FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Marriage as a Ministry

with Will and Susie Davis | August 3, 2009
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Could your marriage use a tune up? If your marriage is like most, it does. Today author Susie Davis, along with her husband, Will, talk about reaching their 10th year of marriage only to realize that there were still walls of isolation between them. Find out what they did to start moving toward real, gut-level intimacy, and how their lives have changed since that day.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Could your marriage use a tune up? If your marriage is like most, it does. Today author Susie Davis, along with her husband, Will, talk about reaching their 10th year of marriage only to realize that there were still walls of isolation between them. Find out what they did to start moving toward real, gut-level intimacy, and how their lives have changed since that day.

  • 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.

Could your marriage use a tune up?

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Marriage as a Ministry

With Will and Susie Davis
August 03, 2009
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Susie: It wasn’t that we were slamming doors, and hitting into things. Remember pastor and pastor’s wife, we weren’t doing all that! Not that it can’t happen: but I think some of it was about that I was putting my trust in the wrong place, you know. Of course I was really busy with the kids – they took a ton of time and energy. They were all like seven and under. So, if I wasn’t having a baby, I was nursing a baby, or taking care of babies. There was just a lot going on.

This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, August 3rd.   Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine.  When your marriage gets the blahs what do you do?  We are going to talk about that today with Will and Susie Davis. Stay tuned! 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us.  I’m just curious, if we were in touch with your wife Barbara, and I was asking her on a maintenance scale one to ten: ten being high maintenance, really a challenge, one being low maintenance, no problem at all where would she put you?  Do you have any idea?


Dennis:  Well, I wish we could call her right now and ask her, but my guess would be a four or five.


Bob:  Really?  So on the lower side.


Dennis:  I don’t think she would describe me as high maintenance, but I would say this – any marriage that really goes the distance today is ultimately high maintenance.  You need to score a ten, because if you are going to get a lot out of a marriage you have to put a lot in it.

Bob:  Yes!  For years we have been encouraging our listeners to get some time away together at one of our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, and make the kind of investment deposit that you are talking about in their marriage relationship.  I just want to alert folks that the fall season of Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences is kicking off next month, and now is a good time to sit down, look at the calendar and start to plan for the fall, and make plans to attend one of these conferences.

In fact, this week and next week we are making a special offer available to FamilyLife Today listeners.  You can register to attend an upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.  If you register at the regular price, you can bring a second couple along with you at no cost.  So, it is really a buy one, get one free offer that we are making for FamilyLife Today listeners.

 Actually this little secret is that you don’t actually have to attend together.  So, you can buy a conference for you and your spouse and you can go attend in St. Louis, and your friends who live all the way across the country out in California out in Monterey, they can go to the conference when it comes near them at no cost.

All the details are available on our website You can call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information about the special offer for FamilyLife Today listeners, and you need to use my name when you register.

 So, if you are registering on line just type in “Bob” to take advantage of the special offer, or if you call 1-800-FLTODAY again just say “Bob” told me to call, and that will signal the folks that you are a FamilyLife Today listener. You are eligible for this special offer – it’s only good this week and next week, so we need to hear from you. Make plans now, attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference, and if you register at the regular price for you and your spouse, you can invite another couple to attend at no cost.  It’s a buy one; get one free opportunity for FamilyLife Today listeners. 

Again, all of the details are available on-line at or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information. I think the point we are making with all of this is: it’s important that couples routinely make the necessary investments in their marriage so that marriage can go the distance.

Dennis:  You know, marriage, as a relationship really demands on-going deposits, and attention, and affection, and work.  We have a couple with us who know a little bit about attention, affection, and work.  We have Will and Susie Davis joining us on FamilyLife Today.

Will:  Hello, hello! Glad to be here!


Susie:  Hey there!

Dennis:  Friends from Austin, Texas.  Will is the pastor of Austin Christian Fellowship. Together you guys have three children.  You both are speakers, and also authors. Susie has written a book: it’s a great title: Loving Your Man Without Losing Your Mind.

 Bob:  I thought Will’s picture would be right here on the cover.


Will:  That’s a terrible title if you want to know the truth about it.


Susie:  It’s actually just an exercise in creative writing.  It’s all fiction – it’s nothing to do with Will at all.

Will:  It’s no real life examples at all!

Dennis:  You know I thought it was fiction when I read in your book that you were ten years into your marriage before you realized Will wasn’t perfect?


Susie:  You know what?

Dennis:  I thought now wait a second!  Ten years into your marriage?


Will:  I had her fooled – I had her fooled!  How about that?  Wow!

Bob:  You’re blonde, but you’re not that blonde!

Susie: Yes, honestly it was – definitely talk about high maintenance.  There were some moments that he was high maintenance early on in the marriage.  I think I really didn’t stumble into that feeling that I know a lot of wives do if they’ve been married a little or a really long time.  Just that feeling that seems to me – you know what he just doesn’t make me happy anymore.  It really did take about 10 years – we had a long honeymoon period I guess: for me to kind of bump into that – you know what – I don’t feel happy anymore!

Dennis:  You talking about hopelessness?

Susie:  I think it was just – yes I was committed to marriage, but I think it was just a feeling like you know what this is not what I planned.  This is not what I dreamed of all my life.

Dennis:  It’s not working?

Susie:  Yes, and I’m unhappy.  So yes, I would say, “It took about ten years if you can imagine that?”

Bob:  Did you have any clue ten years into your marriage that your wife was feeling discontented?

Will:  No!

Bob:  Probably not – so you are a typical guy!

Will:  I was like – things are great – what’s the problem here?


Dennis:  But, you are in the ministry? I mean you are pastoring a church telling everybody else how to be a man of God

Will:  Oh yeah – had the perfect façade – mister spiritual – telling them how to do it! No clue!

Dennis:  You were swinging and missing at home!

Will:  Absolutely!

Bob:  Did you bring this to the surface?  Did you decide I have to bring this out in the open?

Susie: Yes – absolutely! I think it was really – Will and I got married pretty young – I was 21, he was 22.  Then we started having kids pretty quick.  Then, we were doing ministry, so we were really busy – had a lot going on. I was incredibly – mothering takes a lot of time and energy.

Honestly what happened is in eighth grade I witnessed a murder and about 10 years into the marriage I started having to deal with this death that had happened because of what I saw.  Then, my healing kind of bled over into his life, and created some tension for him on some stuff that

God needed to do in his life.  So, it ruffed up our marriage quite a bit in a good and a bad way.

We really had to work through that to get to the place where we were better with each other.  It really tested my commitment that I had to marriage and to Will.  It just was like – okay you are not happy, does that really change anything?

Dennis:  Susie, you just quickly ran by something!


Susie:  Yes!

Will:  Minor detail!

Dennis:  Yes – you witnessed a murder, and this is so dramatic.  When two people do get married they do bring bags into the marriage relationship and little by little over time we begin to unpack those bags and we begin to find out who that other person is: what they’ve experienced, what they’ve seen?  For you, you actually as a young lady watched somebody get murdered?

Susie:  Right!  I’ll just preface it a little bit – I became a Christian when I was twelve through the ministry of Young Life.  We got involved in a church, and I was all about Jesus and butterflies, and rainbows.  I believed everything I read, it was a great experience, and then in eighth grade I was in my English class.

Dennis:  Now, we are in Austin, Texas.

Susie:  Austin Texas:  A guy who actually lived up the street from me, went through elementary school with me, came into our English class with a rifle and shot and killed our teacher in front of us.  Obviously it was very traumatic.

In fact that was in the late ‘70’s – it was kind of unheard of in America. It was a hugely sensational story, but I really struggled through that. I was incredibly fearful and it impacted my relationship with God in an immense way as you can imagine.  I was around people who were telling me I was going to be okay, and so I believed that I was going to be okay!

Dennis:  Now are you talking about Christians just using God speak?

Susie:  Sure!  Sometimes yes!

Will:  They did the best they could.  Her parents, everybody did as best they could!

Susie:  Yes – I mean looking back it was incredibly traumatic, it had really not happened.

Will:  How do you deal with a school shooting in 1976 or 77 – whatever it was? You don’t!

Susie: Right!  What happened is, I kind of grieved for a little bit: couple months, and then I pushed on with life.  Something pretty significant happened in me – I loved God, but I didn’t trust Him! 

So what happened is I was a good Christian girl and I kept doing all the good Christian stuff and I loved God – I truly, really loved Him, but I felt like He walked out of the room on me, and it created a lot of distress for me because I felt like He could have kept it from happening.

 I didn’t get how He could be a loving God who says, “You know what, I have good plans for your life, because I really didn’t feel like that was a good plan at all”!  He really healed me up pretty quickly which was amazing.  It was really through a Mom’s group that I was in.  I was meeting with Mom’s and praying with them.  Not about that, but that is where it all came out in a safe place.  My wellness affected Will, and then he ended up having to deal with some stuff that he had really not dealt with for a very long time.

Bob:  In those darkest days of your marriage describe for me what it was like?  Were the two of you just not talking; were you angry with one another, throwing stuff at each other?  What was going on?

Susie:  You know honestly when I look back on it now Bob, I think that really we were slowly growing distant. It wasn’t that we were slamming doors, and hitting into things.  Remember you know, pastor and pastor’s wife – we weren’t doing all that.  Not that it can’t happen but maybe for some reason because of that we didn’t handle it that way. 

I just slowly grew cold towards Will, and I think that some of it was about that I was putting my trust in the wrong place.  Some of it was about that he needed to get healed up about stuff. Of course, I was really busy with the kids.  They took a ton of time and energy – they were all like seven and under, so if I wasn’t having a baby, I was nursing a baby or taking care of babies. There was just a lot going on.

Bob:  In the meantime you are busy with the church and everything.

Will:  School, church, the façade on my end.

Bob:  So, you are not even aware necessarily that this drift is occurring – it’s just kind of one of those busy seasons.

Will:  If I was aware, I was not equipped emotionally to deal with it.   I didn’t have the tools in my resource kit to do anything about it.  I was even more emotionally challenged than my wife was.

Dennis:  You’ve indicated that there was something in your bags you hadn’t unpacked.

Will:  I brought a lot of them into the marriage!  We were too young when we got married probably.  I loved Christ – the call to ministry and Christ was passionate but I had a pretty long season of anger toward my parents and what I call my black cauldron. 

I can envision this big brewing black cauldron in my spirit. It was emotional hurt and pain, anger, unforgiveness and junk.  I didn’t tell my Mom I loved her for 20 years, and didn’t know how to do intimacy and authenticity at all.  So, I was faking it with Susie.  I was faking it in my small group.  Faking it with God!   He busted that up big time! Susie’s healing launched it for me.  When Susie got healed, the ripple effect of that kind of stirred me up and that started about a three-year process for me.

Dennis:  She got real and in the process demonstrated to you what that looked like.

Will:  She did – scared the bejeebers out of me!

Dennis:  I would think it would!


Will:  What are you doing? No – no – no real please!

Dennis:  You’d been married for how many years at that point?

Will:  Oh gosh – almost ten.

Bob:  Do you remember when she sat you down or pulled you aside and said, “We have to talk?”

Will:  I remember the night that we were talking about it before, and we stayed up until 3 a.m. and she started venting and all this stuff came out.  Then she looked at me and said, “How come nothing bad has ever happened to you?”  I said, “ I haven’t told my Mom I loved her since I was like in eighth grade.”  That conversation started it. It was pretty crazy!

Bob:  If that was the starting point to go from this drift toward isolation to start moving you back toward real intimacy in marriage, what did that journey look like, and how long did it take?

Susie: Well, you know it’s funny is when I got real with me, it’s like a paradox – it’s strangely liberating, but you feel so ugly.  It’s easier to be the good Christian girl, or a pastor’s wife or say the right things, so you’re so free, and yet you feel so naked and ugly. 

When I think about it now looking back I think it was kind of a push and a pull kind of thing.  We pulled together because we were both so grateful and so free, and then we say, “Ew – yuck, you know and point fingers at each other and accuse each other.  It was kind of an in and out kind of thing until we finally got to a place really where we were both healthy enough.  We went through marriage counseling which I think is an important thing to do if you are stuck in that phase of kind of that in and out where you are not walking every day and having positive kinds of experiences.  You need to seek help!

Bob:  Did that feel threatening and embarrassing to you to go sit with a marriage counselor as a seminary student?

Will:  Oh yes: Seminary student, pastor, and the whole thing.  There was one time we were in the office and the counselor had us wait in a different room because church members were out in the lobby coming in to see him.  We were like we can’t be public about this yet.  Plus it’s just I’m okay – I don’t have problems, and so I don’t need to see a Christian counselor.  He’s my best friend now – he’s my accountability partner, but I was afraid to go into his office because that’s where really sick, weird people went.   I send people to him; I don’t go to him personally!


Dennis:  Even though you knew you hadn’t told your Mom you loved her in 20 years?

Will:  I thought it was okay Dennis. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. I just thought that’s how it was. I had not done the math. I wasn’t a very bright guy!


That’s just being honest – I was missing a lot.

Dennis:  I don’t think it has anything to do with being bright. I think it’s getting stuck. We get stuck as human beings, and we don’t know we’re in a ditch!

Will:  I was stuck!

Dennis:   It takes a wife who gets out of the ditch herself, and says, “Hey – it’s liberating out here – come join me!”  A lot of people face their fears; they think give me the comfort of the ditch!

Will:  I was a legalist off the charts, and the way this affected my theology was I was a rule keeper, and a rule preacher. T he problem was what I was imposing on people, I wasn’t doing.  I was the best Pharisee that ever lived, and this healing process included the whole awakening of grace for me. 

That’s one of the best things of this story: my world is I discovered grace, and what unconditional love looks like. That, I think gave me the courage to start leaning into this healing process. I really was loved for free; I was going to be okay anyway we went. When I discovered grace it started the process for me.

Dennis: So, did you go to your Mom?

Will:  Yes, I did. I’m getting goose bumps – that’s a great story.  We sat down in the counselor’s office and I had just some can I come to Jesus conversation.  She didn’t do anything wrong, it was all my sin and my awareness.  She did the best she could!  We sat down in the counselor’s office: my Mom and my Dad and I got off my chest about six hours of session.

A week later she almost died, and spent three months in ICU in a coma, which I of course thought I had caused because I had told her all this stuff.  She had septicemia and almost died.  I was able to love on her and hold her hand and tell her I love her, and be by her bedside with great sincerity. A week before I hadn’t been able to do that. So the timing was amazing! She’s in a nursing home today, we’re buds.  I tell her I love her.  I call her.  We tease each other, it’s one of the greatest healing stories I’ve seen.

Dennis:  So, you discovered grace and mercy – when did you ask her to forgive you for the cauldron, the black cauldron?

Will:  That day in my office.  Yes! What’s funny is she didn’t know I was mad at her!  I said, “I’ve been holding a grudge against you”, and she said, “Really – I had no idea”!  I said “What good is a grudge if you didn’t know I was mad at you?”


It wasn’t helping anybody, it was just making me sick – at least she should have been suffering for it – right? She didn’t! She wasn’t, and I said, I’m so sorry!

Dennis:  You’re the one that was suffering.

Will:  I was the jerk!

Bob:  You know, as you guys were telling your story, I’ve been thinking of two things – Dennis. I’ve been thinking of the first two chapters of the book that you and Barbara wrote years ago – Building Your Mates Self Esteem. The phantom pictures we try to live up to in marriage and the bags that we bring in, and the past, and how that affects our marriage.

You guys go into a lot of detail of talking about how you have to deal with that in marriage. Then, I’ve been thinking about what we talk about at the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference: this drift toward isolation that occurs in every marriage unless you’re intentional.

Dennis: Yes, and I was thinking about a third thing, and that was the book about honoring your parents, which is called The Best Gift You’ll Ever Give Your Parents. Will, it talks about ultimately moving towards honoring your parents, which is the fifth commandment which has a promise associated with it.  What I’ve found in not only doing that myself, and getting some things off my chest with my parents, but in honoring them you have to move through forgiveness, and you have to learn what it means to love them and to honor them.

I think when we come into marriage; we don’t realize how those past relationships like this impact the present.  They impacted your marriage; they undoubtedly impacted your relationship with your children.  If you can’t trust God, and you can’t trust each other what’s that marriage going to look like?  What are those kids going to pick up about what a real relationship looks like? 

So, what we have to realize as human beings is we are all broken, all in need of grace, all in need of mercy, all in need of forgiveness, and there’s no better place than a marriage relationship to demonstrate this: the bridegroom and the bride.  Here we are in marriage, and what we have to learn is we have to forgive.   We have to pursue. We have to love.  We have to grant mercy, and we have to do that repeatedly.  It’s not a matter of doing it once and it’s been done – it’s a matter of over, and over, and over again.

It’s back to what you talk about in your book: Loving Your Man Without Losing Your Mind. It took you ten years to find out he wasn’t imperfect.  You don’t think that today, I’m sure!

Will:  She thinks I’m perfect today!


Dennis:  Does she?



Susie:  No!

Will:  She pretty much knows I’m perfect, because I am!

Susie:  He’s the perfect person for me.

Will:  There you go!

Dennis:  That’s the right answer.

Susie: I mean that from the bottom of my heart.  The reason why is: I’ve told women when I speak with them - because really marriage is a ministry.  You need to see it as a ministry. Sometimes you wake up and you don’t feel like ministering to that person. It would be easier to go feed people under the bridge at 5:00 in the morning.  You know, it would be a lot easier! But, marriage is a ministry!  The thing about ministry is that you learn so much about yourself, and you draw close to God when you serve someone else.  I think that Will, has done more than any living human to make me more like God. I really do!

Dennis:  I think marriage was designed by God to redeem us from ourselves!

Susie:  Yes!

Will:  Amen!

Dennis:  There is no way you can love as intimately as you are called to love one another in such close proximity as a husband and a wife and see one another’s flaws and weaknesses, and disappoint each other.  The only way you can do that I think is by ultimately surrendering to Christ, yielding your will to Him, and saying, “Lord thank you for forgiving me, now make me a vessel of forgiveness, grace and mercy for my husband – for my wife”.

Susie:  Absolutely!

Bob:  I think one of the things that you point out here, and it’s something you point out in your book, and it’s something we talk about at our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  If a husband and wife want to grow together they first have to make sure that their relationship with God is a growing relationship.  You get your relationship with God right, and you get growing with Him and that has a profound impact on your marriage relationship.  If your relationship with God is not right, that’s going to have a profound impact on your marriage relationship.

 When we sit down with couples at our Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences we talk about very practical issues like communication and sexual intimacy.  We talk about what a husband’s responsibility is, what a wife’s responsibility is in a marriage relationship.  We unpack what the Bible has to say about all of these things.  At the core of it all, is your relationship with God and whether that is where it ought to be?

 I just want to once again encourage our FamilyLife Today listeners to contact us this week or next week, and make plans to attend one of these upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We are going to be hosting more than 50 of these conferences in cities all across the country this fall.  When you register for an upcoming conference when it comes to a city near where you live.  You and your spouse register at the regular price, and we are going to give you a second registration for free.  Something you can pass along to your kids, something you can pass along to somebody you know at church: you and another couple can get together and split the difference if you want to.

 However you want to do it, but it’s a buy one get one free offer for the Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference and it’s good only this week and next week. If you want to take advantage of it you need to call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, “I want to sign up for a Weekend to Remember.  I heard Bob talking about it on the radio – mention my name. Say, “I heard Bob talking about it on the radio”, and that way they will know you are a FamilyLife Today listener, and you will be eligible for this special rate.

Or, you can go on-line at  - you can register for an upcoming conference on-line: there’s a promotion code box on the registration form  - just type my name in the promo code box – just type “Bob” in there, and automatically when you register at the regular rate you will get a second registration absolutely free.

Again, if you have any questions call 1-800-FLTODAY, or go on-line at All the information you need is available there.  We hope you will make plans to attend an up-coming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference.

The fall season kicks off here in a few weeks.  I know it still feels like it’s the middle of summer, but now is the time to be making plans to attend a fun, romantic get-a-way for couples at a FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference. 

Let me also mention when you are on our web site get a copy of Susie Davis’s book Loving Your Man Without Losing Your Mind.  Again there is more information about the book available at or you can order on-line if you like and we will make sure that we get a copy of this book sent out to you.

In fact, Will and Susie are going to be back with us tomorrow.  We are going to talk more about some of the lessons they’ve learned in their marriage about one another, about their relationship with God.  I hope you can tune in for that.

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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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

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