FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

with Tim Lane | December 31, 2007
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Have you ever wondered if a certain relationship was worth all the trouble? If so, you aren't alone. Today on the broadcast. Tim Lane, author of Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, tells Dennis Rainey why even the most difficult relationships are worth our love and attention.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Have you ever wondered if a certain relationship was worth all the trouble? If so, you aren't alone. Today on the broadcast. Tim Lane, author of Relationships: A Mess Worth Making, tells Dennis Rainey why even the most difficult relationships are worth our love and attention.

  • 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.

Have you ever wondered if a certain relationship was worth all the trouble?

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Relationships: A Mess Worth Making

With Tim Lane
December 31, 2007
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Tim: I think it's interesting, in Matthew 18 you have this wonderful parable of forgiveness, the unmerciful servant, and Jesus uses this parable to talk about forgiveness, and the passage doesn't say, "Oh, just ignore it."  It says, no, go to them.  If that doesn't work, then you are to bring along two or more; if that doesn't work then there's this process where the church in a wise and loving and gracious way might need to become involved in that difficulty.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 31st.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  Relationships can get messy.  Do you throw in the towel or what do you do?  Stay tuned.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Monday edition, the New Year's Eve edition.  We're going to talk about relationships today and, you know, I think a lot of people, when they hear that you and I work together in a ministry, they think to themselves, "Oh, that must be wonderful, to be in a ministry setting."  And there are a lot of things that are wonderful about it.  But, often, they think that it means there will be no relationship problems because you're in ministry together, and I think I remember telling you not long after I'd come to work at FamilyLife, that the ministry would be a lot easier place to work if you just didn't have to worry about money and people.

Dennis: Are you sure you said that first?

Bob: I'm sure I'm not the first who came to that conclusion.  But then I began to realize life would be a lot easier.  It's not just the ministry, but everything in life would be easier if you just didn't have to mess with money and people.

Dennis: People are a challenge from time to time.

Bob: Well, money is a challenge from time to time, too.

Dennis: You know, given the challenge between the two, I think money is a whole lot simpler to deal with than …

Bob: Well, you're probably right.

Dennis: … than people.  And I was thinking about today's broadcast.  1 Corinthians 13 makes it real clear – if you miss relationships you miss life.  If you don't love well, you've missed one of God's chief assignments for us as people.

 Now, the easy thing to do is to love those who love you, but what do you do with messy relationships?  You know, a number of years ago an author coined a term, "'irregular people."

Bob: Right.

Dennis: There are those irregular people in every family, and near all of us that demand us to know how to love well, and we have a guest with us here on FamilyLife Today, Tim Lane, to instruct us in how to be great lovers of people.  Tim, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Tim: Thanks, Dennis and Bob.  It's good to be here.

Dennis: Tim is the president of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation.  He is a counselor, an author, a speak, has four children, which also qualifies him to love well and have relationships; married to his wife, Barbara, and he's written a book called "Relationships:  A Mess Worth Making."

 Now, you chose the word "mess."  That had to be pretty intentional.

Tim: Well, as you all were describing, just at the beginning, it's not just the difficult relationships that are messy.  I would say even your closest relationships are messy.  I struggle to love the people that I say I love, and I think about my relationship with my wife or my kids and any given week there are conflicts, there are issues that have to be dealt with within that context, and these are the relationships that I would say are the best in my life, and yet they're still challenging.  They still pose problems and issues that only the redemptive grace of Christ by the work of the Spirit can enable me to grow.

Bob: And I'm sure that some people, as a result of the mess of relationships, the inclination is just to retreat into isolation or into self or into some kind of a cave where you don't have to deal with the mess.

Tim: Yes.  You can move in, actually, two different directions.  One is isolation.  I don't want to bother with this.  The other is you could become so consumed with the need for someone else's approval that you become enmeshed in the relationship, and either extreme is an error that creates havoc in the relationships that God wants to use.

Bob: It's interesting, because one of the things that we've talked about for years at our FamilyLife Weekend to Remember is the fact that God didn't intend for us to be in dependent represents or independent of relationships, but there is an interdependence that's the healthy middle road that we ought to be on, right?

Tim: That's correct, yes.  And I would say that what drives that is – we talk about this in the book – is getting first things first.  The first priority is relationship with God, of course, and that begins to structure your relationship with other people.  In fact, it demotes your relationship with other people to its rightful place, but as C.S. Lewis says, when you make first things first, second things, your relationships with others, don't get suppressed but, rather, they get promoted.

 And so when God is first, people are in their right place in your life, and you're not treating them as objects of approval or obstacles that are getting in your way then those relationships can really flourish and thrive and be used not only in your own life but in the lives of others to bring about that change and transformation that God wants to produce in each of us.

Dennis: Bob and I have a little phrase we use around here that says, "There you have it, another great illustration ruined by an eyewitness."  And many times our wives are an eyewitness, and I happen to know that your wife is just outside the studio …

Tim: She is.

Dennis: … and I just wondered if we could bring her into the studio here and just have her confirm what you're saying here on the broadcast.  What would you think about that?

Tim: Do we have to do that?

Dennis: I think it would be good.  Barbara, would you join us here on the broadcast?

[door opens]

Bob: Come on, Barbara.

Tim: My mother-in-law is here, too, but we'll just start with the wife.

[door closes]

Bob: Have a seat there.

Dennis: Do you want to put the headphones on?

Barbara: I don't know what to do.


Barbara: I've never done this before, so you'll have to coach me.

Dennis: That's all right.

Bob: And, by the way, thank you.  I know we're putting you on the spot, but welcome.

Barbara: You definitely are.

Bob: Are we still your friends?

Barbara: You're doing this on purpose.

Bob: Yes, we are doing this on purpose.

Dennis: What about it?  Let's talk about the relationship.

Barbara: All right.

Dennis: Has Tim loved well in those situations like he's talking about?

Barbara: He has loved well.  He has taught me how to be a bit more honest.  You know, everything that we've been through, whether it's been comfortable or difficult, it just deepens the relationship.  That's a good place to go; a safe a place to go.  I haven't always felt that way, but it's come.

Bob: It doesn't always feel comfortable.

Barbara: No, it doesn't.

Bob: Why is it so threatening to be transparent, to get to the place, do you think?  I mean, you know your husband is committed to you, he loves you, he's not going anywhere, right?  You know all of those things.

Barbara: I do know those things.

Bob: But it still feels scary to be transparent.  Why?

Barbara: It does – to be vulnerable, to be real, you know, I've spent most of my life being a certain way in front of people, being a good Southerner, and, you know, keeping up a reputation, and you can't really do that in a marriage very long – maybe a few hours.

Dennis: How many years have you guys been married?

Barbara: Eighteen next month.

Dennis: Was there a time in your marriage where your commitment was tested?  Bob just talked about "we're not going anywhere, we're committed to each other."  Usually, a marriage relationship does go through a period of time where that commitment is tested.

Barbara: There's probably been a couple of times.

Tim: The first year.

Barbara: Yes, the first year was very difficult.

Dennis: What happened, Barbara?

Barbara: I don't know if it was anything in particular.  I think it was just being married to someone who was very real, very honest, forcing me to be the same.  I wasn't necessarily used to that.  I could keep up a front, but I couldn't do it 24/7. 

Dennis: Yeah.

Tim: I think some of it is the fact that you bring – and you all know this – you bring two people into a relationship and this is what I thought when I was marrying Barbara.  I was thinking, "This is a great deal.  I love me, and here she's going to join this marriage, and she's going to love me."

Barbara: And I'm thinking the same thing.

Tim: At some level, even if you're a Christian when you're getting married, you know so little about what true love is – is commitment that is to override the emotions and the fluctuations of day-to-day.  But she came from a very different background, family.  Both of her parents were believers. 

 You know, just to give you an idea, at their dinner table, I remember when I first met Barbara, I would eat dinner with the family, and this was a fun time.  You know, you joked, and you had fun, and you stayed there for a while. 

 I grew up in a family where it was religion and politics, and you had it out at the table, and as soon as you were through eating, you took your dish into the kitchen, and you're on your way.

 Those are two different styles of relating, and so when we got married, those two different styles began to collide, and we had a decision to make in that first year of marriage – where is this going?

 And this is, I think, an important point.  Relationships don't go bad overnight.  Very few relationships do.  They go bad over a period of time, in those little moments where you make little decisions to either remain self-centered, to not be vulnerable, to hold onto a moment of hurt rather than find the grace of Christ sufficient in that moment to let go of that moment of hurt and to pursue the other person.  And it's in those little moments that, over time, marriages are either built or they're either demolished.

 And so we were very fortunate that first year of marriage to embed our relationship within a broader circle of other relationships, where we were getting help and counsel and encouragement.

Dennis: Barbara, did you have a mentor that first year of your marriage that came alongside you?  Another, perhaps a little older, female who coached and encouraged you in that formative first year of your …

Barbara: There were a couple of women in our church and at the seminary that were very encouraging, yes, they definitely were.  And it was also the first time I had lived away from my family, and I didn't realize how dependent I was on them to make me happy and to make things comfortable, and here I was in the midst of a context where he already had friends, he'd been there a couple of years before me, and I needed to learn that the world didn't revolve around me and that there was someone else I needed to serve.

Dennis: Yes, when we married, and I'm married to a Barbara as well, I took her out of the state of Texas, where she was living, and took her to Colorado where neither one of us had relationships, and there aren't many regrets that I have in our relationship when we first started out, but I wish we had been more intentional, as you just described, Tim, about encircling ourselves with mentors and relationships in a church that would have coached us, encouraged us, and, you know, different is how all of us start out our marriages.  And different isn't wrong, it's just different.  But we do need others to put that in context from time to time.

Bob: You know, I think all of us in relationships kind of daydream about what life might be like if we were free from the encumbrance of a relationship, and that's – you know, here on a program like FamilyLife Today, that's not a – that sounds almost like blasphemy to even admit that that's the case, you know?

Tim: Well, it's where people live, though.

Barbara: I've done that as a mother.  What was I thinking?  You know, there are moments of that.

Dennis: You have four children.

Barbara: That's right.

Bob: But that daydream that we're having is a fantasy daydream, isn't it?

Tim: That's right.  And, again, it's that movement out of community, but it's not towards God, it's out of community towards myself, and that doesn't have to happen in a profound moment.  It can happen every single day you come home.  I struggle with that when I come home daily.  I've left work, and I'm tired, and I just don't want to be bothered.

 And I walk in the back door of my house, and Barbara's been working all day, she's tired.  I have four kids, two cats and a dog …

Dennis: … and she doesn't want to be bothered.

Tim: That's right.

Dennis: Isn't that right, Barbara?

Barbara: That's right.

Tim: And so here you are …

Barbara: Looking for help intervening.

Tim: … as you're walking in the back door of your house, and this is where the battles for relationships is won and lost.  This is a skirmish, but if you don't begin to see the connection of God's grace and the empowering work of the spirit in moments like that, then you build a track record that really creates destructive ramifications for the relationship.  And so it's in that moment when I'm walking in the back door of my house that I cry a prayer, "God, help me.  I love myself more than I love You and more than I love my wife and more than I love my kids.  These are people, my wife, in particular, I stood before hundreds of people, and even said, 'I want to love her the rest of my life.'  I'm struggling right now to do that.  Help me, right now, as I walk in the back door of my house today, after 18 years of marriage, four kids, to not just turn the switch off and say 'Okay, now it's my turn to be served.  Help me to just change the field of ministry.  I was ministering at work, now help me to do that here.'"

Dennis: And so how do you do that?  You just mentioned you prayed, and what I want to do is I want to move our listeners beyond prayer, because there are some men who may pray as they walk through the door, and then they go sit down expect to be served at that point.

Tim: That's right, yeah.  Well, I think, particularly in the chapter on conflict, I work this out, but I have to identify in those moments what has ahold of my heart in that moment?  And, for me, I just want comfort.  And you think about that – you think, "Well, you want comfort, Tim, you know, you could almost argue that you deserve it because you've worked hard all day.  It seems so legitimate, and there is nothing inherently sinful with comfort.

 But if it morphs and becomes my ultimate thing, the thing that, at that moment, I am fellowshipping with, I am worshiping, I am adoring more than the living God, more than what Father, Son and Spirit have done for me, then I'm just going to run down that path and say, "It's all about me.  I'm going to get my comfort."

 And so part of the prayer also includes seeing and being mesmerized in new ways by the Gospel.  I often think of Philippians 2, and I think of Jesus leaving His place of comfort, leaving heaven, humbling Himself, becoming a servant, becoming obedient, becoming obedient to the point of death, and it's in that moment where, all of a sudden, comfort, which was so alluring and attractive as I was driving home from work, as I'm praying, as I'm seeing these things, my worship is beginning to change, and Christ becomes more attractive to me than comfort.

 Comfort gets demote.  It's a second thing, it's a good thing, but that's all.  It's not my god.

Dennis: I want to go to the eyewitness and find out how that works its way out practically.  Barbara, when he comes through the back door, how does he demonstrate to you that he's there to serve you and there to find out what your needs are and the needs of the children?

Barbara: I think it gets real practical.  It's seeing that the dishwasher is completely full of clean dishes, and I have a sinkful of dirty ones that need to be taken care of before dinner can ever get on the table, or two kids that are fighting over the computer or that he can help solve the dispute or homework that needs to be helped with.  There really are practical ways, and I know that I'm not in it alone.  You know, I have this partner. 

 Or he asks me how my day's been going, just very, very practical things, and he's not thinking about himself.

Bob: You know, I like that answer just fine, I guess, but I'm thinking to myself, "Can't there ever be moments where it really is all about me?"


 Do you know what I mean?

Dennis: He's just asking the question that every man …

Bob: I'm just thinking I'm walking in the back door, and I'm seeing the dish – and I'm going, "No, I just want a few minutes that it's all about me."  Am I allowed that, as a Christian?

Tim: There's a fine line – you walk a razor's edge.  I know in Philippians 2, Paul says, "Don't just look out for your own interests, but look out for the interest of others."  And I'm – listen, I'm much more able and adept at focusing on what I need.

Bob: You know how to nourish and cherish your own body, right?

Tim: You know, I don't have to conjure up and say, "Okay, I'm just going to think about me, I'm just going to focus on my needs."  I need to be, you know, in a revolutionary way, again, by God's powerful grace and the work of the Spirit, I need to be really utterly transformed in those moments, and Barbara's describing the moments where, by God's grace, we move in a godly direction.  But there are many occasions where I fail, and yet what's encouraging about that is even when I fail there's a redemptive opportunity – to go to her or to go to the kids and say, "My attitude, my tone of voice, what I said, the way I treated you, I was too harsh, that was wrong.  Will you forgive me?"

 Now, I'm going to be pretty pointed here – that, right there, is a skill that you would never do, even if somebody told you "here is the skill, if you don't have a radical heart change first."

 That is not natural – to admit that you're wrong and to ask another human being for forgiveness.  That is nothing other than short of miraculous when that happens, and that's a supernatural work of grace.  Even in those moments where we blow it, there are opportunities to reconcile and, again, see the relationship – not just be brought back to where it was before the sin but to see it deepen.

Bob: You know, I keep coming back, Dennis, to the greatest commandment, when the Pharisees asked Jesus, "What's the greatest commandment?"  And He said, "Well, it's to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul your strength."  He quoted to them the Shamah from the Old Testament and then He said, "And the second is like unto it, it is to love your lovable neighbor as yourself."

Dennis: No, no, no, no.  There was no "lovable" there.

Bob: But wouldn't you wish that there was a qualifier there?

Dennis: Well, let's look back to how we started the broadcast.  I mean, it's no credit to you when you love somebody who loves you.  Tim, you said it well – marriages are made in the little, small choices that start in the first year of marriage, and they build over a lifetime, and, you know, if you hurt each other enough over a period of a decade or two, the fire can begin to flicker, and doesn't let us off the hook for our commitment, but we don't experience the kind of relationship that God truly designed for us to experience.

Tim: Yeah, and I think what we've attempted to do in this book is we've attempted to be honest with those struggles and yet optimistic about the Gospel, God's grace for us in Christ, that we can be liberated from ourselves.

 You know, when I walk in the back door of my house at the end of the day, I need to be rescued from myself so that my kids and my wife get rescued from me, and that happens.  It can happen; it does happen, and I'm thankful in those moments when it does.

Dennis: Sometimes that rescue takes a wrestling match, though, and I've had more than one wrestling match sitting out in front of my house before I go inside, and sometimes the kids would have encircled the car like a band of bandidos and getting ready to overtake Dad, and I'm muttering kind of that prayer that you talked about, Tim.  I'm saying, "Lord God, help me to know how to meet the needs of my family tonight," because many times I'd go in there, and Barbara would be tied up – not physically with ropes, but emotionally because of six children, a dishwasher that spewed its contents all over the kitchen floor, runny noses, ear infections, all the daily demands that really put true leadership to the test.  And that's what you're really talking about here in your book.

Bob: I'm just wondering – do you think if I wrote a book called "How to Make Your Marriage and Family be All About You," do you think I'd have a bestseller with that?

Tim: You probably would.

Dennis: I think you might, I think you might.

Bob: I'm just not sure that I could include any Scripture in the book if I wrote a book like that.

Dennis: No doubt about it.

Bob: And we don't have any books like that in our FamilyLife Resource Center but we do have the book that Tim and Paul David Tripp have written together called "Relationships – A Mess Worth Making," and I want to encourage you to go to our website online at  If you click the red button you see in the middle of the screen that says "Go" on it, that will take you to the area of the site where there is more information on how you can get a copy of this book, and you stop and think about the priority of relationships in terms of what God's called us to, and in terms of what it means to live life.  And we've got to be committed to healthy relationships even in the midst of the messes. 

 So let me encourage you to get a copy of the book, "Relationships – a Mess Worth Making."  You can order online at, click the red "Go" button in the center of the screen when you go to our home page, or call 1-800-FLTODAY – 1-800-358-6329.  That's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can make arrangements to have a copy of this book sent out to you.

 Then we often get this question on the last day of the year, or this series of questions – "Is there still time to make a donation to FamilyLife Today?"  There is.  "How can I do that?"  You can do it by phone, or you can go online to make your donation.  "Will I still get it as a tax credit in 2007?"  And you will as long as you make the donation before midnight tonight either over the phone or online at   And "Those donations are tax deductible?"  Yes, they are. 

 And then there are a few questions you might not be asking, but you ought to know that FamilyLife Today is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which means that we do have folks who are paying attention to how donations to this ministry are actually used.  We want to be good stewards of the resources that are entrusted to us, and these folks come along behind us and make sure that is actually happening and, let's think, are there any other questions?  I don't think there are any questions, just an opportunity to say thank you for your financial support, thanks for listening.  Your donations are essential for the ongoing ministry of FamilyLife Today, and we appreciate hearing from you, and if you've not made a year-end contribution and you can do it today, we would love to hear from you.

 You can donate online at, or you can call us at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and let me just say thanks in advance for your support.

 Well, tomorrow on New Year's Day, we're going to hear from a guy who works on campus at Texas A&M University.  Ben Stuart is going to join us to talk about what life is like on campus these days and about relationships there.  I hope you can be with us 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'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 


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