Shut Up and Listen
It was one of the biggest conflicts of our marriage. And as I sat there full of anger and self-righteousness, I knew that I hadn’t handled it correctly.
I was standing outside our church one Sunday morning. I was feeling good—we just finished a powerful service, and I was getting revved up for the final one. In fact, I was already looking forward to the afternoon when I would do what pastors do on Sunday afternoon … take a nap.
Then I saw my wife, Ann, speeding into the parking lot. She whipped the car into a prime parking spot close to front doors, jumped out with our sons Austin and Cody, and walked up. “Hi, honey,” she said. “Look at the parking spot that God gave me today!”
There was only one little problem. At Kensington Church, we save the best parking spaces for our visitors. We even have new members raise their right hand when joining our church and state that they will now take the worst parking spots in the lot and leave the closest spots for those who are new to Kensington.
Immediately I said to Ann, “Move the car now.”
“I’m not moving the car,” she declared. “God gave me that spot.”
I couldn’t believe it. Who did Ann think she was, violating one of the core principles of our church! “Move the car now, or I’ll move it!” I ordered.
All this time I was welcoming people to the church with a fake smile on my face. But I was getting more heated by the moment. “Austin, take the keys and move the car now!”
Ann jumped in front of our son and said, “He is not moving the car!”
She was a pastor’s wife … what kind of example was she setting? Finally, I yelled—if it’s possible to yell while whispering, since people were walking past us—”I’ve got to go preach. You move that car, and you move it now!”
By the time I got home, Ann was hot—like molten lava. I walked into the kitchen and her first words were, “I can’t believe you told me to move.”
Time to rumble.
“I was late getting to church,” she said. “God gave me that great spot by the front door and I took it with gratitude.”
“God did not give you that spot!”I replied. Maybe I needed to help her learn a proper theology of how God works in everyday affairs.
We didn’t scream at each other like in the past, but it got pretty raucous. As we circled the kitchen island, verbally jabbing at each other, our 14-year-old son Cody was sitting at the kitchen table and listening. “Hey, Dad,” he said, “don’t you and Mom travel around the country teaching couples how to resolve conflict? Is this what you teach them?”
A wise man would have listened to those timely words. Unfortunately, that was not me.
“You sit right there and I will show you how to resolve conflict!” I replied, and I went right back after Ann. She needed to know how wrong she was.
Finally, Ann walked out of the kitchen and headed upstairs. I gave Cody a look that said, I’m not sure what just happened, but it doesn’t look good for either of us.
A word from God
In the quiet of that room, I had a few minutes to think, and I invited God to join this situation. Up to this point I really hadn’t cared what God thought … and honestly I didn’t want to know. Yet as I sat there full of anger and self-righteousness, I knew that I hadn’t handled this situation correctly. I needed another perspective and knew in my heart that I needed to hear from God.
So I took a deep breath and asked God to speak to me. And what I heard was one word: Listen.
About 15 minutes later Ann came back downstairs and stood at the doorway to our kitchen. It was just Cody and me sitting there. She looked at me and said these words which I will never forget: “I go to church every week all by myself because you are there early and stay late. I do everything around this house because you are constantly working at all your jobs in ministry. I mow the yard. I paint the kitchen. I snowboard just to be with you and our sons. I wakeboard just to be with you and the boys.”
At this point Cody gave me a look that said, Dad, I hate to tell you, but you’re toast.
Ann continued: “I cook and clean and wash the cars and take care of this house because you are rarely around. I sit alone in church every week while you stand on stage and preach. And if I get a chance one time to park by the front door at church, then I’m going to take it!”
I just sat there. I could feel Cody’s eyes boring into my soul, wondering what Dad was going to say.
I asked Ann, “Is this about you not feeling like a priority? Do you feel like Kensington is more important to me than you are?” She nodded yes.
Boom! God had told me to listen, and here it was—a moment that could change our lives and our legacy. God was speaking to me about my life and my priorities.
In the past, I would have argued with Ann about how she felt. I would have told her that of course she was my highest priority and that she was wrong to feel anything different than that. In my heart, Kensington wasn’t anywhere near as important to me as Ann was.
But it didn’t matter what I thought. She felt neglected and that was her reality. As Cody watched—and I’m glad he got to see the whole thing from start to finish—I walked across the kitchen floor and held Ann. I said, “I am truly sorry for yelling at you today. I am sorry that you feel that my job is more important to me than you are. You are more important to me than anything else in my life apart from God. But if you don’t feel that way then I am living wrong. I am too busy with Kensington and I need to look at my schedule and make the adjustments needed to reflect my priorities. Let’s look at that today.”
And we did find some ways to improve our situation. One of our big changes was to begin meeting each other for lunch each week. As Ann told a group of athletes’ wives that she leads, “I need a special alone-with-my-husband time once a week, in a place where we can connect, and that makes me feel like I’m a priority. I don’t need for him to be there every day. We’ve figured out over time what I need and what he needs.”
The values of my church are still important to me. But if I communicate to my wife that she’s not as important to me as our church, I’ve failed. The most important person in my life—second only to God—is my wife. That has to be reflected in our calendar, our money, our values.
And by the way, Ann hasn’t parked in that spot again …
Two ears and one mouth
James 1: 19 tells us, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” If you’ve ever heard two people arguing, you know how revolutionary these words are. Most people in a conflict are just the opposite—slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.
There’s probably a reason we have two ears and one mouth. That’s the ratio that works best in conflict—if we listen twice as much as we speak. Instead, all we think about is our own arguments, comebacks, and rebuttals. In fact, this biblical command to be “slow to speak” is especially important for those with strong verbal skills. Just because you can outtalk your spouse in an argument doesn’t mean you’re in the right.
Shut up and listen! Often I realize I need to turn off my phone, turn off my laptop, turn off the TV. I need to look my wife in the eyes and listen to what she has to say. Often there’s something deeper she’s trying to communicate. She may not say it perfectly, and she may say it in anger. If I truly listen and ask God to give me understanding and discernment, I might get to the real root of the issue.
I realized during my argument with Ann that it was never about a parking spot. This was about Ann feeling loved by me. Feeling cherished by her man. The parking spot was what God used to show me how whacked my schedule had become. I always said what every Christian man says about their priorities—God first, family second, and job third. But these were just words—they were not what I was living.
And sadly, this wasn’t the first time we had argued about my priorities. For decades I never really heard her. When she said, “You’re never home … I feel like I’m alone raising the boys” I felt like she was needy and didn’t appreciate what I was doing. Didn’t I need to work and provide for my family? Why didn’t she appreciate that?
Finally, I began to discern what she was really saying, and I was so stupid I couldn’t hear it. She was saying, “I don’t feel like I’m a priority in your life.” Which made her feel unloved, and she responded by not showing respect for me. We were caught in what Emerson Eggerichs calls the “crazy cycle.” As he writes in his book, Love and Respect, a woman’s number one need is to feel cherished and loved, and a man’s number one need is to feel respected. If a wife doesn’t feel loved by her husband, she reacts by not showing respect for him. Then he responds to that lack of respect by not loving her.
Ann and I were caught in that cycle and couldn’t break out until I finally began to shut up and ask God to give me ears to hear.
Copyright © 2016 by Dave Wilson. Used with permission.