't do it that way, right?
Jim: Yeah and I (Laughter) want to cut you some slack, because I think a lot of this sounds like expectations, as well—
Jim: --and that's wrapped up in it.
Jim: And I think, Kimberly, I want to give you that chance to describe that time in your marriage where it was tough and you were tryin' to get LeRoy up to spec.
Jim: You know—
Jim: --you were trying to get—
LeRoy: I wouldn't put it …
Jim: --his game up, but there's ways to do that, that are more edifying—
Jim: --rather than destructive.
Jim: So, what were you learning in that process as a woman, as a very efficient, effective woman, all the things that LeRoy just said—smart and you could do everything so well. You can even shoot a gun the first time through a target he couldn't hit, which I don't know if that's true, but the point of it is, a lot of women are in that spot right now. Even hearing we're here as men to help guide you, "rustles" the feathers of many women and even some men are going, "Nah, that can't be my role, leading and all of that." Describe for us where you were at and what you were trying to achieve and how God was teaching you, okay, this isn't the way to go?
Kimberly: Well, and it took a long time for me to learn.
Jim: How many years?
Kimberly: I wasn't learning well. We were miserable for at least 15 years before God started breaking me first and really doing a humbling work in my life that was very needed. But in those years leading up to that, I would struggle because I had in my mind, this invented picture of what I thought LeRoy should be and then daily life was much different than that.
And part of that, Jim, is we as young women, we bring into our lives the men we've known before that have been our heroes in our lives, whether it was a dad or whether it was an older brother, whatever. And we measure that husband against that. Maybe it's just an imaginary man and we measure that husband against that. And these young guys, they aren't yet experienced with life. They don't have that same maturity level.
LeRoy: And men, if I could interject, then you add into that so many women have suffered at the hands—
LeRoy: --of an authority male figure.
LeRoy: And so, they're gonna raise up defenses and they're gonna say, "I'm gonna be the one that is gonna make sure that uh …--
Kimberly: I'm not harmed.
LeRoy: -- I'm gonna take care of myself—
LeRoy: --and I'm not gonna let any man harm me in any way."
LeRoy: And so, that factors in often, too.
Kimberly: And what I didn't realize was, every time that I would say something like, you know, "Why did you do it that way?" whereas I wasn't meaning that as a put-down or to question him in a way that would be destructive, but for him, it translated into, "Oh, I didn't do it right again. I can never do anything right. I can never measure up to your expectations." And so, what he began to do was to go further and further into a cave to just shut down.
Kimberly: Withdraw and become passive and just say, "You don't like the way I'm doing it, you take care of everything. You lead. You take over."
LeRoy: And I thought that was noble, because I'm a Christian, so I'm not gonna fight. I'm not gonna escalate a situation. I'm not gonna attack her. I'm not gonna try to bring her down. So, there was a certain kind of a victim mentality that had an attachment of nobility to it.
LeRoy: And I think a lot of Christian men do that same thing as far as retreating into a cave and withdrawing from leadership that God would have them to understand and to live out and they think they're doing the right thing.
Kimberly: And while he's in his cave, I'm over here dying, because I want a man that will communicate with me, that will step up to be the leader, that will be involved in my life and listen to me. Yet, he has just shut down and the further I would pull, the more pressure I would give, the worse it would become.
Jim: Well, and that's the irony of ironies. The thing you were desiring the most—
Jim: --you were actually creating an environment that was the opposite of what you wanted.
Jim: And that's in part, that cycle that you've talked about in your book, Men Who Love Fierce Women, how to break that cycle and I think that's why this is such a vital conversation. Let me push into this a little bit, because I think in the Christian marriage, there's confusion about passivity and grace. And I can understand where you were at, Leroy and I'm sure just about every man gets this.
Speak to that distinction where a man is being passive and it actually is destroying the relationship rather than helping it.
Kimberly: Yeah, LeRoy did not I don't think he consciously thought that's what he was doing. He was being noble he thought in not arguing with me. But what couples need and if you 're listening right now and you're a man and you're thinking, "My wife, she's that fierce woman," I just want to say, talk to her. Approach her. Approach her in humility, but that's what has got to happen to break down the walls of resistance between the two of you, is honest conversations in humility.
Let her know how you're struggling, how you feel, that you would like to care for her. You would like to be there for her. You don't want to retreat. But you don't feel you've really got a safe place to stand. And let's work together on how to find that, how to work that out.
Jim: LeRoy, hit that head one, for us men that retreat and guys putting a disguise on it calling it "spiritual," when it's really passivity and I don't really want to argue anymore. It's just easier if she just makes the decision. I'm done with it.
John: I don't care what you do.
Jim: And I'll even smile to make it look really Christian, 'cause I'm really kinda nice, but underneath, you're boiling and you're just seething, but you're not willing to fight anymore. You're done, so you just get quiet. How do you distinguish where you're at in that continuum?
LeRoy: Well, I think that's a great point, Jim and not only you're boiling because of the condition that your marriage is in, but I think there's this tension, especially within Christian men, that you know intuitively. You may not have a good theological grasp on it, but you know as a Christian man what God has called you to and you are failing at that most important calling. And you feel like that you're in quicksand and the more that you fight or the more you try or sometimes even with me, the more I prayed, it seemed like the farther that we were sinking.
And when I tried to talk with Kim, it would become emotional or she was so intense and I was not good at dealing with conflict, direct debate. You know, conflict avoidance was a major part of my life and my—
Jim: --and you probably learned that she'll get the better of you.
LeRoy: Absolutely, so once you have wrestled with a bobcat a time or two, you don't approach 'em anymore. And so, that's really kind of the way it was with me. I was no match for her intensity. I could not deal with her emotion that she brought. And she was emotional, because it was breaking her heart. It was ruining our marriage and I did not have a handle on it and I knew that.
Jim: Kim, what was it you were looking for from LeRoy that later would make the difference? What was it you were demanding of him that he didn't know you were demanding of him?
Kimberly: I wanted attention, security. I wanted, you know, we talk about the love languages. Well, quality time and physical touch, those things were important to me. They weren't so much important to LeRoy. And so, when I'm crying out for what will meet my needs or what I think will meet my needs and he's not there. He's off in his own realm, you know. And yet, like he said, he wouldn't want to hug a porcupine.
John: So was that it, LeRoy? Was it that you had learned that you can't give her what she's really looking for, so you're not even gonna try?
LeRoy: And that's right, John and what happened to me and I think it happens to so many, because I think it's just a part of the nature of sin, any sin, it convinces us that this is the right way to go, while it drags us further in to misery and further away from God and from His grace.
And so, as I began to withdraw, thinking that, that was the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do, there was no way that I would deal with this fierce woman that God had given me. And we knew that the Lord had placed us together. That was a part of what we were struggling with and what I was wrestling with. I began to develop a bitterness; bitterness toward her. It's hard to love someone that you're bitter against and hard to be thankful for the treasure that God has given you when she's ruining your life.
Jim: LeRoy, let me interject here, because some people might be saying, "Wow, what a horrible marriage you must have had." But the way that you could describe it is, if you say to your spouse, "We're like roommates," that would be experiencing this distance, right? So, if you're married and you have expressed that to your spouse, you know, we feel more like we're roommates than intimate partners, lovers one flesh according to the Scripture, that's probably an indication that you have a problem, right?
LeRoy: Absolutely. I think a lot of marriages, a lot of couples have called a truce. They're still at war.
Jim: They're functionally married.
LeRoy: But they're not displaying the glory of God by enjoying God's blessings that it talks about in Peter, the blessing of life, seeing good days, loving life, inheriting the grace of life. We didn't have any idea that, that was possible.
Jim: In fact, LeRoy, you described in your book that you came to a crisis of faith and uh … you resigned or contemplated resigning from being a pastor.
LeRoy: I did resign.
Jim: You contemplated suicide.
Jim: I mean, there's a--
LeRoy: I'm ashamed of that, Jim.
Jim: --dark place.
Jim: But it's real and I so appreciate the fact that you're willing to pop that part of your heart open, so that the Lord could use it for others right now who may be right in that spot. They're so desperate, they don't even know if they want to live. Describe that moment and how dark that must have felt for you.
LeRoy: Well, I don't know that I can describe it adequately. The darkness was so dark and the pain was so deep and I think when anybody comes and there's probably some listening today sadly that when you lose hope and especially as a believer, when you lose that hope because of a crisis of faith, because of something that is happening in your life like a marriage situation that you can't get a handle on and you don't see any hope for every getting out of it, then I began to have a doubt of God caring for me and loving me.
And so, theologically I was saying, "Like what's the use of going on?" I mean, if this is what life is all about, if this is what it's come to and God has brought us to this place; He's brought us together, I wasn't blaming God. In a sense I was and that's where that bitterness come from.
But I began to abandon a confidence in God and that is the real issue. Is there anything too hard for the Lord? And I would say to that person that thinks that this is never gonna get any better; it's just gonna get worse and I might as well check out; I might as well leave or you might be contemplating suicide, really what you're doing is, you're expressing an utter lack of confidence in God. And that's what I was doing and I didn't realize it.
Jim: But you had to go through that to come out on the other side to even acknowledge that. And as you said, there are people listening that are feeling that desperate. I would say there's two reactions in a man's context. I'm sure there's more, but two jump out at me. One is yours, which to me is a profoundly sensitive response, even though it was a dark feeling.
The other is to say, forget you. I'm just out of this now. I mean, we'll stay married, but it'll be function, 'cause I don't believe in divorce, but you may not even express that, but you're going to disconnect, because you're a man and you're gonna provide and you're gonna do all those things, but emotionally, you're gone. You're out the door, even though you're still living there, probably more cowardly in some ways.
So, although it was dark and it was a pit, I think in some ways, that's a far better pathway to go through, to look at your own self and say, okay, where am I at? And we have got to wrap up, but we'll come back next time and talk about how God pulled you from that darkness and Kimberly, your role in that, looking at your own fierceness and then how God began to heal your relationship. Men Who Love Fierce Women, I think (Laughing) if you're living in that spot, you're gonna want this resource.
John: Yeah and of course, we have caring Christian counselors here, as well, so we'll be happy to send you the book, but we'd also encourage you to get in touch with one of our counselors or somebody in your community and start understanding what the dynamics are so you can get some help. Our number here, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY; 800-232-6459 or online we're at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And remember we've got a free audio download of the last appearance we had from Kim and LeRoy on this broadcast. You'll be able to hear more of their story in that download.
John: You'll be able to hear the full story in that download.
Jim: Also, one of the things I'd love to remind people of is Hope Restored, which is an effort here at Focus on the Family to help couples who are in a desperate place. Maybe you've signed the divorce papers. I am pleased to say after thousands of couples have gone through this program, they have a success rate of 84.7 percent and that's two years after the counseling is given.
And I think the reason for this is, one, it's a great team there in Branson, where the Hope Restored property is located. But they have been refining their approach, their biblical approach to helping couples communicate better over the last many years. And they will equip you to get through this dark moment and to help glorify the Lord, which I know, as a Christian couple, I hope is at the core of what you want to do.
If you're in that place, don't hesitate. Don't be embarrassed. An investment of your time and perhaps your resources will be worth it. It's far better to fight for your marriage than to give up.
John: Well, again, our number here 800-A-FAMILY or we're at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. We'll be back with Kim and LeRoy next time, continuing their story, hearing more about Men Who Love Fierce Womenand helping you and your family thrive.
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LeRoy and Kimberly Wagner share how God helped them see the source of conflict in their relationship and transformed their broken marriage.Read more
For couples in crisis – you can still put the pieces of your marriage back together with Hope Restored.Read more
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LeRoy and Kimberly Wagner have suggestions for husbands or wives who attempt to control their spouse. The cycle is fueled by three basic heart issues: pride, ingratitude and fear.Read more
LeRoy and Kimberly WagnerView Bio
LeRoy and Kimberly Wagner are committed to helping Christians connect Scripture to their daily lives. LeRoy has served as a pastor and speaker for more than 30 years. Kim is the author of Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior. The Wagners co-authored the companion volume for husbands, Men Who Love Fierce Women. Kim loves connecting with women through her blog, kimberlywagner.org, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @kimberlywagner7.