Mark: I remember when I first became a Christian, I heard about the concept of “dying to self.” It was often used to describe those times when we wrestle with God between doing things our way versus doing things His way. It was “dying to self” that motivated me to stop partying and stop smoking cigarettes some 37 years ago when I said yes to Jesus. I had no idea, however, how much marriage would uncover how much “self” still needed to be put to death.
Jill: I would agree. And I think parenting is a close second for providing that “refining fire” that reveals the places “self” reigns and needs to be put to death. Marriage, however, gets the number 1 spot because we’re having to navigate life so closely together that our “selves” just keep bumping into each other.
Mark: Have you ever found yourself mumbling under your breath about something your spouse did? Well that self-righteous mumbling is your “self” raising up.
Jill: Have you ever found yourself thinking that your way is the right way? That pride is your “self” raising up.
Mark: Have you found yourself thinking about someone outside of your marriage? That lust and temptation is your “self” raising it’s ugly head.
Jill: Do you more often think of what your spouse does wrong than what he/she does right? That critical spirit is your “self” that needs to experience a quick death.
Mark: Do you control situations with your anger? That’s a red flag that your uncontrolled “self” needs to die.
Jill: Do you disregard or minimize concerns your spouse expresses? It’s time to raise the white flag and surrender your “self”ishness that explains away the concerns and responds with defensiveness.
Mark: My affair was the epitome of “self.” Oh I wanted to make it all about Jill, but that was a smoke screen that kept me from looking at me. Sure Jill had some changes to make just like I did, but my “self” was most definitely leading my thoughts and decisions.
Jill: It seems that nearly everyday God shines a light on some way I need to die to myself. Sometimes it has to do with my thought life. Other days it has to do with my temptations. Sometimes it’s my attitudes or my actions. When we die to self it means we set aside what we want in any given moment in order to do what God wants me to do. It also means that we value others as much as we value ourselves.
Mark: When we die to self we’re no longer obsessed with having things our way. Our marriage improves because we no longer bring selfishness, control, and even addictions to the table. Conflict doesn’t go away because you’re still two very different people trying to live life together, but conflict does decrease because we’re no longer lobbying to get our own way or controlling to make sure things go the way we want them to.
So what do you need to die to? Where is your SELF causing pain in your marriage? Where do you need to stop pointing the finger at your spouse and start looking at what part of SELF you’re bringing to the party?
Mark: When Jill and I wrote No More Perfect Marriages we identified what we call the Seven Slow Fades where our hearts slowly and unknowingly pull away from each other. We also identified the Eight God-Tools that stop the fades in their tracks.
Jill: The past two weeks we’ve had the privilege of hosting two couples for a 2 or 3 day marriage coaching retreat. As we sorted through the struggles and snags each couple deals with day to day in their marriage, the God-Tools proved to be essential elements for exacting change.
Mark: We pick up our God-Tools in an effort to respond to the everyday challenges of relationships God’s way. Rather than reacting the way we feel, God-Tools help us to respond the way God asks us to respond. For the next few weeks, we’re going to look at one God-Tool a week. Of course we can’t possibly cover the God-Tools to the degree we do in the book, but hopefully we’ll get your wheels turning as you think about how you need to personally use each tool in your marriage.
Jill: Today’s God-Tool is COURAGE. This tool is needed in so many different ways. If your spouse is more assertive and you are more passive, courage will help you find your voice, express your thoughts, opinions, and feelings.
Mark: That’s been me. Because I was raised in a home where my voice, my thoughts, and my opinions were dismissed, I stopped speaking up in my early years. I carried that into my marriage. While Jill longed for me to share my thoughts, I had so much trouble finding my voice. Courage has been the key to turning that around.
Jill: If you’re a husband or wife who resists emotional vulnerability in marriage, courage will be your tool of choice to deepen your emotional connection in marriage. When you’ve shut down feelings for dozens of years, it’s not easy to turn those back on. Yet, it’s necessary to have a marriage that has emotional depth to it. This is me…I’m using my God-Tool of courage to share more of my insides with my husband.
Mark: Courage is needed in so many ways in marriage. We need courage to make the right choices. Courage to set boundaries. Courage to believe the best in our mate. Courage to take the risk to trust again after hurt. Courage to stop controlling. It even requires courage to listen to our spouse without defensiveness…to really hear and reflect back what our partner is communicating–even if we don’t agree. Courage allows us to listen well before we attempt to share our thoughts.
Jill: Where is fear affecting your marriage? That’s where you need to be pulling out the God-Tool of courage.
Mark: Courage grows from God’s strength inside of you. Don’t try to go it alone. Ask God to show you where and how to use courage as it relates to what you bring to the marriage table.
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous.
Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
What about you? Where do you need to use your God-Tool of courage in your marriage today?
This summer has been a summer of grief for me with the Hearts at Home organization bringing their season of ministry to a close. I never thought that would happen.
A few weeks ago I heard the news that Women of Faith had cancelled all of their Fall conferences in order to regroup. It honestly didn’t surprise me at all. In the 24 years that Hearts at Home existed, we watched event attendance and registration responses change greatly over the years.
Many have asked what could have been done to change things. It’s not easy being an event planner these days…in fact it’s downright scary at times.
Because I’ve been asked several times this summer, here are a few ways you can support the organizations and events you value:
With your EARLY registration. When Hearts at Home started 24 years ago, we filled up fast. Today’s audiences tend to wait to see if some better opportunity might come along. They resist commitment and tend to register late. They’d rather pay the $20-$30 higher late registration fee and keep their options open than to save $20-$30 with the early registration fee and commit themselves. This alone gives event planners major stress. Often thousands of dollars have been committed for speaker fees, event liability insurance, facility rental, minimum food requirements, and hotel blocks. When registration lags, it causes great stress for everyone on the event-planning side of things. Your early registration not only prioritizes self-care or marriage-care, it also helps event planners rest well and know that the financial obligations they’ve committed to will be covered.
With your ATTENDANCE. It’s tough to make a decision to attend an event, but your attendance is a vote of confidence in the value of learning, growing, and stepping away from the everyday to find refreshment for yourself or for your marriage. Conflicts will always arise and you will likely miss out on something when you decide to commit to a valuable growth opportunity. Ask yourself, “Is this conflicting event repeatable?” If the answer is yes, then it’s okay to miss it on the rare occasion. One of ten soccer games might be an example. However, if it’s not repeatable, like your son receiving an award at an awards ceremony, then you’ll likely want to attend the “not repeatable” event. We also often tell ourselves, “I’ll attend that event next year.” There’s no assurance, however, the event will be available next year…especially if the organizers run into the challenges mentioned above in #1.
With your FINANCIAL SUPPORT. Many organizations that plan events are non-profit ministries. These organizations depend on the financial support of those who value the ministry. Sure, you pay to attend the event, but often that only covers a portion of what it takes to run the organization year-round. If you love what an organization brings to your life, support them financially to help them keep the encouragement coming your way. Don’t tell yourself others who have more resources will do that. Even small monthly amounts can make a huge difference when they’re paired with other small monthly amounts from other ministry partners.
With your PRAYERS. Folks in the public eye and event planners with vision endure a lot of criticism and often take some pretty big financial risks. Support your favorite organizations, authors, and speakers with your prayers. When we’re stepping out in faith, it makes a difference knowing that people are praying!
With your ENCOURAGING WORDS. There’s nothing better than knowing that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. If a book, an event, or a speaker’s message made a difference in your life, let them know! Hearing the God stories is the fuel that keeps their servant heart full!
When Mark and were deciding whether to bring a No More Perfect Marriages Couples Retreat to Rochester, Minnesota the November 10-11 weekend that Hearts at Home was supposed to be there, we prayed long and hard. Knowing everything we know about folks not committing these days and last minute registrations balanced against all of the financial obligations. It left us in a scary place that would require a step of faith. Ultimately we decided to take that step of faith. Now we’re in waiting land…will we get enough support to not go in the hole financially? Ultimately, however, we are trusting God’s provision and leading because are passionate about our message and solid in our mission to help marriages go the distance.
What plans do you have over the next two to six months to take care of yourself or to take care of your marriage? Isn’t it time to prioritize refreshment and recharge that will help you BE, not just DO? Here are some events I’ll be at where I’d LOVE for you to join me!
Jill: This weekend I had the privilege of spending time with some fabulous ladies in Ft. Branch, Indiana. I LOVE being able to bring encouragement and hope through women’s conferences and events.
Mark: Because we were in the neighborhood, we decided to head over to Washington, Indiana where I used to spend my summers with many aunts, uncles, and cousins. Jill and I so enjoyed staying with my great-aunt Betty. She amazed me when I was a kid and she still inspires me in so many ways.
Jill: We also had the privilege of spending time with Aunt Marcella and Uncle Ray who will be celebrating their 71st wedding anniversary this coming Friday! Can you believe that???? 71 years of marriage!
Mark: Jill asked them what the key was to 71 years of marriage and they shared a story with us to answer that question. Here’s the story in their own words:
Uncle Ray: I ended up having to work a double shift one day. Back then we didn’t have cell phones so I couldn’t let Betty know.
Aunt Marcella: When he walked in the door I said very harshly, “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” He didn’t say a word and just walked back out the door.
Uncle Ray: I decided I was going to walk around the block and come back in again.
Aunt Marcella: He was gone a few minutes and then he walked back in the door. I said in a much softer, kinder voice, “So where have you been? I’ve been worried sick. And why did you walk back out the door?”
Uncle Ray: I told her, “Well you had your apron on backwards and I had my hat on backwards and I decided we needed to try that again.”
Jill: Mark and I talked about that story as we drove home yesterday. There’s so much to glean from it.
Aunt Marcella admitted that her tone was harsh. We’d all do well to pay attention to the tone of voice we use with our spouse.
Uncle Ray led the way to a do-over. Sometimes we need to back up and try again.
Uncle Ray used a little humor. Aunt Marcella’s apron wasn’t literally on backwards, nor was his hat–he said that to indicate they were sideways with each other and the direction they were headed in wasn’t going to accomplish anything.
Aunt Marcella changed how she spoke to Uncle Ray when he came in the second time. Sometimes we need to adjust mid-conversation in order to make progress in our communication. Offering an apology can go a long way, too.
Uncle Ray walked around the block. By doing so, he stopped himself from answering back with a harsh tone. Just because our spouse says something in a harsh way, we don’t have to respond back the same way. Just like Uncle Ray, we can choose to step away just long enough to take a deep breath and choose to respond rather than react.
Happy Anniversary Aunt Marcella and Uncle Ray! You’re an inspiration to all of us!
What about you? Which of the five takeaways from Ray and Marcella’s story do you need to practice?
Mark: Yesterday Jill and I left our youngest at college in downtown Chicago for his last semester. It’s hard to believe he’s finishing up and getting ready to fully move into adulthood.
As we were driving home from Chicago–a two-hour drive for us–we discussed the next few months of #marriagemonday posts. When we wrote our No More Perfect Marriages book we identified the 7 slow fades every marriage experiences and the 8 God-Tools needed to turn those fades around. The 8 God-Tools are so practical and needed each and every day of marriage so we decided we’d explore those for the next few weeks.
Mark: Of course, we can’t possibly cover them on the blog as much as they are explained and explored in the book, but if you’ve read the book, this will be a helpful review and reminder of what tools you need to be using TODAY and if you haven’t read the book yet, it will give you a peek into these tools you need in your marriage toolbox!
Jill: So here’s why we need God-tools: You are an imperfect human being. You are married to an imperfect human being. Two imperfect people who have to figure out money, make parenting decisions, be sexually intimate, take care of a home, make meals, do laundry, deal with car maintenance, and simply live in the same place are destined to find all that imperfect togetherness challenging. When we bump into imperfection—our own and our spouse’s—we often don’t handle it so well. This is when many of our feeling fades begin. However, we don’t have to allow the fades to create distance between us. We have some valuable tools available to us that most of us aren’t using often enough, if at all.
Mark: I love tools! After twenty years, I left church ministry and started Sawhorse Homes Inc., a home repair and remodeling business I had dreamt about for many years. When I’m working on a project, having the right tools makes all the difference in the world. I’ve found it’s the same in marriage. When I use the right tools in my marriage toolbox, conflict is averted, communication improves, disagreements are resolved faster, and our marriage
Jill: The concept of God-tools comes from 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 in The Message Bible (emphasis ours),
“The world is unprincipled. It’s dog-eat-dog out there! The world doesn’t fight fair. But we don’t live or fight our battles that way—never have and never will. The tools of our trade aren’t for marketing or manipulation, but they are for demolishing that entire massively corrupt culture. We use our powerful God-tools for smashing warped philosophies, tearing down barriers erected against the truth of God, fitting every loose thought and emotion and impulse into the structure of life shaped by Christ. Our tools are ready at hand for clearing the ground of every obstruction and building lives of obedience into maturity.”
Mark: The Perfection Infection is a warped philosophy that most of us impose upon our marriage. When we have unrealistic expectations of each other and of marriage in general, this sets the stage for disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment. When we unfairly compare our spouse to others or even to our “imagined spouse,” this warped philosophy prepares the soil of our heart for seeds of discontentment to be sown.
Jill: Our God-tools help us tear down the barriers we erect in our own hearts. That’s honestly where most marriage issues begin and end . . . in the heart. The condition of our heart is directly connected to the condition of our marriage.
Mark: The eight powerful God-given tools of courage, grace, love, humility, forgiveness, wisdom, acceptance, and compassion are designed to line our heart up with God’s heart. They keep us on track or get us back on track. These right choices strengthen and mature us to become
more like Christ each and every day.
Jill: The God-Tool we want to focus on today is COURAGE. Doing things God’s way isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but it is always the right thing to do. Courage is not the absence of fear; it is determining something is more important than the fear. Your marriage is more important than your fear of conflict, your fear of taking off your mask, your fear of intimacy, your fear of disagreement, or your fear of honest conversation.
Mark: Prior to marriage I was confident and courageous. I had operated successfully in a family business with responsibilities that included operations, sales, collections, and cultivating new clients. All of these roles took courage and confidence.
Marriage, however, seemed to be a different ballgame. I found that I was confident and courageous in business, but not at home. I’d had role models in business, but no role models at home. Because of this, my insecurity began to surface. The only way I knew how to assert myself at home was with anger; so instead of courage, I used my anger to control. It didn’t show up often, but when I felt fear, I responded with control instead of courage. This was after I said yes to God, but before I really understood my value in Christ, so my God-tools weren’t gathered
into one place where I could access them easily.
Jill: My tendency to not be vulnerable with my emotions put emotional distance between Mark and I. I would cry in private, not share what I was feeling (because I honestly didn’t KNOW what I was feeling!), and keep my struggles to myself. I didn’t want to “burden” him. Unintentionally, though, I was indirectly telling him I didn’t need him because I could handle things on my own.
Mark: Now I’m using my God-Tool of courage to speak up before I am angry. To say something when I’m first bothered instead of letting it build up in my head and my heart. This was scary for me at first because I was raised in a family where I didn’t have a voice so it took HUGE AMOUNTS of courage at first to find my voice. It still requires courage but I’m now creating a new normal for me of speaking up calmly early on.
Jill: And I’m using my God-Tool of courage to tune into my emotions AND let Mark know what I’m thinking and feeling. Honestly it’s “easier” for me to just keep them tucked away. However, doing that keeps my husband at an emotional distance that isn’t healthy for our relationship. I’m pulling out courage every time I’m tempted to pull away from my emotions or from my husband.
Mark: Want to know the secret for taking your marriage deeper? Using the God-Tool of courage will change the dynamics of your relationship! Joshua 1:9 tells us to “…be strong and courageous.” Use your God-Tool of courage today!
What about you? Where are you letting fear keep your heart guarded and inaccessible to your spouse? What are you hiding behind? How do you need to be using your God-Tool of courage to get more honest and close the distance between your heart and your spouse’s heart?
Mark: Last week was a week of rest for Jill and I. We spent time enjoying Lake Michigan along with Jill’s parents. It was one of the most restful weeks I’ve had in a long time.
Jill: It was a four hour drive to Holland, Michigan and a five hour drive home because we decided to avoid the interstate and take the scenic country drive home.
Mark: One of the ways Jill and I continue to grow our own marriage is by listening to podcasts, conference recordings, or radio programs on marriage. Last week, the Focus on the Family app provided us three excellent programs:
Jill: We listened, paused, talked, listened, paused, talked all the way to and from Michigan. Learning together gives us shared vocabulary and new perspectives.
Mark: Marriage isn’t a once and done activity. We have to keep learning about marriage, ourselves, and our spouse. We have to be intentional about pursuing CEU’s (Continuing Education Units) in marriage!
Jill: Marriage Monday blog posts are a continuing education opportunity! If you’re not already sharing them with your spouse, consider doing so to give you an opportunity to learn together.
Jill: Reading a book together is also a great option. We’ve done it several ways: 1) Read one copy individually–Mark highlights in blue and I highlight in pink. Then we talk through our highlights and marvel at how little purple there is! We are so different! 2) Read aloud together each night as we crawl in bed. This takes us the longest time to finish a book but usually nets the best discussions as we read. 3) Listen to an audiobook as we drive. 4) Get two copies of a book and each read our own copy, talking about what we’re reading along the way. (No More Perfect Marriages has both Think About It and Talk About It questions at the end of each chapter so it’s a great book to read together in some way!)
Mark: Our No More Perfect Date Night membership site is also a great continuing education opportunity! Membership is not currently open but you can get on a waiting list to be notified when it opens up again.
Jill: Life gets busy and it’s easy to let our marriage slip to the backburner. It takes intentionality to keep it front and center.
What continuing education strategies are you practicing? Would you add any other strategies to this list?
Jill: We see things through our own experiences, history, temperament, personality, and family of upbringing perspective and we determine what someone else means with their words or body language.
Mark: The only problem is that the meaning we assign to it isn’t accurate.
Jill: When that happens, we become offended when offense wasn’t even something the other person meant. Or we become defensive when we misread body language. Or we start an argument with our spouse because we misunderstood what he or she meant with their words.
Mark: I did this for years before Jill learned to be emotionally vulnerable with me. She was strong in crisis and rarely expressed emotion or processed grief with me. This had everything to do with her slow fade of avoiding emotion. However, I read it as “you don’t need me.”
Jill: I can easily do this when Mark expresses apprehension about something. I read it as “unwilling to do something new” when the external processor in him is just expressing his thoughts or feelings about doing something new. He’s not saying he’s unwilling to do it, he’s just talking through his feelings.
Mark: We can also do the same thing with body language. When Jill is quiet I can misread her quietness as a rejection of me or that she’s angry with me when what’s really going on is that my internal processing wife is simply thinking about something. I tend to misread this because when I was young and my stepdad didn’t talk to me he was usually angry. So I’m assigning meaning to this same experience in my marriage based upon my childhood. The problem is that I’m assigning a wrong meaning to it!
Jill: So what can we do about this bad habit most of us do in marriage? We can ask our thoughts!
Mark: When we ask our thoughts, we simply put what we’re thinking on the table. For instance, I might say to Jill, “When I was a child and my step-dad got silent, he was usually angry with me. You’re quiet today…are you angry with me?”
Jill: Or I might say, “You’re expressing fear about doing this. Are you saying you don’t want to do it or are you just talking through your thoughts and feelings about it?”
Mark: When we ask our thoughts we take away the wrong assumptions and clarify what the other person is thinking, feeling, or communicating. Go ahead and give it a try! You’ll reduce conflict and increase communication!
What about you? Where are you wrongly assigning meaning in your marriage? Where do you need to ask your thoughts?
Mark: Jill and I have the privilege of doing quite a bit of marriage mentoring. While many of those conversations pave the way to powerful breakthroughs, sometimes those conversations are tough ones and words can fly carelessly.
Jill: The Bible says that our tongue brings life or death (Proverbs 18:21). Think about this weekend…did you bring life to your marriage…or death?
Mark: When we bring death to our marriage with our words, we cause pain and create distance in our relationship.
Jill: Words are my world. As a writer and speaker, communication is what I do. Yet, in my marriage, what I’m learning is that what I DON’T say is just as important as what I DO say.
Mark: When Jill and I wrote No More Perfect Marriages, the editing process was just as important as the writing process. Words were removed, changed, and carefully reviewed to communicate with clarity.
Jill: The editing process is something also needed in marriage. Need some practical steps? Try these:
Apologize.When the wrong words come out of your mouth, apologize and ask for forgiveness. The more you apologize, the more you’ll be motivated to stop the words before they exit your mouth.
Step away.When you’re in the middle of conflict, step away rather than getting sucked into the emotion. Re-engage when you can respond rather than react.
Keep it shut. Half of what we say just doesn’t need to be said. Snarky comments. Under our breath responses. Exasperated remarks. Defensive answers. Different opinions on things that just really don’t matter. Resist the urge to comment when a comment really isn’t needed.
Mark: Measuring our words requires self-control, and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. The more God we have in us, the more we’ll have success at taming our tongue.
Jill: This is a place God is growing me. He’s teaching me to edit my words and use only the ones that really matter. I’m not getting it right all the time, but it’s definitely different than it’s been in the past!
What about you? Are you bringing life to your marriage with your words? Do you need to do any editing?