Jim Daly: Erin, let me ask you what you think of the term “soul mate.”
Erin Smalley: You know, I really feel like soul mate is really, it’s kind of pure fantasy. It’s an illusion, because really spiritual connection between a couple is real.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Well, “soul mate” is used so often it seems and there are a lot of different perspectives about it. We’re gonna unpack what it might mean and how you can have a close, intimate relationship with your spouse and be more spiritually connected in the way that Erin was just saying. This is Focus on the Family with Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, I’m looking forward to the program today, because this is the tune-up kind of program, where we, particularly in the Christian community, need to think about our marriages and need to pay attention to ‘em. And I’m guilty of sometimes letting that go. Jean and I, we get on a - a pace, a certain track where we’re busy. We’ve got the kids goin’ different directions. We’ve got the boys doin’ their sports and you know, we accept a little bit of laziness when it comes to working on our marriage. And I think many, many of us are in that boat. And today we want to just remind you that it is important to work on it and put some tools in your hands so you can do it.
John: And our guests are Greg and Erin Smalley. They’re both on staff here at Focus on the Family. They’re authors and speakers about a variety of subjects, and one of their specialties is talking about marriage.
Jim: Greg and Erin, let me welcome you back to the program.
Erin: Always a joy.
Greg Smalley: Thanks for havin’ us.
Jim: Okay, I want to start with a funny story, because this is one I remember. You guys have so many good stories. But you were just married, and I - I’ll have you fill in the blanks - not very long. And you had an assignment that Erin had given you, Greg, to do the laundry.
Jim: What happened with the laundry story?
Erin: Yes, Greg.
Jim: Yeah, he’s looking a little red for the listeners.
Greg: We - we had a minor argument right before Erin was leaving to go out the door.
Erin: Mmhmm, I was heading out to work in the morning and it was a Saturday.
Jim: How long had you been married at this point?
Erin: Maybe six months.
Jim: Okay, good.
Greg: So we were very experienced...
Greg: ...by then.
Erin: Yeah and we were bickering, pickin’ at each other and I got to the front door with my work stuff in hand and I took one step out the front door and popped my head back in and made one more smart comment and off I went.
Greg: So I’m just standing there in our little apartment after she has now had the last word. And it just irritated me, ‘cause I had so much more that I was really ready to say. But she’s gone, so I was getting all of our laundry together. And the way that I did it is we lived up on the fourth floor. On the first floor underneath us was the laundry room. I hated carrying that big, you know, basket full of laundry. And so, what I did is I just bought a big mesh bag. I put all of our laundry in and I would just drag it out, put it on the railing and then just drop it to the ground. So, I get this all, you know, stuffed in. I’m draggin’ it outside. I was so mad at her and as I put it up on the railing, I see her walking on - on the ground floor.
Jim: And what did you think about?
Greg: Well, I thought, wouldn’t it be funny if, as she walked by, I dropped it near her and then she would kinda, you know, jump and look up. And I’d be like, “Last word that! Haha,” you know, thought it was a great idea.
Jim: Good icebreaker.
Greg: It made - it - thank you. It all made sense in my mind. So when I let the laundry bag go, um, my aim was on or off, depending on your perspective, but I hit her.
Jim: So you’re not an engineer.
Greg: Yeah, nah. Not at all. You wouldn’t want me in the...
Jim: And what did you think...
Greg: ...Air Force.
Jim: ...Erin, when you were hit by this flying bag of laundry by your inflamed husband upstairs?
Erin: You know, in that season of our marriage, it wasn’t too surprising, sadly. And I - I mean, I - I fell back and looked up and he was looking down. And so, I jumped up and I ran up the stairs, ‘cause I was gonna maybe throw him off the balcony.
Greg: She was - she was - I mean, literally, I’ve never seen her move that fast.
Jim: You have grown a lot since then. This was many years ago. And the reason I like that story is that there’s a certain realness to it - a grittiness. Some people, even those of us that claim Christ, live in that veneer, if I could say it that way. There may be a lot of good things going on, on the outside, but when you close the door, there’s laundry bags flying, if I could use the metaphor. But let’s talk about that spiritual connection. Now that you’ve grown and you have really gotten over those obstacles early in your marriage and you certainly can certainly refer to that. But that spiritual connection and the importance of it, talk about that. Why is spiritual connection the ground floor for everything in your marriage?
Greg: There are so many ways that I think people misunderstand this idea of spiritual intimacy between a couple. And for me, it’s more than reading the Bible together. It’s more than memorizing Scripture together. It’s more than going to church together. Those are doing kinds of things.
Jim: ‘Cause it functions.
Greg: Exactly, I think you know, we’re human beings; we’re not human “doings.” And - and I think it’s that word “being,” that - that really has helped Erin and I more than anything understand what it really means to have a spiritual relationship. I believe that real spiritual intimacy means that we understand that Christ is the cornerstone of our marriage. I love that verse in Ephesians 2:20 that, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. So He is our cornerstone. He is our foundation. But built upon that, I think it’s really about connecting all of your being - your heart, your soul, your mind, your strength - with your spouse as we pursue God together. See to me, that’s it. It’s not a bunch of these things that we do. It’s offering one another all of who we are, you know, the - the deepest parts of our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength. And that has become the thing that we pursue together. How do I live that out? Versus just thinking, well, as long as we pray together, as long as we go to church together. I don’t think that’s what it’s about at all.
Jim: Well, let me ask you this again, for context. How many years in your marriage did it take for you to begin to understand that and for the both of you? Did you kind of arrive at that point seven years in? Ten years in? What was your situation? That was I can hear it and maybe apply it to my own.
Erin: I would say that for us, it - it became that we started to pursue God individually, you know wholeheartedly. And then that really, for me, impacted my marriage relationship.
Jim: How? What were - what was going on spiritually for you that impacted your marriage in the - in the material sense...
Jim: ...in the physical sense?
Erin: ...what ended up happening was that I was expecting Greg to meet so many needs in me that really he wasn’t created to meet, that really those were things that only God could be doing in my life. So as I grew in my faith in the Lord, then I was free to love Greg without these unrealistic expectations. And I think many women, because we get so much from relationships and people and places and things, that you know, that we’re looking to all these things to fill us, versus allowing God to fill us first and foremost. And then we come together. And when he’s doing that, I’m doing that, we come together and wow.
Jim: You know, I appreciate what you’re saying. I’m trying to get a handle on, what and again, normal is what? As Patsy Clairmont says, it’s only a setting on your dryer, right? So - but I’m trying to see...
Greg: I don’t do laundry, so I wouldn’t know.
John: Not anymore.
Jim: Erin forbid you from doing laundry...
Erin: Yeah, no.
Jim: ...after that day.
Erin: I do the laundry; he does the dishes.
Jim: But - but I’m trying to - is this three years into your marriage? Is it seven years into your marriage? There are couples I’m sure that are 10, 20 years into their marriage, maybe more, that they still haven’t come to this conclusion of spiritual depth will provide what they need and then they’re free to love each other. Talk to me about that context. Where were you when you began to really understand God in your marriage?
Greg: You know, it’s not a linear straight line pursuit. It’s a journey that’s messy, that’s steps forward, steps backward. I mean, I - I tell you, that this was the most painful part of our marriage for me in the beginning. And I could tell you that we struggled with conflict, but privately, deep inside my soul, I felt like such an utter failure when it came to connecting with Erin spiritually. And for me, I think what was going on is that, you know, my dad, Gary Smalley, he is such a spiritual giant in my mind. He still is, but boy back there, that cast such a big shadow that - that I never ever felt like I could measure up to that ever.
Jim: Did you ever talk to him about that?
Greg: Um, we had conversations about it. The problem was, see, I had such fond memories of getting up in the morning. And I would find my dad on his knees, you know, just praying. And as a young husband, then I thought that that’s what I needed to do. I needed to be up early in the morning on my knees. I needed to be leading my family in a certain way like he did, doing devotional. I mean, it just - I just - I so admired that. That was such a good thing. I loved that. I love those memories. I - I just never felt that I could measure up.
I had another mentor in my life, so my dad, Gary Smalley, another guy named Gary Oliver, same thing. I mean, I’ve never met a - a bigger prayer warrior. Um, I would see he and his wife getting’ up in the morning early, praying together. And they had these two spots in their house that was just reserved for their spiritual warfare together early in the morning. And amazing. I couldn’t even remotely get close to that. And so, I thought there was something wrong with me. I remember feeling like such an utter failure that what - what it did to me is, it paralyzed me. And thus, I became very passive. And so, I didn’t do anything.
Jim: Well, you’re saying something that a lot of men are gonna connect to, which is that feeling of spiritual paralysis. So often in homes today and what we hear, here at Focus on the Family from married couples, particularly wives that are struggling as you said, Erin, with those expectations, especially around that area of family devotions. “My husband taking the lead spiritually. I feel like, you know, he gets home from work. He’s tired. He tunes into sports and news and weather and he just doesn’t take the - the lead here.
Therefore, I’ve gotta do it and I’ve got my own things going on.” There seems to be a lot of friction in that area. But it is that spiritual paralysis. How - how does a woman, a wife interact with the husband who seems nonchalant? He’s not connecting there. Um, and what’s happening for that woman, as well?
Erin: You know, that is very typical for women to look at what their husband isn’t doing, versus what he is doing. Because I had great expectations around what this was gonna look like. You know, I was marrying Gary Smalley’s son and he was gonna lead these phenomenal devos for me and guide me spiritually. What I didn’t account for is I’m a pretty strong-willed wife. And you know...
Jim: Did you know that?
Greg: When you say “pretty”, I mean...
Jim: Let me just do a counseling session here. I will counsel you not to say that.
Jim: But did you know that going in? I - I - ‘cause I find even with Jean and I, it’s so funny, ‘cause she doesn’t perceive herself as strong, but she is. She’s a strong, empowered person and she’s got her own way of thinking about it and - but I don’t perceive that she sees herself that way.
Erin: Yeah, I don’t know that I recognized that early on. I do today and the - I think the other thing that played into our relationship was, I was a newer Christian when we got married. And so, I was wholeheartedly pursuing God. And so, it - as I was doing that, Greg is working and in school and, you know, trying to make it all work over here. I had more time. I was at home with our first child and going to Bible studies and being mentored by older women. And you know, so it really was that I was growing and learning, that I expected him to be doing the same thing, which really wasn’t fair, because his life looked much different than mine. And so, instead of encouraging him in what he was - his attempts and what he - he was doing and also his potential of what I saw in him as a spiritual leader, he was 24-years-old when we got married. You know, we were both young and there was great potential there. But I couldn’t look at the potential and encourage that. Instead, I criticized what wasn’t happening.
Greg: You know, we didn’t talk much about this.
Greg: Again, I was just - I sort of showed up very passively and because I had these high expectations of what I should be doing, it just shut me down. And we just sorta drifted along, having great fun times and there was a lot that we were doing. I’ll tell you, Jim, that the freedom for me, I’ll never forget this, is when my dad - it was one of those moments where he kinda, he literally grabbed me, but he might as well have kinda grabbed me, taken, you know, his hands with my cheeks and just kinda stare at me. And he said, “Son,” he said, “the way that I live out my faith is gonna be very different than yours.” He says, “Here’s what I see in you.” He said that, “I watch you love your wife and your children unconditionally, that I see you serving them. I see you sacrificing for them. I see you providing financially. I see you protecting them.” He says, “I - I see how you guys walk through conflict um, in a biblical way. I see, you know, you’re asking forgiveness when you screw up.” He said, “That is - is you living out what God has called you to do.” And what he did, the gift that he gave me was that he expanded my view of what it means to be a spiritual leader. Whereas, I thought it was just simply that I had to do a devo or I had to initiate being on a committee at church or somethin’...
Jim: Kind of a task.
Greg: ...like that. Yeah. It - what it did is it - it gave me a perspective that - that all the things that I was doing for my wife and for my family, that that was a part of me being a spiritual leader. I think it just - it freed me.
Jim: Greg, I can appreciate, you know, that moment. That had to be profound for you and you described it that way. But Erin, I’ve gotta ask, you know, for so many wives in this illustration, when the husband comes home and feels, you know, maybe I am doing a better job than I realized, how did that make you feel? Were you connecting to that? Or did you have suspicion about it?
Erin: Mmhmm, you know, I don’t know that we ever had like a formalized discussion about this, but just as we continued to learn and I know for me, as I continued to learn and expand my understanding of this, ‘cause as a young wife, I didn’t understand that. I had expectations that were up - you know, way up high and...
Erin: ...didn’t understand that as a young man, he was gonna grow into this role and he was gonna mature and morph. And really, I married the potential of what he could become. My job is to encourage that and to look for what he was doing. And so, as I grew, you know, he had this conversation with his dad. As I began to understand what a spiritual leader was, I began to look for those things versus before I was looking for what he wasn’t doing. Therefore, I saw what he wasn’t doing. And so, as I expanded and opened my mind to, you know, those deep conversations he has with our kids, you know, just in the everyday moments, they’re huge, because that’s what our kids, you know, hold onto. They know that that’s - that’s their dad’s heart and their dad’s teaching to them. Versus my kids know they can come to me when they - they want me to pray on the spot with them. They know that, you know, mom is gonna do that, because in my more traditional ways, that’s what I do. He will pray with them, but then he will talk to them in everyday terms. So, I think for me, it was an expanding of my mind as I understood that there’s more to this than my original thoughts and...
Erin: ...my original definition of what a spiritual leader is.
Jim: Let me ask you this. So often in a marriage commitment, there are ebbs and flows, mountains and valleys. Talk to us about that. You both kind of were in the valley at the same time. Describe what that was like, what it felt like and how you found a way up above the clouds.
Greg: For me, it happened when that spiritual mentor that I was telling you about, Gary Oliver, when his first wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I believe in prayer. I’ve always believed in prayer, just the verses that are very specific. Pray, you know, and it will be given. I mean, just like the little old widow lady, be persistent, I mean, all those things.
I’ve never seen one person prayed over more in my entire life. As a matter of fact, I found a little prayer pager, it was a non-profit group that gives people going through a you know, a significant illness, this little pager, so that when people say, “Hey, I’m praying for you,” just type in their - their telephone number and they get a, you know a little buzz, letting them know that right now someone is praying for you. That thing went off night and day, every 60 seconds. It was the most impressive thing I’d ever seen. I literally remember a conversation I had with God, just goin’, you know, “God, I know that’s a pretty bleak diagnosis, but God, I mean, You say that when we pray and persistently pray, that You will move and You will act upon that. And You really don’t have a choice here. I mean, You - she has to be healed or everything You say wouldn’t make sense to me.”
And I’ll never forget that day that - that I got the word that she had passed away. And I just slipped into a very dark, it actually, I mean, lasted months and months and months, a very dark season that I couldn’t reconcile with. It just shut me down and I - I didn’t have any desire to pray with my wife, with my family. I just - I - I pulled back from all of that. It was a tough season. As you can imagine, it had a huge impact on our marriage.
Erin: Mmhmm, well, because during that season, I lost my mom in like two months before Carrie Oliver passed away, too. And it was several deaths all in a - just it was a very dark season of loss. And Greg was distant and, I could tell, distant from the Lord. And I was also crying out to God, just going, “God, where are You? Amidst all of this loss, where are You, because You sure seem quiet.” And between talking to the Lord and Greg and you know, you know, trying to find Scripture to help Greg, but also trying to pull myself out of this - this dark...
Greg: And I’m like, “I don’t want...
Greg: ...don’t throw Scripture at me. I know it all and it didn’t work.”
Greg: That’s how I felt.
Erin: But I can...
Jim: No, it’s real.
Erin: ...I can remember clear as day, I was driving down this one road, this one windy road in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. And I - I literally, I was driving and I just went, “You know what, God? Reveal Yourself to me.” I mean, I was desperate. I was just in this dark place. I said, “God, just show Yourself to me.” And lo and behold, the next week, we had been praying for adoption for - we’d been praying by name for an Annie for years, for seven years. And never would’ve tied the two together, but literally after driving down that road, crying out to God, “Reveal Yourself to me,” the next week is when we found out about this little girl in China, whose name happened to be Annie.
Greg: And here’s what’s cool about this story. So, for me - as Erin’s going through this, I’m going through my own dark season, just wrestling with God around prayer, and, “God, what does it mean,” and all of that, we were working at John Brown University and there was a - a set of stairs, concrete steps, that separated kind of the upper campus, lower campus, hundreds of ‘em. And I’ll - I’ll never forget where I was just thinkin’ about the Lord and just my relationship with Him and just my frustrations. And I just - I broke down. I started to cry. And no one else was there and I just kinda sat there on the steps and just wept and wept and wept. And it was such a breaking moment for me, because the verse that really came to mind was Romans 8:26 and 27, basically saying as we pray, the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf with groans, with words that we can’t express.
And - and that was the breaking moment. I mean, that’s the cool part of how God is so patient and He just walked with me and used that verse, ‘cause I can’t make sense of why she died and why God didn’t heal her when all these people prayed. But it didn’t matter and that was such a - it was a moment of - of just real breaking, of just saying, “I just want to - I want to be obedient.” And I kid you not, I’m not making this up, it was the next day that a friend of ours came into my office and Erin was there with me. And as she was just saying, he told us about this little girl that he had held in China, and as he told this story, we found out that her name was Annie, the very name that we’d been praying for, for seven years.
And I believe that why all that happened in the way it happened, was that really truly, the only way that we were gonna be able to adopt this little girl, it - it was gonna be because I was able to lead my family through prayer. And see, and I wasn’t at a spot where I was even willing to do that and I had to be broken. And once that happened, I’m tellin’ you, it’s just the timing is so eerie, but it’s so God. And we spent as a family, the next year and a half praying every single day that we’d be able to adopt this little girl.
Jim: Well, and the word that comes to my mind is faith. That’s what faith is. Faith is hoping in those things that aren’t seen or experienced.
Jim: And that’s what it’s about.
Greg: You know, looking back on that and what - what I appreciated is Erin gave me the room to walk through that with the Lord. She didn’t try to intervene. Oh, yeah, ‘cause she was throwin’ me a verse every...
Erin: I tried...
Greg: ...once in a while.
Erin: ...to support and encourage you.
Greg: And I think that’s the key, that in those moments, that - that if my only ability to connect with God is because I’m married or somehow through our shared faith, that is such a recipe for disaster. I always tell people, in a marriage there’s three entities that you have to protect and nurture and that’s you, your spouse, and your marriage. In other words, I have to have my own spiritual relationship with God, independent from my wife. I can’t be dependent or I’m in trouble. And the same with her, is if she’s waitin’ for me to lead, that is so not biblical. And she has to cultivate her own spiritual relationship. And then we have this opportunity to come together and nurture our - what we have together. I think that’s, to me, the - the key. When - when God said that He created marriage, I love in - in Malachi, I love this verse. It’s my very favorite marriage verse, Malachi 2:15, out of The Message version. Listen to this. “God, not you, made marriage. His Spirit inhabits even the smallest details of marriage. So guard the spirit of marriage within you.” That can mean lots of things, but one of the ways that I look at that is my job is to guard that spirit, Him, God. Guard that - that relationship that we have together. So, I need to be strong spiritually. She needs to be strong spiritually, but then we have this amazing opportunity to connect that way within our relationship.
Jim: Hm. Let me get your response to this. It caught my attention. It said, “Marriages that lack spiritual connection almost always create pain and loneliness.” Okay, I know that just hooked a number of wives particularly, ‘cause they feel they’re in a - a marriage that feels spiritually dead. They’re going through the routines. They know it’s right to stay married. They know they love the Lord and they love their husband out of obligation perhaps. But it’s dry and that catches them. There’s no spiritual connection.
Jim: And it has created a place of pain and loneliness.
Erin: Mmhmm or they’re married to someone who’s not a believer. And I’ve interacted with both types of women. And I found for both, that exact thing to be true, that the loneliness is there and there’s pain when there’s not that deep spiritual...
Jim: So the...
Jim: ...outcome’s the same?
Jim: That’s interesting.
Erin: Isn’t that interesting?
Jim: ‘Cause you’re not living your faith as a husband perhaps or the wife. I know the...
Jim: ...shoe can go on either foot, husband or wife. But because they’re behaving almost like a non-believer, their marriage reflects...
Jim: ...that attribute.
Erin: And you know, it’s - it’s interesting, ‘cause in, we talk a lot about who you can control. You can’t control - I mean, the - the more that I hound Greg, you know, “We gotta be doin’ this devotion. We gotta do it this way. We gotta be in church. We got -” the more that he’s probably gonna resent me and push away from that. And so instead, there’s a different way to look at it and - but I can control me, in that I can focus on my spiritual relationship with the Lord and model that. You know, there’s that Scripture that talks about, that you’re gonna win your husband over to the Lord based on your behavior as a woman. And you know, it’s - it’s - that I can model a vibrant spiritual faith and that is gonna influence him. He’s gonna see that. He’s gonna notice that. He’s gonna maybe even desire that. And you know, and then, you know, pursuing him in that connection and in pursuing him to pray together, pursuing him to have spiritual discussions. You know, that it - there’s things that I can be doing that I can control that are about me. I can pray for him and allow the Lord to do the work in him that He wants to do, instead of me impacting the relationship in a negative way.
Jim: Hm. That is so true. Greg and Erin, this has been very good. And I’m thankful for your vulnerability, your heart, and the work you’re doing here to lead Focus on the Family’s marriage team. You’re giving hope to so many couples every day.
And for you, the listener, let me remind you that Focus on the Family is here for you. We’ll help you find the answers you need when it comes to your marriage, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been together for a number of years and you want to strengthen your relationship. In fact, we have a great tool available online; it’s the Focus on the Family Marriage Assessment. It’s a quick survey - probably 4 to 6 minutes - and you fill it out, and you receive your results immediately. You’ll learn areas where you’re doing great - you’re excelling - as well as areas that you can work on a little harder.
And we’d love to get Erin’s book,, into your hands. It’s a terrific resource that will encourage you and remind you of the impact you can have in your marriage. In fact, when you donate today, a gift of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of as our way of saying thank you for helping us support families like your own.
John: Donate online and get a copy of that book, and also a CD of this conversation or a download. All of that and more at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast, or call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY - 800-232-6459.
Well join us next time as Chip Ingram helps you to share Christ’s love as you engage in the culture.
Chip Ingram: You work with people in the next cubicle. There’s people on your street, three doors down. You don’t have to start a soup kitchen; you have to get in proximity.
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Greg SmalleyView Bio
Dr. Greg Smalley serves as the vice president of Marriage at Focus on the Family. In this role, he develops and oversees initiatives that prepare individuals for marriage, strengthen and nurture existing marriages and help couples in marital crises. Prior to joining Focus, Smalley worked for the Center for Relationship Enrichment at John Brown University and as President of the National Institute of Marriage. He is the author of 12 books including Crazy Little Thing Called Marriage, Fight Your Way to a Better Marriage and The DNA of Relationships.
Erin SmalleyView Bio
Erin Smalley serves as the Marriage Strategic Spokesperson for Focus on the Family's marriage ministry and develops content for the marriage department. In addition to her work at Focus, Smalley is a conference speaker. She presents with her husband, Dr. Greg Smalley, at marriage enrichment seminars where they guide husbands and wives in taking steps toward enjoying deeply satisfying marriages. She also speaks to women on faith, family and the importance of healthy friendships.