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Focus on the Family Broadcast

Breathe Spiritual Life Into Your Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

Breathe Spiritual Life Into Your Marriage (Part 2 of 2)

Gary Thomas encourages married couples to seek selflessness and spiritual purpose for their relationship in a discussion based on his book A Lifelong Love: Discovering How Intimacy With God Breathes Passion Into Your Marriage. (Part 2 of 2)
Original Air Date: October 8, 2021


Gary Thomas: Here’s a radical new idea, find something to do to serve God together. Say now that we have more time, what, what resources, what gifts, what opportunities do we have? Maybe it’s our house. Maybe it’s our time. Maybe it’s our… What can we give to God together and see God does with it and see if that doesn’t give new life and new vitality into your marriage.

End of Preview

John Fuller: That’s Gary Thomas describing what he calls a magnificent obsession for your marriage. And Gary was our guest last time on Focus on the Family, and we’re looking forward to more of his insights, advice, and encouragement today. Your host is Focus on the Family president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, we featured a powerful conversation last time with Gary, uh, where he had some very challenging insights for couples. Like all of the selfish reasons we get married in the first place because of how attractive my spouse is, all the benefits my spouse can give me, and the wonderful ways my spouse makes me feel. I was kind of convicted actually (laughs). But in fact, uh, Gary said we’re often like spider spouses, uh, trying to attract a mate into our web so they can meet all our needs. There’s a word picture for you.

John: Mm-hmm.

Jim: Uh, Gary also urge couples to act more like counselors for the defense rather than prosecuting attorneys trying to win a case against each other. That one was a little convicting. And one of his analogies that I’ll never forget is this, my wife Jean is God’s child. And that makes God my father-in-law. That thought gives me pause and helps me realize, uh, just how important it is for me to Jean the way God wants her to be treated.

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah, Gary’s so good about helping us shift our thinking. And, um, as we were talking, I really was considering how can I better love and serve my wife, Dena, um, especially now that we’re in kind of an empty nest phase for the relationship? Now we mentioned last time that what you’re gonna hear is a little unusual. Uh, Gary was our guest here on the campus for a special event that involved about 40 couples who are friends of Focus on the Family. And we were on a stage in our chapel discussing Gary’s book, A Lifelong Love: Discovering How Intimacy with God Breathes Passion into Your Marriage. Of course, we have copies of that book available for you, just stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And now part two of our conversation with Gary Thomas on today’s Focus on the Family.

Gary: For people of faith, I mean sacrifices are at the heart of our religion and what we’re called to do. But here’s how I like to make it more palatable for married people. I look at it as sanding two pieces of wood so they can be glued more closely together. And so the image I like to use, I call it killing spiders. The reason I say is I don’t have a problem with spiders, actually spiders do a lot of good things ’cause they kill up worse insects, right? But my wife hates to see spiders, the webs, ’cause she’s into cleanness (laughs). And well, and she doesn’t wanna see ’em. And so if there’s a spider in the middle of the house, you know, I, I kill it because I love my wife. It bothers my wife, so I’m gonna kill it. I don’t want the spider in my house.

Jim: Okay, this is so opposite of my wife, ’cause she makes me put it in a jar and take it outside. (laughs)

Gary: What’s the deal with that? Yeah. I would much rather kill it.

Jim: That is my sacrifice.

Gary: See, my wife would be angry if in trying to rescue it, I’d let it get away. Uh, which I did recently with a spider.

Jim: Marriage is complicated.

Gary: I mean, she just wanted me to man up and kill that thing. But anyway, um, so here- here’s what I mean about killing spiders. Let’s say, ’cause this is not at all true of Lisa’s family. But let’s say her dad had been an alcoholic. He, he wasn’t. But while I might not have a theological problem with alcohol and I know some people I’m not trying to make that point, I would just say, even if I didn’t think the Bible said I shouldn’t drink alcohol at all I could imagine that just smelling it on my breath or maybe one night I have just a little bit too much, and so my speech is a little bit slurred or I’m a little bit some, it’s gonna bring back the horror of a real childhood of how alcohol made her life so miserable. And I think I want her to feel safe around me, not threatened. I want her to have hope for our future, not fear. That’s a spider I should kill. It’s not about what’s right or wrong, it’s about what makes my wife feel close to me. If we were on our second marriage, we’re not, Lisa and I are on a first marriage and our only marriage. But let’s say her first husband had wrecked her marriage through excessive video gaming. I could imagine a good spider killer be, “You know what? I think that might be a good spider to kill because I can imagine picking up a game controller.” And she said, “Hey honey, I’m, I’m gonna go upstairs.” “Yeah, I’ll be there in 15 minutes.” And then I forget and I get in a game. It’s been 90 minutes and then she’s asleep and she’s gonna be thinking, “Here it is again, it wrecked my first marriage.” It’s recognizing that your spouse has legitimate pasts and legitimate issues, how do you kill those spiders so that they feel that they can be close to you and safe in your presence? An image I’ve used was with my youngest daughter who was in three accidents on the freeway before she was 23 and none of them were her fault. Now those are scary auto accidents. She has to drive in the front when she’s with me, ’cause she gets sick in the backseat, so she drives shotgun. When she’s in the car with me, I drive like Grandpa Gary. And this is in Houston, Texas. You know where they’re, it’s a contest. I’m leaving as much spaces I can can between cars. I’m not treating other cars as they treat me, ’cause I want my daughter just to feel safe. She has a real history. It’s not her fault. She’s been through trauma and it’s how do I make her not feel that trauma? So some people might say, “Well, Gary, I, I enjoy an occasional beer or I like my game controller. I like to drive aggressively.” I said, “If you knew what an intimate and connected marriage was, you would realize that those individual pursuits aren’t worth half as much.” Here’s an example, for Lisa and I, it’s amazing because I’m the introvert, she’s the extrovert. And so when we’re traveling together, when we became empty nest, as we’re traveling together, she’s having all these conversations with people. I’m upfront on the stage, but she’s having all these conversations and she’s always telling me about it. And for whatever reason, she just… It’s amazing to me, we could be at a hotel for three days and come out of an elevator. And if our room is right, she could goes left. You, you think 50% of the time she would just accidentally go the right way, ’cause I let her go out first, but it’s just… It’s almost like repelling magnets, she goes the wrong way. Or we go to the parking lot, if our car is north, she goes south and it’s always kind of amazed me. So we came out of elevator one time, we’d been there several days and, and she did the same thing, our room was left she went right. I go, “Seriously.” And that didn’t make her feel close to me that evening, right? (laughs) I mean you’re… When you’re about to go into a hotel room, ticking off your wife like that. I just thought, okay that I don’t wanna do that next time.

Jim: Yeah.

Gary: So we tried it the next time and she did the same thing. And so I just stayed where I was and she walked about 20 yards down, realized I wasn’t next to her. Shockingly, that also did make her feel very close to me. (laughs) That made her angry. And so I’m trying to put it on her as you said, “Well look, if I say something, it makes you angry. If I don’t say anything, it makes you feel stupid. Obviously there’s nothing I can do.” She goes, “Gary, it’s so easy. It’s so easy. Just say this tone this way hun. Exactly that tone, this way hun. And we’ll both be so happy.” Well the next trip I got to practice it, she went the wrong way, I said, “This way, hun.” She gave me this gorgeous smile. We laughed about it. And something that could have pulled us apart, I just said, tell me how I do that, actually now draws us together with happy memories. So I, I would say to wives, if the husband say, “I feel disrespected when you treat me like that,” “Okay, I don’t want you to feel disrespected. So tell me a better way to respond to you so that we can still deal with the issue, but that you can help me do it in a way so that this stops pulling us apart and actually creates understanding so it can pull us together.” So I think it’s totally legitimate to say, I wanna love you, I don’t know how to love you, I don’t know how to make you feel safe, so why don’t you help me, um, and then have that conversation.

John: Now, I’ve tried to do what you’re suggesting and I’ve found that I actually need to be open to what she’s saying in terms of training me, (laughs) right? This is good.

Gary: That’s the tricky part.

John: Well, I mean, you know, it’s I have, when you said I, you put it on her, I got that Gary, ’cause I’ve done that. And we’ve been trying to talk through, well, how does that trigger you? And how do I… If I open that door as a person of purpose, as a follower of Christ, I really need to be open to how she instructs me. And it might not be something as simple as this way, hun, right?

Gary: Yeah, absolutely.

John: So how do I handle that if she goes a direction that I’m not ready for? (laughs) ‘Cause I thought it was a this way hun and it’s something bigger.

Gary: Well, if we could go back to the second half of the magnificent obsession, if we see marriage as something designed by God to shape us to… Jesus said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.” I’m to seek righteousness, which implies I don’t have it and that I have to grow into it. And so I’ve gotta figure out how do I grow into the kind of righteous man who can love my wife in that way. Now, I’m being honest, sometimes I resent it. I’m like the guy who goes to the gym and drives around the parking lot, looking for a close place to park before he goes into exercise.

Jim: Right.

Gary: And you realize, have you lost all sons of purport? This is why you’re here to exercise and you’re worried about walking too far into the gym. And so I can resent it, uh, uh, about marriage, but then why do what I go into the gym and work out on machines that will make me sweat, that will make me hurt, that will make me tired, and make me sore because I think I can be healthier and fitter and faster. And if I have this attitude that my greatest need is to learn how to love and not to be loved, as we talked about before, then when she says that, “Okay Gary, this is a time for you to grow in patience, in humility, in understanding, to become the kind of man that makes her feel cherished.” Now a wanna throw out a caveat because it can be taken too far. Everything we say can be taken too far in one sense, and that’s why people can criticize everything because I was very convicted one time in prayer by God, when I felt like I had this tendency as I was praying for Lisa to try to turn Lisa into a love Gary like he wants to be loved machine. And that sounded so horrific, and narcissistic, and horrible, but that’s where my fallen man goes. Um, and so yeah, somebody can hear me say, you’re supposed to kill that spider and that spider and that spider. And if you’re not talking about killing your spiders, if you’re talking to your spouse about killing their spiders, you’ve gotta be careful you’re not getting into that place where I go. It’s a natural place where we’re all tempted to go, become that love me like I want to be loved machine instead of how do I love you? You’re… We’re becoming the spider spouses we talked about.

Jim: Well, and you talk about that conquering attitude as the differential. And I would think that takes that discussion to that deeper level, you know, which way you get off on the elevator might irritate your night. But some couples are down to where this situation is never gonna change and they become very irritated, maybe even to the point where they’re thinking of the D word. And I like that idea that you push a couple to think about how to see that obstacle or that situation, maybe a very serious situation, to see it as an opportunity to grow in your marriage. I don’t think people in the heat of battle in their marriage, uh, they’re not gonna think that way. So how, how do you condition yourself to flip that switch and say, okay, rather than go toe to toe on this, I’m gonna see this as an opportunity to improve my marriage?

Gary: (laughs) Well, I talk about the two dimensions of marriage, how can I get my needs met, or how can I bless you? And as Christians, our response out of Genesis 12:2, which God said to Abraham, “I’m gonna bless you so that you will be a blessing.” So my call, every time there’s conflict with my wife like that it’s am I fighting to get my needs met or am I fighting to bless my spouse? Now that doesn’t mean becoming a doormat because sometimes you have to stand up to bless your spouse. Blessing your spouse means doing what’s best for them from God’s perspective. So they may not even be happy with it, but you’re still blessing them as far as, as God is looking at it. So I would say going into conflict, I used to hate conflict. I was so… I was just pathetically immature about conflict when I got married. I really thought if we had a good marriage, we wouldn’t have conflict and I feared conflict. But now I see it as a way to understand her, okay, this is what gets you angry. This is what makes you fearful. This is what makes you feel insecure. And so instead of trying to come out and win, because if I win, that means she loses and having a wife who feels like she lost (laughs) there’s no winning in that. Um, it’s like, okay, how can I come out of this and understand you better? Um, one of the things that’s been really helpful for me in understanding conflict where I was so weak, I always grew up with the fight or flight response. I was probably more on the flight end, but I’ve learned there’s a third response that counselors are talking about now, and that’s the fallen response. And that’s often papering over the issue because you don’t wanna bring it up, ’cause it might hurt their feelings, even though it’s true. So let’s say husband is being a jerk at a party and a friend calls him out, “Hey, you’re acting like a jerk,” and you’re driving home with him. And he goes, “You believe Jim said I’m a jerk?” And you’re like, “Well, that’s ’cause you were a jerk.” (laughs) And said, “No. You know, he was just being too harsh.” That would be called the fallen response, you’re not helping that person. You’re not being honest. Now there’s, depending on where the relationship is and figuring out a way to say it in a way that’s redemptive and not hurtful, but being committed to the truth, the, the ideal. And I realize Jim, this is the ideal. The ideal is that we’re both seeking first kingdom of God and his righteousness. If we both have a commitment that we’re not there yet, we need to grow in righteousness, marriage is a great tool to help us become holy, so now I have to write a book about that sometime. Um, then every time we’re in this conversation, okay, it’s not about what frustrates me or frustrates you, what honors God. I mean, talk about building a marriage worthy of our calling. So often what comes about, how do I build the kind of marriage that honors me or makes me happy or makes me satisfied, when I think Paul would call us to build the kind of marriage that pleases God, that glorifies God, that witnesses to God, a marriage worthy of our calling.

John: Inspiring thoughts from our guest as always, uh, Gary Thomas, on this episode of Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. And uh, I’m John Fuller, today, we’re hearing a conversation recorded with Gary about his book, A Lifelong Love: Discovering How Intimacy with God Breathes Passion into Your Marriage. Now, this is a great resource and we’ll encourage you to get your copy when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, or stop by focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And now more from our conversation with Gary Thomas on Focus on the Family.

Jim: Um, let’s move a little bit to practical. You speak in the book about the good thing of recognizing big milestones, maybe re-celebrating your anniversary, and doing a recommitment ceremony, something like that, but something big. You caution couples to say, try to do it in small ways over a long period of time.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: So talk about that distinction.

Gary: It’s just been my experience that, that small and steady beats big and sweaty every time. (laughs)

Jim: I wouldn’t agree with the sweaty part.

Gary: Um, well, if you have this big grand gesture and think that it’s gonna take care of everything, if your wife’s feels ignored and you have this great big weekend and then you just go back to things that they are, it’s not gonna last, in fact it tells her, oh, you can do it, but you’re not continuing to do it.

Jim: Yeah, not good.

Gary: So it’s finding those small things and, and one was, um, well a guest you’ve had here who, I’m glad you have him a guest. He’s an incredible man, Kevin Harney, he’s a pastor out in California. Was at a promise keeper’s conference and appropriately they were saying, “Okay, we want you to go home and do something specific for your wives.” And so some were thinking, “Okay, I’m gonna wash her car or I’m gonna put a program on her computer.” This was back in the ’90s. And so Kevin was thinking, “Okay, what, what can I do?” But he is the kind of guy that’s gonna listen to the Lord first. And he felt the Lord saying, what does Sherry, his wife, hate the most? You know, that’s easy. She hates to make the bed. “Okay. I’m gonna make the bed for the next five days.” And you know how God is silent. (laughs) We’re just saying, wait for it, wait for it, catch up, Kevin, catch up. And then he realized, okay, why don’t you do it every day for the rest of your life and pray as you make the bed so that you have a good attitude about it? Uh, you can take away something. And so Kevin has now done that. I asked him like over 4,000 times now he even does it in a hotel because he misses the opportunity to pray for it. And something little, but every day it makes Sherry feel loved. It’s just this steady thing, this is what Kevin does. And so, you know, my wife has certain things. I think we’ve talked about before. She’s very organic and clean and she doesn’t like anything about a gas station. And so sort of my goal, how do I make it so that she never has to fill up the gas tank? And I’m not 100%, but I, I try. If I’m going out on a trip, I’ll try to take it out and, and fill it up. It’s just a simple thing that she knows. She doesn’t like to do that. She, whatever reason also doesn’t like ATMs, but she likes to go to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning. So I know on Friday I go to the ATM and my wallet’s her ATM. It doesn’t require a pin (laughs), she just pulls the money out and she can go to the farmer’s market on Saturday morning. It’s just those little things saying, I get you, I just wanna honor you. I just wanna do this little thing for you. And I think that’s far more than trying to do one big present or one big thing and just going back to things as they were. Physical health is developed slow and steady. What you eat, how you exercise. Wisdom is slow and steady, reading, watching, you know, not watching too much, prayer, going to church. Everything in life if we look at it, you grow it through slow and steady. You can’t go to one weekend conference and come out a mature Christian. You don’t eat one healthy meal and work out at the gym one time and say that you have a healthy body. And I think the same thing is true of marriage-

Jim: You don’t?

Gary: … You take small steps.

Jim: You don’t do that? (laughs) Oh, eat unhealthy and then go to the gym once. (laughs)

Gary: I wish it worked that way.

Jim: I’m sorry.

Gary: It did when I was 20. I could go for one run and then I’d be back and [inaudible 00:19:31].

Jim: But I’m sorry, you’re making that point.

Gary: No, that was… But, and I think looking back, um, we could look at how some of the smallest things can make such a big impact. I think two friends of mine, Paul and Virginia, have a marriage ministry out in the Northeast and they had this dear couple that had supported their ministry. And they were pretty well off. They went to Hawaii twice a year. They had a place out there and the husband died. And the wife called him up and said, “I just… I can’t bear to go back to Hawaii without him. Would you come with me?” And he said, “Of certainly. We’ll sacrifice for Jesus in Hawaii. We’ll go to Hawaii with you.” (laughs) And so Paul’s out there and the wife just starts crying. And he’s like, “Well, yes, it’s their first time.” And he goes, “What is it?” And she’s just stumbling through tears. “I, I wish I would’ve made him more jello.” And he goes, “What?” “I wish I would’ve made him more jello.” He goes, “What are you talking?” She goes, “He just loved jello. And he’d always ask me to make it, and I’d never make it ’cause I said, well, it’s just dye in sugar.” And she goes, “But that, wasn’t the reason I just didn’t like to make it. I didn’t like to touch it.” And she goes, “But it was just a little thing and it made him so happy. If I could go back, I’d just make him more jello.” (laugh). And I just think how every marriage has that jello. Um, that one little thing where, you know what this would really make my spouse feel cherished, loved, and honored if I would just do this or stop doing this. If it’s about killing a spider, those little things, we look for the big things. And if we just consistently do the little things, I think we could be surprised at how strong, and intimate, and I could even say it, happy our marriages might become.

Jim: You know, one of the great concepts you have in the book too, is this idea that, um, you challenge younger couples and older couples, frankly, to think of their marriage in terms of eternity.

Gary: Yeah.

Jim: Um, why is that eternal perspective so important, and thinking about to combine it with another concept you had, which was think of the last day-

Gary: Yes.

Jim: … Of your marriage?

Gary: Well, I’m a Christian before, I’m anything else. More than I want marriages to get together, I want people to be reconciled to their creator. The motto of my ministry has been closer to Christ, closer to others, but sort of Christ comes first. And this section I’m so thankful, Jim, that you brought it up because I even had an editor that said, “You can’t write about heaven to young people. They just turn it off. It’s just, it’s not relevant to them. It’s not applicable to them.” But when I read the Christian classics even more, when I read the words of Jesus, the vision, the hope of heaven should compel us. Heavenly rewards. You might be married to a spouse who never gets you, who never appreciates you. Jesus says, “If you love your heavenly father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.” And so I think good deeds are, are worthy of that. And I, and the pilgrims call themselves pilgrims, not because they were coming from Europe to the United States, they called themselves pilgrims because they were citizens of heaven who were still on earth. And I just think we learned to love, and I think it’ll press our marriages and build our marriages when we have that, that heavenly goal. And so my goal is how do I make my wife’s eternity even better? It’s not just her life here, but how do we mutually encourage each other to these works that the Bible says will be rewarded? Um, and so eternity just gives an entirely new perspective to my marriage. We’re so often focused on how do I get a better spouse for this weekend or by next month or next year? I think when we start to look through the lens of eternity, we, we gain new motivation and new purpose. The, the last day that you talked about is realizing that there will be a last day of my marriage, whether I go first or my wife goes first, there will be a time when marriage on this planet is over. And there’ll be a time when I believe I’ll be face to face with Jesus. He says in 2nd Corinthians 5:10, Paul does, “For we must all appear.” And in the Greek, this is just emphatic, “We must all appear.” The way it’s written it’s just so emphatic, “Before the judgment seat of Christ. So that each of us may receive what is do us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” Bad’s unfortunate there, it really should be worthless. There’s another word he could use if he meant just evil. So Paul is saying, there’s gonna be a day when everyone hearing my voice right now will have a face to face with Jesus, not to get into heaven, that’s a different judgment. This is a judgment for Christians, where Jesus will evaluate what we do. And the questions Jesus asked me will not be, “Did Lisa know your love language and meet it? Did Lisa know you needed respect and respect you? Did Lisa find out what your needs were and meet those?” It will be 100%, “Gary did you know Lisa’s love language and were you generous with that? Did you know that she needed to be loved, adored, and cherished and did you do that? Did you make the bedroom a, a blessing instead of a burden and, and a demand?” And I believe my eternity will be stamped by the way I treated God’s daughter, because I don’t think anything matters to God as much as how I might treat one of his children. And so how I live my marriage today can literally impact eternity because the Bible promises me, we will be rewarded, not salvation, that is a free gift of God, but God in his mercy and kindness says, “Even though you don’t deserve of heaven, I’m gonna reward you in heaven as you act in obedience with sacrificial acts of love and good works.”

Jim: Well, that really was a powerful and convicting time with our guest, Gary Thomas. Uh, God has blessed Gary with such keen insight about how to make our marriages more holy and more in tune with God’s design and purposes. And I hope you and your spouse have been encouraged today by this conversation. I strongly recommend you get Gary’s book, A Lifelong Love: Discovering How Intimacy with God Breathes Passion into Your Marriage. It’s an excellent resource that every couple should have in their library. And I think single adults who want to get married someday would benefit from Gary’s wisdom as well. If you can send a gift of any amount to Focus on the Family, we’ll put a copy of this book into your hands, that’s our way of saying thanks for partnering with us to support and strengthen marriages today.

John: We’d love to hear from you, donate and get your copy of A Lifelong Love, when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or go to focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And another resource we’d like to point you to is our free online marriage assessment, which is a simple little survey that doesn’t take more than 10 minutes probably, uh, to complete. It evaluates 12 essential traits of your marriage, which can help you identify areas where you’re strong and maybe an area or two of improvement. Again, that free assessment is available at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. Well, I hope you have a great weekend with your family and your church family as well. And join us again on Monday for a really important lesson about budgeting.


Michelle Singletary: And it’s the same thing with your money. People think I just can’t do it. And absolutely the bills are high. The rent is high. Energy is high, but you can’t wait till you’re ready to do it, just like you can’t wait till you are ready to accept Christ. So you have to just leap out there.

Today's Guests

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A Lifelong Love: Discovering How Intimacy With God Breathes Passion Into Your Marriage

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