Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Mo
About the Guest
We want change fast. But it often happens slowly through the nuts and bolts of everyday living. Marriage and family counselor Winston Smith teaches that it’s not the "aha" moments where real change is found, but in the ordinary moments, when we choose to lay aside our own needs for the sake of our spouse.
Winston SmithWinston T. Smith, M.Div., is a faculty member and counselor at CCEF (the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation), has extensive experience as a marriage and family counselor, and teaches seminary students how to counsel couples.
We want change fast.
Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Mo
Bob: Let’s say there is an issue you’re struggling with in your relationship with your spouse. Can you give that issue a name? Can you say whose problem it is, primarily? Winston Smith says, “If you started out by pointing at your spouse, you need to think again.”
Winston: We have to address ourselves first before we can credibly address our spouse. We have to deal with the fact that we’re sinners and we’re married to sinners. It’s the natural instinct of the sinner to look outside of himself or herself for blame—to blame shift. It just so happens that when sinners blame shift onto other sinners, they get really defensive and angry.
So, Jesus really warns us about this in Matthew 7. “If you’re going to try to remove the speck from another person’s eye, you need to remove that 2 x 4 first from your own eye.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, October 19th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. How much better would your marriage be if you were investing your time and effort into dealing with your stuff? We’re going to talk about that today. Stay tuned.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I think there are going to be a few paradigms that get adjusted today.
Dennis: You think?
Bob: I was reading through what our guest wrote. One of the things he said was, “Your love problems are God-problems.” I thought, “Okay. Alright. That’s a little bit of a paradigm adjustment for a lot of folks, don’t you think?”
Dennis: Spiritual wheel alignment is definitely going to be in order today. We have a guest with us who, I think, our audience is really going to enjoy. Winston Smith joins us on FamilyLife Today. Winston, welcome to our broadcast.
Winston: Thank you, Dennis. Good to be here with you and Bob.
Dennis: Winston is a counselor, a faculty member. He teaches at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation. He is an author of a new book called Marriage Matters.
I like the subtitle, Extraordinary Change Through Ordinary Moments. You actually believe, Winston, marriages begin to change and people begin to change when we look at life’s circumstances from a different perspective. It’s not the big deal, the “Aha” moment. It’s just in looking at the normal every day, vanilla, run-of-the-mill stuff God brings to us.
Winston: Yes, that’s right. A lot of what I do is marriage counseling. The way most people think about change is, “My spouse is really making me unhappy. If I can just get the right book into their hands or take them to the right counselor and they can do their magic thing on them, then, my spouse will change; and I’ll be happy again.”
Dennis: If there is enough of those moments like you’re talking about—trying to get your spouse to change, and he or she doesn’t change soon enough—then, they’re looking for a permanent change.
Winston: Right. Right. Then, they become hopeless.
Bob: So, if that’s not how change happens with the book, the counselor, or the right moment, how does it happen?
Winston: Well, there are lots of ways that our understanding of change needs be tweaked, but one of them is a change in the way we think about love itself. We don’t pick up a dictionary and decide what love is. We construct definitions out of our own life experiences and what we see and hear.
When we get into marriage, our hope, our dream is that our spouse is going to give us love defined the way we want it to happen. When they don’t, we fight tenaciously for it because we’re fighting for love. We’re fighting for something that is good. We’re fighting for something that is right. Why wouldn’t I fight for it? Why would I let go of that?
It just so happens, you married somebody who is put together a very different definition of love. They’re going to fight just as tenaciously for their definition. I came to marriage, not knowing this, but really desperately desiring to be thought well of and to be accepted. So, I came to marriage just assuming, “This is what love is; this is how love works.”
I found that the harder I worked for and the more I demanded an experience of being accepted, actually, the less loved I felt; because the more I focused on having that experience, I was filtering out everything else that was really important to love—and punishing, being angry, and disappointed at my wife for not giving me that thing.
So, part of me growing in my own marriage is having my definition reworked. That’s exactly what Scripture gives us. That’s exactly what Jesus does. God speaks to us. He says, “Love isn’t just an emotional high. Love isn’t just something that exists to make you feel good.”
God says in the Scripture, First John, Chapter 4, says, “God is love.” Ultimately, love is a person and not an experience. So, we can’t—just out of our human fallen nature—construct our own definition of love and expect that to work for us. We have to accept love as God defines it.
One of the things He wants to do in our marriage is radically rework our understanding of love so that our marriages are more about Him than about us getting the things that we want.
Dennis: When Barbara and I were first married, I didn’t know—well, neither one of us really understood love. I feel like now, 38 years later, Barbara and I have begun to understand what true love really is all about.
I think that is what you’re talking about. Over a lifetime, God takes us to school. He tutors us. He puts His arm around us; and through these circumstances that occur in a marriage relationship, He teaches us how miserably we fail at loving and how much we have to learn from Him about what true love really is.
Bob: So, when you say in your book, “Love problems are really God-problems,” unpack that. What do you mean by that?
Winston: It means that I have these moments in my marriage where I just bump into these (what I call in the book) ordinary moments—moments in marriage where we just run into the same problem over, and over, and over again. Let’s imagine a couple. As you get to know them, there are three big fights they are always having. Okay?
So, one big fight is when they’re in the car together. The wife is always saying, “Why don’t you slow down? You are scaring me to death.” The husband’s response is, “Why don’t you stop nagging me? Why don’t you stop your back-seat driving?” Okay? So, that’s fight one. Every time they’re in the car, there is a fight.
Okay, you think that’s not that big of a deal, but there are these other areas. They’re always fighting about finances. The wife is always saying to the husband, “You spend money too freely. We don’t have this kind of money. Why are you wasting money?” Then, the husband says to his wife, “Well, you’re a miser. Why are you so stingy with money?”
Fight number three is: The wife says, “You’re harsh with our kids. You discipline our kids way too harshly.” He says, “Well, you’re too soft.” So, your initial thought of this couple is, “Yes, they have fights; but you give them a book on parenting—you give them a book on finances. Then, they start working these things through.”
As you get to know them, you realize they’re not just having fights about the car, finances, or parenting. They’re actually themes that run through these fights that tell you something about their hearts—things they need to realize about themselves.
If you think about it, this husband—maybe, he’s a husband who very much orients his life around convenience and comfort. He likes to do things his own way. He likes to drive fast; so, he drives fast. He’s into his own comfort and pleasure. So, he spends money freely. He punishes his kids harshly when they get into his comfort zone. This is a guy who really largely organizes his life around comfort.
Bob: The wife who is hearing you describe it goes, “See. I knew it was his problem!”
Winston: When you think about this wife, this wife is actually kind of a fearful person. She is plain old scared in the car, when it’s going too fast. She’s afraid they’re going to run out of finances, and her husband’s anger scares her when he’s punishing the kids. She’s sort of a fearful person. She wants marriage, and she wants love to be something that makes her feel safe.
He wants love, and he wants marriage to be something that makes him feel comfortable. Well, in some ways, you say there is something kind of right for both of them. I mean, there should be something comfortable and enjoyable about love, and love should make us feel safe.
They’ve each just located their—sort of, favorite flavor—their favorite variation of love—and they are fighting like mad for that. They’re missing the bigger—actually, the more surprising features of love. In particular, when we look at Christ, we say, “This is what love is. Jesus is love.”
One of the most surprising things He does is He says, “There is no greater love than this—than a man would lay down his life for his friends.” Your love—love ought to be rooted in selflessness and a desire to do what is best for the other person. So, Scripture would say this is the highest form of love—just so happens to be what drives us crazy in marriage. “You want me to do less for me and more for you? That’s not what I signed up for. This is supposed to be—this is supposed to feel good to me.”
Dennis: It’s about my happiness.
Dennis: Yes. That’s the way a lot of people begin marriage.
Dennis: To move this from the theoretical—
Dennis: —which was nice that you gave this little package of this couple who had fights in three areas—
Dennis: —you begin your book by telling a story on yourself—
Dennis: —of some Bible study preparation.
Dennis: So, you’re about to be a man of God—
Dennis: —and teach the Scriptures.
Winston: That’s right. I had very important things to do.
Dennis: Exactly. You’re wife is late getting home.
Winston: That’s right.
Dennis: So, you have to run your kids—
Dennis: —and take them to various places.
Winston: Yes. I’m trying to prepare for my Bible study. My wife is running late. It’s really—at one level, it’s just harmless. “So, what? Your wife is running late.” Well, that means, “I have to take my son to baseball practice; I have to take my girl to her birthday party,” I just find myself getting really steamed—I mean, really angry.
“She said she would call at a certain time.” She didn’t call. “Now, I’m left to run these errands on my own.” I’m getting really mad about it. I’m sort of just imaging her—just like—blowing me off—like, “Doesn’t she care that I have stuff to do, really important stuff? I mean, I’m doing a Bible study, alright?” So, she gets home. She can tell I’m upset. I just give her—
Dennis: No, no, no, no. In the book, you say that your wife, Kim—
Winston: Yes. Yes.
Dennis: —kind of retreats—
Dennis: —from the kitchen table where you were steaming.
Winston: Yes. Yes. She’s—
Dennis: It’s like she was getting into another room.
Dennis: She was getting away from you.
Winston: She’s retreating to a safe distance. Part of what happens there is—I’m sitting at the kitchen table. Part of me is really, really angry. Another part of me is really sort of embarrassed and ashamed because I know this is—something is out of whack here. I shouldn’t be that angry.
Bob: You’d done enough counseling to go, “There’s something wrong here.” (Laughter)
Winston: Yes. Yes. This is a little over-the-top. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why because this had become sort of an ordinary moment for me. “Here’s that feeling again.” I’m getting really angry because I’m feeling “dissed.” I’m feeling like she hasn’t paid attention to what is important to me.
That—the Lord kind of reminded me, “Here it is again. Here is you fighting for your old definition of love. You want her to affirm you, to be thankful for your efforts, and live within your preferences.”
Bob: Your natural inclination in that moment is the same as all of our natural inclinations, which is to locate the source of our problem in the other person—
Bob: —and say, “This is the problem.”
Bob: “I’m fine.”
Bob: Then, our spouse is going, “No. That’s the problem.”
Bob: “I’m fine.”
Bob: What you just described, though, was this process that you had to go through mentally. I don’t know if you’re conscience of this or if you—if it’s just a retraining of the mind, but you come to a point where you start to say, “Before I start to locate the problem somewhere else, I need to look inside rather than outside.”
Winston: Yes. I mean, it’s the result of being disciplined by God and hearing what He has to say. Listen, we have to deal with the fact that we’re sinners and we’re married to sinners. It is the natural instinct of the sinner to look outside of himself or herself for blame—to blame shift. It just so happens that when sinners blame shift onto other sinners, they get really defensive and angry.
So, Jesus really warns us about this in Matthew 7—just a little, simple word picture, right? If you’re going to try to remove the speck from another person’s eye, you need to remove that 2 x 4 first from your own eye. He’s warning us against the dangers of hypocrisy and defensiveness. We have to address ourselves first before we can credibly address our spouse.
There is just a practical reality there. It will not work. It will not have a happy ending if your response to your own unhappiness is to immediately blame your spouse.
Dennis: You call these moments, when they occur in your marriage, like this—god-less moments.
Dennis: Explain what you mean by that because this was a take away for me as I was reading your book to really hear what you had to say about how we look at circumstances like what happened to you.
Winston: Yes. I call them god-less moments because, in those moments when we feel like our buttons are really being pushed or our spouse is jumping up and down on our buttons, it’s almost like anything you might have known about God and His love goes out the window. God seems irrelevant. What I’m feeling is so overpowering—I just don’t know how to connect to what God has to say about Him, and about me, and about marriage.
That’s a signal to you that there is something really important going on in your heart. There is something commanding and demanding your attention that’s actually trying to be God. There’s some desire or some fear—something that you’re feeling so powerfully—that’s really trying to displace God in that moment.
Dennis: As I was reading your book, I actually felt chastised. I felt disciplined that I had not really thought about the ordinary moments that you are speaking of being instructive to ultimately lead us back to God.
Now, I know theologically that that’s what happens. I know that, but I was reminded of Romans 8:28. It’s not a verse we typically quote around ordinary moments. It’s usually a passage of Scripture that we quote around dramatic circumstances or something horrific that’s happened to someone. I just want to read the passage again here, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.”
Now, that verse is really instructing us in the same principle you’re talking about here.
Bob: When it says, “all things,” it means even the ordinary things, right?
Winston: Yes. Actually, verse 29, there, is so important because it helps you define the good thing that He is up to. What we tend to do is take the good thing and load it with all of our desires and preferences. Paul is very specific there. It’s to transform us—to conform us—to the image of His Son; but you are right. He takes every detail, every event in our life, and uses it to shape us in His love to make us more like His Son.
In that sense, we’d have to say, “There is no such thing as an ordinary moment because God is active in all moments,”—even the moments that seem the most god-less to us—where we feel like we’re failing, where we feel like God doesn’t love us anymore. It’s actually those moments where something really important can happen because there is a war going on in my heart, and it’s showing up in my marriage.
Bob: So, the paradigm shift that we’re talking about here. I see it in two areas. One is to say ordinary moments aren’t ordinary—
Bob: —God’s at work in every aspect of our marriage, everything that seems mundane and incidental, God is there. Then, a paradigm shift around the whole idea of what love in a marriage is supposed to look like—
Bob: —and it having more to do with how God defines love than how we define love.
Winston: That’s right. It’s—for ordinary moments to become extraordinary opportunities for change, it requires a change in many different ways. It’s not, “Okay, I tried this for a week and my spouse isn’t changing. So, I guess, it doesn’t work.”
No, I change the way I love my spouse, not simply because I want my spouse to change, but because God is calling me to change. He wants me to become more loving. I do that, ultimately, because it changes me. I have to do this. I hope my spouse changes, but I change the way I love because of who God calls me to be in Christ.
Bob: It may be that your marriage does not cease to be difficult—
Bob:—for a long time, maybe for a lifetime.
Bob: If that is the case, there is a point at which you go, “Boy, I hear what you are saying, but this is just so hard—to keep loving in the face of rejection, or scorn, or contempt, or the things I’m facing and seeing no hope of change.”
Winston: Well, here is something that my wife has done consistently over the years that has changed me, without her telling me I need to change. She—no matter how much I’m the bigger “bad guy,” she almost always confesses sin first and asks for forgiveness. That’s probably the single most powerful thing that has changed my heart over the years is when I’m confronted with that kind of humility, love, and grace; I can’t ignore it. It humbles me. It makes me want to repent.
Now, see, that is her doing the right thing because she loves the Lord and it is the right thing to do. That’s not her lecturing me on how arrogant, and prideful, and stubborn I can be—which would not work, by the way. That wasn’t a marital strategy for her. That was just her saying, “This is what the Lord calls me to do—to own my own sin, to repent and ask for forgiveness.” It just so happens that when she does that, the Gospel shows up and the Lord uses that opportunity to work in my own heart.
Dennis: As I read your book and as I’ve listened to you here today, here is my take away for me (maybe a listener will identify with this). Ultimately, Winston, you are challenging us to move to faith—to move to a trust and a dependence upon God in ordinary circumstances.
Dennis: Here is a statement I made, “My marriage will change when I begin to change, when I begin to recognize, yield, submit, and surrender to God’s agenda for so-called ordinary moments.”
It’s not just an intellectual assent to identify the moment that God is up to something here; but ultimately, it must move to our hearts, where there is a surrender—a personal surrender to God that says, “God, even in what looks like it’s so ordinary, something I wish I could escape, I want to surrender to You. I want to be obedient to love as You have called me to love this imperfect person that I’m married to.”
Bob: I think this takes us back to where we started the conversation. We have to change the way we think about change because somebody could hear what you just said and say, “Okay, I’ll try this for awhile and see if it fixes things.”
Ultimately, responding in faith is, “I will do what God has called me to do, come what may, and I will leave the results up to Him.” In other words, this is not a temporary strategy to see if my spouse learns how to respond right. This is a way I’m choosing to live, regardless of how my spouse responds.
Dennis: Yes. I’m thinking of a woman right now—I know a great deal of detail about what she is facing in her marriage—and she is doing this. From a human perspective, it makes zero sense. It is like, “How can you continue to hang in there in a situation where bad things are taking place?”
Of course, I would never say to continue to allow yourself to be physically abused. There are Scriptural admonitions to us to use legal authorities to protect us in those situations; but the greater message here for most of the listeners who are listening right now, “Will you see what God is up to and will you surrender to what He is doing in your own life first and be obedient to Him?”
Bob: Will you love the way God demonstrates His love for us?—in that, while we were still His enemies, He sacrificed. He sent His Son who died for us. I think that is what is at the heart of the book, Winston, called Marriage Matters, which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Listeners can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com for more information on how to get a copy, or call 1-800-FLTODAY; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY,” (800-358-6329). Ask about the book, Marriage Matters, by Winston Smith. We’ll make arrangements to get a copy sent to you.
We’ve said here that one of the spiritual practices that ought to be present in every marriage relationship is a husband and wife who pray together regularly and how just the act of praying together is a spiritual discipline that God will use to strengthen the bond between the two of you.
Dennis, you and Barbara wrote a book a couple of years ago called Two Hearts Praying as One, where you address this issue of praying together as a couple. This week we are making copies of that book available to folks who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife with a donation.
We’re listener-supported. Those donations are what make it possible for us to be on this station day in and day out. We appreciate those of you who are able to—either go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and make a donation or to call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone.
If you make your donation online, be sure to type the word, “ONE” (that’s O-N-E), into the key code box; and we’ll send you a copy of Dennis and Barbara’s book; or call 1-800-FLTODAY. Make a donation over the phone and ask for a copy of the book on praying together as a couple. We’ll get it out to you. We do appreciate your financial support of this ministry and are grateful for your donation.
We want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when Winston Smith is going to be here again. We’re going to talk about differences in a marriage relationship and how conflict can occur simply because we are different than each other. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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