Craig Groeschel: Praying together is probably the most important thing that we can do. In fact, um – because when you think about it, when you pray together every single day, it’s really hard to fight if you know you’re gonna pray. It’s really hard to get off into the weeds and do things that are hurtful and sinful, if you’re praying together. It’s – really helps to build intimacy when you’re praying together and yet, the reality is, most couples, most Christian couples still don’t do it. And if I can just be really transparent, I’m a pastor and if there’s anybody who should’ve been doing it the whole time, it should’ve been me and my wife, Amy. And the reality is, in the early years of our marriage, we simply didn’t do it.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: That’s Craig Groeschel. He’s our guest today on Focus on the Family and he’ll talk about how you can really connect with your spouse. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: This conversation with Craig is such a good one and we thought it would be great to bring it back just in time for Valentine’s Day. Uh, we met Craig in Denver to talk about one of our favorite subjects: marriage. And here at Focus on the Family, we want to equip you to build a strong marriage with your spouse. Of course, we have a variety of articles, resources, downloads, to help you in that journey because we know marriage can be hard at times. That’s the nature of it. But God has a plan and purpose for your marriage, and He wants you to persevere when times are tough. So today, we wanna come alongside you and give you hope and encouragement through this conversation with Craig Groeschel.
John: And Craig has been married to his wife, Amy, for over 25 years. Together, they have 6 children. They live in Edmond, Oklahoma. And he’s the founder and senior pastor for LifeChurch.tv and is the author of several books, including the one you’ll hear about today, From This Day Forward: 5 Commitments to Fail-Proof Your Marriage. Of course, we have copies of that at our website. Let’s pick it up now as Jim and Craig get into what could be a real trouble spot for a lot of marriages: pancake-making.
Jim: Hey, let me ask you, in the book, which I really enjoyed, you talk about this pancake experience. I often talk about making pancakes and how Jean and I do it so differently.
Jim: She’s a biochemist, so I mean, it’s one cup of flour. For me, you throw it all together…
Jim: …and make it happen. But you had your own pancake experience, huh?
Craig: You know, this thing is famous in – in Groeschel history. But uh, really at the – probably one of the biggest and ugliest fights we had was over pancakes and – and…
Jim: That makes me feel better.
Craig: I’m – well, I’m glad, but it was – it was actually was not real funny…
…when it came down. It’s a – you know, I grew up in a home where we made pancakes flat and round and they were the same size and – and they came off the griddle hot and you ate ‘em immediately. And Amy came from kind – what I call a dysfunctional pancake family, you know.
They’re – they were – she – they – anyway, and it – so, when we got married, we recognized we have this real tension. And I was tryin’ to make pancakes and she said, “You know, I’m gonna do this. I -” and she wanted to bless me with pancakes. And she made them and in my mind they were totally unacceptable, like a pathetic excuse for pancakes. They were more like grilled dough balls. They were fat and…
…and they – they weren’t proportioned, you know. They were different sizes.
Craig: Yeah, I mean…
Jim: And rectangles?
Craig: …there’s just – you know…
John: You’ve got a…
Craig: …one was big and a lot of small…
John: …you’ve got a lot of hackles up on women right now, thinking “Really?”
Craig: No – I – I know. I know. I mean, that’s you know, one of my many flaws. But you know, and then they were cold and so, I tried to tell her that’s not the way you make them. And she didn’t like my advice. And so, it – I’m not gonna say it got violent in the kitchen, but she did pull the spatula back and put a shoulder into it to move me out of the way. And here’s this pastor and his wife in the kitchen, about to throw down over pancakes. And so, it’s uh, you know, it – literally to this day, she makes her pancakes and I make mine and – and that’s how we decided to get along.
Jim: Craig, let me ask you this, because many couples could fill in that blank. It sounds absurd. Okay, it’s pancakes.
Craig: It is absurd.
Craig: We all have somethin’ like that.
Jim: It’s toothpaste containers.
Craig: Right, right.
Jim: It’s whatever, the dishes aren’t put away.
Jim: What’s really happening when we look back on it a few years later and we laugh, hopefully, but at the moment, why such insignificant things are trigger points? What’s happening…
Craig: Yeah, that’s…
Jim: …underneath it?
Craig: …a good question. Well, so often, you know, we – we have you know, we have sinfulness in our own lives that manifests itself in the relationship and our self-centeredness. You know, oftentimes it’s really the small things that start the big problems in marriage. And you know, that’s one of the things Amy and I really try to work with couples on, and recognize that all couples are gonna fight. And every couple’s gonna fight, but the way you fight will determine whether you’re successful in moving forward or not. And the reality is, most of us are not equipped to fight well and fight fair. And so, we really try to work with people to help recognize, “Why is it that this is such a big deal to me? And how can I put myself in the other person’s shoes, feel empathy, see their side of the story?” And then work not toward victory, because if one person wins and one person loses, if one person loses, then we both lose. So, we’re not working toward victory, but we’re working toward resolution so we can find harmony again in the relationship.
Jim: Why in a marriage relationship, when you go down the aisle, you’re thinking, “We’re gonna live happily ever after” – why do we turn that into a zero-sum game?
Jim: I win; you lose?
Craig: Yeah, it’s sad that we do that, but so often, the – the very things that attract us to the person when we’re dating, become the things that annoy us later on when we’re married. You know, if – if he’s laid back and she likes that, then they get married and he’s not laid back, he’s lazy and a bum, you know. Or – or if she’s organized when they’re dating, you know, they get married and then she – then she becomes a control freak. And so, you know, I think, the root of it is our sin nature that’s so destructive. And that’s why, you know, marriage isn’t – someone wrote a great book on it. I wish I could think of the title, but the purpose of marriage isn’t to make us happy, but re – in so many ways the purpose of marriage is to make us holy. And that we learn to die to ourselves and to – to serve someone else as Christ served the Church is a – is a high calling and – and difficult for a lot of people, but so completely worth it.
Jim: I have said, that, because I – I’m coming to the conclusion, sitting with, you know, good thinkers like yourself and Gary Chapman and Gary Thomas, the one thing that I’m picking up is, God uses marriage, the construct of marriage, His design for marriage. And I know that offends some people, but when you look at it, what it does is it makes you, if it’s healthy, it makes you less selfish.
Jim: That’s really what it is.
Craig: It really does.
Jim: You die to self, like you just said.
Craig: Right and without that, you know, we’re never gonna have a good marriage. And – and so, at the heart of it, that’s really what we’re called to do, not just in marriage, but as followers of Jesus, is to die to ourselves.
Jim: Why in the – why do you think in this culture, this may be rhetorical, but you look at a culture that’s increasingly self-focused, narcissistic some people might say, when we raise kids today, we raise them with maybe an unhealthy amount of attention on them.
Jim: We’re the chauffeurs. We take ‘em to sporting events here and there and cook ‘em pancakes every day…
Jim: …you know, whatever it might be. But they learn that the world is really about me and then they grow up and now, I think we’re suffering the consequences of that, because marriages are breaking apart, because I think of the self-centeredness.
Craig: Oh, I think so, too. I think entitlement is a massive problem and any time we try to enter into any relationship with an entitled spirit, then we’re gonna suffer all day long and…
Jim: Do you think it’s higher today than it was 30, 40 years ago?
Craig: Oh, absolutely, I think there’s no question about it. And you talk about narcissism, I think, you know, in our “selfie” centered generation, it’s – you know, it’s really scary how we’re trained to make all the attention about us. And in a marriage, it cannot be about us or it’s gonna be toxic to the relationship. And so, you, I – when you look at society today, I see several things I think that are hurting. One is, you know, if there’s an entitled spirit. To the temptations to get into sinfulness, are everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. And then, then people just don’t value marriage. They’re getting married later or not at all. And so, there’s a real lack of understanding of the meaning and the purpose behind it. If you put all those together, we are basically, as a culture, equipping people to divorce, rather than equipping people to serve God together in marriage.
Jim: Craig, you really, you have a great ability to reach into young people’s lives, 20-somethings, 30-somethings. You’re here in Denver doing a Catalyst event. For those that don’t know about that, that’s the – the market for that conference. It’s younger people. MTV did a study, I think it was 2007 and they surveyed their viewership. Now I was surprised to learn it starts at 12-years-old. Um, but they went from 12 to 24 and 90 percent of their viewership, 12 to 24 in the survey said that they – they wanted to find their lifelong mate and be married to that person forever.
Jim: It’s in their heart. You think that’s like a God-stamp?
Craig: I would think so. I – I think that. I – I really do. I think there’s a longing in almost everybody I know to find someone to share life with. And – and um, what’s interesting is that even though all the cultural messages really are opposed to that, that still people who are feeding on that, like you said, watching MTV, still say that’s at the top of their desires. And so, I would think it would have to a God-given desire that He puts within people.
Jim: I thought it was interesting, too. They said 60 percent in essence, 60 percent felt they could do it, that it would be attainable.
Jim: Um, it – there’s a little disconnect there, others thinking, in this culture, I probably won’t stay married…
Jim: …to the same person. It’s interesting that they would even have that formed in their 12- to 24-year-old perspective already, that it may not work.
Craig: You know, I’ll be real honest, but I – I became a Christian in college. And before that, I didn’t know if I would be able to have what it took to be faithful in marriage, as I looked ahead, but just I was so programmed to lie and to cheat. And that’s just kinda what I knew. And so, I remember thinking, I don’t know if I could be faithful in marriage. And so, it really took coming to Christ, renewing my mind to where, you know, I knew it would be possible with Him guiding us.
Jim: You started there and it – I think it’s good for us to explore that a little bit, because um, it is a – a reprogramming of your behavior, not in a psychobabble way…
Jim: …but in a spiritual way.
Jim: To say, okay, I’m gonna give this up, like what Paul’s writing about, you know. Forget that and reach for the prize.
Jim: It is kinda that uh – ap – it is that approach. How – how do you counsel a young person who maybe is – maybe an engaged couple…
Jim: …and um – you’re tellin’ them, okay. You’ve come out of promiscuity perhaps. You know their background. Give us an example of what that counseling session looks like today.
Craig: Well, we’re actually trying to even start before that. You know, I want to catch them when they are 12. And we really want to teach the concept of purity, not just in actions, but in a mind-set. And so, I feel like if you catch them at 20-, 21-, 25-year-old, whatever, that’s really late in the game.
But let’s – to answer your question, if we do get them there, you know, what we try to do is I – I’ll sit down and show ‘em, let’s look at that culture is doing or – or showing you. Basically, you know, sex with multiple people before you’re married. You might live with somebody or at least, you know, your toothbrush is at her house or vice versa. And you – you might as well be living together.
And so, essentially you’re doing married things before you’re married and so, therefore, you ‘re kind of faking marriage and then, when you break up, it’s almost like divorce. And so, literally you’re practicing for divorce. And that’s one reason why I believe when people get married, they just – they do what they’ve been trained to do. They’ve basically have been doing what they’ve been doing for years.
And so, marriage to them is just a piece of paper. And what we’re trying to help them see is that you know, the gift of lovemaking is a gift that is reserved for marriage. And so, by holding back, we’re – basically, we’re saying, “I’m not gonna be a compromiser before marriage. So, when we get married, I’m not gonna look and go, ‘Oh, I married a compromiser. I’m a compromiser, so I’m gonna be worrying my whole time, are we gonna compromise again?’”
So, we’re – we’re try – we – you can’t build a foundation of impurity. So, what we want to do is try to live a life of purity and help them be different. If you want something different than what everyone else has, you have to do something different than what everyone else does.
And you know, the standards we’re talking about do appear old-fashioned, but they’re not old-fashioned. We believe they’re biblical. They’re designed by God and they lead to a higher result. And so, if we can help them to um, to see there’s a different road that leads to a better result. People will actually get excited about it and say, “I’m willing to give that up for something much better.”
John: Craig Groeschel is giving us an aspirational look at marriage, this is Focus on the Family with Jim Daly. Craig’s book is From This Day Forward. And you can find your copy at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast. And if you can make a generous contribution to support Focus on the Family today, please do so and we’ll send a complimentary copy of that book to you as our way of saying thanks for joining the support team.
Craig, I really like what you’re saying, boundaries is something you explore in the book and that’s – that’s what you’re challenging young people to step up and to recognize and adhere to. Boundaries are important for all of us…
John: …particularly married couples.
John: You address that quite a bit in the book. Why don’t you share some of that?
Craig: Yeah, you know, in fact, to be real honest, when – before I was a Christian, I crossed a lot of the boundaries I shouldn’t have crossed. And so, um, for me, I believe in putting safeguards in place all the time. And I feel like I need more safeguards than some people might need.
John: Because you’re a pastor?
John: Or because of your…
Craig: Because I’m a…
John: …your past?
Craig: …man; because I’m a person. Yeah. And I – yes, I have more reasons to stay between the lines, you know, as a pastor to be a good example. But you know, for the sake of my marriage and my wife, I want to do that period. And you know, I recognize my temptations. I – I always say, you’re only as strong as you are honest and we have to be honest about where we’re vulnerable. And so, you know, we could talk for hours about putting boundaries in place. But basically, I’m gonna recommend to couples, that you be really transparent about where you’re vulnerable and decide ahead of time to put boundaries in place.
I’ll give you an example, like in – in my life. On my iPad, my phone and my computer, I don’t have access to anything inappropriate on anything. Every time I type on a computer, every place I go is actually monitored by – by people who have the ability to fire me from the church.
On my phone and my iPads, I’ve got filtered browsers. I don’t use apps that many people use. I don’t even have the ability to download apps. And so, I’ve decided ahead of time, I’m gonna eliminate temptation before I’m ever tempted.
And I feel like, you know, in marriages today, with all the, like, filthy books that are available, all this stuff that’s on television, all the – what you can find on social media, um, and you know, online all day long, that it – if we don’t raise some standards ahead of time, then we’re gonna be desensitized and literally start be entertained by things that are sinful and rationalize this out.
And this waters down what, you know, suddenly we’re not calling – when you look at even words that describe sin, we’ve invented words that are much softer. You know, like we don’t commit “adultery;” we have an “affair.” It sounds so much better. It’s not “pornography;” it’s “adult entertainment.” It just sounds so much better.
But the reality is, these are marriage killers. They kill intimacy with God. You know, you cannot walk into this kind of stuff and have healthy marriages. And the reality is, according to studies, more men are involved in porn than not. An increasing number of women are getting caught up in porn. And literally, just the stuff we watch on TV, the stuff that we consume, it’s poison to us and so, I don’t want a little bit of poison. And we need to work with couples and say, “It’s not a sign of weakness to put up barriers. It’s actually wisdom and strength to say, ‘I’m gonna keep some barriers up to keep us out of trouble.’“
Jim: Craig, when you look at the culture, I’m curious, because so often there isn’t a distinction between the church and the world. Or at least it’s really narrow, the distinction. And I’m wondering why. I mean, you’re a pastor of tens of thousands in your church. You see and counsel many, many people. When you look at it that close, why is there such a little distinction between the world’s activities and the church?
Craig: You know, that’s a great question and I wish I had a good answer for it, because it haunts me all the time. To – you know, to look and say, people outside the church are getting divorced almost to the same numbers of people inside the church. The people outside of the church are looking at pornography, almost the same as the people inside the church.
So, you know, that’s really haunting to me. And I feel like, as the church, we need to do a better job of being different from the world. We need to raise the standards. We need to not be afraid to dive into controversial issues. And sometimes I think maybe – maybe we as the church are too soft on some things.
And so, on the other hand, I think there needs to be – the responsibility’s not only on the church, because the church isn’t just the pastors. The church is the people. That we need to have, you know, really be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit shows us and recognize, if we’re not different from the world, then we’re probably not following Christ.
And so, I think there’s a lot of cultural Christianity in churches today, where there’s some form of belief in God, but not a real life transformation by the Spirit of God. And so, I think maybe we have to recognize that and call it what it is and say I’m not one of those guys that’s out – like the church is failing, the church is failing. I actually think that God is using the church to do a lot of great things. And I celebrate all those things. But at the same time, we have to recognize that if our marriages are failing at an almost an equal rate of those who are non-Christians, something’s wrong. And you know, that’s why we wrote the book. That’s why we, basically, I – you know, to tell you a real long story, what I noticed is on my staff we had a lot of marriages struggling and failing.
And that’s just unacceptable to us all day long. And so, we just really adopted a philosophy that we’re – you know, on our staff families, there’s – no marriage is gonna fail. That’s our standard. No marriage fails. And so, that means, we had to change a lot of things. We had to change how we prepare people for marriage. We need change how we interview and hire staff. We need to change our work schedules so the church doesn’t end up really inadvertently becoming an enemy to marriages. We need to change how we disciple families. And so, I cannot be the pastor and have my staff having the same number of marital problems out there.
Jim: Well, and you’re really outlining those things that could be – they can be applied in any environment.
Jim: Um, you talk in your book about fighting fair. Some people will write when we talk about Christian couples engaging in strong disagreement. And they’ll say something like, “Well, Christian couples should never fight.” That’s not the goal, is it?
Craig: Not at all.
Jim: Yeah, I mean, two people are gonna disagree.
Craig: No, we’ve – we’ve gotta fight. I mean, it’s just – we’re going to.
Jim: It’s healthy.
Craig: It is healthy; it is healthy. If not, then someone’s a doormat and not expressing needs or – and so – yes, all couples will fight.
Jim: Do you have an example where you and your wife, I mean, you’re being vulnerable, so I’m gonna keep pressin’ on that. But where – where did that uh, become glaringly obvious for you and your wife, that you gotta – you gotta find different rules of engagement here? Was there…
Craig: You know, I – we – we’re kinda odd. We really are blessed with a good marriage. And so, um, it was three years before we had our first fight. Three – we were married for three full years, yes. And um…
John: I think we went three days. How about you, Jim?
Jim: I don’t – I – you know, probably a while. I don’t remember how long.
Craig: We – we made up for lost time though.
You see, Amy gave birth to our first daughter, Katie and I thought – I was stupid enough to think, “Okay, she’s a woman. She knows how to do this.” And so, I was trying to finish seminary at the time. So, I went to a class and left her at the hospital for someone else to drive her home. I know. And then I went and preached one night, then went back to an all-day Saturday class. And then came home and you know, after just really neglecting her, thinking, “She’s a woman; she knows how to take care of babies.” And that was so stupid.
And she let me have it and I deserved it. There’s no doubt about it. And so, we had five more kids and I’ll have you know, I never did anything like that again.
Never. I’d take days off of work and was there to serve her. But yeah, I mean, it’s just – eventually, you know, a guy’s gonna do stupid guy stuff like that or – or a woman’s not gonna understand a man’s needs and there’s gonna be tension, you know.
Jim: Yeah. So often, I mean, and again, those are great practical applications there. And you talk in your book about those practical applications. One of the things I love, and I believe it, is having fun together.
Jim: Um, you know, we tend to get into a rut and there’s probably folks listening to us now that are sayin’, “I’ve been married eight years,” 10 years, 20 years.
Jim: “And it’s just gotten into such a routine that, you know, I don’t even know if we like each other anymore.”
Craig: Right, right.
Jim: What has happened in that marriage?
Craig: Well, you know, they liked each other at one point; there’s no doubt about it. And so, somewhere along the way, we neglected having fun. And – and we like to say, “Fun is not a luxury in marriage; it’s a necessity.” You have to. And you literally, you know, life will overwhelm you with trying to pay the bills, cut the yard, you know, get groceries on the table, get their kids to soccer and dance. And so, if you don’t schedule fun at some point, you’re probably not bein’ real wise.
Jim: What does that look like for you to schedule fun?
Craig: Well, for us now, I mean, honestly, it’s two date nights a week. And we – we – yeah, two, not one. And so, for years and years, we had a date night every single week. And our marriage was really good. And then so, one day we woke up with six kids, several teenagers and we thought, “We’ve got a great marriage. We don’t need to have a date night; we’re too busy for it.” I don’t know, a year later or so, I was finding out stuff about her that was important at our small group meeting.
And “Why – why didn’t you tell me this?” And she was finding out stuff about me and we realized that we didn’t have time to talk and we weren’t laughing together. And suddenly, we realized, we don’t have a great marriage because it was an accident. We have a great marriage because we were prioritizing time together and then we neglected it.
So, we started it again. We’re at a point now where we’re working so hard to disciple and raise our kids, we need two nights without them, because we need to be on the same page. We need to be enjoying each other. And we need to be really working together to invest in our kids. And so, um, I’m – we’re double-dipping now.
Jim: That’s – that’s a good challenge. I’ve never heard that one. We’re always striving, John and I are always challenging each other to get one date night in.
Craig: And I don’t…
Jim: Which I’m not doin’ that well at, John.
John: Ah, let’s talk about that some other time.
Jim: Okay, so how are we gonna do two?
John: I don’t know.
Jim: Oh, man.
Craig: You do…
John: But I appreciate that.
Craig: You do one and that’s a good thing.
It really is.
Jim: I’d like doing two.
Jim: That’d be fun.
Craig: It’s a big – it’s a big difference maker for sure.
Jim: Well, Craig, I’ve got some other questions that I want to keep goin’, if you can stick with us.
Jim: Can we do it?
Jim: Craig is the author of a book and it’s called, From This Day Forward, also the pastor of I think one of the country’s largest churches. How many people are in attendance at the satellite churches, the whole…
Craig: You know…
Jim: …the whole thing?
Craig: …in all of our – we have 22 churches as of today and there’ll be between 65 and 80,000 people at those campuses on a weekend.
Jim: That gives you a large sample size. You know what you’re talkin’ about.
Craig: Re – it – there’s a lot of people and – and you know, fortunately when you deal with a lot of people, you – you do see a lot of patterns. And you see a lot of great stories and – and sadly, sometimes you see some that aren’t so great.
Jim: Well, let’s come back and keep the conversation going and talk a little bit more about how you can make your marriage better today.
John: We’ve been talking with Craig Groeschel today on Focus on the Family, and we’ll have the second part of the conversation next time.
Jim: And I’ve gotta tell you, you’re not gonna want to miss it. Uh, Craig is a great communicator. Tomorrow, he’ll share how to make prayer a priority in your marriage and how women can encourage their husbands in the spiritual leadership of the home. Here at Focus on the Family, we love to come alongside you and give you hope for your marriage. That’s one reason we created the Focus on Marriage Assessment. It’s a quick, online survey – takes maybe 4 or 5 minutes – and you’ll receive instant results that will show you areas in your marriage where you’re doing great and areas that might need a little extra work.
And you know what, it’s so important to keep your marriage vibrant and alive. According to recent research, in the past 12 months, 610,000 couples have told us here at Focus on the Family that we, together, you and us, we have helped them to build stronger marriages. That’s a big number.
John: Yeah, 610,000 different couples who have been helped through all the things we’re doing here at Focus on the Family. That’s really amazing.
Jim: And I realize, it’s hard to put a face and a name to each one of those couples, but let’s do it. This is Britney, who called in