Shut Up and Repent
Dave and Ann Wilson, authors of the book "Vertical Marriage," look back on a turning point in their marriage. At the time, they had two children, Dave was starting a church, and he served as a chaplain for the Detroit Lions. Ministry demands occupied much of his time, and Ann was feeling the strain of his absence. Dave takes us back to his big wake up call, and together they share what they did to get their marriage back on track.
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Dave and Ann Wilson look back on a turning point in their marriage. Dave takes us back to his big wake up call, and together they share what they did to get their marriage back on track.
Shut Up and Repent
Bob: Ann Wilson and her husband Dave had been married for a decade, and there was an ongoing persistent source of conflict in their marriage. She called it the merry-go-round.
Ann: The merry-go-round was: “I feel like you’re never home. The boys need you. I need you. You’re gone. You’re doing all this stuff for everybody else, and we need you at home.” Then Dave would get angry—he’d get mad and he’d say, “I am home!”—he’d defend himself. I’d say, “No; you’re not home!” And that would just end.
For a long time that had happened, where I was so angry. My anger turned to resentment; my resentment turned to bitterness; and my bitterness turned to nothing—just a hard, crusty heart.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 11th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What do we do, as couples, when our hearts have become hardened toward one another? We’ll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’re going to revisit a classic story today—
Dave: I don’t know about classic, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: —a defining moment in the Wilson marriage. You would say this was legacy defining.
Dave: Yes; didn’t know it at the moment, when it happened, but now looking back, it changed everything—not only in our marriage, but I believe in our sons’ marriages and our legacy.
Bob: I first heard you share this story at a Weekend to Remember® getaway. This was more than a decade ago, where you were sharing this with folks. I thought, “That’s a powerful story.” When we sat down to map out the Art of Marriage® video series, we thought, “What are the stories we need to include?” I thought, “We should have Dave and Ann tell that story about their anniversary.” You shared that; that got shared in the Art of Marriage. There have been more than a million people who have seen that in the Art of Marriage.
Dave: Yes, a million people have seen the worst moment in our marriage. [Laughter]
Ann: Thanks, Bob. Also, it was you who said to us, “That’s a book, you know,”—which we had no idea; we’re thinking, “No, it’s not.”
Bob: A year ago, you released the book, Vertical Marriage, and this story’s at the center of that. Now, there’s a video series for small groups called Vertical Marriage that’s five sessions, where you unpack the themes from the book.
Dave: The best thing about the video series in some ways is—you read these stories in the book, you don’t get to hear them—now, you get to hear them, especially from my wife Ann, who brings all kinds of visuals onto the stage and creates magical moments. You get to watch them.
Bob: You can find out more about the book, Vertical Marriage, and about the Vertical Marriage video series when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com.
I thought today we ought to listen back to the conversation we had about this chapter in your life. This was before you became the hosts of FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Oh, yes; we sat on the other side of this table. [Laughter]
Ann: Yes, with you and Dennis.
Dave: And we were scared to death, and it’s even scarier being on this side of the table. [Laughter]
Bob: Dennis Rainey and I got a chance to talk to you about this chapter in your life and in your marriage. We’re going to listen back to Dennis and me interviewing the two of you about this turning point.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Bob: If I had asked you, Ann—ten years into your marriage—did you think you had a good marriage, ten years in?
Ann: No; at ten years in, I was very disappointed. I was frustrated; I was angry. I felt a lot of guilt too. We were starting this church. Dave was starting it in terms of he was putting the time and energy into it. We had two kids at the time—they were little; they were three and one—I’m trying to keep the home front steady and still helping Dave as we start this church. He was gone a lot—and more and more. He was also the chaplain for the Detroit Lions, and so he was traveling with the team. He was doing chapels; we were both leading Bible studies for them. Then we had all this church stuff on top of that.
When you’re in ministry, especially, it feels like you’re competing with God; because all the things Dave was doing were wonderful, godly, amazing things that were expanding God’s kingdom. I felt very selfish and self-centered to say, “We need you at home.” I did say it, and I said it very loud; didn’t I? [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, she yelled it—she did! She’s being nice right now.
You know, an interesting thing for me—and you heard this in the Art of Marriage—is I was clueless to this.
Dennis: You thought your marriage, on a 10-point scale, was what?
Dave: I would have said a 10 or a 9.8; and I guaranteed you, Ann agreed.
Dennis: There you go.
Dave: Here’s what I thought—when we first got married, we struggled big time—went to the Weekend to Remember as an engaged couple; thought we’d just whiz into marriage and make it work—six months in, we’re fighting so much I go downstairs at three in the morning because I can’t sleep. I get on my knees, and I open the Word of God.
Ann: I walked in the room—I see him on his knees and I’m like: “Thank you, Jesus! He’s finally on his knees,”—you know? [Laughter] I see him; I’m so excited to see him: “Look at you. You’re in the Word; you’re praying.” He goes: “I’ve just been reading God’s Word, where Paul said, ‘To live is Christ and to die is gain.’ I just told God, ‘God, I’d rather be dead than married to Ann.’”
Barbara: Well, that wasn’t what you were expecting; was it? [Laughter]
Ann: Who says that out loud to their wife?! [Laughter]
Dave: I hear that now and I’m like, “What an idiot!” I cannot believe I said it. I mean, I prayed it—I really did pray that.
Bob: Why were you so miserable six months in? What was it that wasn’t happening for you?
Dave: Everything. [Laughter] I mean, we were your typical couple—madly in love and you have these expectations you don’t even realize you’re bringing in—
Ann: —and baggage—
Dave: —and baggage.
Ann: —so much baggage.
Dave: You know, reality doesn’t match up to expectations; there’s this gap. I filled the gap with “I married the wrong person.”
Ann: And so did I!
Bob: You were miserable, because he wasn’t the man you thought he was?
Ann: I think it’s that, and I think he had—we were fighting, and he’d leave the room. I’d be thinking: “Where are you going?! We’re supposed to work this out.” We had differences in our past/in our sexual past. I have abuse in my background, and so I felt insecure.
Let me add—if someone would have asked me [rating the marriage], I would have said a 1 and maybe a .5. I was so angry that Dave didn’t know how bad we were doing.
Bob: Before we jump back into year ten, there are folks, who are just saying: “Okay; how did you get out of, six months in, ‘I wish I was dead and not married,’ to six months later being, ‘Okay; we’ve got this back on track’?” What happened in the intervening six months that helped fix some of those early problems?
Dave: What actually happened—and it sounds simplistic—but we really did pull out the manual/the FamilyLife®Weekend to Remember manual. I’m not saying it’s magic and it’s got all the answers, but it was our only source of “What does God’s Word really say?” Two things happened—one: we pulled it out and said, “Okay; let’s start at block one. What are the five threats?” We’re like: “Wow! All of these are hitting us. What does God want to do?”
Number two was—we started teaching it.
Dave: There’s people that want help. “We’re not able to help them, because we’re not far enough ahead of them,”—that’s what we felt—but we’re like, “We can give them what we’ve got!” As we taught it, we internalized it. It literally started changing our life—it really did.
Ann: It changed everything.
Dennis: Now, I want to go back to your tenth year. You had this glorious evening planned for you and Ann. You actually went out to eat and had the guy who served you armed with ten roses.
Dave: Yes, I had this deal with the waiter when I walked in. I gave him ten roses; and I said, “When I give you a look, bring over one rose at a time.” He brought rose number one, and we talked about year number one.
Actually, and then he did that with year two, year three, all the way through ten. I would have told you—I don’t know what Ann would say—I was like: “It’s a great night. We are talking.” It was all memories of the first ten years that were good. We didn’t go dark. We went to the best memories of our ten years.
Ann: Yes; you were killing it! I think that the waiter was like, “This dude is amazing!”
Dave: Yes; I was giving him a lesson in romance; right? [Laughter]
Bob: Were you starting to soften and go, “You know, he really is a wonderful guy, and I really am lucky to be married to him”?
Ann: Oh, Bob, I wish I could say yes; but no! My heart was so hard that, intellectually in my mind, I thought: “This is good. This is a good try”; but it didn’t go into my heart, thinking, “I really like you now.”
Dennis: So you finished the ten roses. You decide you’re going to take your wife out and go show her the building to start this church.
Dennis: Actually, you have ulterior motives even in that.
Dave: And even Ann figured it out. We’re driving home—and another surprise—we pull in the parking lot. We are about to start our church, Kensington, in a middle school. Ann had not seen this middle school; our team had decided this. I thought: “This will be cool. We’ll park here. We’ll pray about God doing a miracle in that school and building the church.” And then I thought, “We’ll go park.”
We’re in a little Honda Accord, so it was a little tight. I remember leaning over to kiss her, and she turns her head. Again, I’m so oblivious to what’s really in her heart. I think she just didn’t even realize I’m trying to kiss her. I didn’t even think that she didn’t want to kiss me, so I try again. She definitely turns her head. That’s when I had the wits about me to go: “Okay, something’s wrong here. I don’t need to be a genius.” I just said to her, “Is something wrong?”
Ann: My first response was, “No,” because he had put great effort into making this night wonderful; and it was. I didn’t want to wreck it for him. He said again, “But it seems like there’s something wrong.” To be honest, I didn’t want him to touch me; that’s how far gone I was. Finally, he looked at me; he said, “Seriously, what’s up?!”
I just was quiet for a while and I thought, “Alright; here we go.” I said: “I’ve lost all my feelings for you. I have nothing, and I don’t know what to do.”
Dave: I’m sitting there, and it was as quiet as it just was; because number one, I can’t believe what I’m hearing. Again, I have no idea this is what’s going on in her heart, although there were symptoms and signs for the last year—at least, the last six months—that I did not see; because my eyes were so driven on everything outside my home, except my wife, and she’s being left in the dust.
When she said that, at first, I was like—because she said, “You’re gone a lot, and I’m putting the boys to bed without you,”—I literally turned with my right arm to reach into the back seat, where my planner was—back in the days when you had your schedule in your planner—that’s where it was. This is what I did in arguments—if I stayed around long enough to argue, I would win it. I was going to pull that baby out; I really was reaching back there to pull it out. I was going to open it up and prove her wrong: “I have been home. I was home Monday. I was home last…”—you know, because I knew it was in there.
I’m reaching back there to grab it, and this is where this thing turns—it was amazing what happens. It’s only happened to me a few times in my life—I sensed the voice of God; it wasn’t audible—it was just a strong Holy Spirit nudge, but it was so strong. I knew exactly what He was saying—it was two words: “Shut up!” It was that strong: “Shut up! Don’t you touch that planner. Listen!”
Ann didn’t even know this; I just went like this—I went and just put my hand back in my lap—and I said: “Tell me more. What do you mean by that?”
Ann: Well, it was really interesting on my end, too; because I saw him reaching in the back. I thought: “Oh, here we go. Here goes the merry-go-round,” that we were always getting on. The merry-go-round was: “I feel like you’re never home—the boys need you; I need you—you’re gone. You’re doing all this stuff for everybody else, and we need you at home.” Then Dave would get angry—he’d get mad and he’d say, “I am home!”—he’d defend himself. I’d say, “No; you’re not home!” And that would just end.
For a long time that had happened, where I was so angry. My anger turned to resentment; my resentment turned to bitterness; and my bitterness turned to nothing—just a hard, crusty heart. When he turned around and he said, “Tell me what you mean,” that was the first time he’s ever said that.
I shared all that: “I feel like you’re not home. I feel like I’m parenting alone. I feel like you’re off winning the world, and you’ve left me behind. I’m mad about it; I’m resentful; I’m angry—it’s all of it. I don’t even care anymore. I’m not saying I’ll divorce you, but I’m saying I have no hope that our marriage will ever be good.”
Dave: Again, I didn’t say a word—not a word—because I’d heard very strongly from God: “Shut up. Just zip your lip and listen.” I just listened and, again, I heard the voice of God—it was so strong, because He said it several times: “Repent.” It was interesting—it was like strong but gracious—just like the heart of the Father. You know, it was like, “This is very serious, but I love you; and I’m calling you out of where you’ve been living.”
Of course, Ann doesn’t know this; she’s just sharing. I’m looking at her, and I’m hearing this. I knew—when I heard the word, repent, I knew God was saying: “You’re lukewarm. You preach it; you teach it—you’re not living it. You’re not opening the Word of God to just love Me and let Me love you. You’re opening the Word of God to get a message to go give somebody; so they’ll pat you on the back and say, ‘You’re amazing.’ You pray [only]‘Help me,’ prayers.”
Again, this is all in one word. I knew, in this one word, here’s what God was saying: “If you want the horizontal relationship in your marriage”—and anything, really, to work—“I have to be first, vertically. I have to be number one. It’s never going to work without Me being the center and the rock. What you preach has to be real.” All that was in one word, and I knew it.
Dennis: When you say “Me,” you’re saying God wants to be the center.
Dave: God has to be the center—vertical first; that’s the whole concept of vertical marriage—is: “What would happen if you went vertical with God and really established a relationship with Him? Then, out of that, overflow that into your marriage.” All that was in one word.
Again, I didn’t know all the implications of that; but I knew this: “I needed to repent right now.” When Ann finished what she was saying, I said something like this—I said, “We need to talk about everything you said; but before we talk, I need to do something; and I need to do it right now. You don’t need to do this; I do.”
For whatever reason, I felt like “I need to be on my knees,” when I did this. I don’t always pray on my knees, but there are times when I just want my posture to be in total submission. I got on my knees in the front seat of a Honda Accord. Don’t ask me how, but I pushed that driver’s seat back. I turned around. The steering wheel was in my back, and I put my elbows on the driver’s seat.
I prayed out loud with my eyes closed. I don’t even know what Ann’s doing—this isn’t about my wife—this is about me and God. I just said: “God, I need to repent. I am a lukewarm Christian. You know me. You know I’ve always hated that in the church. I’ve preached against it, and now I’m that guy.”
Ann: He was praying that out loud.
Dave: Yes; I prayed it out loud. I said: “I’m asking You to make me the man You called me to be: the husband I’m called me to be/the dad I need to be. I’m submitting everything to you.” It wasn’t a conversion moment; it was just putting Him back where He deserves to be—on the throne/the control of my life—“I repent, and I’m choosing to live the life You’ve called me to live.”
I thought we were done; I thought, “Okay; now, let’s talk.” I look over, and she’s on her knees.
Ann: I think, when Dave got on his knees, it shocked me. I know that Dave loves God. I know that he’s running hard after God, but that was such a vulnerable place to be—of saying, “God, I repent.” Soon as Dave did that, there was a conviction of my heart, realizing that I had put Dave as the idol of my life. He was like on my throne.
I got on my knees and I said: “God, I confess and I repent, too; because I’ve put my marriage and Dave in place of You. I repent of that. My happiness has been determined by him and his actions; that’s just wrong. I give You all of me/all of us—our future/our marriage.”
We prayed, “God,”—again, we grabbed hands, at that point, because we’d done this on our honeymoon and at other times, too—“God, take our marriage and make it great; we can’t do it apart from You.”
Bob: Some couples will have an experience like this and, then, the next day the habits/the old patterns are back. It was like, “We went to the mountain top, but nothing really changed.” Things really changed for you; didn’t they?
Dave: Yes; I’m not going to sit here and say, “Man, it was like boom!” but it was. The next day was like: “Okay; you can pray a prayer like that, but that’s a daily prayer.”
Dave: It’s something we have to establish rhythms and disciplines in our life and in our marriage. I mean, there were many conversations after that night about the horizontal part.
Then, here’s the amazing thing, I think, about vertical marriage. The concept is this—we come into marriage, and we were doing the same thing—even though we taught this differently—we were trying to get happiness from each other; right? When that doesn’t happen—and that doesn’t happen for almost everybody—at some point, you’re disappointed.
Most couples—and we did the same thing—we think, “I married the wrong person.” No, no, no: “You’re looking in the wrong place,”—that’s the answer. Vertical marriage is when you look to the One who can give you the joy and happiness that you want; now, you come back to your marriage—what?—you’re overflowing rather than: “I need…” “I need…” “I need…” It’s like: “No; I’m called by my God to serve. He’s filled me up in such a way I can serve.” It literally changes everything.
Dennis: As you’ve been talking, I’ve been thinking of Psalm 127:1, which has been quoted many, many times, here on FamilyLife Today. It really captures the concept of vertical marriage; it says, “Unless the Lord builds the house”—
Dennis: —that’s the vertical—
Dennis: —the other half of the verse says, “those who build it labor in vain,”—that’s the horizontal. Who hasn’t experienced that?
Dennis: I was thinking back into our marriage. We perhaps didn’t have a romantic night like you attempted, Dave, with the ten roses; but there have been nights where we have missed each other. The only thing that rescued it was repentance on the vertical—on submitting to God and to Jesus Christ afresh.
Barbara: Yes; the verse that popped into my mind, as I was listening to you, is one that I learned as a brand-new Christian; and that’s Romans 12:1-2—the whole concept of “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed.” Being transformed is repentance; we can’t become transformed unless we repent.
That’s what we tend to do in our marriages—is we become conformed to the world—we’re trying to do it in our own power and our own strength and apply what we think is going to work. But when we repent and submit, then He transforms us; and then we can experience exactly what you were talking about.
Dave: My hope is that there are people listening right now—and they wouldn’t do this—“Oh, we can listen to FamilyLife Today; and we can get books and resources and that will save our marriage,”—those are awesome, and they’re very important—I’m hoping they go: “The only hope we have is Jesus.” I’m not kidding; I see people, all around the world, get down on their knees right now—turn off the radio, get on their knees, and repent.
Ann: Even if you’re doing it by yourself—
Ann: —even if you have a spouse that’s not there yet—you can still get on your knees. Give your life to Jesus; and re-surrender your marriage, your home, your kids. He hears that. And He’s fighting for us.
Bob: We’ve been listening to a conversation Denny and Barbara Rainey and I had with Dave and Ann Wilson more than a year ago right after the release of the book Vertical Marriage. I’m thinking—the re-surrender of a marriage/the re-surrender of a life—this is the regular rhythm of the Christian life; isn’t it?—regular re-surrendering. It doesn’t have to be a big moment; it’s a day-to-day process of resubmitting yourself to the Lordship of Christ.
Ann: That’s become a habit of mine every morning when I turn off my alarm. I lay in bed for just a few minutes and say, “Father, I give You my life again today. I’m Yours; let me be Your eyes, Your ears, Your hands, Your mouth. I can’t do it apart from You.”
Dave: Some of the most, as you’ve just heard, significant moments in our marriage have been surrender moments—together. Yet, every day is a surrender. Often, it’s by myself; Ann’s by herself; other times, we’re together—that moment of saying, “Jesus, I want You to be in control, not me,” is life changing.
Bob: You guys are doing something pretty fun this week. I know a lot of our listeners are maybe normally part of a small group with their church or a group of friends that get together. A lot of that has been put on hold over the last several months.
You’re going to be leading a small group for three weeks, starting this week, Thursday night, eight o’clock CT. We’re going to be going through the first three sessions of the Vertical Marriage video series. Listeners can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and join the Facebook® group that we’re setting up. That will give you access to Session One; you can watch Session One whenever you’d like. Then on Thursday night, at eight o’clock CT, you can gather together with people from all over the country for a small group discussion around Session One of Vertical Marriage that Dave and Ann are going to be hosting.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com for all the information. Join the Facebook group for the Vertical Marriage small group series. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com. There’s also information available there about the Vertical Marriage book that Dave and Ann have written and about the video series if you want to use this with your small group later in the summer or next fall. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; all the information is available there. Then, plan to join us Thursday night, eight o’clock CT, to be part of the Vertical Marriage small group. This is really cool; I’m glad you guys are doing this.
Now, we need to say, “Thank you,” to a group of our listeners, who are really the unsung heroes of today’s program—that’s those of you who made this program possible. The reason you were able to hear FamilyLife Today is because you had friends and neighbors, who said, “This program matters in our community, and we’re going to sponsor it.” They’ve made donations so that FamilyLife Today can continue to be heard here in this community and in cities all around the world.
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Be sure to join us again tomorrow. We’re going to talk about how we develop a strategy or a plan so that, when conflict occurs in our marriage, we know how to resolve it. I hope you can tune in for that.
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 tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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