FamilyLife Today®

Humility Overcomes Fear

with Ron Deal | April 13, 2016
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When there is a root of pride present in one or both spouses, peace cannot flourish. Blended family expert Ron Deal reminds listeners that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Ron explains that when you face your own fear and pride first, that opens the door to love and peace in your marriage.

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When there is a root of pride present in one or both spouses, peace cannot flourish. Ron Deal explains that when you face your own fear and pride first, that opens the door to love and peace in your marriage.

Humility Overcomes Fear

With Ron Deal
April 13, 2016
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Bob: When there is a root of pride present in one or both spouses in a marriage, peace cannot flourish in that kind of an environment. Here’s Ron Deal.

Ron: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble—and so do spouses! They respond well to humility. Their heart softens when you soften you—when you deal with you / you worry about the plank—and you start dealing with how you deal with your fears and concerns, and you start acting godly and humble in that moment. Then, all of a sudden, they will soften, as they deal with you, as they care about you, as they reach towards you; because, when you’re in pride, you’re just trying to make them change; and now, they’re going to oppose you. It just doesn’t work!

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 13th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll spend time today thinking about how perfect love does indeed cast fear out of a marriage and out of a family.


Stay with us.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. We’re spending some time this week thinking about some of the unique fears that can be a part of the dynamic in a blended family or a stepfamily; although, as we’ve already said, Dennis, fear can be a part of any family. I know you and Barbara—this was one of the issues that you talk about having dealt with, early on, in your marriage.

Dennis: Yes. Neither one of us were all that old--I was 24 / Barbara was 23--but one of the things we did, before we actually got engaged, is—we actually wrote down a list of all of our fears about marriage. For us—at least, for me—I remember I had four pages, single spaced, of fears about marriage: about being known / about knowing another; fear of being a failure as a husband / as a provider; as perhaps of being a dad; fear of not having children; and fear of having children—


—not knowing what to do after you had them.

So I think fear takes up residence in a lot of relationships; but certainly, as Ron Deal is going to point out here, I think fear has a feast in blended and stepfamilies because these relationships are formed with so many dramas and so many different circumstances surrounding two people who come together to form a marriage. There’s already been some children occur—whether it’s been the death of a spouse, divorce, abandonment, whatever it might have been—those bring about unusual circumstances, challenges, and yes, a lot of fear.

Bob: And when fear is part of the climate in a marriage or in a family—that throws everything a little off balance and can affect everybody’s mood in the family. That is what Ron is going to address.


Our regular listeners know who Ron Deal is because he is regularly with us on FamilyLife Today. He gives leadership to FamilyLife Blended™. He’s a well-known author and speaker on this subject. He wrote the book, The Smart Stepfamily. There’s probably nobody in America who has been more focused on the issues facing blended families than Ron has been.

Dennis: No doubt about it, Bob; he is the best! I would just say—lest there be a listener who thinks that this broadcast is only for those who are in stepfamily relationships—fear takes up residence in all relationships. You’re going to glean a lot from Ron’s counsel today as he talks honestly and practically about how to deal with our fears.

[Recorded Message]

Ron: Let’s do a case study with Steve and Cindy. Steve and Cindy have been married two years. Steve has an 18-year-old and a 17-year-old—Lynn—girl / Larry—brother. His first wife, Linda, died. I believe it was a physical illness—I believe it was cancer.


By the way, when his wife died, his kids were early teens. So he has done life through the hard teen years as a single dad and was very focused on raising his kids. Then he meets Cindy. Cindy was never married to Bob; but they had a child together, Charles. So it’s been Cindy and Charles—very tight / surviving life for nine years. Now, they walk in; and they are trying to put this little combination together.

One of the things I’ll tell you about Steve—he’s a high-functioning dad—[snapping fingers] going and blowing; get it done; gotta structure; gotta plan / working the plan. Because of the job demands that he had / his kids, being adolescents—he really had to turn on the authority thing in him. So, through those teen years, he was large and in charge. He was a high authority: “Do it,” “Let’s get on with it,” “Because I said so,” kind of style parent.


Instantly, he’s the stepdad to Charles, who’s never had a man in his life—a male/masculine role model—never had that. What he’s had is mom, who was very protective and very guarded with him, and very much watching, and hovering over him. You could imagine—Steve starts doing what he knows to do. He jumps in as stepdad and starts parenting the way he was, as dad, which makes sense to him. Of course, it would make sense to him; but he didn’t realize that it’s going to backfire on every level because Charles doesn’t know what to do with all this. It’s overwhelming for him. So Charles runs to Mommy—like he always has—who comes in as the protective hovering one, who then turns, with Momma-bear claws out, toward stepdad Steve; and we’ve got problems.

Let’s start with his fears—that he’s unimportant—that he’s loving again, but he’s losing again, “Man this is not working—this marriage-thing.” He feels powerless. So what does he do with that? He tries to fix it.


He’s always talking to his wife / he’s Mr. Problem-solver: “We’re going to get around to this,”—he kind of kicks in the parenting authoritarian-thing because that’s what he knows how to do. Then, when it doesn’t work and it kind of unravels, he gets really angry. Then he detaches from everybody, and he goes off by himself: “It’s a little easier to hang with my two kids, who get me, and not have to worry about Charles.” He emotionally disengages, which really bothers his wife.

What are her fears? Well she’s feeling controlled. She’s worried about Charles. Part of her marital fear is her mom-heart—that’s worried that Charles is getting overwhelmed, and he doesn’t know how to respond—“So glad you’re in his life, as a male figure; but it’s too much. I don’t like this. So I’m going to block you like I blocked the biological dad.” She does that—she fights back; she shuts down; she’s on high alert; she’s building walls; she’s hovering and watching; and when the stepdad comes in to try to do a parenting thing, she’s like: “Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” 


She tries to orchestrate stuff all the time. What’s driving it?—her fears. They get stuck doing the same thing over and over again.

I want you to hear this: “These are two highly-intelligent, loving, godly believers. It’s not like they are evil, manipulative people. They just get stuck in the pattern.” The pattern takes on a life of its own—“entrenched” is the word we like to use. Fundamentally, what they’re doing is—trying to change one another.

Think about when he’s doing these actions over here—what he’s saying to her is: “Stop being the person who makes me feel these things. Be somebody different.” When she’s doing this stuff over here, what she’s fundamentally saying is: “Hey, you need to change buddy. Stop being something.” They are both trying to change the other person, and that’s what has to change for them to get out of this stuck loop.


Matthew, Chapter 7, [verse1]—Jesus talks about “don’t judge” or “condemn” is another word. By the way, judge doesn’t mean you can’t make a determination about somebody else’s behavior. He’s talking about a hypocritical judgment, where you stand up in pride and go: “I’m just fine. You’re messed up. I might even be guilty of the very same thing that you’re guilty of, but I’m going to point out your guilt. I’m going to be focused on you.”

“Do not judge lest you be judged,”—“Hey, don’t judge her and say she’s wrong; or you’ll be”—what?—“judged. With the judgment you give will be the judgment you get.” It creates a cycle. It just wraps back to you—Jesus says in Matthew, Chapter 7—oh, yes; it does! That’s exactly right.

Jesus has a strategy to help us not get into these kinds of crazy games, where we’re so focused on everybody else’s behavior. And it’s to do what? Deal with yourself: “Why do you look at the speck in the other person’s eye when you have a log or a plank in your own eye? First take the log/plank out of your own eye.”


You deal with you—that is a heart shift! We need to put on a humility posture that says: “Wait a minute. I’m not going to make you change the situation. I’m going to deal with me. It’s not: “My fears are my wife’s problem,”—“My fears are my problem. I’ve got to get a grip on me and what I do with my fears and handle it differently.”

First Peter 5:5 is your verse of change; alright? Let me walk through this with you: “Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another because”—now, let’s just pause for a minute there because, if I’m listening to this and I’m going: “Okay; wait a minute. You’re telling me you’re about to give me the secret to having a good relationship, horizontally, with other people on earth: ‘Clothe yourself with humility toward one another because’”—but his answer / his explanation—the because goes vertical.


Watch this: “Clothe yourself with humility because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” There’s this principle, where he lays out—by the way, that’s repeated a number of times in the Old Testament / a number of times in the New Testament. It’s repeated in a different form and fashion by Jesus in a lot of different ways: “God opposes the proud.”

You come before God and say: “I got this! I’ve got it all figured out. Don’t need You, God. I’m fine all on my own.” God will oppose you—He’ll break you down—but God gives grace to the humble. His heart softens towards people who come to Him in humility. It fosters a connectedness—God moves towards us in our humility, and that fosters His grace then to lift us up.

That’s the other way that this is repeated in the New Testament—this principle—Jesus said: “He who exalts himself will be humbled,”—you come to Me in pride, I am going to break you down—“He who humbles himself will be exalted.”


That’s even said about Jesus in Philippians, Chapter 2—“…He humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has exalted Him to the highest name above all names [paraphrase of verses 8 and 9].” See—the process even works in that relationship.

So, with one another in human relationships—in parent/child relationships, in work relationships, and especially in marriage relationships / especially in marriage relationships—here’s the principle: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,”—and so do spouses!—and so do children; and so do co-workers; and so do employees. They respond well to humility. Their heart softens when you soften you—when you deal with you / you worry about the plank—and you start dealing with how you deal with your fears and your concerns; and you start acting godly and humble in that moment. Then, all of a sudden, they will soften as they deal with you, as they care about you, as they reach toward you because, when you’re in pride, you’re just trying to make them change; and now, they’re going to oppose you. It just doesn’t work!


So the antidote to the fear factor is a shift in your heart to being humble about who you are.

Now, how to do you make that work? How do you get humble about yourself? I want to share with you just one strategy. These four things that you say: “What I know about me…—say your fear; say your typical actions; say the truth; say what you’ll do differently,”—comes from the work of a good friend of mine, Terry Hargrave, who is a therapist at Fuller Theological Seminary. I want to give him credit for these ideas.

It’s really fascinating that there’s actually some brain science that you change how your brain works when you do this humility stuff. It remaps your mind. From the time you were a baby, to the time you were a teenager, to the time you are a married adult, you may have done the same patterns over and over again. That creates a little rut in your brain; right?—that’s a simplistic way of saying it—but the neuro-pathways in your brain, from stimulus to response, gets to be pretty engrained.


You can actually change that pattern by doing this over, and over, and over, and over, and over. That’s fascinating; right? In other words, God knows how cool humility is when we implement it—it goes way deep in fostering a change in who we are.

Let’s think about that old fear dance a little bit: “What I know about me…”—say your fear: “What I usually typically fear is control right now. What I usually do with that is—I get defensive”; right? “This is where I usually start arguing with you about what you just said.” The truth is—“I’m learning that you really care about me. Even though I kind of feel controlled, you’re not trying to control me. I get that. You’re just trying to reach me. So what I’m going to do differently right now, instead of arguing with you, like I usually do, I’m going to try to listen. I’m going to try to just slow down and not say much—


—“and just pause—and I’m going to try to hear you. I’m going to try and understand what that means for you. I’m going to try not to get all defensive about me.”

Okay; does that magically fix everything? Does that just magically mean that everything’s wonderful and everybody’s happy all of a sudden? No! But, in that little tiny moment, we have just stopped that horrible, crazy fear-thing. We’ve just taken a little bit of a detour / we’ve taken a detour out of that, where now, we have a chance or an opportunity to go somewhere different.

By the way, if I go through all that—imagine, ladies, your husband walking in. You sit down at the table and say / you say one sentence; and he goes: “Whoa! What I know about me is—I’m feeling controlled right now.” [Laughter] Just imagine yourself—you’re sitting at that table—this has happened a million times. He just said, “I’m feeling controlled right now, but what I know about me is that that’s more about me than it is about you. I used to blame you for that. I used to accuse you of trying to be my momma, and now I understand you’re really not trying to because the truth is you really don’t want to do that.


“You just want to figure out how to deal with this kid situation. So you’re not controlling me.”

And he’s saying all of this out loud. He’s talking like crazy; and you’re just sitting there, listening to that. Then he ends up by saying: “So what I’m going to do is take a deep breath [breathes deeply]. I just fired off a little bullet prayer, saying, ‘God please help me calm down,’ and I’m going to try and listen, without being reactive.”

Okay; ladies—if you’re used to him being highly reactive / being all running off, “You’re trying to be my momma…”—and he did that, what might you feel?

Audience: Shocked.

Ron: Shocked; right. We’d have to pick you up off the floor / give you CPR.

Audience: Stunned.

Ron: Stunned. And what else comes along with it—what does that represent?—shocked and stunned?—like relieved.

Audience: Grateful.

Ron: Grateful.

Audience: Grace.

Ron: I think I hear, “Grace.” I think her heart just calmed a little bit—so he shifted down / she’s shifting down.


Is this leading to something better? Yes. Do we know exactly what? No. But it has a better chance of being grace-driven than being fear-driven.

Here’s the thing: “If my desires are not being met, and then fear takes over so I start reacting out of my fear—if I can, in humility, shift back—now, we’re responding out of desire again.” That’s usually a far better thing because that’s the truth—he’s getting goofy because he loves her / she’s getting goofy because she loves him. It’s not because she hates him—that’s the whole point—she is just trying to reach him! It’s just the way she’s gone about it has not been helpful in the past. But when she downgrades that and does it a little differently, all of a sudden, the reach makes sense. And they can maybe find each other.

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble—so do spouses.


Here’s where God grows us up—is when we begin to deal with ourselves in honest, and genuine, and humble ways, we can’t help but begin to grow up. We can’t help but become more loving and more grace-filled. That’s where we notice the inadequacies in ourselves and where we let God in to change who we are and to help us to grow as people.

That’s part of what marriage is about—is helping us become more like Jesus. It’s not supposed to be easy—it’s called discipleship. Your marriage is an act of discipleship. But if you’re stuck in pride and looking at the other person’s speck, you’ll never deal with the log or begin to grow, as a person, or as an individual, or even be willing to get vulnerable on that level. I call that: “That’s getting naked,” because I’m getting naked about me: “This is the real me. This is who I am.” That’s what humility does—it makes me deal with me in a very honest and genuine way.


You know what, folks? I think we just, in our dialogue here, went all the way back to the Garden of Eden because, in the Garden of Eden—Adam and Eve, running around with God, naked and unashamed / to be vulnerable, not just with each other, but before God—everything was all fine / it was good. I didn’t care that you knew me entirely—that’s not just physically naked—that’s a metaphor for emotionally naked / spiritually naked—vulnerable in our intimacy and connectedness with one another and about who I am. We are both humbled before the Holy One because “Here we are with Him, and all is good and right.”

Then the day came and pride rose up. All of a sudden: “We can do it our way, doggone-it. We don’t need His rules. My rules are fine. I’m fine. You’re kind of messed up. We’re eating this fruit.” God opposes and kicks them out. When they went from naked and ashamed to clothed and hiding, we’ve been hiding ever since—hiding in fear / running away from vulnerability, and intimacy, and being known.


But if you can put on humility—and go back to naked and unashamed about who you are, and how you are, and owning that and dealing with the log first—it invites a grace to the experience that transforms that interaction and sends it in different directions / it sends it back to where it was designed to be. That’s the irony of it.

Somebody has to go first—somebody has to put on humility. If you have competition in your marriage, compete for who puts on humility first; right?—because everybody wins once that happens. The point is—pride fosters opposition from everybody—your spouse, your kids, your stepkids, your ex-whatever. Humility fosters grace and that always moves us in the right direction. Somebody said once, “Do the thing you fear, and fear dies.” Now that’s not a universal truth / it’s not perfect—


—but dealing with the log, and doing something about it, more often than not, is a really good move.


Bob: Well, again, we’ve been listening today to Part Two of a message from Ron Deal. This message was presented to leaders who work with couples who are in blended or stepfamilies. Last fall, we had an event out in Southern California, where there were hundreds of leaders from around the country who came in to talk about blended and stepfamily ministry. Ron Deal spoke to them as part of that event. He gives leadership to that event.

In fact, Dennis, he’s going to be leading the upcoming Summit on Stepfamily Ministry in September, out in Colorado Springs. You and I are both going to be there for that event. We are really hoping and praying that this is a movement that is beginning in our country.


Dennis: It needs to because this is, I think, the fastest-growing form of marriage and family in existence today—a lot of blended families / stepfamilies being formed. I think the church has to be there to provide help and hope. That’s what FamilyLife is committed to doing—so is Focus on the Family—they are partnering with us to put this on. Greg Smalley is going to be there speaking. You and I will be there doing some live interviews on stage.

This is a pioneering ministry of the future. This is a ready-made ministry because this group of people is desperate to hear how the Scriptures apply to their situation in their blended family—and to just kind of exhale and go: “You know what? Here we are. We are what we are. We’re a stepfamily / a blended family.” God has always showed up in circumstances that are ideal and less than ideal—I mean, He delights in redemption.

Bob: I would just say: “You don’t have to be a leader in a stepfamily ministry to come and be a part of this national summit.


“You may just be a pastor, who looks at your congregation and says: ‘You know what? We have a lot of blended families here. I want to know how to most effectively minister to these folks.’” Then come out and join us on September 29 and 30 in Colorado Springs, at Focus on the Family, as we partner together for the 2016 Summit on Stepfamily Ministry. You can find out more when you go to and click the link for the summit.

Again, the website is You’ll also find Ron Deal’s book, The Smart Stepfamily, available online as well. There’s a video series that Ron has done on The Smart Stepfamily. Find out more about all of it when you go to

Today is a special day for our friends, Darrin and Carie Rolls, who live in Granada Hills, California.

Dennis: It’s Grenada [Gree-nay-da]. Is it Grenada [Gree-nay-da] Hills or Granada [Gra-nah-da] Hills?

Bob: I don’t know, but the Rolls live there. They’ve been married 25 years today. They are celebrating their silver wedding anniversary.

Of course, anniversaries are a big deal for everybody.


They are a big deal for us, here at FamilyLife, because the reason we exist is to provide the kind of practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family that gets you to your next anniversary, and the one after that, and the one after that, and has you thriving in the process. We are all about anniversaries here. Were celebrating our 40th anniversary this year, but we are doing it by focusing on how God has enabled us to help more couples celebrate more anniversaries over the last 40 years.

We appreciate those of you who partner with us in helping to make all of this happen—those of you who support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. This month, we are saying, “Thank you for your financial support,” by sending you a copy of Barbara Rainey’s new book, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife. It’s a brand-new book. It’s our thank-you gift when you go to and make an online donation; or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation over the phone; or when you mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; our zip code is 72223.


Now, tomorrow, we’re going to spend some time reflecting on the life and legacy of a guy who died four years ago this month. Chuck Colson graduated into eternity four years ago. We’ll spend time talking to his biographer, Owen Strachan. He joins us tomorrow to reflect on The Colson Way. Hope you can tune in for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch—also, help from Mark Ramey today. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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Episodes in this Series

Fear Factor 1
The Effects of Fear
with Ron Deal April 12, 2016
Fear is one of the core things that gets families "stuck." Ron Deal tells couples how to break out of the fear cycle, and rest in the sovereignty and power of God.
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