Pastor Paul Westbrook and his wife, Melody, talk with openness and honesty about the marital crisis they faced and describe how counseling from the National Institute of Marriage (now called Hope Restored) helped restore and strengthen their relationship. (Part 1 of 2)
John Fuller: If you've been married for a little bit of time, I wonder if your relationship has maybe grown a bit distant. Today on "Focus on the Family," you'll hear from Pastor Paul Westbrook, who explains how he missed some warning signs in his own relationship with his wife Melody.
Pastor Paul Westbrook: As I look back, I also realize that I had actually lowered the bar when it came to the definition of a great marriage at some point in my life. And of course, when you lower the bar for a great marriage, it's easier to hit it.
End of Clip
John: Well, and you'll hear today just how far down their marriage spiraled when it hit rock bottom and how God saved this dear couple, on today's "Focus on the Family," with Focus president, Jim Daly.
Jim Daly: John, today we're going to hear the nitty-gritty details of the near death of a marriage, like you said, from the point of view of both the husband and the wife, so nobody's gonna be left out here. And let me tell you, this is a riveting story.
Paul Westbrook is a senior pastor of a church in Illinois that he and his wife, Melody helped plant back in 1991. And after leading their rapidly growing church for over 20 years, their marriage finally hit the wall in 2014. And that's the story we're gonna share with you today and next time and you'll want to hear it.
John: Well, Paul and Melody were coming back to their church after a four-month leave of absence to work on their relationship and we'll begin today's "Focus on the Family" radio program with the warm reception they were given.
Paul: Well, we are …
Audience: (Extended Applause)
Paul: Oh, wow …
Melody Westbrook: (Laughing)
Paul: Starts early. (Emotional) Thanks for the welcome. We're humbled to be here. We're certainly not (Emotional) … not heroes. We're broken people who are here by the grace of God and we're just extremely thankful to be here, to be able to be part again of what God is doing here and so, I just want to say thanks to you for your love and your prayers. I want to say a special thanks to our staff, who in my absence have just done an incredible job.
What we want to do today is we want to share with you some of the struggles that we've been through and (Cough) what God's done in our lives. And for some of you, you'll be able to relate to some of the things that we've been through. And maybe you're there right now. Maybe you've been there not too long ago. Others of you, you've been through some challenges that are so much bigger than anything that we face. And then there are probably some of you here, that as you hear some of the things that we share today, you're probably gonna say, "You guys are really messed up." (Laughter) And that's true. We have been and by the grace of God, we would not be here.
What I hope is that if you're going through a tough time in your marriage or your family or a relationship, a friendship, that maybe, just maybe you're able to pick up something to avoid some of the pitfalls that we've been through.
In November of last year, we found ourselves at a point where our marriage hit rock bottom. I actually, a little self-deceit, I thought things were goin' pretty good. And about a month before that, we'd had what I thought was a really good conversation and I thought we were just humming along.
But what I didn't realize was that Melody was carrying some deep hurts and frustrations in her life that were largely a part of things that I had said and done, ignorant things that I'm embarrassed and ashamed of.
And that along with my drivenness and my focus and the long hours that I put in with church stuff and all that, threw us into this major crisis mode.
And it was like this wake-up call for me and I realized, man, I've got to do something to try to save my marriage. And it was at that point that I asked for an extended sabbatical, kind of open-ended.
And during this time one of the things that we discovered was, that unfortunately, this is not too terribly uncommon with pastors of growing churches like this. And so, we kind of moved into this dark time.
Melody: Have you ever found yourself hurting so bad that you fall on your face before God? That's what this time was for me. I had spent a lot of my life pretending that I was okay. If you know me, you would be surprised, because you probably thought everything was all right with me. Even my closest friends were shocked that I was hurting so deeply.
But I knew that my life had spun out of control. And I knew that the only hope that I had was in Jesus Christ to pull those things back together for me. There's a song that says, "When you don't know what to say, just say Jesus." And so, I found myself at the beginning of this struggle, at times all I could say was just, "Jesus," because I knew He was my hope.
For me, this story goes much, much further back than four months ago. We've been in this church for 23 years ministering here and we poured out our hearts to this church. We've poured out our souls, believing that this was what God had in mind for us.
But I learned over time that as we sacrificed so much, that we're losing our marriage. And when I looked deeper, I realized I was kind of sacrificing things for the sake of the cause. And as I looked deeper, I realized that, that is not what God intended for this to be. God does not design or desire for us to give up our marriage or family for the sake of the cause.
As my husband became more and more focused and driven in the growth of this church, I became smaller and smaller. The more focused he became, the less I felt. But what began to happen was he did his thing and he focused over here and had his church and his ministry and stayed focused over here.
And then I did all my stuff over here and I had my own ministries. And I look now that I did that in my life so I didn't realize how much I was hurting and how much I missed him. And as we did this, we became like two ships passing in the night, kind of missing one another.
So, at the beginning of November, as Paul has said, well, back up. One of my biggest complaints was that I couldn't get his attention. I kept trying to get his attention and I couldn't. So at the beginning of November, I shouted really loud and really long, so he kinda had to listen to me. And actually I look at that and he did have a choice. He didn't have to listen to me, but he chose to do that.
So, as I realized I thought I was starting a battle into one thing, I realized I was in the battle, we were in a battle to save our marriage. But I wasn't as hopeful as Paul was. I wasn't as convinced, 'cause I had taken all of these hurts and all of these frustrations and had stuffed them really deep inside. And as I was thinking about this, I thought, how ironic it is that we teach you to not be resentful and we teach you not to hold onto bitterness and here I was, a bag of bitterness and a bag of resentment.
But I knew that the only way for us to make it, for me to make it was to truly depend on Christ in my life. So, I knew I needed help and I needed it fast. We weren't talking at the time, so I sought help with a Christian counselor and called up and made an appointment and went in by myself to see him.
And I'll never forget when I first sat down, he looked at me and he said," So, what'd you do to cause all this, to put all this in motion?" And then I told him and he just smiled at me and he said, "That's okay. It's okay, because God can handle all of this."
And as time went on with him, every time I went into the counselor, he'd look at me. He'd say, say, "So, is your anger done?" And I would just bow my head in embarrassment and shake it and say, "No, it's like a bottomless pit." And he said, "It's okay. You're gonna be okay. Paul is gonna be okay. You guys are gonna make it through and eventually your anger will stop spewing."
Paul: Well as we moved into this, I started pretty much immediately going to a Christian counselor, same Christian counselor. And I remember very early on, one of the most impacting questions that he asked me and at the time it seemed kind of strange actually, but it was a very impacting question. He said, "Paul, do you ever 'waste time' with God?" And I was a little taken aback and I go, "Well, I mean, yeah. I mean, I spend time with God."
And he said, "Oh, no, no, no. I know, you're a pastor and all that. I know you spend time with God. But do you waste time with God?" And I was just baffled. I was baffled by the question. And I said, "I don't know. I don't know what you mean. What do you mean by that?" And he said, "Well, that's your homework for this week. Figure out what it means to waste time with God. And while you're at it, start wasting time with your wife and with your family."
Well, what I realized was, that I was not good at wasting time. Just about everything that I do, did in life is just so purposeful. Even my time off, I was very committed to taking a day off every week, but that was geared at recharging, to be able to hit the ground running and just be able to take the next hill, whatever it was that we were doing. Everything was purposeful in my life.
But as started doing that, as I started learning what it meant to waste time and I started wasting time with God and with Melody and with my family, things began to happen inside of me. And one of the things that I realized is, any time that you waste time with God, you're not really ever wasting time. There's a passage of Scripture that God really used in my life at this point. It's found in Psalm 46, verse 10. It says, "Be still and know that I am God." Just be still. Be still and know that I am God. That's what I needed to do.
Then it goes on and God says, "I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth." And I realized that as I was still, that God was at work in me, doing some of His most profound work. I never really paid that much attention to the second part of that verse where God says, "I will be exalted." He's talking about Himself. God says, "I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth." That helped me realize on a deeper level than ever, that even when I'm still, even when I can't do that much regardless of what I do, regardless of what I don't do, God is at work, exalting Himself, exalting Himself in the world, in my life and working in Melody's life, working in this church.
And what began to hit home was that I could relax in Him. One of my big fears and I'm gonna talk about that in just a second here a little bit more, but it's a fear of failure—failure in what was gonna happen with the church and my wife and stuff. And I began to realize through this, that I can relax and trust God. Jesus is the One that said," I will build My church." It wasn't up to me. I realized I didn't have to put in crazy hours, that God was the One doing that. And I began to learn to relax in Christ.
And as I started wasting time with Melody, even when we really weren't talking very much yet, I realized that it was strengthening me. It was softening my heart and I felt like it was helping me understand myself better. It was helping me see Melody in a new way through new eyes and seeing her for who she was, seeing some of the hurts in her life and some of hurts that I had contributed to, more clearly than I ever had.
And I didn't know whether God was really doing anything in her life or not during this time of wasting time, but I knew that He was doing something in me. He was deepening my love and my commitment for her and my commitment to our marriage. And through this time, through this whole idea of wasting time with God and wasting time with Melody and my family, I realized, there's just something really powerful about just wasting time and being present in relationships with people.
John: A powerful presentation today from Pastor Paul Westbrook on "Focus on the Family" and stay tuned, because you'll hear in just a moment or two how learning about fear helped improve his relationship with Melody, his wife. Get a CD of this program by calling 800-A-FAMILY or get an instant download or a CD and our mobile app at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let's return now to this message. Paul's wife, Melody, now shares what it was like to have him finally want to "waste time" with her, to want to spend time with her and be still and just enjoy her presence, as we continue this "Focus on the Family" radio program.
End of Program Note
Melody: At first, I didn't know what Paul was doing when he was wasting time. We weren't talking and we definitely … I didn't really want to spend a lot of time with him. But every time I would look around, he was there. It was like I couldn't get rid of him and (Laughter) I would sit down and watch a movie and he'd kinda walk in and, "You know, can I sit here with you?" "Yes, I guess so."
But over time, I wouldn't admit it to him at that time, I was beginning to enjoy it. And as time went on, I did start admitting it to him. And I realized what I had longed for [was] to have his undivided attention, I had it as he wasted time with me. And I learned and we've talked a lot even recently that, you know, it's not gonna stop here. We're gonna learn to waste time a lot of times with each other and we look forward to that.
About a month into this ordeal (Laughing), I remember Paul comin' into the room and asked if I would be willing to go to what they call a Marriage Intensive. And I said yes, because I knew that, that was the only hope that we had through Christ, to do something like this. So, we signed up for a three-day, 20 hours of counseling, ofintense marriage counseling. And before we left for this, we had to fill out some sheets and one of the questions that they asked was, are you willing for God to do a miracle in your marriage? And I marked yes on there, because I did. I believed that God could, but to be honest, I couldn't pray that God would heal our marriage. I could only pray that God would heal me.
So, after a long trip to Branson, very quiet, because we weren't talking, we pulled up and Paul quietly said, "This is really surreal." He said, "You know, I never thought that it would be our marriage that was on the line." Over the years, I think Paul has suggested to couples, about this Marriage Intensive, but we realized it was our marriage that was so broken and our marriage that needed to be healed.
So the next day we started out on our 20 hours of counseling and they're not kidding when they say, it was intensive, 'cause it was really, really intensive. The first day after lunch, our counselor had asked us to fill out aa whole bunch of sheets.
But one of the questions, several questions that asked was to go through this huge long list of fears and to start just marking off all the fears that resonated with you, that you identified with. And they had kind of some descriptions of the fears.
But then they said, "I want you to go back and I want you to mark the top five fears that you really resonate with." And as I took a look at those, I could've told you that the first two. They were easy even before I, you know, took a look at that list. I could've told you what those were. But the last three shocked me and I took a look at those and realized, they were very deep seated in my childhood. And two of those is [sic] he fear of being insignificant and the fear of being unimportant.
So, for Paul and I, when he would stay out really late at night, which he did it a whole bunch, I would feel unimportant. So, I would take those feelings of unimportance and I would stuff them inside. And my typical reaction and response to feeling unimportant is to withdraw. I just go inside myself.
So, the counselor took us through each of our fears and tried to help us to see how those had really affected our marriage. And I see how they affected me. So, as we finished that 20 hours of counseling, it was really good. It was really positive and we walked away with a definite newfound hope that God was gonna save our marriage. We were very excited.
So, we get in the car to head home from Branson back home and we're gonna work out some of these new tools that had been given and we're real excited. And it just headed majorly south. (Laughing) So, it's a good thing that the counselor had told us that, that would happen, because I think we might've given up at that point.
Paul: Well, it was definitely very surreal to show up in Branson at this retreat center for the Marriage Intensive. Never thought that it would be us in that situation. They had asked me the same question they asked Melody, had been on a phone interview with me, "If God were to do a miracle in your marriage, would you be open to that?" And your answer should be yes and for me, it was, yes, you know, absolutely. I was wanting it, "God, whatever You want to do in me, whatever You want to do in our marriage, just do something."
In fact, during that time, I had been praying maybe the most intense and profound prayer, a very simple prayer, but maybe the most profound prayer I'd ever prayed. And maybe you've prayed this prayer. It was, "Help!" I would just pray, "God, help! Just help, help."
John: You can hear the heart of a man at a great point of need and unfortunately, we've got to push pause at this part in the presentation from Paul and Melody Westbrook on today's "Focus on the Family."
Jim: This is such a transparent message from the Westbrooks and I so appreciate the fact that they are willing to not only share the ugly feelings that they had for a while there, but also what they learned about themselves as they tried to put the pieces of their marriage back together. It sounds like hard work and I bet it was hard work.
Jim: But as we've heard countless times from you, our friends, divorce is much, much worse. Many of the comments that we receive after programs like this one say things like this, "I wish I had known we could save our marriage. Instead we went through a traumatic divorce and now no one is happy, especially our kids." Or this one that came in: "Our marriage was on the rocks, but with some hard work and a lot of honesty, we were able to save it and we love each other more than ever before." I love that and that's what we're tryin' to do here each and every day.
That's basically the choice, folks. If your marriage is in trouble or it's starting to get stale, you need to ask yourself the same question the Westbrooks were asked. If God were to do a miracle in your marriage, would you be open to that? And we realize that some people may be in an abusive situation and if you're in that situation, we want you to get to a place of safety for you and your children and then seek help with professionals, your pastor, whoever is in your sphere. Ask them to help you.
John: And you might have picked up along the way that the Westbrooks were actually able to find the assistance they needed at Focus on the Family's own National Institute of Marriage, which is a wonderful outreach.
Jim: John, it sure is and the reason Focus on the Family is so committed to marriage is, is that first, this is the first institution that God ordained, a marriage--Adam and Eve--and it's a symbol of Christ's relationship with the church. Christ is the bridegroom and the church is His bride.
It wasn't an accident that the Lord created it this way and marriage is the foundation of a healthy family and that's the foundation for a healthy society and culture. And in fact, if you have a heart for the poor and want to prevent poverty, strengthening marriages is one of the best ways to do that and that's because being a single parent is the No. 1 predictor of poverty. Married women with children have only an eight percent poverty rate, but once divorce occurs and you're a single mom or a cohabiting mom, your poverty rate will shoot up, skyrocket to upwards of 38 percent living in poverty.
John: Well, that's a really troubling number, Jim.
Jim: It is, John and if you would like to help Focus on the Family in our work to strengthen and save marriages, I believe it's noble. Please, please partner with us financially. Your gift of $50 a month will make it possible to provide the hope and support necessary to help restore marriages. And remember, when we save a marriage, we also save a family. And we're helping to provide a stable home for raising children and sparing them from the pain of divorce and the poverty that comes with that divorce.
John: Yeah and one of the things that we can offer to you for any marriage that needs a tune-up or even a major overhaul is a book that helps identify your relational fears, just like the Westbrooks did. It's in the book, The DNA of Relationships for Couples, which contains a wealth of marriage tools from both Greg and Gary Smalley.
Jim: You know, John, if two people are willing to try, a book like The DNA of Relationships for Couples can really help identify that destructive behavior in their relationship habits and explain how to begin the rebuilding process. If your marriage needs help and a lot of marriages do, don't feel embarrassed, this is a small investment that could reap huge rewards. We want to get this terrific resource into your hands to help your marriage or a friend or family member's marriage and we'll send you The DNA of Relationships for Couples for your generous donation of any amount to Focus on the Family today.
John: Yeah, just give us a call to donate or talk with a counselor. Our number is 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or you can donate online and request the CD of the program or that book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And when you're at the website, be sure to look for helpful downloads about those core fears and what to do if your marriage is in crisis.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening in. I'm John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. You'll hear how the Westbrooks got through that crisis in their marriage and hear further encouragement to help your family thrive.
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Paul and Melody WestbrookView Bio
Paul Westbrook is the senior pastor of a church in Illinois that he and his wife, Melody, co-founded in 1991. While Paul has been the primary leader and vision-caster at the church, Melody, a stay-at-home-mom, has also played a critical role in starting and leading women's small groups over the years. The couple has three grown sons named Caleb, Luke and Joshua.