FamilyLife Today® Podcast

The School of Love

with Gary Thomas | September 4, 2007
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Have you ever thought of your marriage as the "School of Love"? Well, it is, and author Gary Thomas will tell you how you can improve your grade point today on the broadcast.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Have you ever thought of your marriage as the "School of Love"? Well, it is, and author Gary Thomas will tell you how you can improve your grade point today on the broadcast.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Have you ever thought of your marriage as the “School of Love”?

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The School of Love

With Gary Thomas
September 04, 2007
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Gary: I remember one time dealing with a young man who – his wife was a little upset with him.  She said, "I don't think you respect me as a woman," and he said, "That's ridiculous, of course, I respect you."  And I was talking to him, and he said, "You know, she wants me to go to counseling, but I just don't feel comfortable with that."  And I asked him, "Well, why don't you want to go to counseling?"  He said, "Well, the counselor that she's chosen is a woman, and I'm just not sure I trust her."  And there was this long pause, and he realized that he had really been caught.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, September 4th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  One of the great statements of faith you may ever make in your life is the statement "I do."

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  We are going to talk about marriage and about trust and about how you build that in a marriage relationship.  But as we kick things off today, we want to let our listeners know about a special opportunity they have to attend one of our upcoming FamilyLife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  We are hosting more than 60 of these conferences in cities all across the country this fall, and there is a conference that is coming to a city near where you live. 

 In fact, you can get all the information about that on our website at, but you have a special opportunity this week and next week to register for one of these upcoming conferences at a special FamilyLife Today rate.  We're giving our listeners an opportunity to register and save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you sign up this week or next week and, in addition to saving some money, we're going to make available to you a copy of the brand-new book by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, which is called "Moments With You."  This is the follow-up to the devotional "Moments Together," for couples that you wrote a number of years ago.

 It's a 365-day devotional for husbands and wives to read through together.  It's not even off the press yet, but we're going to make a copy available to any of our listeners who register for an upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conference this week or next week.  Now, in order to take advantage of the special savings of $60 per couple and to get a copy of the book, you need to register online at

 And as you fill out your registration form, you'll see a keycode box.  When you come to that, you need to write the word "Bob" in your keycode box, and that way we'll know you're a FamilyLife Today listener, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and say, "I listen to FamilyLife Today, and I want to register for one of these conferences, and I'd like the book that they were talking about, and we'll take it from there and get you all signed up for a conference coming to a city near where you live. 

 So, again, this week and next week you have an opportunity to save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee for an upcoming conference and to get a copy of the brand-new book, "Moments With You," by Dennis and Barbara Rainey.  You can register online at  Remember to type the word "Bob" in the box on the registration form, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and get registered over the phone, and we hope that you'll make plans to attend one of these Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.  It will be a fun, romantic getaway for the two of you, and you will learn a lot about marriage. 

 In fact, as I was thinking about the Weekend to Remember, I was thinking back to when Mary Ann and I had just gotten engaged, and we had the idea that because we were so deeply in love with one another, our marriage was going to be different than the marriages we saw around us.  You know, we had heard couples talk about having conflict or about facing challenges in their marriage, and we thought that's just not going to happen for us because we're just so much in love, and that's just going to continue to grow and to grow and to grow.

Dennis: And the question is – what's going to make you any different?  What is there that you're going to do, what information, what knowledge do you have that makes you any smarter than the tens of thousands who have gone before you, many of whom have failed?

Bob: Well, and the truth is, we have gone on to love one another more deeply and more profoundly, we've just come to a whole new understanding of what love really means.

Dennis: And you've come to an understanding of how little you knew when you started the journey.

Bob: That's right.

Dennis: The same could be true of Barbara and me as well.  You know, we have a guest in the studio today, Gary Thomas, who is going to teach us, I think, a great deal today about how to love.  Gary is the founder of the Center for Evangelical Spiritually and author of numerous books and articles, and he's written a book called "Sacred Marriage," and, Gary, one of the themes of your book is that we need to learn how to love.

 In fact, I want to quote someone that you quote in the book.  It's a great quote.  It reads, "Love must be learned and learned again and again.  There is no end to it.  Hate needs no instruction but waits only to be provoked."  We really do need to learn how to love, don't we?

Gary: Oh, absolutely, and it's amazing to me – when I think back – I was just 22 years old when I got married, and I knew nothing about love much less about how to love a woman who was so different from me in ways I never even considered.

 In fact, shortly after we got married, I had one of the biggest tests that a young husband could have.  My wife had a birthday.  Now, many of the men out there may have realized, like me, that birthdays are a trap, they really are.


 First, you have to remember them every year.  You know, it's not enough to get five out of seven or even nine out of 10.  You know, Ken Griffey, Jr., bats 300.  He's a multimillionaire.  But we've got to bat 1,000, but the more subtle difficulty was learning to decipher the meaning of, "Oh, it's no big deal.  I don't need anything special."

 Well, I believed her.  That was my – I remember my campus pastor saying, "Gary, go for the godly one."  So I got me a godly wife, but he never warned me that godly women can lie.


 It didn't quite come, so it was just a couple of days before her birthday.  We'd just been married for a few weeks, and I wasn't feeling that well, so I stopped off in a store and got her the best gift I could imagine – I got her not one, not two, but three books.  Wrapped them up, but a bow on them, and handed them to her with a smile.

 And it's a good thing I was smiling that day, because at least one of us was.  I'd learned that getting her books because I like books isn't love, that's hope, and I got those mixed up.  Love is finding out what does she really want?  It's really entering into her world, and I think it's fair to say most young women don't really know how to love a man when we get married.  It's something we have to learn.

Dennis: And you illustrate this in your book beautifully, as you printed an address.  In fact, it's a pretty lengthy address, and what I wanted to do was break it into several parts here on the broadcast, and actually have it read.  But it's an address given by – well, why don't you share with our listeners who he is, and why he gave this message.

Gary: Dr. John Barger [sp] lives in New England, and back in, I believe it was 1987, he gave what I thought was an extraordinary address to a group of men reflecting on an experience he had had with his wife and the lessons he learned from it on how God an use marriage to shape us, to reveal Himself to us, and to teach us how to love Him and to love others.

Dennis: Well, it really is a classic illustration of how men misunderstand and mis-love their wives and, Bob, I'd like you to read this address, because it really is a profound statement on how we can learn to love.

Bob: Let me read the first part of it here.  Dr. Barger said, "It's easy to scorn women, and most men do.  We see women as physically weak, easy to intimidate, bound to the menial tasks of motherhood, emotional, illogical, and often petty.  Or we see them as temptresses.  In desire, we idolize them and parade them across the pages of magazines, yet we scorn and hate them for their commanding sexual power over us.

 Males' scorn for women affects every aspect of our lives.  My relatives grew up on the streets during the Depression, learning early the fury and scorn that characterizes so many people in dire circumstances, drinking heavily and seeing women alternately as sex objects or as servants.  As a result, I swaggered through marriage for many years ruling my wife, Susan, and my seven children with an iron hand while citing Scripture as justification for my privileges and authority.  After all, Scripture explicitly commands wives to obey their husbands.

 Years of dominating my wife and children left them habitually resentful and fearful of me yet unwilling to challenge me because of the fury it might provoke.  I alienated Susan and the children and lost their love.  By 1983, Susan would have left me if it weren't for the children, and even that bond was losing its force.

 Then a number of dramatic events occurred, which wrought a profound change in my moral, psychological, and spiritual life."

Dennis: Bob, before you go on, the thing that hits me about that address, Gary, is it's kind of a naked approach to how men can feel about women.  Have you found this to be true?

Gary: Absolutely.  I think, in many men, there is this love/hate/worship/frustration attitude that we have toward women.  They are the fulfillment of all our desires in some ways, and yet because of that, they also can frustrate and anger us accordingly. 

 One of the things I think marriage teaches us to do, and what I think it has done for me, and what I'm particularly thankful of, is that I've found that my attitude and my actions toward Lisa, my wife, will ultimately reflect on my attitudes toward women, in general.

Bob: You know, I'd imagine some men would listen to Dr. Barger and go, "Well, I don't feel like that about women.  You know, he's kind of an extreme case.  Most men aren't like that."  Do you think he's just being honest about what most of us have as a subtle backdrop in our view of women?

Gary: There is a sense that because women do tend to be – not always – but, in general, tend to be weaker physically and have some other differences from men that you wouldn't describe as weaker or stronger, but they're differences, that I think the tendency is for me to tend to look down on women. 

 At the same time, though, they seem to be almost – you know, the man pursuing a woman seems to be putting himself under her almost in a worshipful way.  And so you really have this dichotomy of men trying to grapple with – "Man, this woman has such a pull on me," and yet this attitude that can sometimes border on disdain.

Dennis: And what am I to do with that?  What am I to do with her?  How am I to respond to my wife?  How am I to love her, especially in the face of the Scripture, which commands me to love my wife as Christ loved the church? 

 And it's interesting, when I looked at Barbara deeply in her eyes and asked her to marry me and thought about how sweet she was and how great I felt in her presence, if you had told me at that moment that we could have ever had an argument where white-hot anger would have burned within my heart, I would have probably said that will never happen.

 Now, that could happen between me and my brother, because we grew up together, but this is the woman I love, and yet, in marriage, where you live out daily existence, hour after hour, at such close proximity, there will be those moments when there will be not merely a dislike but an anger that can rise up that frightens you, and, as a man, you have to know what do I do with that?  And you have to, I believe, fall on your knees before God and say, "God, I need you to instruct me and put the right kind of love in my heart, because I don't know how to love as a young man right now."

Bob: Dr. Barger said that it was a series of dramatic events that dislodged some of this thinking in his own mind, helped reveal some of this latent view that he had of scorn for women.  And the first of those events was when his wife, Susan, had a difficult pregnancy that ended with the placenta being torn loose.  She started to hemorrhage, and the baby was stillborn, and Dr. Barger went on to describe what happened further.

 He said, "At 2 in the morning, in a stark, bright hospital delivery room, I held in my left hand, a tiny, lifeless son, and I stared in disbelief at his death.  I had the power to make my family's lives worse by raging against my baby's death and my wife's lack of love or to make their lives better by learning to love them properly.  I had to choose.  And it was a clear choice presented in an instant as I stared at my tiny, helpless stillborn infant cradled in my hand.

 In that critical instant, with God's grace, I chose the arduous, undramatic, discouraging path of trying to be good.  I didn't have time to tell you of all the afflictions we endured in the next four years – sick children, my mother's sudden death, my losing my job as a teacher, three more miscarriages.  In the midst of these many afflictions, I found that the only way I could learn to love and to cease being a cause of pain was to suffer, endure, and strive every minute to repudiate my anger, my resentment, my scorn, my jealousy, my lust, my pride, and my dozens of other vices.  For the important thing now was not to be right or well thought of, but to love."

Dennis: You know, as I listen to this again, Gary, I can't help but think of a group of men listening to an address like this sitting there stunned because we, as men, somehow in our macho view of manhood, don't want to be known as great lovers, at least in the sense of being a deep, profound lover of our wives but rather in control, strong, masculine, and the very thing he's talking about here flies in the face of that.  It's humility, it's a sense of brokenness, isn't it?

Gary: Absolutely, and I think even in the Christian environment, we can reinforce that.  The Christians that we exalt and that we lift up are the accomplishers, the movers, the shakers, the big ministries that they've found, the books they sell, or the audience that they have, what it comes down to, though, I think authentic spiritually, true faith is shown in has this man known how to love his wife?  How does this man treat his kids?  How does this man treat his co-workers and those who are with him?

 I think it is how we love people that really shows how well we love God.  John says it very clearly in 1 John 4:20-21, "If anyone says I love God yet hates his brother," and we could put here wife, husband, mother, father, anybody, "he is a liar, for anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God, whom he has not seen, and he has given us this command, whoever loves God must also love his brother." 

 And so God Himself connects our love with Him with loving others.  He says, "You can't love me if you don't learn to love others."  And this emphasis on spiritually today, I think the authenticity of that spiritually will be seen in – does this make me a better husband?  Does this make me a more attentive wife?  Does this make me a person who is known for loving others?  If it doesn't, I don't think it's true spiritually, I think it's ambition.

Bob: Well, in the midst of these difficulties, Dr. Barger saw the issue clearly and, in fact, he went on in his address to say, "I had made myself the center of attention for too many years, and, as a result, I said little now about my own labors and sorrows.  I sought instead to know Susan's and to help her bear them.  And, frankly, once I started listening to Susan, once I really began hearing her and drawing her out, I was startled at how many and how deep were her wounds and her sorrows.  Most were not sorrows unique to Susan, they were sorrows that we all feel; sorrows that arise from the particular physiology of women from their vocations as mothers, which gives them heavy duties and responsibilities while leaving them almost totally dependent on men for their material well being and their spiritual support.

 Sorrows that arise from loving their husbands and children intensely but not being able to keep harm from those they love.  Women suffer these wounds far more often and with a great intensity than most of us men every realize, and unless we ask them, women generally do not speak to us of these sorrows, perhaps because we men so often dismiss their troubles as insignificant or write off women themselves as simply weak and whiney.

 One of my friends, when confronted at the end of his long workday with his wife's complaints about the noise, the troubles, and the unending housework snapped back at her in exasperation, 'Well, what do you want me to?  Stay at home and do the housework while you go off to the office?'  You understand his point.  He couldn't solve her problems.  What did she want him to do?  I'll tell you.  She wanted him to listen, to understand, and to sympathize.

 She wanted him to let her know that despite her problems, her exhaustion, her dishevelment, he loved her; to let her know that it caused him sorry that we was suffering, and that if it were possible, he would change it for her."

Dennis: You know, that last paragraph, Bob, is so profound, you can almost sense women in our audience who are listening right now who, all in unison, are nodding their heads.

Bob: You've seen it when you read this publicly, women do nod their heads, don't they?

Gary: Yes.

Dennis: It is what a woman wants to know from her man, isn't it?

Gary: He may not be able to remove all the obstacles in her life, but he's there with her.  He cares that she's going through these obstacles.  He has an interest in what she faces at home; that he does have some interest in the fact that she just cleaned the floors, and somebody spilled applesauce on them and walked through them in their little two-year-old bare feet and tramped over all of her completely clean floors.

 That basically he gives a rip that there's somebody that understands what she's going through and, I think, appreciates what she's going through.  And then I would say, what I often hear, then, from men, too, for women who are hearing this is that men often want to hear the same thing.  I don't mind working 40 hours a week if I have to, to support you, in fact, I don't mind working 50 or 60 hours if I have to, but occasionally can you say, "You know what?  I understand it must be tough.  I understand you may want to go out and play golf today or go out and fish or go out and hunt, but I appreciate the fact that you work hard, that you support us."

 I think, as men and as women, we just want somebody to say, "I can't change your situation, but I'm there with you, I appreciate you for being there, and I want to be a part of it."

Bob: Gary, I've heard you talk about a husband who will step out of a relationship, who will abandon his wife and will say, in the process, "I just don't love you anymore."  When a husband says that, he is not so much talking about his wife's failure to attract him, it's really more of a statement on his part that he is failing as a husband, isn't it?

Gary: It is, and what they'll say to be cruel goes something like this – "The fact is, I've never loved you," and they're trying to take away everything that they have shared with that woman.  The woman finds it as devastating and, of course, it would be.

 But I would say look behind that statement.  Jesus says that we're to love everyone, even our enemies.  So when a man says to a woman, "I've never loved you," what he is saying is "I have never acted like a Christian."  Love is an obligation that God calls us to have toward our wives.  It is our duty; it is our calling as Christian men.  So to say "I've never loved you," is an utter statement of failure.  Even though it's received as an attack by women, and understandably so – I think, even more than that, it's a self-indictment that the man has failed in what he's called to do as a Christian husband, and that is learn how to love this woman.

Bob: Yeah, it's back to the subtitle of your book, which is that marriage is about making us holy instead of making us happy, and when a husband says that, he's saying, "I'm opting for happy instead of holy."

 Again, we've got copies of your book in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  I want to encourage listeners to get a copy.  The book is called "Sacred Marriage."  Go to our website,, you can click on the red "Go" button that you see in the middle of the screen, and that will take you to the area of the site where there is more information about Gary's book. 

 You can order it from us online, or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to request a copy.  Again, the Web address is, click the red "Go" button you see in the middle of the screen, or call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll make arrangements to get a copy of Gary's book sent out to you.

 Let me also remind you that FamilyLife Today listeners have an opportunity to register for one of our upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences this fall at a reduced rate.  This week and next week you can save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee so you can attend one of these two-and-a-half-day weekend getaways in a city near you. 

 We have more than 60 of these conferences scheduled this fall.  You can go to our website for information about where and when the conferences are going to be held.  You can also call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information about upcoming conferences, and if you register this week or next week, again, you'll save $60 per couple off the regular registration fee if you identify yourself as a FamilyLife Today listener.  And you do that online by writing the word "Bob," my name, just write "Bob" in the keycode box on your registration form, and we'll make the adjustment to your rate.

 Or call 1-800-FLTODAY and mention that you're a FamilyLife Today listener, and you want to take advantage of the special rate, and we'll take it from there.  In addition, we're going to make available to you a copy of the brand-new book by Dennis and Barbara Rainey, which is called "Moments With You."  This is a sequel to their bestselling book, "Moments Together for Couples." 

 It's not even out in stores yet, but we'll make arrangements to get you a copy when you register for one of the upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences, either online at or by calling 1-800-FLTODAY, and you'll have a great weekend getaway, you'll have a great new book that the two of you can read through together following the conference.  But to take advantage of this special offer, you need to register before midnight on Sunday, September 16th.  So, again, go to our website,, or call us at 1-800-FLTODAY and plan to attend one of these upcoming Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences.

 Well, tomorrow we are going to talk about the importance of respect and honor in a marriage relationship, and Gary Thomas is going to be back with us, I hope you can be as well. 

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

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


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