FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Building a Habit for Speaking Life

with Dave and Ann Wilson | June 4, 2021
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We create habits for almost everything we do in life, including how we speak to people. On today's program, Dave and Ann Wilson encourage us to create a habit of speaking life within our homes and realizing the impact it can have on those we love.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Dave and Ann Wilson encourage us to create a habit of speaking life within our homes and realizing the impact it can have on those we love.

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Building a Habit for Speaking Life

With Dave and Ann Wilson
June 04, 2021
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Dave: Okay, what’s the best thing you remember somebody saying to you when you were a kid?

Ann: I remember my mom saying to me, “You know, you were an accident; we never meant to have you.” Now, that sounds terrible.

Dave: I said something “good.”

Ann: I know; wait; wait. The second half—she said this—“But I’ve always thought God must have something really special for you in this life.” I think I was, maybe, five to seven years old; and that stuck. I mean, we didn’t even go to church; but I remember thinking, “Oh, God must have something special. I wonder what it is.” Those words were so powerful in my life.

Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.

Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on our FamilyLife® app.

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.

Dave: And today, we get to talk about the power of words. It’s amazing that you can remember, specifically, those words.

Ann: Here is the thing—a lot of us can just flash back to a moment when negative words were spoken to them—do you have any of those?

Dave: Yes; I remember a high school teacher saying, “You’ll never amount to anything,”—

Ann: Oh!

Dave: —because I was pretty rowdy, and rebellious, and getting in trouble; I didn’t have a dad in my home. They didn’t see anything good in me.

We get to talk today about the power of words in life but, especially, in your marriage.

Ann: —and in your home.

Dave: Yes; I mean, it’s a power that we, literally, have in our hands/literally, in our mouth. We mentioned, in Part One of this message, a very powerful verse in the Bible, we mentioned before, was Proverbs 18:21. Solomon literally says: “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Ann: You know, that makes me think of the story I heard years ago. Remember Roger Staubach, the Dallas Cowboys quarterback?

Dave: Of course, I remember him; he was my favorite quarterback, growing up. [Laughter]

Ann: Of course.

Dave: I’m looking out at the engineering booth, and Jim Mitchell has got his arms up; you know.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: He’s a Dallas Cowboys nut.

Ann: Well, I’ll never forget—he went to a prison to do a talk—the prison chaplain sat down with Roger.

It’s pretty amazing because, before Roger got up [to speak], the chaplain said to all the inmates: “Men, raise your hands to how many of you had dads that told you, ‘One day, you’ll end up in prison.’” Almost every hand went up.

Roger, when he went back and started talking to that chaplain, he said, “That was so staggering to me that so many of those men had their fathers say that to them. It’s so sad.” The chaplain said to Roger, “Roger, what did your dad say to you? What were the words that your dad spoke to you?” Roger paused for a second, and then he said, “That’s so funny you asked. My dad told me, as a young kid, ‘Roger, one day, you’ll play in the NFL.’”

That just proof/like, “Oh, our words carry so much weight.”

Dave: They do—the power of life and death—to build up/life; to tear down/death—is in our tongue.

Yet, you come into our marriage; and you think, “How does that apply in a marriage?” We said earlier that: “Happy or healthy couples choose to speak life to their spouse.” That’s a habit that you build into your life; and if you study happy and healthy couples, one of the habits that they live out is they are not speaking death words; they are not tearing each other down with their words. They’re not yelling and condemning one another.

That doesn’t mean every single word that comes out of our mouth, but it does mean there is a habit being built. This is something you choose to do, just like a workout. It’s the same thing with your tongue—you have to build a habit to hold the negative words/the death words and speak out the life words—that’s/that’s what healthy couples do.

Ann: Some of you might be thinking, “Oh, that’s so weird. That would be so awkward; I’ve never really done that.” Maybe, you start with texting it; you know? Texting it to your kids; texting it to your spouse: things that you see in them/things that you love about them. That could—like think about your kids receiving that at school—because our kids go out of our homes, and it’s hard.

Dave: How about one life text a day—

Ann: Ooh!

Dave: —to your spouse and to your kids?

Ann: Are you going to do that for me? [Laughter]

Dave: One—I do it all the time, honey—[Laughter]—didn’t you get one already today?

Ann: No.

Dave: Now, think about it though. That would be a way to build a habit:—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: “I’m going to text, at least, one life text/one encouraging, building-up word of affirmation to my spouse or my kids every single day.” How long would that take?—a minute or less.

I would say it this way: “If you think something nice, say it twice; if you think something mean, don’t let it be seen.” [Laughter] Are you laughing?

Ann: I am.

Dave: So here it is again: “If you think something nice, say it twice; if you think something mean, don’t let it be seen.” If you are looking at your spouse, and you think something encouraging/like nice, say it! I’d say, “Say it a couple of times.”

Ann: Why don’t people?—why don’t we say it to each other?

Dave: I don’t know. I literally remember, early in our marriage, when you were getting ready for a date night; and I remember you came out of the room, and I was sitting on the couch. You walked into the family room, and I was sitting there. I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness! She is stunning.” You looked beautiful; you’re all dressed up and ready to go out. Did I say it?—nope. I never even thought about saying it; but I remember thinking, “Wow!”

Then, we go on this date—do you remember this?—this probably happened many times.

Ann: What I remember was our kids were all little. I wasn’t dressed up—or I didn’t have my hair, or makeup, or anything done—almost never when they were little; so it was a big deal, in those days, if I would get dressed up and put a dress on.

Dave: Yes; so we go out. Who knows how our date was? But I remember, as we’re crawling in bed later that night, you said, “Hey, did you think I looked nice tonight?” [Laughter]

Ann: That sounds so needy; it’s awful!

Dave: I remember you saying that; and of course, I was like, “Oh my goodness! Yes, when you walked into the family room, I was sitting there. I just thought to myself, ‘You are beautiful and stunning!’”

Ann: Too late. [Buzzer noise]

Dave: I remember you said, “You didn’t think that.” I’m like, “No, no, no; I really did. I thought that.” You go, “No, you didn’t.” I go, “What do you mean I didn’t?” You go, “If you would have thought that, you would have said it,”—thinking that I had the brains to speak nice things twice.

I mean, I remembering learning, right there; it was like, “Why didn’t I say it? I have no idea.” But again: “If you think something nice, say it twice!” I mean, make sure you say it. It isn’t like: “Well, I told her on our wedding day that I love her; I never need to say it again unless it changes,”—no; that needs to be said. You need to speak life, constantly, in your marriage. Don’t keep it to yourself.

Ann: Well, and we’ve learned so much from the Feldhahns—with Shaunti and Jeff—because they’ve talked about/like just saying, “Thank you.” In their books, they talk about that: “Say, ‘Thank you.’” I remember reading that and thinking, “Okay, I can do that.” I’ll never forget—like you took the trash out—you do that a lot.

Dave: I do it all the time.

Ann: But I had never thanked you before; because I thought, “Well, of course, he should take out this trash. That’s his job. Does anyone thank me for my job? Does anyone thank me for…” But that’s such a wrong attitude.

I remember saying, “Thanks, hon, for taking out the garbage.” You’re like, “What?!” You were shocked. [Laughter]

Dave: I was like taking it out every night after that. I mean, again, you know, life words are motivating.

Here’s one way to think about this—I’ll never forget—we were at church a couple of years ago. It’s really cool, when one of your kids says something, and it’s like sort of profound. You’re like, “Wow; that’s true and powerful.” Our younger son was on stage preaching—he was my co-pastor at the time—Cody. I remember he made this statement, which I have in my notes; because I literally wrote it down. I remember turning to you and going, “Now, that was a good truth.” He said, “When we see our spouse the way Jesus sees them, we say the things Jesus would say to them.”

Obviously, he was getting at the point of: “How does God see you?—and specifically, how does God see your spouse?” When you see—he called it—“Put on God’s goggles.” When you put on God’s goggles—and you see people made in the image of God and they are loved—when you see your spouse the way Jesus sees your spouse, you will speak to your spouse the words Jesus speaks.

When you think about it, when you read the Word of God, and you understand what God speaks to us, it’s always life words: He encourages; He builds up. So if I saw you the way God sees you, I’m going to speak life, not death.

Ann: Wow; that’s really good. I’ll never forget that message, too, with the God goggles; because I thought, “Man, I need to put those on every day to see you the way God does/to see our kids,”—but not only that—“But I need to wear them out of the house.”

Dave: You know what is another great statement?—and I’m telling you—I don’t know where I first heard it; but I’ve heard you say it many times, especially when you are talking to wives about their marriages.

Ann: Oh, no; I know what you’re going to say. This is Andy Stanley.

Dave: Oh, it is?

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Alright; so it says: “Your spouse should be able to tell how much God loves them by the way you talk to them, by the way you treat them, the way you love them/admire them.” Talk about that.

Ann: Well, the first time I heard Andy say that, I remember stopping and thinking—like just that—“Your spouse should be able to know how much God loves them by the way you treat them. If your spouse doesn’t even know Jesus or have a relationship with God—like you should win them—and they should be able to think, ‘Wow; does God love me that much?—because if He loves me that much, I want to know Him.’”

To be honest, the first time I heard, I was just super convicted; because I’m like, “I’m not doing that!” You should be able to know, because my love is so unconditional, like: “That’s how God loves me.” That’s not easy, and you can’t do it apart from God’s Spirit.

Dave: Yes; I said earlier—but it’s really true—you do that for me; you speak life. I mean, I wrote down: “You constantly—I mean, I’m sure someone’s listening, going, “This/this isn’t—

Ann: I don’t even feel like I do that. Keep going! This is good!

Dave: You do. I wrote down; you, almost daily, say: “You’re an amazing husband,” “You’re a great dad,” “You’re a great provider,” “…communicator,” “…spiritual leader.” I wrote down, “…romantic”—; but you don’t usually say I’m romantic, because I’m not—I’m not very romantic! [Laughter]

Ann: So you’re saying I don’t lie. [Laughter]

Dave: Yes; I mean, honestly, I run home now; because you constantly speak life.

Ann: Okay; compare that to what it used to be, because I want people to understand what it used to be like.

Dave: I mean, many people have heard us—if they’ve read our book, Vertical Marriage, or even went through the small group, Vertical Marriage®—they saw us talking about this. Again, this is the first 15 years of marriage, probably—that everywhere I go, people cheer me; and I come home, and all I hear is: “Boo!”—you know?—because it felt like you were dissatisfied with me.

Ann: When he said that to me, I said, “Well, they don’t know you.” How terrible is that?—that I would say that to you.

Dave: And you felt like booing me was motivating me to become better. All I know—is six months later/a year later after that—the climate in our home changed; and this has been two/two-and-a-half decades now, where it felt like the Wilson house has an environment, an aroma, an atmosphere—and I think it is you that sets it—of life, of encouragement, of belief—

Ann: That’s so nice of you.

Dave: —of trust.

Ann: I’m going to listen to this over and over again. [Laughter]

Dave: Again, it just shows the power—what Solomon said—“Life and death are in the power of the tongue.” It could be texts; it could be a look; it could be, literally, words like that can change your home.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: Yes; I remember when, again, Cody our youngest, went to college to play football. You said to me like the night before he was going to go—we were giving him a laptop to take to college—I remember you saying, “Hey, you’re really a good writer. You’re an amazing writer.”

Ann: You are.

Dave: I remember going, “No, I’m not.” I literally said, “No, I’m not. I’m okay, but I’m not good.” “Oh, no! You’re really good. It would really be encouraging if you’d write Cody like an email as he goes off to college. You played college football; he’s starting to do that. You should write him something.”

I remember thinking, “I don’t know; I’m not that good.” I just let it go.

Ann: Well, and I was saying that because you are so good at putting your feelings down on paper.

Dave: Well, I didn’t think so; but before I went to bed that night, I wrote this email, encouraging him/saying, “Boy, I remember when I went to Two-a-days in college, and I was way down on the depth chart,” and how hard it was. Anyway, I just tried to inspire him that: “It’s going to be really hard, but you’ve got what it takes” and sent this email off.

He never responds/doesn’t say, “Thank you.” I don’t even know if he got it. I’m like, “Did he get it?” I never heard anything about it, until four years later, when he’s graduating. He sends that email back; and he said, “Dad, this was the first email I ever got in college, four years ago.

Ann: —on this computer.

Dave: Yes; “And there were days I wanted to quit; it was really hard. I would read your words, and it would really encourage me. Here I am, four years later. Thank you; this was a powerful email in my life.” I’m like, “Wow! There is Ann again; she’s right!” [Laughter]

But you know, as he gets ready to go to camp with the Detroit Lions, guess who sends him an email the night before training camp?—me! Because I was like, “Wow, you inspired me with words of life to remind me that I can have an impact with my words.”

I would have never done it [on my own]. [And] if you would have said—[negative approach] which you probably would have said, 20 years before that [sarcastic voice]: “You know what? You should write your son an email; you never do that!”—I would have never done it; you know? [Laughter] But you said it in a way—it was packaged/it was wrapped up in a way that was encouraging—and it encouraged me to do it.

Ann: Well, I’m recalling, too—if you get into the teenage years and, sometimes, it’s not always easy to see the greatness, when they are struggling and your relationship is a little strained—I think that CJ was home from college, and then our other two were in high school. It was the summer, and it always take a while to adjust when all the kids are home all of the time in the summer. I think I was complaining to the boys about: “You guys need to work around here!” “You need to get things done!”

Dave: We’ve said that many, many times. [Laughter]

Ann: And as I’m saying this, I think they were playing video games. They all picked up their phones; they started all getting on them. I said, “What are you guys doing? Are you listening to me?” They started laughing; they said, “Yes, Mom, we’re talking and texting each other about how crazy you are.” So then, I’m just mad. When I get mad like that, now, I just need to leave the room.

I was going to go for this walk, and I go on this walk. Probably for the first two to three miles, I am complaining to God about our children; but after about three miles, I had vented everything I could. I said, “So God, what do You think about this? Don’t You agree with me?” All of a sudden, God just started to download, and these thoughts started coming to my mind.

I started with CJ: “Are you seeing what’s happening with CJ?” This thought came into my mind, “Isn’t he the most fascinating person you’ve ever met?” I was thinking, “Where did that come from?!” The next thought that came to my mind is: “He’s just like Nathaniel in whom there is no guile.” I’m just going to tell you right now: “Those thoughts don’t just come to me, especially Nathaniel.”

Dave: That describes him.

Ann: Yes.

Dave: What a perfect description of him.

Ann: Why do you think that describes him?

Dave: I mean, he’s so—there is no guile; he is just—

Ann: There is no pretense.

Dave: He is. He is wonderful, and you had never noticed him. He would just sneak up on you, and you love the guy.

Ann: He is fascinating.

Dave: Yes.

Ann: He’s kind of quirky; he’s just—

Dave: And that is what you heard.

Ann: Yes; I had never heard anything like that, so that perked my ears up, like: “What? Lord, is that You?”—because God can speak through us; we have the power of the Holy Spirit in us—so I started listening.

That made me go to Austin: “Lord, what about Austin?” and “What about Cody?” I just started hearing all these beautiful, life-giving words of how He delighted in each of them. I treasured it in my heart. I realized, “I’m not looking at that greatness; I’m not seeing all those good things.”

When I came back, I remember going up to my room and even writing all this down; because it was a pretty pivotal moment in my life, and I wrote down all the things that I felt like God said. I started trying to speak that to them. When I would get frustrated and see the negative—because we just all bug each other sometimes—but when I would go back to that, and recall, and remember: “This is who they are; I need to say those things and draw their greatness out of them.”

Dave: Yes; I would hope/an action step from today is that you and we would do this. We would see our spouse, see our kids, see your neighbor the way God sees them. He sees them beautiful, made in His image, valuable, formed by Him in their mother’s womb—Psalm 139—He sees awesomeness in them.

Ann: I was thinking, “If you’ve never done this, and you feel like, ‘Oh, our home does not have that atmosphere,’—pray/go to God, talk to Him—and then go before your family and say, ‘You guys, I just want to apologize. I feel like I’ve been nagging everybody. I feel like I’ve been talking about the negative things in all of us, and I’m really asking God to give our family a new perspective on seeing the great in each other.’”

Dave: Then the action step would be: “Speak it out.”

Ann: Yes.

Dave: I’ve got an idea. We’ve been encouraging people to—

Ann: Yes.

Dave: —text one another. Let’s do it!

Ann: Right now?

Dave: Yes, let’s just take a minute and text a life text/words of life—

Ann: Ooh! Okay!

Dave: —to one another. I don’t know what you’re going to say; you don’t know what I’m going to say.

Ann: I’ve already got your name in here.

Dave: Well, let’s text each other; and then we can read it later.

Ann: Oh, we’re going to read it out loud?

Dave: Yes; why not?—a couple of minutes.

Ann: Okay!

Bob: Well, as Dave and Ann work on their text messages to one another, let me step in here and remind you that what they’ve talked about today is one of the themes that they address in their book, Vertical Marriage: the importance of how we affirm one another/how we speak life to one another. The book, Vertical Marriage, is also available as a small group video series. If you’ve started your small group back up, and you’re looking for a way to invest in your marriages together, consider the Vertical Marriage small group series or get a copy of Dave and Ann’s book, Vertical Marriage: [The One Secret That Will Change Your Marriage]—the little things that make a big difference.

We’ve got both the book and the video series in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order these resources from us online at or call to order at 1-800-FL-TODAY; again, the website,; or call 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

You know, what Dave and Ann talked about today is at the heart of what we’re all about, here, at FamilyLife: providing practical biblical help and hope to strengthen your marriage and your family. David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife, is here with us. This conversation today has really been on mission for us.

David: Yes; at FamilyLife, we do everything we can to halt the drift toward isolation, that is so often experienced in families, and help people grow toward oneness in relationships that matter most—the relationships like the relationship with God, and their spouse, or their kids—even their neighbors. That is what we are about. Our vision is every home a godly home. A godly home is one, where people in that home are growing as disciples of Jesus and making disciples around them.

Whether it is bringing you the practical, authentic, biblical insight for your family through FamilyLife Today in your earbuds or through a radio station, whether it’s hosting marriage getaways like Weekend to Remember®, and the cruise we do, and many other venues, or providing tools for you to host small groups and mentor others, we believe that families are one of the most untapped resources on the planet to help fulfil the Great Commission and bring good to the world.

I just want to say, “Thanks for listening; thanks for engaging,” and please feel free to email us with ways we can pray for you. We have a prayer team that loves interceding for people that are part of the family of FamilyLife by engaging with us. Whether it is things you are taking steps of faith in, or areas you are having to trust the Lord in, and different seasons and maybe a hard season in your life, we would love to come alongside and pray for you; because we are so grateful for you.

Bob: Yes; go to our website at There is a link there where you can click and contact us; send us an email and a prayer request. We would love to pray for you. Again, the website is Thank you, David.

We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday when we’re going to hear about the significant elevation that Jesus gave to women in the first-century culture. Kristi McLelland will join us to talk about the worth, and the value, and the dignity of women that Jesus restored in His earthly ministry. We hope you can join us for that.

Dave: A few moments ago, we texted one another; and I just hit send. I just received yours. Did you get mine?

Ann: Yes; I’m so excited!

Dave: You are?

Ann: Yes!

Dave: Do you want to read what I wrote?

Ann: Yes! Okay, don’t read mine. You haven’t read it yet; have you?

Dave: No.

Ann: Okay; alright. Here is what you sent to me: “You are one incredible woman of God. You are the greatest mom and grandmother in the universe. You could not be a better wife and mother. You believe in me and trust me unconditionally, and that makes me a better man. Thank you for choosing to speak life to me and others. You are a picture of Jesus to me. Thank you.” Oh! That’s so nice; thanks.

Okay, your turn.

Dave: Here is what you wrote to me: “I love and admire who God made you to be. You are a leader I want to follow. You’re funny and laid back but driven at the same time. Everything you do is done with excellence. Our boys admire you and want to hang with you all the time. I didn’t even realize how blessed I was that God brought us together. You are the man! [Laughter] I love doing life with you.” Thank you.

Ann: If we did that once a day—whew!

Dave: How hard was that?—that was easy. Yes, speak life today.

Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife; a Cru® Ministry. Helping you pursue relationships that matter most.


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