LeRoy Wagner: What I thought was gonna be the death of me, or a 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, uh, the life that he desires for us to have, not what we think we can work out on our own.
End of Preview
John Fuller: Let’s LeRoy Wagner, and you’ll hear more from him and his wife, Kimberly, today on Focus on the Family. Thanks for joining us. Your host is Focus president and author Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: Uh, LeRoy and Kim’s heart for marriage is evident. Uh, they walk through such desolation, but God restored their relationship to one that is full of beauty and intimacy. And that’s what marriage should be. That’s one reason we here at Focus on the Family believe so strongly in honoring marriage and why we want to help you make your marriage as strong and as thriving as it can be. When two unique personalities come together, especially when one is strong and the other perhaps a little more, uh, timid, things can get off track. Uh, relationships can become strained and marriages can wither into desperate misery. But there’s always hope and today, LeRoy and Kim’s story, I know is going to encourage you.
John: Yeah, uh, the Wagner’s have been married for about 40 years and they have two adult children, Rachel and Caleb, and a growing tribe, as they put it, of grandchildren. Uh, they co-authored the book Men Who Love Fierce Women: The Power of Servant Leadership in Your Marriage, and here now is the conversation we had with LeRoy and Kim Wagner.
Jim: Well, um, this is a new work, this, Men Who Love Fierce Women, and it was kinda born outta the last program, uh, or at least you guys may have been thinking about it, that put some heat under the kettle to get cooking.
Kimberly Wagner: Yeah.
Jim: Um, talk about that motivation, Men Who Love Fierce Women. What was going on in your marriage that, uh, now has created this work?
LeRoy: Well, uh, our marriage was in a complete state of miserable disfunction, uh, for a long period in our marriage. Even though we were both committed to Christ, committed to serving the Lord. Theologically, I would say that we were biblically sound, but, um, uh, we had some, uh, difficulty in relating to one another that kept, uh, uh, reoccurring and, 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, uh, it was about 15 years of marital misery, uh, that, uh, we just thought, there’s no way that, uh, we can work this out on our own, and we just were consigned to living in misery, uh, which is not what God intended, uh, because we didn’t believe in divorce and, uh, I think there’re probably a lot of couples out there that are, uh, Christian couples, uh, but, uh, 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-
Jim: … uh, reconsider God’s way for marriage.
Jim: 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: In 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 has to be responsive to that love, the church, 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?
Jim: 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, uh, very strongly and specifically, uh, 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, uh, for marriage couples to live out, and to show a watching world, then the enemy, uh, 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, uh, uh, difficulty sometimes in their marriage than unbelievers.
Jim: Wait, it’s so true. And people that don’t understand this, I know I was working on a marriage book, uh, a while back and I thought, Jean and I probably had more disagreement during that time in our marriage. I was thinking, what is going on here?
Jim: We haven’t changed that much. (laughing)
John: Just like illustrations, I guess.
Jim: Well just, well now it wasn’t even, it was the fact, I think, spiritually that I was working on a book that reinforced exactly what you’re saying LeRoy, that this is God’s, uh, will for us to display his image in humanity. And, uh, Satan just is 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, uh, fierce woman and the fearful man, which is where you were in your marriage.
Kimberly: And we found that so many couples are there. Now-
Jim: Describe it though. I know, there’s elements that you, the listener-
Jim: … you’re gonna say, this is me as the wife and-
Jim: … that’s me as a husband.
Jim: 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, um, 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.
Jim: I’ve never noticed that in Jean.
Jim: I haven’t noticed [crosstalk].
LeRoy: Does not describe [crosstalk].
Jim: Yeah, I know, not in the least. (laughing)
Kimberly: And so we may push our husbands without even realizing we’re doing it.
Kimberly: 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, to help us better understand that, there is the humorous side of it. And you guys have gone through this now. And, uh, 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. Um, describe that early part of your marriage. You touched on 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.
Jim: And, uh, that didn’t go so well. I wouldn’t pick that environment, (laughing) to context [crosstalk], is existing don’t use this firearm.
LeRoy: Do not try this at home.
Jim: 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, uh, brilliant and so driven and had such an intensity for life, had such a passion. And I was drawn to that, but consequently, 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. Uh, she wasn’t consciously trying to do that, but she was always, uh, seemed to me like, uh, you can do this better. Here’s, here’s how I would do this. And even in, uh, you know, I thought, well, there’s one area, you know, I was raised in the country, so she’s never raised around firearms. So I’ll show her how to-
Jim: The secure environment.
LeRoy: This my, this is my, you know, my wheelhouse, I can handle this-
LeRoy: … so I can, I can show her that I’m a man and, uh, she’s not better than me at something. And so, uh, we were, uh, at our home there in Northwest Arkansas, rural Arkansas. And so I showed her all of the details, uh, of how to operate a firearm and, and then, uh, I loaded it after I’d given her my instruction, very manly instruction. And she really didn’t want to do it. She didn’t have anything to do with firearms, but I said, we’re gonna have them in our home, so you need to know. And so finally she, she agreed and she pulled it up, uh, to shoot and I’d put a little, uh, evaporated milk can, just a small can-
John: That a small target. Right?
LeRoy: Just a small, [crosstalk].
John: Just to prove your point.
LeRoy: Yeah, yeah.
John: I know where this is going.
LeRoy: I couldn’t have hit it, I knew she couldn’t hit it with a small pistol. And it was about 25 feet away at the base of a tree. And she pulled the gun up and, uh, she squeezed off around and I looked and the dirt flew and I thought, well, she came pretty close. And so, uh, 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: Oh yeah. I mean, it’s unbelievable. And I said, okay. She said, “Did I hit it?” I said, “Yeah, you hit it”. I said, that’s it, we are through for the day. I gave up. (laughing)
Jim: So how did that make you feel Mr. Man?
LeRoy: Well, I mean, I, I was, I was always feeling like that, uh, that, uh, I, 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 era 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 a place and I would park, she said, how come you didn’t park over there? (laughing) And, uh, so-
Jim: I think that’s, uh, that’s like a DNA thing with women.
LeRoy: 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 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 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.
Kimberly: That’s really what they think they are doing.
Jim: Help them in what way? Help them to be better, help them to be stronger.
Kimberly: To improve, 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? (laughs)
Jim: Yeah. And I 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.
Kimberly: Right, right.
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’re trying to get LeRoy up to spec-
Jim: … (laughs) [crosstalk] to put 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, um, the point of it is a lot of women are in that spot right now, even hearing, uh, we’re here as men to help guide you. Russell’s the feathers of many women and even some men are going now that can’t be my role, leading and all of that.
Jim: Describe for us where you were at, and what you’re 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, 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, as we, as young women, we bring into our lives, the men we’ve known before that we 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 then, and then 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, uh-
Kimberly: I’m not harmed.
LeRoy: …I’m gonna take care of myself-
LeRoy: … and I’m not gonna let any man, uh, 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 I 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, uh, 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, 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.
Jim: And, uh, 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 funny story at church. Jean likes to sit in a particular place at church, but it’s a crowded place, it’s a big church. And I remember, I mean, we’d be arguing quietly coming into church and there’s no spot there and she’d be trying to find a way to make room, and it’s really tough to do it. I’m saying, can’t we just sit over here where there’s four seats, you know, two for us to, for the boys. And no, I want to sit over here.
And it became a distraction to finally, I just said, you know, don’t ask me where I wanna sit, you just pick where you wanna sit. And we’ll just sit there. Now, that’s a little example, but it is this idea of passivity versus how to handle, uh, leadership in God’s grace. 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, and 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 wanted 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 on that, 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 wanna argue anymore. It’s just easier, she just makes the decision, I’m done with it.
LeRoy: Yeah, I don’t care what-
Jim: And I’ll even smile to make it look really Christian.
Jim: ‘Cause I’m really kind of nice, but underneath you’re boiling, and you’re just seething and you’re, 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, 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 you cannot, 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 or at debate. I just never, you know, conflict avoidance was a major part of my life, and my personality.
Jim: And, and you probably learned that she was, she’ll get the better of it.
LeRoy: Absolutely. So once you have wrestled with a Bobcat a time or two, you don’t approach them anymore. I mean, and so that’s really kinda the way it was with me. I was no match for her intensity. I could not deal with her emotion, uh, 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: Uh, Kim, what was it you were looking for from LeRoy that later you 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 he doesn’t, like he said, he wouldn’t want to hug a porcupine.
John: Hmm. So was 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 going to try?
LeRoy: And what happens 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, the nature of sin, any sin, it, uh, it convinces us that this is the right way to go, why 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 is the only thing to do, there’s no way that I could deal with this fierce woman that God had given me.
LeRoy: 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. Then bitterness begin to develop. And the Bible says, husbands love your wives and be not bitter against them.
LeRoy: And I think a lot of men, I know it happened with me, I began to, uh, in this inability to rise to the level that Kim needed to rise to the level that intuitively I knew that I needed to be instead of, uh, responding and just crying out for God’s grace and seeking for God to deal with me and what was wrong with me, I thought it was all her. I began to develop a bitterness. Bitterness toward her, it’s hard to love someone that you’re bitter against and, and hard to be thankful for the treasure that God has given you when you are, she’s ruining your life.
Jim: Le- LeRoy let me, 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 as, uh, if you say to your, 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, then intimate partners, lovers, uh, 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. [crosstalk].
Jim: They’re functionally married.
LeRoy: They’re functionally married, but they’re not displaying the glory of God by enjoying God’s blessings that 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 you resigned or contemplated resigning from being a pastor.
LeRoy: I did resign.
Jim: Uh, you contemplated suicide.
Jim: I mean, there’s-
LeRoy: I’m ashamed of that Jim.
Jim: … there’s a dark place.
Jim: But, 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 wanna live. Describe that moment and how dark that must’ve 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 hope is what our walk with God or our faith in Christ is all about, uh, 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 ever getting out of it, then I began to have a, 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 came 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 it’s just 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.
John: And that’ll bring us to the end of today’s Focus on the Family conversation with Kim and LeRoy Wagner. And I hope that what they’ve had to share has really spoken to your heart.
Jim: Uh, John, Kim and LeRoy are so good at expressing the pain they went through, and offering hope to couples in similar situations, many couples. And you may be one of them are trying to do their best when it comes to their marriage, but sometimes you need a little help. And that’s why Focus on the Family is here. We have a team of caring Christian counselors on staff to help you with your particular situation. You can give us a call or go online to set up a specific time to talk with them. We also have our Hope Restored marriage intensives for couples on the brink of divorce. If it’s gotten to that point, why not invest one last effort to save your marriage? We’d count it a privilege to be able to help you in that effort. We also have Kim and LeRoy’s book, Men Who Love Fierce Women. And we’d love to send you a copy as our way of saying thank you, when you pledge to partner with the ministry of Focus on the Family on a monthly basis, that helps us so much. And again, everything goes right back into helping marriages and many other areas of ministry. If you can’t commit to a monthly pledge, we get that, but perhaps a one-time donation will work and we’ll send the book as a gift in that case as well.
John: Yeah, you can donate, uh, set up a time to speak with a counselor, find out more about Hope Restored. All the details are at our website, focusonthefamily.com/broadcast or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. And on behalf of Jim Daly, thanks so much for listening today to Focus on the Family, I’m John Fuller, inviting you back as we, once again, hear from LeRoy and Kim and help you and your family thrive in Christ.