Seven Wise Choices
Pastor Ron Zappia and his wife, Jody, had a marriage that almost unraveled after the first year. After giving their lives to Christ, however, they decided to give the marriage another chance. The Zappias share seven principles that, if faithfully practiced, will tighten the marriage knot and bring couples closer together.
About the Guest
- FamilyLife's Weekend to Remember®.
- Purchase The Marriage Knot and Vertical Marriage at a special savings and receive a free copy of FamilyLife's Building Your Marriage to Last Couples Study.
- The Marriage Knot: 7 Choices that Keep Couples Together by Ron and Jody Zappia.
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Ron and Jody Zappia’s marriage almost unraveled after the first year, but they gave their lives to Christ and their marriage another chance. The Zappias share seven principles that bring couples closer together.
Seven Wise Choices
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, April 24th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. Jody Zappia learned, early on, that if she was ever going to rebuild trust with her husband after betrayal, she was going to have to learn how to trust God first. We’ll hear more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don’t know if you guys know about what happened during the Zappia’s wedding—the couple, who are joining us on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back, guys.
Ron: Yes; it’s good to be here.
Jody: Yes; yes.
Bob: Do you know about the smoke?
Dave: It sounds like an interesting story.
Ann: Yes; tell us what happened.
Dave: I want to know.
Bob: I won’t tell you about it. We’re going to let Ron and Jody Zappia tell you about it, here, in just a minute. I’m going to introduce them.
First, I want to remind listeners about the special going on this week—the Dave and Ann Wilson special—to celebrate you guys as our new hosts on FamilyLife Today.
Ann: That’s nice.
Bob: We’ve got 16 Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways happening the rest of this spring. Our team said, “Let’s do a Dave and Ann Wilson one-week special, where listeners can sign up for any of the remaining getaways and save 40 percent of the regular registration fee.”
Dave: That’s good.
Bob: They just have to call or go online for more information. Find out when a getaway is coming to a city near where they live and register—take advantage of the special offer. It’s this week only. So, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for more information about the 40 percent off Dave and Ann Wilson special for the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. Of course, this is our two-and-a-half-day getaway for couples, where you can learn more about God’s design for building a strong, healthy marriage relationship. All the details are available, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call if you have any questions at 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, let me introduce our guests, Ron and Jody Zappia. They are the authors of the book, The Marriage Knot: 7 Choices that Keep Couples Together. Ron is a pastor at Highpoint Church in suburban Chicago. The Zappias have been married since 1989. They’ve got three kids, and something happened at the wedding; right?
Jody: Oh, I think you’re talking about our unity candle moment. [Laughter]
Ann: Oh, no.
Jody: Yes; thankfully, somebody had the forethought to make veils non-flammable—
Jody: —because my veil started smoking. I accidentally—
Ron: Oh, no, Jody; it was on fire.
Jody: Yes; there was a little smoke.
Ron: The veil was on fire. [Laughter]
Jody: There was a little melting. Thankfully, it didn’t torch.
Ann: Did you smell it?
Jody: I had long, permed hair.
Ron: Yes; I could—you could see it. [Laughter]
Jody: Yes; so thankfully,—
Ron: It was going up.
Jody: —yes; his cousin was ready to jump—he saw it go down. I didn’t even notice at first, but it snuffed out my candle before we even could light the—
Ron: The veil did; yes.
Jody: —unity candle.
Dave: So, did you stop, drop, and roll? Is that what you did? [Laughter]
Jody: Well, we were—
Ron: We were close.
Jody: —because his cousin was about to tackle me.
Ron: Let’s just say it—with our story, our marriage was about to go up in flames. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes; it’s the metaphor I was going for right there. The marriage—
Ron: I stole it from you.
Bob: We’ve already heard this week about, really, a remarkable story. The first six months of your marriage, you guys were living in separate cities because of business things.
Ron: Yes; right.
Bob: It eventually ended up with—Ron, you having an affair. That brought you to a local church for some counseling. The pastor said, “Before we talk about your marriage, we’re going to talk about Jesus.” You both came to faith in Christ, and God began a new journey of restoring.
Bob: The fact that you’re still here together/the fact that you’re pastoring a local church is evidence of the grace of God,—
Bob: —from almost three decades ago now, as you guys sat in that church and were confronted by that pastor.
The book you’ve written, The Marriage Knot, has seven choices that you say will keep couples together. Can you just run through some of those?
Ron: The analogy here—we didn’t come up with the knot; but if you think about it—like, knots loosen over time if they are not checked/if they are not tightened. So, the picture that we have is of the marriage knot—that these are the choices that you need to make to tighten the marriage knot.
Bob: “This will hold you together.”
Ron: Yes; that is the picture of what holds us together. You know, we didn’t just make these up; these are some things that we learned.
People are under the impression that somebody has the perfect marriage, down the street or whatever it is. You know, any marriage is in danger of loosening. These are the choices that couples need to make in order to tighten and strengthen the marriage knot.
Bob: At our Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, we say that all marriages are drifting toward isolation.
Ron: Yes; right.
Bob: They are drifting toward looser knots; right?
Ron: Yes; totally; totally.
Bob: It’s a decision/it’s a choice you make to tighten the knot to come back toward oneness. So, what’s one of those choices, Jody?
Ann: Can I ask you to go to the first choice: “Choose to grow spiritually”? What does that look like?—because you guys have already talked a little bit about—started to grow spiritually. How do you do that? Jody, how did you, specifically, do that when it came to forgiveness?
Jody: Yes; that was one of the very first, big faith steps that I needed to take. I describe it as a faith step, because it did feel like I was kind of walking off a ledge. It felt very risky to forgive and even more risky was the idea of trusting Ron—staying married. I remember coming to the point, where: “You know, I do think I can forgive. I’ve just been forgiven”; but I didn’t want to stay married. I didn’t think that equaled: “Do I still have to stay married to him?—because I don’t trust him.”
What was interesting is—in this growing spiritually, the first thing that had to happen—and the assignment I had been given was to start: “Well, you have a new relationship with God, and you need to work on that.” The first thing I needed to deal with God was whether I trusted Him because, honestly, I had this answer to prayer, which wasn’t an answer I had wanted. I basically found out my husband was having an affair, and it was still fresh; it was shocking to me. I wasn’t sure if I trusted God.
He was—I felt like, maybe, He was being a little harsh. Yet, I know I needed to answer that question; because what became apparent to me was that God wasn’t really asking me to trust Ron. God told me to love Ron; but the flip side of that was—but who was I supposed to trust then? He was asking me to trust Him. It took me about a two-week period of asking God, daily: “Can I trust You? Do I trust You? Should I trust You? Can I trust You?” I was seeing Ron changing, and I was deciding I wanted to change: “Could I change too?”
I remember there was a day when I just decided, “Absolutely; I can trust You.” That opened the door; because now, it was kind of like: “I don’t know if Ron is going to continue on the path he is on. Like, right now, I know I’m seeing some changes in him that I know he can’t do himself,”—and that was really encouraging to me; but I thought—“Even if”—worst case scenario—“Even if he turns around and does this again, the difference is—now, I’ve got God; and He will tell me what to do.’”
Bob: We will often talk about first step in a spiritual relationship as trusting Jesus.
Bob: That is a one-time choice, but it is an ongoing choice that you make every day: “I’m going to keep trusting Jesus. I’m going to trust Him today.” So, the declaration is: “This is the new trajectory of my life that I will trust Jesus.” But you have to make that choice over and over again; don’t you?
Jody: Yes; and really, all of these choices are like that. They are choices that we need to intentionally make over and over, day after day.
Dave: How do you two grow—choice number one—spiritually together? Is that something you do together? What does that look like?
Ron: Yes; well, you know, just to back the bus up and say it like this—for us, it was about religion; and we didn’t have a relationship with God. So, a relationship with God through marriage crisis; and it brought us to Him. We began learning things, and these choices began developing out of us reading God’s Word. It was really important for us to get involved in a church, where we were learning truth—biblical truth—and sitting there and hearing the principles. All of these choices—which we’ll get to some of the other ones—all of these choices are really grounded in biblical truth that we didn’t know.
Bob: And to think that you can grow spiritually, as an individual or as a couple, apart from active engagement with a local church—
Ron: Yes; right.
Bob: —is just foolishness.
Bob: And let me just—when I say, “active involvement,” I don’t mean you show up twice a month, and you say: “Well, I’m actively involved. I’m a member of my local church.” No; I’m talking about engagement—
Bob: —with other people. I’m talking about it being central.
You’re smiling here, Pastor; right? You agree with this?
Dave: Yes; and it’s actually proven, statistically.
Dave: It’s a pretty unknown statistic. I’ve actually quoted it, myself, from the pulpit wrongly. You know, you say, “What’s the divorce rate in the church?”
Dave: Most people say, “Same as in the non-churched—50 percent.” Then, when you do the research, it never was 50 percent—
Ron: Yes; right.
Dave: —in the church. It’s like 23 percent. It’s still higher than you would want, but much lower than—so, what’s that mean? That means: “If a couple is actively involved...”
Dave: And again, I think it’s so key—I don’t just show up once a month. I decide to take a step and grow spiritually in community with others. Then, it’s going to affect everything—but especially my marriage.
Bob: Here is the key to that statistic that you are quoting. If you say, “What’s the divorce rate in the church?” it’s one number. If you ask, “What’s the divorce rate among people, who attend church weekly—
Bob: —“and who pray together?”—
Bob: —you ask that question, it goes down to like 2 percent.
Ron: Yes; drastically; yes.
Dave: One of the keys—the reason you show up is community. You can’t do a Lone Ranger marriage—even just you and your spouse—and that’s in your book as well. It’s like it is so important. You’ve got to be surrounding yourself with other couples.
Ann: Hey, you guys started out with no friends.
Ron: Yes; for us, we got involved so much so—as soon as we got saved, we got ourselves into a small group. Then, we went through it together. Then, we were leading a group.
Ann: I love it—
Ron: So, quickly—
Ann: —which some people are saying: “I could never do that. I don’t know enough to lead.”
Ron: Yes; I would say, “Jump in and rely on the Spirit and rely on God.” If you’ve got some good trusted leaders that you can go to and help—you know, sometimes, we think, because we’re damaged or going through difficulty, we can’t be used by God. That’s so false and so wrong.
Bob: Your spiritual growth accelerated when you were leading—
Bob: —more than when you were attending.
Ron: And that’s the grow, spiritually. It accelerated, because we got ourselves involved. Now, we’re not saying, “Quit your job and go to seminary and become a pastor and pastor’s wife”; but if you want to grow spiritually, there’s nothing you can do that’s greater than—what?—certainly spending time with God and getting close to Him, individually and as a couple—praying together/talking about what you’re learning—but serving other people is so important.
Dave: And how great a story—as I’m listening to this—to think, “There is somebody out there—is listening, going: “I can’t be used by God. My darkness—
Dave: —“my sin and the past is too great.” And I’m sitting across from a couple—
Dave: —the greatest sin in your life—God is using you in a great big way. I want to say to that listener out there: “Just surrender and leave it to God. He’s going to do something absolutely powerful with your story,”—just like He is in you guys’.
Bob: Pick just one other of the seven choices—like if you had to zero in and say, “This is one, where…”—they are all significant; but what’s one that you just say—“This is the one I’d want to drive home”?
Jody: Well, I know that communication is a pretty huge one.
Jody: So, we have “Choose to communicate respectfully.”
Ann: What does that mean? [Laughter]
Jody: Well, we’ve—
Bob: Are you asking because you don’t know, Ann? [Laughter]
Dave: She doesn’t know. [Laughter]
Jody: This is one you get to practice, like, all the time; right?
Ann: I’ve been practicing a very long time.
Ron: Let me give us some statistics—just to start us out. On average, married couples communicate only 27 minutes per week. I mean, think about that.
Ann: —per week?!
Ron: That’s less than four minutes a day. So, what we need to do is—we need to communicate respectfully. Oftentimes, for many couples—for us too—it involves learning how to handle conflict resolution. All these things are so critical in this critical choice.
Ann: And how do you talk—for the couples that’s like: “We’ve got four kids.
Ann: —“They are all so close together; we can barely survive. We’re both working; we don’t have time to talk.”
Ann: What would you say to them?
Jody: Well, it takes intentionality—like anything else—and really recognizing that the best thing you can do for your kids is to have a strong marriage and to make that investment in each other.
Ron: You know, you have to be targeted at making time for one another so that you can communicate. The fact is that, many times, what will happen is—you’ll have many things that you have to talk about, whether it’s dropping the kids off, picking up, doing this—all these tasks and all these things.
And I know you guys recognize and have been through all these different stages as well; but if you’re not taking time, communicating deeply from the heart about what is happening—your feelings, what you want, what you see, what your dreams/what your goals are—I mean, those are pivotal conversations that husbands and wives need to make time to have those conversations.
Ann: And you added a word, respectfully,—
Ann: —to the communication process. How do you do that, and why did you add that word?
Jody: Well, we ended up coming up with kind of a creative way of doing it. We called it the “Ten Commandments of Communication.”
Ron: —“Healthy Communication.”
Jody: —“Healthy Communication.” So, within there, there are quite a few. When you talk about respectfully, like we can so quickly—it’s easy to tear down with our words.
Jody: It doesn’t take a lot of thought. In fact, it happens when you don’t think before you speak. So, one of the ten commands would be: “Choose your words carefully.” These all come right from Scripture—
Jody: —so like James, Chapter 1, verse 18 and 19 says, you know: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” So, right there, you’ve got like a little equation. If we’re doing those first two things—if we’re listening intently and we’re responding slowly—oftentimes, that takes care of that third one—it helps us to be slow to anger. Those would be three, right there, that come right out of that one verse—it’s just packed.
Boy, if we—the thing Ron and I had to learn, as we were growing spiritually and all that, was—we would take these verses, and we were actually just trying to do it: “Okay; well, it just says here that I am supposed to focus more on listening.” Well, that was not something I naturally did. I remember having to work on that and like not interrupt him. Ron had to work on—when I was talking—not solving my problem real quickly; but actually, listening to hear what was, maybe, behind it/what was in between the lines.
Bob: You guys were catching on to something real quickly—real early in your marriage—that it took me a long time to catch onto; and that’s this—I would read my Bible; and I would read something like James 1: “Be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.” I would think: “That’s how we should treat one another in the local church.
Ron: Yes; right.
Bob: “This is how we should get along, as Christians.” I didn’t think, “And that’s how I should deal with my wife.”
Ann: I bet Mary Ann appreciated that. [Laughter]
Bob: I would read these “one another” passages—
Bob: —and think, “Well, that’s how we’re supposed to get along with our friends at church.”
Dave: I would read them and think, “That’s how she is supposed to act.”
Bob: “…how she should get along with me”? [Laughter]
Dave: “She needs to listen to me more,” and never would think, “This is written to me.” [Laughter]
Ann: Well, it’s interesting; because I think this was a problem for me—
Ann: —because whatever came into my head, I would say it. In whatever form it came into my head,—
Ann: —I would say it.
Ann: In whatever form it came into my head, it—
Ann: —would come out of my lips that way. [Laughter]
Dave: Yes; she would—I was there.
Ann: I remember a day, realizing, “I need to take this to God first; and I need to ask this question, ‘God, should I say this?’” The second question is—if He said, “Yes,”—and first of all, obey the first one. [Laughter]
Ann: But if He said, “Yes,” the second question I had to ask God was: “God, how should I say it?” That’s—
Jody: —or “When?”
Dave: —and “When?”
Ann: Exactly; there are several questions to take to God and, then, to listen and to wait for those.
I think, in my younger years, I wasn’t patient enough; and I wanted to get my way more than God’s way.
Dave: I’ve heard her on the phone with friends or other wives. I walk through the kitchen—I hear her going: “So, tell me how you are going to say that. Oh, no, no, no, no, no. There’s another way to do that. You can’t say it like that.” [Laughter] Again, you’re sitting there, going, “Wow; people really do not know.” They have to think: “Okay; I’ve got to think about this. I want to do this respectfully.
Dave: “And it’s going to look like this…” It’s a great choice.
Bob: All of us know, if you’re speaking extemporaneously, you may put your foot in your mouth; but if you think through what you’re going to say, then, you have a chance to communicate a little more carefully and a little more clearly.
If you were going to go sit down today—and let’s say we said, “You have an audience with the President. He wants—he’s going to give you a half hour, and he just wants to hear what’s on your heart and wants to know what you think he should do in leading the country.” You wouldn’t go, “I’m just going to say the first thing that comes to my mind.”
Bob: You spend time, going: “Well, I should think about that. How would I prioritize it? How would I want to say it, respectfully to the President?” because he’s the president; right? We should do that with one another.
Ann: Well, Dave is the president in my life. [Laughter]
Dave: Not true! [Laughter]
Ann: There was a night—you guys, I was working on this; because I was so bad at it. I remember this one night, he got in bed—our church was fairly young—and he got in bed, and he just moaned. He said, “Boy, I’m getting so many critiques lately about my sermons.”
Ann: You guys, the first thought that came into my head was: “Well, if you’d spend more time with Jesus, your sermons would be better.” [Laughter] I would have said that, back in the day—I would have said it.
Dave: She would have said that.
Ann: And I remember stopping—
Ann: —and saying, “God, should I say that?” [Laughter]
Ann: I knew, “No!”
Ron: Jody said that to me on the way over. [Laughter] You guys have got to stop talking about us.
Dave: Hey, Jody, I’ve got a book you should read—it’s called The Marriage Knot. [Laughter]
Ann: So, the next question was: “God, how should I say this?” This thought came into my mind—I know that God put it there. I said to Dave: “I can’t imagine what it’s like to be you—to carry the responsibility of thousands of people’s walks with God, based on your own walk. What a heavy burden that is for you. That’s got to be really hard,”—not thinking anything of it. He pulls me over, hugs me, and he whispers in my ear—what did you say to me that night?
Dave: I said, “You are my life.”
Dave: The interesting thing, on my side, is—I had no idea what her other thought was—never came out. All I heard was that. I needed affirmation; and words have power,—
Dave: —as you said—
Jody: They do—to bless.
Dave: —in this whole choice. That’s why it’s respectful. Those words powerfully—I mean, it was like: “You’re my partner. You’re my completer. I want to do life with you. Thank you.” That’s a choice that’s hard to make, but it is life-changing in a marriage.
Bob: Here’s what stands out to me—we’ve been talking about stuff that the Bible speaks to clearly.
Ann: It does.
Bob: And most of us read the Bible and kind of think of it in philosophical terms rather than in shoe leather, practical, “Oh, I’m supposed to do this,”—like you guys were saying—“We’re supposed to be quick to listen; I’ll start doing that more.”
The Bible has a ton to say—I mean, stop and think about this—Jesus said, “All of the Law and the Prophets can be summed up in love God and love your neighbor.” That means that the Bible—everything in the Bible is about one of two things: “How do I love God?” or “How do I love my neighbor?” If you’re closest neighbor is your spouse,—
Bob: —then, as you read the Bible, you should say, “Oh, this is either about how I love God or how I love my wife,” or “…my husband.”
Now, all of a sudden—verses you may have skipped over before or thought: “I’m not sure what that means. How do I do that with my husband?”—so you read/you get to the end of Ephesians 4: “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” And you think: “Oh, how do I do that today with my spouse? How can I be kind? How can I be tender-hearted? How can I forgive even as Christ has forgiven me?” God has given us a great gift in His Word to say, “Here, this is how life works.”
Ann: Sometimes, the greatest act of worship that we can give God is loving our spouse. One of the things that I love about you guys, too, is that you read the Word; you did it—it’s beautiful.
Dave: That’s what hit me—I was thinking: “So many people listening to your story—it’s almost easy to miss that part of it. It’s like I could picture myself listening to this story and going, ‘God healed their marriage, but he can’t heal mine.’”
There are so many miracles in your marriage—church across the street/woman that you bump into and points you to this—but here is what is the encouragement for everybody—is you followed through, every step of the way. I mean, you could have walked across the street and said, “I need help in my marriage.” That woman tells you where to go, and you say,—
Bob: “I’m not doing that.”
Dave: —“Eh, I’m not going to do that.”
Dave: You pick up the Word of God, you read a verse, and you say: “Eh, it’s too hard.
Dave: “I’m going to hope Ron does it,” / “I’m going hope Jody does it”; but so, God has His part. It’s so easy for us to just say, “God, You’ve got to do this,” and just sit there and—“No, no, no; we cooperate.”
Everything Bob’s saying is like: “To bear with one another, I have to take steps.” I want to make sure listeners don’t miss that: “God will heal your marriage,—
Dave: —“but you’ve got to participate.
Dave: “And when you take a step, He’ll meet you right there.”
Here’s the other side of that: “You can’t control your spouse,—
Ron: That’s true.
Dave: —“but you can control you. If you take that step, God will meet you there; and a miracle is waiting on the other side of that obedience.”
Bob: There are choices you can make. In fact, there are seven of them; right? [Laughter]
Jody: That’s right.
Bob: In the book, The Marriage Knot, you guys talk about seven choices. If somebody will say, “I will choose to do these seven things—whether my spouse does or not—I will choose to do these seven things,”—you do that for a year; and then, write me and tell me this thing doesn’t work—
Bob: —okay? If you will choose to live out these seven things, you talk about in the book, God will do a transforming work: first, in your heart and, then, in your marriage and in every other relationship you’ve got.
Thank you, guys, for sharing your story with us/for sharing your wisdom with us, and for being guests, here, on FamilyLife Today.
Ron: Oh, thank you so much for letting us be here.
Bob: The book we are talking about is The Marriage Knot: 7 Choices that Keep Couples Together. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order the book from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. This is a great companion to Vertical Marriage by Dave and Ann Wilson. So, maybe, get both books when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com or, again, when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Then, don’t forget the Dave and Ann Wilson special that is going on this week in honor of our new hosts for FamilyLife Today. This week only, you can save 40 percent off the registration fee for an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway if you register, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or if you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We’ve got—I think it’s 16 of these events still happening this spring. It’s a great two-and-a-half-day getaway for couples.
If you register before the end of the week, you’ll save 40 percent of the regular registration fee in honor of Dave and Ann Wilson. Just ask for more information about the Dave and Ann Wilson special for the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY; or look for information, online, when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com. We hope you’ll join us at one these upcoming getaways.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear from Dave and Ann Wilson about the rules for courtship and marriage and how the old rules don’t work. The old rules are really the new rules—not the really old—well, we’ll explain it all tomorrow; okay? I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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