Secrets of a Stronger Marriage: David and Meg Robbins
A stronger marriage: What's it take? FamilyLife President David Robbins and his wife Meg relate marriage tools that work for their relationship—toward a more weatherproof forever.
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A stronger marriage: What’s it take? FamilyLife President David Robbins and his wife Meg relate marriage tools toward a more weatherproof forever.
Secrets of a Stronger Marriage: David and Meg Robbins
Dave: Okay. I have a question for you. If you were going to ask any married couple, or even a couple going to get married—and I’m talking they may be church-going couples, they may be Christian couples, they maybe have never been in a church their whole life—what do you think the goal of their marriage is? What would you say?
Dave: I don’t think it really makes much difference if you’re a follower of Christ or not. Most people, Christians and non-believers, want to be happy. In fact, they’ve found “the one,” and that one is going to make them happy. And then they get married, and often that doesn’t take place.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We’re going to talk about the purpose of marriage today. We have David and Meg Robbins in the studio, President of FamilyLife. Obviously, when you guys got married, was that what you were thinking? “Man, I’ve found the woman, I’ve found the guy that’s going to make me happy.” Or were you way more mature than that?
David: Well, no, I was not more mature, but I do remember thinking, “I’ve found someone who will do ministry with her full heart.”
Dave: I would say this: that’s a different perspective than most people.
Dave: Maybe ministry is down there, but not top of your mind. You said, “No,” it was top of your mind.
David: It was top of my mind, but when I pulled back, the reality was that it was kind of to meet my own needs. “Hey, be my sidekick in ministry. Come on, let’s go do this together. I’ve got a plan; I’ve got a calling. Join me and let’s just say that marriage is about joining your callings toward a new calling and a new oneness of what God has.” That took some time to kind of unearth, and it was not happy in that process.
Dave: Meg, did you pick that up? Did you feel like “He’s got a plan and I’m just sort of his sidekick?”
Meg: We had definitely talked a lot about our calling and wanting to have an impact for the Lord. That was super-important to me, too. I knew that was definitely a part of who he was, and who we would be. Yes. Our first year of marriage he was already really established as a leader in ministry. It wasn’t until we went overseas that really shifted for us, and we became much more of a team. I was definitely, before that time, kind of the sidekick for David, I guess.
David: I don’t think we knew that.
Meg: No, we didn’t know it until we were overseas, and we realized, “Oh, this is what being a team really looks like.”
Ann: Well, let’s just say you guys are unusual. Most couples don’t come into marriage thinking, “Yeah, we’re going to change the world together.” Why do you think most people don’t have that perspective?
Meg: If I’m honest, I will say that even though that was our perspective, even for me as a young—I was very young. I was still in college, and you did make me very happy. I loved our dating relationship, and I couldn’t wait to be married. So, there was still even a part of me that thought, “This is going to make me happy.” I think we had some people that gave us perspective that marriage is hard, you’re going to have to work at it.
I think people think that because when you’re dating and when you’re in that place where you’re thinking of the future and you’re dreaming, you’re super hopeful that this person is going to continue to make you happy, and meet that desire for life to be flourishing because of this person. You don’t realize it, but I think people put so much hope and expectation in a person and their ability to make them happy, rather than your own choices, your own life, ultimately for us, your relationship with Jesus. That’s where you’re going to find not happiness as much as joy that lasts.
I think one other reason why people expect the purpose of marriage and what I’m going to get out of this, “I’m going to finally be happy,” is because that’s what the world is telling us. Every movie, every book you read—not every one, but everything that’s about marriage, and even fairy tales from when you’re a little girl, “and they lived happily ever after” – that’s the end of the movie. That is the message that we hear for years and years leading up to marriage.
Dave: I think really for us, the first time we really got a picture that God had a bigger dream and bigger mission purpose for marriage was sitting at the Weekend to Remember® as an engaged couple, two weeks before our wedding. That was—wasn’t it? That was the first time anybody had ever opened God’s Word and said, “What is God’s design for marriage?” Obviously, now we teach that, but we had never heard it.
So, on our wedding night, two weeks later, before we crawled in our wedding bed we got on our knees, and we prayed a prayer that was different than we would have prayed if we hadn’t gone to the Weekend to Remember. Literally we said, “God, we’re not asking You for a good marriage but a great marriage that will one day impact the world for Your Kingdom.” That last part of the prayer came from a perspective from God’s Word that we had never had before.
I remember as we struggled in year one and then as many have heard, struggled in year ten, we sort of thought, “God can’t use us to impact the world, because He uses really good marriages, and ours is sort of broken.”
Ann: We felt disqualified.
Dave: Yes, and it’s the opposite. God says, “No, I have a purpose, and it’s bigger than you two just being happy. I actually want to use you to impact the world.” And here we are! it’s still something we teach at the Weekend to Remember. If somebody came up to you guys on a sidewalk or at a volleyball match with other parents and said—
David: Sitting in the bleachers a lot these days.
Dave: Yes, you guys are on the sidelines with other parents—and said, “Hey, does God have a plan? Is there a mission for marriage bigger than being happy?” how would you answer it?
David: Marriage is the amazing reflection of how Jesus pursues and loves us. That is what marriage is. At its core, it is meant to be a husband, like the bridegroom, Jesus Himself, Who is with everything He has laying down His life, lowering Himself in order to pursue the bride, which we, image-bearers of God, are His Bride that He is coming to redeem and restore. Out of that redemption an amazing building of God’s Kingdom happens. That is what marriage is. It is a reflection.
Our marriage can be one of the loudest gospel messages we ever preach. Now, we have to preach the gospel with our words, obviously, because Romans 10 tells us that. But yet the way we are able to encounter Jesus in our own failings and then extend the grace of Jesus to one another in those failings ends up declaring the mystery that God actually has come to save sinners - and He has come to not only save them, but to redeem and to restore them in order to be able to live out something by the power of His Holy Spirit that they can’t do on their own.
Dave: We just taught the Weekend to Remember in Minneapolis. He just nailed a whole 50-minute talk we give.
Ann: You’d think he was the President or something-
David: Moving on.
Dave: —to know this stuff. The big idea there is like you said, that somehow this is almost a mystery, Paul says in Ephesians five, that marriage reflects the Bride and Christ. Somehow the way we love one another reflects to our neighbors the way God loves us. In one sense, wow! That’s awesome. In the other sense, that’s really scary that our neighbors and the parents you’re with on soccer fields are looking at us, and they should get an idea of what the Good News is. This is how Jesus sacrificially loves His Bride by the way we treat one another.
I told this story: One year when we were with the Detroit Lions—here we are talking about football again—we had a quarterback come in and he was just on fire, a Christian man. Jon Kitna was his name, and he had this vision that God wanted to use the Christians to reach the locker rooms. Long story short, Bible study on Monday nights was for couples, anybody, singles—bring your girlfriend—married couples. Anybody could come.
We’d been Detroit Lions chaplain for 30 some years. We typically get 8 or 10 people, because it’s a pretty high commitment to come to a Monday night study during an NFL season. When Jon’s there and Jenny, his wife, and they had kids, this thing starts to grow and grow. By week 5 or 6 of the season, there are 50 people coming, 45-50 people every Monday night.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Dave: We find out they’re driving two cars to be able to get a seat at the Bible study. [Laughter] It was just crazy. I remember one night there was this defensive back sitting there, and he’s the wildest dude on the team. I should have been really excited that he was there. So, the Bible study is just getting ready to start-
Ann: Well, you were excited he was there.
Dave: -I was excited, but here’s what comes out of my mouth. I said, “Dude, what are you doing here?” just like that, instead of “Hey, I’m glad you’re here.” It sorts of came out, I’m sort of shocked. I will never forget this. Jon and Jenny are sitting right beside me in the Bible study. People are just sitting down, and I say, “What are you doing here?” and he says, “I want what they got,” and he points to Jon and Jenny. He says, “They got something I’ve never seen. I want it.”
I thought right there, “That’s the purpose of marriage. They are living in such a way that somebody that’s far from Christ said, ‘I want what they got.’” And guess what? He gave his life to Christ before that season was over and got baptized. I thought, “That is the beauty of our marriage reflecting to others this is what the heart of God is like.”
Ann: And don’t you think our culture ever more so is looking to that, and wanting that, and longing for it, and is attracted to that -- a really solid marriage and couple?
Meg: Yes. I think there’s a freedom in it, what our marriages can display when you’re committed forever, when you’ve made that covenant commitment, that no matter what I see in you I’m staying here. What we experience with Jesus is that same covenant commitment. No matter what mistakes I make or things I think in my head, or whatever it is, He’s never going to be repulsed by me or turn from me.
In our marriage we have the same opportunity, because we all know that if there’s anybody who knows all the junk, it’s certainly my spouse. David knows all those things that not everybody knows. He sees the good, the bad, the ugly, and there’s plenty of it. And yet that commitment of “But I love you and we’re going to work through this” because we know forgiveness.
We know we’ve experienced that from Jesus; we can give that to one another freely. There is just a security that comes from that, too. I think that’s why the culture and the world is attracted to it.
David: It gives glimpses of God’s glory. That’s what marriage does, what family does, and it ripples into people. I just love thinking, “Okay, the guy who came to know Jesus who you couldn’t believe was there, how is he rippling into other people’s lives now?” That’s the model he saw, so he’s going to go show and tell of what he saw in the same way.
What I love about the Kitna's is the example of they lived it, and he wanted what they had. But they were also intentional, and it wasn’t passive. They were gathering people. He came with a vision, and there are practical things we can do to help reflect Jesus to the people around us.
Ann: Oooh. Let’s talk about those. What do you think are some practical things that we can do as couples?
David: First and foremost, I think, as we even go into this zone of “Okay, what are ways that we can take steps of faith?” you can just talk to God and say, “God, you know the place You’ve put me. I’m where You put me, and I want to see what You see, and hear what You hear. Give me eyes to see what’s going on around me.” And in doing that, I think it’s really important that we genuinely love people. That’s ultimately what Jesus did. He genuinely loved people, and there wasn’t an agenda, and they weren’t a project.
I think that just before we get into practicals, one of the things to not do is make someone your project. There’s nothing that repulses people more, especially in our day and age.
So, we really need to have a heart check of “Alright, we want to be a marriage on mission.” We want to think intentionally about the people around us that God has put around us that we have unique favor with, or someone that we keep bumping into, or just gets put on our heart, and say, “God, why do You keep crossing my path with that person?” or “Why do You keep putting them on my heart?”
But as we think about that, let’s insure we’re not making them our project, because we can water, as I Corinthians 3 says, others can plant seeds, but only God can make growth happen. So, continue to understand our role.
Ann: Let me add, too, you guys are in this prime season with the age of your kids, that you’re around different parents all the time.
Meg: That’s very true.
Ann: People that are empty-nesters, Dave and I are talking to people that are saying, “Our kids are gone. Now what? Now we’re thinking, What’s the purpose of our lives now that our kids are out of the house?” But I like what you’re saying, David. Pray “God, who are You bumping me into?” even being intentional about the people we’re around, of loving them well. That’s good.
Meg: And I think family really is the universal language. Every culture, every nation, every group of people has families. Whether you come from a broken family or a solid, wonderful, loving family, or you lost your parents, everybody has a story connected to family, and often some combination of both heartache and goodness. Because of that, you referred to this earlier, Dave, but I think there is something about just being honest about the broken places that we experience, because others are experiencing those same felt needs.
Whether it’s “I really wish that I was doing these things differently with my kids as I’m raising them,” or “I can’t figure out what to do with this one child who just keeps doing the same thing over and over.” Or maybe it’s just that we keep having the same conflict, and it’s just like a cycle over and over. People around us are experiencing those same things, and when we get honest about what we’re experiencing and how we’re coming back to Jesus and back to one another, I just feel like kind of cracking open the door of what’s really going on in our own home and in our own hearts—
David: People long for that so much.
Meg: —is one of the most impactful things we can do, but we kind of underestimate that. I used to think, “Well, we really have to be at a certain place in order to have an impact on others.”
Ann: Oh, yes.
Meg: But that’s the biggest lie that the enemy would ever want us to believe, that we really have to be mature and in a really healthy place in order to impact others, when the reality of maturity is humility, and depending on Jesus, and walking with Him. It’s not that you have overcome and never struggle with “What do I do as a parent?” Dependency is maturity in my opinion.
Dave: I think one of the exciting things when we understand as a married couple that there’s a bigger purpose, He wants to reflect Himself to the world through us. It gets you excited, like “Oh, my goodness!” So even the trials and problems we have don’t hide them. Let people see them and let them see Jesus in it. I know that for 12 years—I think it was 12 years—I coached high school football because my boys were in this high school. I wasn’t on the staff, but I was just a helper.
Every day when I would walk from the school building locker room down to the varsity field, there’s a little ramp, and every single time I made that walk I prayed, just to remind myself, “I’m not here to win football games, although of course we want to do well.” I just needed to remind myself, “God’s called us to make an impact on our corner of the world.”
That’s a FamilyLife principle right there. This is the corner He’s put me in right now, and I would literally just say, “God, I’m here to make boys into men, followers of Christ. Help me shine today, my language, my attitude, everything.” It was just this little walk, this silent prayer. It was just a reminder, “This is why we’re on this planet.” And then, all those families ended up in our home, in our church. Couples, families, legacies were changed because a guy coached high school football, and he had a bigger vision than just winning football games. That’s what it’s about, right?
David: And you were praying a prayer, “God open my eyes. What are you doing around me?” It’s no wonder that those people ended up around your kitchen table. To get really practical, there are planned things that we can do and need to do, and there are organic things, just to say, “God, I want to be responsive in the moment.”
We were so blessed two weeks ago to have a neighbor who noticed our tire was flat. We had never changed this tire on this big car that we have that’s fairly new. It’s a 2009 with a lot of mileage, but it’s new to us. Anyway, he got under there and helped us change this tire, spent two hours. We were so blessed by a neighbor that chose to take the margin to invest in us. Our trust with him is at a totally different level now. Or taking margin, and even emotional margin on the bleachers to go, “I’m going to actually start the conversation. I’m going to initiate it.”
But there are also planned things we can do. The example you gave with Kitnas is a great example of hosting a small group. People want healthy marriages and families. That is a universal longing, like Meg said. So whether it’s picking up a resource like Vertical Marriage™, the small group you guys did, or going on mission trips.
We looked at each other and just said, “We thought 20 years ago that we would be ones that would take our family on mission trips and have our kids engaged in mission with us. Well, we haven’t been doing that, so how can we change that?” Well, FamilyLife has started FamilyLife Mission Trips, just so you know. It’s FamilyLife.com/missions, and some are for couples, some are for kids of different ages. We’ve gone on a few now. Maybe reflect a little bit on just how meaningful it’s been.
Meg: Yes. We took our kids last summer with FamilyLife, partnering with Filter of Hope, and we went to the Dominican Republic. It was phenomenal. It was amazing, even just for us, being around people who don’t know Jesus in a context where they have a deep physical need, too. We were bringing clean water filters. I think the most powerful thing for us, personally, that we experienced was just watching our kids.
What I love about this opportunity in particular is there’s kind of something for everyone to do, so one person can kind of drill a hole in a bucket, and another person can explain how the water filter works. I think one of our kid’s job was to hold the clean cups for the water. Then, another person is going to kind of explain how the water filter works, and somebody else will share their story, and maybe talk about how there’s actually a more amazing Living Water for you.
In that process our kids kind of went from, “Yeah, yeah, you talk about Jesus, and we’ll drill the hole in the bucket” on the first day. But as we went through the next few days, by the end they asked, “Can I be the one to tell about Jesus?” Just seeing them slowly move through that process and gain courage by watching other people or their peers take steps of faith, or other teenagers on the trip. Then other people, who, other than us coming alongside them, other parents or other young 20-somethings saying, “Hey, you’ve got this. You can do this. Why don’t you give it a try this time?”
It was phenomenal. I think it really impacted us as a family, just to think about, “This is obviously a different context. We’re not every day going to be in a different country, but how can we go home and think through who are the people God has put in our life who don’t know Him, or need the truth of Him or the hope that He has to offer. How can we as a family love on those people, and what does that look like in our everyday lives?
Dave: We can say, because we’re a little bit ahead of you in life with grandkids now, we did mission trips with our kids, and it marked them for life.
Dave: They’re not going to forget those moments. One of the things that surprised me is when you invite even a neighbor or a friend that’s not a church-going person, they often will say yes to a mission trip, because they want to help the world.
Dave: And then you get them in that environment, and there’s your marriage, again, making an impact on a neighbor.
David: I think about being a marriage on mission, and I Thessalonians 2:8 comes to mind. “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you had become so dear to us.” As we love people well and not have an agenda, as we’re intentional and organic, ultimately that we would grow so desirous of people and the beauty of the gospel that it would be our first love in such a way that we can’t help but to express it out to the world around us.
This isn’t something in the past; this is something current that we are experiencing together personally and in our marriage. And from that place we’re going to pass it on. We have to pass on the greatest thing that’s in our lives if we’re really experiencing it. So, as we do that, one of the simplest things to do is you can always start with your table. If you don’t know where to start, and mission trips seem like, “Well, not now,” or leading a group, you’re like, “I don’t know. I need to order the thing and see what the content is.” Those are good steps to take.
You can start with your table. Not everyone may come to church with you, but pretty much everyone will say yes to an invitation to your table. The thresholds of trust that happen when you get someone around a table over a meal, it seems a lot like how Jesus did ministry, and you as a family can have people in your home and watch God, as you take interest in their story and really get to know them, do amazing things by you just loving them well and sharing your story.
Shelby: I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with David and Meg Robbins on FamilyLife Today. Yes, start with your table, your own kitchen table in your home, your dining room table in your home, your coffee table, over a meal and watch your life and the lives of others change for the glory of Jesus. I love this conversation today, and it resonates so closely with my heart, that missionary spirit in me, that has made me be on staff with Cru and now FamilyLife for so many years.
I love it. And I also love knowing when to say “no” to things, or when to recognize that maybe my limitations are a good thing and not necessarily a bad thing in this hurry, hurry, hurry world. Earlier this week we had Kelly Kapic on FamilyLife Today, and he’s written a book called You’re Only Human: How Your Limits Reflect God’s Design and Why That’s Good News. Man, I need to hear that.
This book is going to be our gift to you when you partner with us financially here at FamilyLife. So, you can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” And feel free to drop us something in the mail if you’d like, too. Our address is FamilyLife, 100 Lake Hart Drive, Orlando, Florida 32832.
Now coming up next week Ed Welch is going to be with Dave and Ann Wilson talking about fear and anxiety. Most of the time we recognize that as a bad thing, but Ed began to realize that anxiety was actually a gift from the Lord in his case. That’s coming up next week. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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