FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Taking Up Our Cross

with Michael and Hayley DiMarco | November 19, 2012
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Have you taken up your cross lately? Authors Michael and Hayley DiMarco recall times when they've had to die to themselves in order to bring life to their marriage. They assure listeners that it's okay if they find they're at the end of themselves because they'll find something more valuable - the abundant life that Christ has promised.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Have you taken up your cross lately? Authors Michael and Hayley DiMarco recall times when they've had to die to themselves in order to bring life to their marriage. They assure listeners that it's okay if they find they're at the end of themselves because they'll find something more valuable - the abundant life that Christ has promised.

  • 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 taken up your cross lately?

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Taking Up Our Cross

With Michael and Hayley DiMarco
November 19, 2012
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Bob:  One of our jobs as husbands and wives is to kindly, gently, graciously point out the sin we see in each others’ lives.  There was a time when Michael DiMarco held up a mirror to his wife, Hayley, so that she could see just how selfishly she was acting.

Hayley:  There was a point, and I can see myself sitting on the couch crying and saying, “Why did he do that?  Why would he say that?” and it just came over me that that was my flesh.  Up until that point it was thriving, and when he came into my life and was, I think, loving and kind enough to say “I’m not going to let that thrive in you just so you can be happy,” because that’s really what happens a lot of times. 

A husband might just say, “I just want to keep the peace.  I don’t want to make her unhappy.”  I’m thankful that I was given a man who felt that my holiness was more important than my happiness.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, November 19th.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.   What does it mean for us to die to self in marriage, and how can we help one another do it?  We’re going to explore that today.   

And welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Thanks for joining us.   You know, given the number of times we have talked to our friends who are joining us here today, Michael and Hayley DiMarco, I just never realized that they have this opposition to the Declaration of Independence.  Did you realize this?


Dennis:  I’m not really tracking with you.

Bob:  They have a problem with the pursuit of happiness, and the Declaration says, “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  Apparently – well, you’ll have to ask them about it.

Dennis:  Okay, I will.  Michael, Hayley, welcome to FamilyLife Today.  Are you wanting to move to Australia?  Is that what you’d like, to be deported?

Bob:  I just set you up hard there, didn’t I?


Hayley:  Thanks

Michael:  I used to live 15 minutes from Canada, so everybody now is going to say, “Why didn’t you drive the extra 15?”

Bob:  Aye?


Dennis:  So?

Michael:  Yes, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Well, it’s our contention that the Bible calls us to death, servanthood, and the pursuit of holiness.  It’s the pursuit of happiness that really makes our world revolve around worshipping ourselves.

Dennis:  And our appetites.

Michael:  Yes, mine are well-documented.

Dennis:  You two give leadership to a ministry called Hungry Planet.  You produce resources for really, primarily – it has been, at least – teenagers, a lot of best-selling books.  This book that you’ve just written, Die Young, is certainly for teens.  But I have to tell you, it doesn’t matter what your age is.  You’re calling people of all ages –

Bob:  And by the way, this is a book that I would not encourage parents to just hand over to your child and say, “Hey, I thought of a good book for you.  Die Young.”  It takes some explanation.


Michael:  And actually, we had the choice of publishing this book as a youth book or an adult book, but we said this is a dangerous book -- as Bob kind of alluded to -- it’s a dangerous book to put in the hand of a teenager, not necessarily because of the title, but because of the subject matter.  Because this is a message that teens and youth will throw themselves at, like, “Yes, I knew my life was bigger than just about me.”

Dennis:  Right.

Michael:  But then when they look up from the book and they look at the adults in their life, their parents, the church, and they see good Christian people living for themselves, it creates a dissonance.  And that’s where you see, we think, a lot of Bible-believing, church-going teenagers leaving the church after college.  It’s not as much about the indoctrination of academia, but it’s more about “This world is more real than the kind of fake world I was living in before, because people were living for themselves there.”

Dennis:  Hayley, unpack what you mean around this concept of dying young.

Hayley:  You’re never too old to die young.  You’re never too old to look at your life and say, “I have lived a life out of selfishness rather than faithfulness,” and to say, “Today is the day that I die.”  In other words, “Today is the day that everything in me that is inconsistent with Christ in me is going to be dead to me, and I’m not going to respond to it anymore.”  That’s really at the root of this concept of dying to self.  

It is that we just say “No.”  We’re just sick of trying to please ourselves.  Because really do we ever?  Does there ever come a time when we say, “Oh, I finally arrived.”  It doesn’t happen.

Dennis:  A number of years ago, and I don’t remember who wrote this book, but there was a book that came out called The Upside Down Kingdom, and it was just how Jesus spoke in paradoxes, really calling people to things that were counter-intuitive.  As I read through the chapter titles in your book, this is the modern-day Upside Down Kingdom.

The chapter titles of the book are:  “Death is the New Life.”  “Down is the New Up.”  “Less is the New More.”  “Weak is the New Strong.”  “Slavery is the New Freedom.”  “Confession” – I really like this chapter – “Confession is the New Innocence.”  “Red is the New White.”  Jesus really did turn things upside-down, didn’t He?  He called us to live a life of paradox, to die so we’d live.

Michael:  And the whole paradox to kind of a modern, commercialized message of Christianity is that Jesus came to make your life easy and to make your life happy, and to give you everything you wanted.  But Jesus is a trouble-maker.  He causes all sorts of trouble within my flesh.  It’s not a life of prosperity.  The best example of this I can think of is the story of John the Baptist, when he said to his followers, “He must increase and I must decrease.”

But the world screams, social media screams, “The world needs more of me.  It needs to know when I check in at this coffee shop, and it needs me to pin 18 different boards on Pinterest of what my style is, and what inspires me.”  It’s mainly a woman thing, but  – Dennis is looking at me like –

Dennis:  No, I – Yeah.

Michael:  Okay.  But the world screams “We need more of you,” but it’s a lie.  What the world needs more of is Christ, and less of me.  The other verse that comes to mind is when Christ says we’re to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.  Picking up the cross is not a triumphant, I-am-the-best-thing-since-sliced-bread move.  It’s a death march, and we’re to do that daily.  It’s not come forward once when we’re 16 or 13.

Bob:  But there does seem to be a realization that happens at some point in our lives, even in our spiritual lives, where we trust Christ, we’re following Christ, but I don’t know that we always get right away the idea that death to self is what we’ve signed on for.  And when we get it, then we realize it’s something that we’ve got to reapply hourly, right?  It’s not an “Oh, I’m there” and you make the switch.

Was there a landmark time for either of you where the realization that death to self is what being a follower of Christ was all about, or did it happen gradually for you over time?

Hayley:  Well, the Spirit was probably working on me for quite some time, but there was a moment when I finally went, “Oh.  I get this.  Thank you for not giving up on me.”  For me, it was at the point when we were married, and I was struggling with that – with just the concept of living with another human being who was like a mirror to me, and is very adept at pointing out my sin in my life.  I did not like that.  I did not want to see that.

Bob:  Was he doing it kindly and graciously?

Hayley:  No! 

Bob:  Okay, just checking.

Hayley:  Well there were times –


Dennis:  So he wasn’t making it easy to hear.

Hayley:  Right.  Not according to me.  It didn’t feel like it.  When is it ever easy to hear?

Michael:  I’m a bitter little pill.

Dennis:  Yes.

Hayley:  No, there were moments when I was slamming doors and throwing plates and those kinds of things.  My initial reaction was “Who talks to someone like this?”  And as I started to turn away from my flesh that wanted to say that and scream out and started to look at God’s Word, I started to see He’s in everything in my life.  He’s in every aspect.  He’s in this marriage.  This marriage is about Him and not about me.

Dennis:  And He can even be speaking through that imperfect spouse.

Hayley:  Exactly.  Exactly.  And that’s when the light went off and I thought, “Wait a minute.  This is not a voice of condemnation.  This is a voice of salvation.”  It was a voice of hope for me.  I turned at that point and said, “I’m going to die to whatever this is in me that says that my sin can’t be pointed out, that says that I should cling to my being happy and that he should serve me, and this life should be romantic and he should rub my feet and he should cook the dinners and do the dishes and I should rest.

That kind of lifestyle was what I imagined marriage would be, and when I saw it wasn’t, I am so thankful that I discovered that these were opportunities – this death that we’re so afraid of was really an opportunity for life.  I think that’s the most important thing for us to grasp, that this is the opposite of what we think it is.

Dennis:  And so did you make a decision as an act of your will at that point to say “I’ve got to die?”

Hayley:  I think I make that decision every day.

Dennis:  Well of course you do.

Hayley:  Yes.

Dennis:  But Bob asked the question, “Was there a point in time . . .?”

Hayley:  Yes, there was a point, and I can see myself sitting on the couch crying, and saying, “Why did he do that?  Why would he say that?”  It just came over me that that was my flesh.  Up until that point, it was thriving.  When he came into my life and was, I think, loving and kind enough to say “I’m not going to let that thrive in you, just so you can be happy.”  Because that’s really what happens a lot of time, is a husband might just say, “I just want to keep the peace.  I don’t want to make her unhappy.”

I’m thankful that I was given a man who felt that my holiness was more important than my happiness.  So yes, there was that point when I said, “I’m in on this.  I want to kill that within me that is inconsistent with Christ in me, and that is the flesh that screams out I should be happy.”

Bob:  I’m not surprised that marriage is the place where this issue of having to die to self emerged, because honestly –

Dennis:  You think?

Bob:  -- husband and wife coming together, two sinful people taking up residence –

Hayley:  Yes.

Bob:  -- two trying to become one.  A lot of flesh is going to surface, and if we don’t die to self, marriage is going to be miserable.

Hayley:  Or gone.  It’s done.

Michael:  My experience was strangely related to hers, because mine was when I saw that change in Hayley where I knew I wasn’t a perfect husband, I knew I wasn’t saying things kindly, lovingly when I was talking about her or talking about us.  But when I saw her change, when I saw her accept what I said and discard the way I said it, that was powerful for me. 

And then my sin was stripped and laid bare because her holy response to my unholy message of holiness –


-was so exposing to me that I was like, “Okay, so I’m a jerk the way I’m saying this,” and it really became about “I’m saying these things because it feels good to say it this way, and I can’t say these things this way anymore.”

Bob:  I think you’ve hit on something here, because at some level her pitiful response – I hope I’m not picking on you here –

Hayley:  No, not at all.

Bob:  But her pitiful response –

Dennis:  To his pitiful –

Bob:  To your pitiful confrontation kind of justified in your mind that your pitiful confrontation was acceptable.  And when she quit responding that way, the reality of how pitiful your confrontation was –

Michael:  It took away all the noise, and all I could hear was my pitifulness.  That’s right.


Hayley:  And I want to say for women too, at the point that you can do that, that you can look up instead of looking across the table at the person who’s bugging you, we say it in the book – you become emotionally bulletproof.  The things that he’s saying or that he’s doing, they just fell off of me.  Before they used to just stick and grab a hold like claws. But that point when I first started to make that change, they started to just be the hand of God.  I felt them almost as a more gentle touch than they actually were.  And so there was freedom.

Bob:  It’s one thing when it’s two people who are both committed to Christ, and walking along the path.  But I’m thinking about those listeners who are going, “If I die to self in the midst of this, and he’s just going to keep – or she’s going to do –“ What do you say there?

Hayley:  I say what God’s Word says.  I talk to a lot of women who are in marriages with – I’ll go all the way to the unbelieving husband, where he doesn’t even hear from the Holy Spirit.

Dennis:  Right.

Hayley:  The Scriptures tell us in First Corinthians that the unbelieving wife, if she will live in holy relationship with her husband, he can be saved through that, and that she shouldn’t be reacting out of the flesh.  Because what kind of example – as you see in Michael -- I guess I didn’t even before today think of that – that my response was an example to him.  But what kind of example do we give to our unbelieving husbands or our sinful husbands when our response is sinful?

That doesn’t help anyone.  Our sin never helps anyone.

Michael:  And that’s the whole second chapter.  “Down is the New Up” is about humility, about how Christ, the Son of God Himself, humbled Himself and became a man.  In marriage especially, parenthood as well, when we’re a picture of Christ’s humility, that’s when God is exalted.  That’s when we no longer have to strive for getting our name out there, fighting for our rights, standing up for ourselves.  There’s huge freedom in that.

Bob:  I don’t know you all that well, but I’m guessing you and I might share a common challenge in that area of humility, that that might be a besetting issue for both of us?

Dennis:  What might that be, Bob?

Bob:  The issue of pride and wanting attention drawn to us.  And I’m not trying to put -- Maybe instead of bringing you in on this, I should just confess for myself, here, alright. 

Dennis:  I think you can confess for the whole human race.

Bob:  For everybody around the table?

Dennis:  I mean, pride is the besetting sin in all of us.

Hayley:  Yes.  Right.

Bob:  But I’m thinking back to a time when I was a college freshman and I’d been to camp with a bunch of high school students.  I was one of the counselors, and this was a Christian camp.  Midway through the session the camp director said, “Can I talk to you?”  He pulled me aside and he said, “You have a pride issue.”  I was like, “You don’t even know me,” which is the first sign that I had a pride issue, right?  Because I’m rejecting his counsel.


But he said, “You’re trying to draw attention to yourself.  It’s got to be all about you, and our staff has been meeting, praying about you that God would do. . .”  I was like, “Are you kidding me?”  I remember praying after that and going, “God, what is up with this?”  I remember one of those tap-on-the-shoulder, God-kind-of-speaking-to-your-heart -- I remember hearing, “I sent him.”  And I was like, “No way.  No.  No.”

Here was the thing:  I was thinking, “But my gifting is this performance gifting.  This is what I’m good at.”  But what I didn’t realize was that I was living it out for me, not for Jesus, and it was one of those points – it was the wake-up call.  Here was the thing for me:  I then spent about six to nine months telling friends, “Yeah, I’m really struggling with, I’m dealing with –“ and I wasn’t really dealing with or struggling with anything. 

I was just confessing it because that way I could kind of get along.  I could get by.  In fact, I got a little more attention, a little more credibility.  I found that if you just confess, “Man, I’m really struggling with pride and with ego,” people thought better of you.  So it was my new way of getting attention, until God kind of smacked me around on that one too.

These areas of death, over and over again God brings things to the surface, we see them for what they are, and we go, “That stinks.  That’s ugly,” and we have to die to it.

Dennis:  And it is a core part of what Jesus taught.  He was the one who said, “He who loses his life for my sake will find it.  If you’re like a grain of wheat, you fall on the ground and you die, you can bring forth fruit.”

Bob:  Yes.

Dennis:  If you retain your life, retain your ownership of pride, run your own show, your own happiness, what’s the promise of that?  You get what you’ve lived for, yourself.

Bob:  You reap what you sow

Dennis:  That’s exactly right.  It’s really interesting.  I’m listening to you talk about your marriage, and it’s really pointing out  -- I think God in heaven must smile.  As a couple stand before the pastor on their wedding day and they promise to each other, they haven’t the foggiest idea what God’s agenda is in this institution of marriage.  I didn’t.

What He was about to do in me through Barbara, and through the children that we had the privilege of bringing into the world, was all about – one of the things, at least – was all about redeeming me from myself, calling me to die, calling me to yield to Him, surrender myself, my will, and not live for myself.  In fact, you can’t have a great marriage; you can’t have a marriage as God designed it and live for yourself, can you?

Michael:  No.  Let me say it again:  no. 


Dennis:  You’ve tried, haven’t you?  I have.

Michael:  Oh, yes. The fascinating thing is that when we come to the end of ourselves, that’s really when we find something valuable.  We think that we have so much value to offer, and Bob, I didn’t want to leave you hanging.  Yes, I think we’re cut from the same cloth.  I empathize with everything that you were saying and I still struggle, and that’s why there’s that daily death.

But the other thing is that example of the seed dying so that life may spring forth.  Life can’t spring forth without death.  Well, we always picture ourselves as the farmer, like “I’m going to plant the seed, and –“  But the seed surrenders itself to the Creator to control the conditions, the rain, the fertilizer.  Much of the fertilizer in my own life is of my own making.  We just spring forth new life because it’s all based on Him and nothing that we do.

Dennis:  Here’s the challenge:  Every listener, whether married or single, there will be a test.  There will be a test on this.  The Holy Spirit will give you a test, whether you’re a Christian or not.  He’s going to line up some circumstances where you are going to have the opportunity to die, where you’re going to have the privilege of saying no to your flesh and smiling at your enemy, smiling at your spouse, smiling at that child who drives you crazy. 

Instead of caving in to your own selfish desires and pride, wanting to have it your way, you’re going to say to God like Hayley did, “I’m not going to do that anymore.  I’m going to yield to Jesus Christ.  I’m going to see what He does here,” and then smile and bless that other person.  Then have your phone nearby to call the ambulance, because there may be some –


Bob:  Cardiac arrests?

Dennis:  Some faint “What’s going on?”  “What have you been up to?”  Really you can have some fun with this in the midst of dying.  You really can have some fun with this, because the kind of life Jesus Christ came to bring really is fun.  It’s an adventure.  It may not be easy, but it is an adventure.

Bob:  And I think there are a lot of us today who need a sober reassessment of what it is that Jesus is calling us to, because the picture we have is the picture of the abundant life and that’s true.  Jesus said He came that we might have an abundant life.  But the problem is, our picture of what we think an abundant life is supposed to be is different that the picture that is outlined in Scripture. 

That’s what you guys are taking us back to in the book that you’ve written called Die Young: Burying Your Self in Christ.  It’s a book for singles as well as married couples.  It applies to every aspect of our lives.  Certainly it applies in our marriage relationship, but it applies in a lot of relationships, a lot of what we have to deal with in life.

We have copies of Michael and Hayley’s book, Die Young, in our FamilyLifeToday Resource Center.  You can go to to request a copy.  Again the website is  You can order the book online or you can call toll-free to order; 1-800-FLTODAY; that’s 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY”.

Now here in the United States we’re all thinking about Thanksgiving this week.  Most of us are thinking about the holiday, though, and not really spending a lot of time thinking about what it means to be thankful people, which is, of course, what the holiday is supposed to be making us think about. 

We had an opportunity to sit down not long ago with author and speaker Nancy Leigh DeMoss, who is the host of the radio program Revive Our Hearts.  We talked about gratitude.  She’s written a book called Choosing Gratitude.  We talked about what it means to cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our own lives, and how do we help our children cultivate that same heart of gratitude.

This week we’re making available CDs of our conversation with Nancy Leigh DeMoss as a way of expressing our gratitude for your support of the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We are listener-supported; your support is what makes this program possible.  It helps to defray the cost of producing and syndicating this daily program, keeping us on the air in cities all around the country, and online at

So we appreciate your financial support.  If you make a donation online at, just click the button that says “I CARE” to make the online donation.  We’ll send you a copy of the CDs where we talk about gratitude with Nancy Leigh DeMoss.  If you make your donation by calling us, the toll-free number is 1-800-FLTODAY.  Be sure to ask for the CDs on gratitude when you call and make your donation.  We’ll be happy to send them out to you.

Let me just say thanks again for your support.  We appreciate it.

And we want to encourage you to be back with us again tomorrow when we’re going to continue our conversation with Michael and Hayley DiMarco on the subject of dying to self and being alive in Christ.  We’ll talk about that again tomorrow.  Hope you can be here for that.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today

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