In This Series:
Trust is why we are okay with the Father’s corrective care when we sin—we know He loves us (Hebrews 12:6). His corrections flow out of His unending and unstoppable love for us. This kind of love gives Him an all-access pass into our lives. He is the unique and perfect example to follow regarding relationship-making. He is the person we want to emulate. It took me a while to understand this regarding our marriage because I did not fully realize the importance of the “for us clause” in the gospel. In Romans 8:31, Paul asked, “If God is for us, who could be against us?” Then he explained what being “for us” meant as he doxologized about the gospel.
“He, who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Do you see what Paul did? He connected how the Lord is for us to a practical outworking of the gospel. He said the Lord was for us, and Paul proved his point by reminding us that the Father sent His one and only Son to die on the cross to save us. If a person is willing to die for you, you can rest assured he is for you. He loves you inexhaustibly (John 15:13). And if He is for you to that degree, you know He can be trusted—the essential requirement to release your vulnerable soul to someone fully.
This kind of gospel connection to our everyday lives is not what I demonstrated to my wife in the early years of our marriage. Though I was not a tyrant, and though we had many great times together, I was not fully and practically in tune with what it meant to be a gospelized man. Yes, I was for her because nobody else would dare to mess with her, but I was not for her in the way the Lord is for me. This gospel lack in my life gave her pause when sharing her innermost thoughts and struggles with me. I was not trustworthy to the degree I needed to be to release her from fear while inviting her to share with me in an open and vulnerable way. I had left just enough questions in her mind to make her wary of letting me fully into her world.
When we were dating, there was hardly a thing we did not discuss. It was open season for conversation, and all doors flung wide open as we shared our dreams and fears. The love flowed in those early days of dating. We had not known each other long enough to become disappointed or discouraged with each other. Sin was present, but it had not affected us enough to shut us down relationally. That came later.
After we tied the knot and entered into a 24/7 relationship, the doctrine of sin became more of an issue. We were ignorant, two young people in love with no sin plan. Because we could not get away from each other, we could no longer keep our sinful ways masked from each other. Without training to wage war biblically, we waged war according to the flesh (2 Corinthians 10:3). Here are a few of our first fighting techniques—some of the tools you might find in any ungodly toolbox.
Accusing, anger, arrogance, blame, condemnation, criticalness, excusing, frustration, grumbling, guilt, justifications, lack of confession, manipulations, pouting, rationalization, selfishness, self-righteousness, shame, silent treatment, brooding, and unforgiveness.
Any of these characteristics create distance in a relationship, with no possibility of having biblical koinonia. To further complicate matters was my unwillingness to own the crimes I committed in the marriage. That is where we were.
On the surface, we “went to church.” We were religious people in the proper sense of that word. We did ministry things. We prayed and read our Bibles each day. But there was a distance between us. We both had independent relationships with the Lord—relationships that did not intersect. It is possible to have made it to the end of our lives and still be together, still be in church, and still do ministry things in some way, shape, or form.
I do not think those external activities would have changed much, even though our spiritual lives were like two ships passing in the night. There was no connection at the deepest and richest parts of our lives. How sad when you cannot share your most treasured experience with the person you married: the Lord is a fantastic gift but not mutually enjoyed. Like a couple sitting in bed, playing video games on their own devices with people around the world but not playing with each other.
I shared my experience with God with friends, and Lucia shared her experience with God with others, too, but we did not have a shared experience with God with each other. We could not connect at the soul level. The depth of our God-talk was to talk about churchy things and churchy people. When it came to each other, we lived happily on the outside but spiritually lonely on the inside.
Initially, I was offended that she would have spiritually intimate relationships with other people. As the Lord began to open my eyes, I began to see how I had set the tone for that kind of environment in our home. She did not shut down like that at the beginning of our relationship. Lucia was open with me and longed for me to lead her into more openness. Of course, I had no clue about such matters, so when she disappointed me, I responded with various forms of anger, i.e., harsh words, silent treatment, and accusations.
I did not realize how my insensitivity perpetuated darkness in our home. Each unkind word was like a paper cut on her heart. Rather than owning my unkindness, I continued to wax on with my eye-for-an-eye responses to her (Matthew 7:3–5, 5:38– 48). Most Christian women want their husbands to love and lead them well (1 Peter 3:7). They want to be vulnerable (Ephesians 5:29). I have described it to many couples like people walking up to you with their heart in their hands, reaching them out to give to you. Imagine standing there with another person’s beating heart in your hands.
That is the fragility we live before the Lord, knowing He could stomp us out in a moment. Yet we are willing to come before Him in that kind of vulnerability because we trust Him. A wife will never do that with her husband if he has a proven track record of not being entrusted with the high honor of stewarding her heart. That is what finally dawned on me. That is what I began to own. I had not created an environment of grace in our marriage. We were physically intimate. We loved each other. We continued to do a lot of fun things together, but there was a no-trespassing sign on her heart, and I was the one who put it there.
Biblical fellowship is sharing your most profound and intimate relationship with another human, which is your relationship with God. There are two parts to your relationship with God—good and bad or light and dark. There are positive aspects in your life where you are appropriating the Lord’s grace and living in the strength of His victory through the resurrection. There are other areas in your life where you have not yet applied the Lord’s grace and are struggling. Biblical fellowship with another human being is when both people can share both sides of their experience with the Lord—the good and the bad. Trust is key to living in this kind of fellowship: “Can I trust you to steward my deepest vulnerabilities?”
It became apparent that if I wanted to get into the deepest part of Lucia’s soul, I needed to lead her by being vulnerable to her. I needed to step up to the plate and guide her in biblical koinonia rather than waiting for her to show me. It was time to let her in on my dirty little secret: I was a failure as a husband. The irony is that she was well aware of my dirty little secret. The more significant obstacle was my unwillingness to own my failure, which only affirmed that she could not trust me. If a man is a thief but will not own his thievery, you know you cannot trust him. It is one thing to steal, but to steal and not acknowledge your stealing makes you a person that others will have to be doubly cautious with when engaging.
A person who will not own his sin has trustworthy issues, not to mention integrity, honesty, transparency, deception, self-righteousness, control, and discernment problems. Shall I go on with more reasons that caused Lucia to pause in her soul when it came to opening up to me? As the leader of my home, it was my call as to whether I would make the first move. My overbearingness put her on her heels, and the empowering grace of God working through humility would begin to build the faith she needed to trust me again. In the past, I would wait for her to open up and own her sin. In those moments, I could fake humility while feeling smug, self-righteous, and grateful that she agreed with me. Think about how punishing that had to feel to her.
I honestly wanted Lucia to share with me her deepest thoughts. I did not want her only to find safety with others. It took me the longest time to realize that I needed to lead her into it if that was what I wanted. Getting her to open up was not going to happen by verbally digging it out of her. Manipulating her through well-thought-out arguments, as though communication was a competitive event, was not going to work either. And as for critique and shame? Forget about it. The radicality of the gospel cuts against the grain of prideful men. Here are a few examples that speak to that radicality:
If a man is going to lead his wife, he will have to learn how to serve her (Mark 10:45). If koinonia is the goal, open the door of your heart and invite her to your authentic self. Please give her a tour. Do a walk-through, articulating your failures, fears, and weaknesses. Let her see and experience your vulnerability.
Here are five questions you can share with your wife—a suggestive way for you to consider how to approach this type of communication in your marriage. If this kind of communication has not been the norm for you both, you may want to preface your questions with the following:
Honey, if you ultimately knew I would not defend myself in any way or retaliate, how would you respond to the following things? You are free to answer in any way you want to, and I will not defend myself, correct you, or try to manipulate you into my thinking. I also will not bring this conversation up in the future in a punitive way. I hope for you to experience the grace of God in your life, so it will release you to help me in areas where I have failed.
Do not say this if you don’t mean it. The words are not a technique. If you have a change of heart and your words are true, here are a few biblical fellowship starter questions as you share your thoughts about yourself with your wife while drawing her out to give input. (Consider these questions your starter pack.)
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).