When Expectations in Marriage Fall Flat
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David and Meg RobbinsAs 17-year veterans of Cru, David and Meg Robbins have served in a variety of capacities, beginning as ﬁeld staff at their Alma Mater, the University of Mississippi. In 2003, they moved to Pisa, Italy, to serve as overseas team leaders for Cru. It was during that time they fell in love with ﬁnding ways to relate and communicate with a secular, pluralistic culture. They trained to serve overseas long-term until God surprisingly led them back to the U.S.
I didn’t sign up for this. FamilyLife President David Robbins & his wife Meg discuss how to deal when expectations in marriage fall short of reality.
When Expectations in Marriage Fall Flat
Ann: Let’s talk about our wedding day. [Laughter]
Dave: Do we even have pictures? I don’t think we have pictures.
Ann: Of course, we do!
Dave: Here is what I remember about our wedding day—besides your dad hiring a guy at work to take the pictures—that’s what I remember, and the paper cups for the reception.
Ann: That’s what you—wait—that’s what you remember about our wedding?
Dave: It was the cheapest wedding a man could have, because your dad was cheap;—
Ann: That’s true.
Dave: —and I love the guy. I would have done it exactly the same way if I had daughters.
Ann: Wait; wait; wait. Let’s go back. What do you remember about our wedding day?
Dave: What do I remember? I had hair. [Laughter]
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
What do you remember about our wedding day?
Dave: Actually, the first thing I remember is forgetting the lyrics of the song I wrote you. Do you remember?
Ann: Yes, I laughed so hard. But you don’t remember the vows?
Dave: Oh, yes—the vows—they were traditional vows.
Ann: They were.
Dave: I’ve done them a thousand times as a pastor.
Ann: That was my point. That day was so special, but we were nervous. You were singing me a song that you made up, which was amazing.
Dave: That was a surprise.
Ann: It was!
Dave: I thought it would be the coolest thing ever, and I forgot the lyrics. [Laughter] I just stood there, and the pastor—do you remember?—he covered up really good. He goes, “Look what happens to a man in the midst of beauty,”—or something like that—then, I remembered the lyrics; and you married me.
Ann: I did, but what I remember about that day wasn’t the actual ceremony; it was when we started our honeymoon. We got on our knees, before we got into our bed, and we prayed.
Ann: Do you remember that?
Dave: I remember exactly, word for word: “God, we are not asking You for a good marriage but for a great marriage that will one day impact the world for Your kingdom.”
Ann: That’s what I remember, and I remember surrendering our lives to Jesus; and that, to me, was a holy moment.
Dave: It was a holy moment.
Ann: It reminded me of Dr. Bill Bright and Vonette Bright—their contract that they made with God, surrendering their lives—they wrote it out, and they gave God their lives.
Today is going to be a great day because we have David Robbins and his wife Meg with us, who is the president of FamilyLife.
Dave: So welcome to FamilyLife Today, guys!
David: Thanks so much; good to be here.
Dave: And we have you here on a pretty important month in the yearly calendar of FamilyLife. Tell us why it is a critical month, David.
David: December is a huge month for us. I want to remind our listeners, as we approach this critical time/this month of December, over 40 percent of our donations for the entire year come in this month. These 30 days determine how FamilyLife will be able to fuel ministry over the course of the next 12 months.
As you can imagine, we have had to make some tough calls over this last year. We are hoping that, through the generosity of people like you, we can continue to reach your home with timeless truth, and gospel-centered truth around marriage and family, and that we want to continue to reach more homes. We want to help other homes pursue the relationships that matter most.
The encouraging thing is we are growing. Our podcasts have been downloaded by almost half-a-million times around the world each month, and your gift helps fuel ministry to those homes and those hearts. It makes it possible.
Ann: So not only will your donation—it’s going to be doubled/matched, dollar for dollar—but we’re also going to send you a couple thank-you gifts. That’s always a bonus, guys.
Dave: Yes, and these are pretty cool thank-you gifts. Dane Ortlund, who has been a guest on here before, wrote a book called In the Lord I Take Refuge, which is 150 devotionals from the book of Psalms. That is one of your gifts; but here is another one: playing cards that have conversation starters on them.
Ann: Oh, what does that mean?
Dave: I mean, it’s awesome. You get to play cards, but you get to talk.
Ann: Oh, questions?! Aww!
Dave: My wife loves this stuff.
Ann: Ooh, this would be good.
Dave: You’re actually going to want to play cards now; but anyway, that’s a gift to you if you give a gift to FamilyLife.
As David said, this is critical. I mean, if you believe in what this ministry does—and I know you do—send a gift that will make a difference, not only in your lives, but in your neighbors’ lives and impact the world for the kingdom. You can do that simply by donating right now at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can even call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your gift right now.
Okay; let’s go back, David and Meg, to your wedding day. Talk about that moment/that special day.
David: You know, what’s fascinating about hearing you guys talk about your wedding night—is that that same couple, Dr. Bill Bright and Vonette his wife, inspired us, too—we got on our knees, and we surrendered, and kind of signed a contract of our lives away to the Lord also.
Ann: I didn’t know that! You actually signed something too?
Meg: We did; we did. We had heard that they had done that. Really, a couple years before that, had really been challenged to think—instead of like writing out what we wanted our life to be, and signing that away, and asking the Lord to sign off on it—like: “What if we flip that around?” You’ve probably heard this challenge from them before: “But what if you just sign a blank page and say, ‘Okay, Lord, what do You have for us? We are willing to sign off on whatever You might write for the story of our lives’?”
Ann: Oh, that’s scary!
Meg: I mean, that is scary in a lot of ways; but I think—
Dave: Wait; wait; wait. Let me clarify this. So you actually signed a blank page; there was nothing on it?
Meg: Well, we had done that before we were engaged, like on our own.
David: Then we kind of brought that together under—we did sign a piece of paper—we have it in a scrapbook. Joshua 1:16 was the verse that we felt like the Lord was asking us to trust Him with of: “Wherever You send us, we will go. Whatever You command us to do, we will do.” That was the people’s response to Joshua when the Lord gave him the mantle of leadership from Moses.
That was our hearts’ desire before the Lord: blank sheet of paper: “We want to keep that going together, not mess that up, because there is a lot of joy when you follow Him like that.” We’d experienced that in our singleness, so we wanted to experience that together.
Dave: You know, it’s interesting—is the blank sheet of paper—I didn’t know that.
Ann: I’ve never heard that, actually.
Dave: I’ve only heard of one other person talking about that—a blank sheet—meaning: “If it’s for worse or if it’s for poorer, we’re in.” Talk about that, because that isn’t what everybody signs up for.
David: There was a sincere heart to it; and there was a reason why we were on our knees before the Lord, wanting to give our lives to Him and commit to Joshua 1:16 together; it’s engraved in our wedding band. However, the blank sheet actually just has exposed my selfishness over, and over, and over again. It’s exposed how selfish I am; and sometimes, unwilling to follow what the Lord’s prompted me to do until He uses it to draw me back into Him as He says to me: “David, is your life Mine? Is it the Lord’s?” “Am I still committed, in an ongoing way, to that blank sheet of paper?”
It’s very practical; yes. Life comes at you hard, but there is also that continual invitation to the blank sheet of paper that God keeps shaping that is hard and beautiful.
Meg: Yes, so true. It’s dying to yourself and what your—even your dreams—some of our dreams are beautiful and God-given and, sometimes, cultivates those; and sometimes, we don’t see those things become a reality.
But you are right. It’s constantly saying, “Okay, Lord, whatever You have for me,”—whether that is today, this year, this season of life, or our entire life. Yes; coming back to that over and over again, I think the Lord keeps bringing us back to that, whether we see it as the blank page, back on our wedding day; or just those daily moments of: “Okay, do I trust You at this level, Lord,—
Meg: —“with whatever You have?”
Dave: You know, I have never—and maybe Ann has—I have never met another couple, who had gotten on their knees on their wedding night. I’m not even sure I’ve ever heard that. Again, I’m not saying it’s that unique.
Dave: But I think it’s sort of unique, so take us there.
David: Well, it was something that we planned. I bought this pillow that was like from Walmart.® I think it was a red king-sized pillow, like, “This will be our prayer pillow.”
Ann: —to kneel on?
David: —to kneel on.
Meg: It might have even been like a pregnancy body pillow. [Laughter]
David: It was huge.
Ann: Okay; I like that you have this forethought, though.
Dave: Wait; wait. You are carrying that up to the wedding suite/the honeymoon suite?
David: Well, I already had/you know, there was a little preparation, Dave! I had it in there already! It was a surprise. I mean, we knew we were going to commit to
Joshua 1:16 together; but I was like, “Hey, before we do anything else in our marriage, I want to get on our knees together.”
But what is also true and funny is that I don’t think we used that pillow another night. [Laughter] I had this vision of it being a permanent, in our closet, red pillow of prayer; and well, we used it that one night; and it was a great night.
Dave: That is pretty cool, actually.
David: It was advice from a mentor couple to the new husband.
If you are engaged/about to be married, get a small, thoughtful gift every day of the honeymoon. That was/someone told me—
Ann: What a great idea!
David: —that in passing. It made such a fun thing for a little surprise here or there.
Meg: That is so true. I think—it might have been the same couple—also encouraged us to pray every day, like, “Pray together every day in your marriage.”
David: It’s like a declaration of dependence and a declaration of really dying daily, of going, “Okay, God, my day is ending. My life tomorrow is Yours”; and we always pray about the next day.
Ann: Well, I remember—it was/actually, we were still on our honeymoon—we’d been married a week. I was young in my faith. Dave was young in his faith, too; but we were coming on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ®—Cru® now—but I woke up in the middle of the night on our honeymoon with this feeling of God is in the room. I felt like this holy moment. So much so, I got on my knees beside the bed. Dave was asleep; and I was just praying, “Lord, I feel like You want to speak to me.” I just had this impression in my mind to read the book of James.
I was young in my faith; so I’m like, “Oh, that must be like a happiness book of the Bible.” [Laughter] So the next day, Dave and I are talking. I said, “Hey, I had this experience last night; I felt this impression to read the book of James.” Dave says, “That’s all about trials. Why would we be reading about trials in our marriage?!”
Mind you, we had just prayed seven days earlier, “Lord, we give You our entire marriage, our lives, everything to glorify You.” What a sweet gift; because I remember thinking, “Why would He have us read that book?” Do you remember that? We read it on our honeymoon.
Dave: James 1: “Consider it all joy my brothers when you encounter various trials.” It sort of prepped us to understand that there are going to be trials in our marriage, and there is a joy that is literally possible—
Dave: —in the middle of it.
But I think we lost hope in terms of—God can fix us/God can help us—but He is not going to be able to use us. We sort of had a perspective back then: “God uses the good marriages. People, who go to church are good people; and they are not so messed up.”
Ann: —“and the people, who don’t have pasts, or they aren’t messed up like we are.”
Dave: Yes; so you sort of thought you sort of forfeited your right to be able to be used by God. Yet, we found: “Man, He meets us right there. And then, He actually uses it,”—because all the other couples are going through similar stuff. They want a couple who has been there; right?
David: That’s right. I mean, you look through all of Scripture—and God uses broken people that He redeems and restores and then uses them as agents of transformation and reconciliation—because they have been reconciled and can speak, firsthand, about it. That is what all of us, who are in Christ/we all have the Holy Spirit inside of us that He is doing this ongoing work. I mean, that second part of that verse of James1, verse4: “…so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
I think, as we think back to our wedding day, and we think back to those vows, you don’t think of all the trials that are coming, or the poor times, or the sick times; but yet, it is through those times of wilderness, or obscurity, or suffering that you are shaped into the likeness of Christ. We share in His suffering and are able to be agents of transformation to people around us. None of us want to go through those seasons; yet, it is because of those seasons that we end up, out of a really authentic place, pouring out Jesus to those people around us.
Meg: Yes, I think Joshua 1:16 says: “Whatever You command us, we will do. Wherever You send us, we will go.” A lot of times, we think of that in the physical sense. I think it has meant so much to us, over the years, that God started us out, in the beginning, saying, “Wherever You send us, we will go”; because I did grow up living in the same house my entire life until I went to college—we didn’t even move, much less move cities—and we [David and I] have moved a lot; God has called us several different places. It’s been hard to pack up and move, especially as we’ve had more children.
But I think, even more, even in the spiritual sense or the emotional sense—“Wherever You send us, we will go,”—even if it is into the valleys and into the depths of places that are painful and hard. We wish we weren’t there at times; but it’s like, “Okay, Lord, we will follow You even to those hard places”; because, like David was just saying, those are the things that shape us. We experience more of who He is even in those hard—actually, especially—it’s not really even in those places. I feel like, when you are in the depths and in the hard painful places, we experience even more of who God is.
Ann: I think, Meg, too, it is also, as we go into those valleys, we are exposed as people: we really see one another; we see each other’s weaknesses; we see our flaws; we see the past pain and how that has shaped us. I think to love each other, when we see the true—like, “Oh, I see your brokenness,”—and sometimes, you want to run away from, like, “Wait! I didn’t see that on our honeymoon day. What is that?” [Laughter]
Yet, God is continually asking: “Can you love her?” “Can you love him as you see the flaws?” That’s not always easy.
Dave: Is there a valley that you remember? Can you take us through one that was really hard for you?
Meg: When we had three children—so after our third was born—our oldest was barely three, so they were three and under. I mean, I think that the first two, you’re kind of living in a fog for a couple of months/whatever. With the third one, I think I was in the fog for ten months [Laughter]; but it was a tough time for me. I mean, I love our children—loved getting to be a mom—but they all needed me all the time. You know, it was physical needs constantly; and now, we have teenagers; and it is a totally different thing.
But at that time, we moved to Atlanta. David was travelling more; he was in a regional role with Cru. That meant I was at home with the kids by myself a lot. I realized I was starting to get so frustrated and bitter, because I wasn’t getting to do as much ministry anymore. Well, ministry just looked really different—it was investing in our children—but that meant changing diapers. It wasn’t like discipleship in the way that I was used to on college campuses before that.
David: Well, I remember driving to Wednesday night church; and I remember I had just gotten back from a trip, where I was coaching a campus. The couple who was in charge of that campus was having a pretty big crisis moment, and I was telling Meg a little bit about it. I just leaned over to her, and I go, “So does me talking that much about their marriage make you wonder about ours at all?” [Laughter] What I remember is that Meg just let out a “HUH!” I go, “Oh, we’ll talk about that after church.” [Laughter]
Meg: But I was/I mean, I was feeling that way. I think there were little things that I realized were starting to bother me so much that shouldn’t have. Like David would say, “Oh, I’ll be home by 6:15,”—anytime/any minute after 6:15, and I was coming undone—partly because, as a mom, you are surviving all day; and you’re thinking, “This is my moment.”
Ann: Meg, I am tracking with you. [Laughter]
Meg: Thank you; thank you. You know, at 6:16, 6:17, 6:30, and I am fuming by the time he gets home. I realized I was letting so much of that build up, and it was creating such division. Yes; so when he asked me that, that was just one example of things that I was getting overly angry about.
I was like, “Yes, we do. We need to really talk about how this is affecting us—new season of life, three small children, you’re travelling a lot—but what is happening between us, and how do we work through that?” It was a valley just created by circumstances—but my sin was totally getting in the way—and not going to him, and talking it out and having honest conversations about: “Hey, just don’t tell me what time you are going to be home, because it would be a lot better if you just say…”
David: —“let alone, pull in the driveway, and stay on your phone for ten more minutes”; you know? That was the worst.
Meg: Oh, that was bad. The dog’s going crazy.
David: But even in that season, it was small, simple steps; there was nothing dramatic. But there was a: “Okay; let’s own this. We want a great marriage, not just a good marriage.”
I remember one of the simple steps we took was: “Instead of going on Wednesday nights and going to hang out with other adults, eating dinner; let’s go to that marriage group.” It ended up being a really safe place that was one of things that God used to restore us in that season.
Dave: You know, as I’m listening, I’m thinking, “Your valley is your vehicle.” You know, as a preacher, it came to my mind. We’ve often said, “Your pain is your purpose.” I was thinking, “As you talk about that”—and we’ve talked about our valleys—it’s amazing how God often meets us there; but then says, “I actually want to use this moment/this season to help other families that are going through it.”
We didn’t talk about this—but it came to my mind—I love this passage. It’s one of the verses I didn’t understand for years; and now, I think I sort of do: 2 Corinthians 1:3, where Paul writes: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,”—listen to this—“who comforts us in all our troubles”—so that is in the valley—“so that”—it’s a purpose statement; it isn’t just so He can comfort us; there is a reason—“so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.”
You know, when you are in that moment—in fact, in our Vertical Marriage book, we called them/the season you are talking about—“the shadow of the valley of death.” [Laughter] You know, when you have little toddlers in the home, and you are exhausted, and you’re wife is coming home late or your husband’s coming home late; and you’re so mad because they are not there to be a partner with you. It’s a hard season; but the thing we never understood is God will actually use that valley as the vehicle in your life to minister to others. Here we are; we are sitting in this studio. There are families in that valley right now.
All I can say—and we already said this earlier—here is my application: “Get on your knees together, tonight, as a couple.” Ann said to me three months ago, “We should start praying again on our knees at the foot of our bed.” We started doing it. I would love to tell you, right now, we are doing it every night; we’re not. But I tell you, the other night—you know, we’re in bed—and I jumped out of bed. I went down to my knees, and she literally goes, “Are you on your knees! Oh, my goodness!”
Ann: It was dark; I couldn’t see him. [Laughter]
Dave: She runs down there. It reminded me how much your partner wants to pray with you. I mean, she literally jumps out of bed. We pray for 30 seconds/a minute. It’s not like this big thing; but it’s like a bonding moment—
Dave: —vertically—but it’s horizontal, because you are doing it together. I think that helps you get through the valleys.
If there is anything I can say to a couple, listening right now: “Get on your knees together tonight. Maybe, start a practice.” If your spouse won’t do it, you do it;—
Dave: —because you can pray for you, and you can pray for God’s comfort to meet you in this marriage. I bet you God’s going to meet you, and then actually use you to help others.
Bob: When we go through challenging seasons in our marriage, it really reveals where our hope is/where our source of strength is. Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, that: “When the rains come and the storms blow, it will be evident whether your house is built on sand or built on a rock.” It’s so important for us to make sure that we are building our relationship on the rock of God’s Word/on our relationship with Him.
Our friends, Jeff and Sarah Walton, have written a book called Together Through the Storms, biblical encouragement for facing challenges in marriage. We’ve got copies of their book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. For those of you who are in the midst of a storm, or want to prepare for the storm, you can get a copy of the book. Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY to request your copy. Again, the number is 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, here at FamilyLife, everything we do is to help get you ready for the challenging moments you are going to face in marriage. Our goal is to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We want your marriage/your family to stand strong in the storms. We trust that these daily times together—as you tune into FamilyLife Today, as you listen to the podcast, as you take advantage of resources we offer, or attend the events that we host—we trust that all of these efforts are helping you to build your marriage/your relationship on a solid foundation/on a biblical foundation. FamilyLife Today exists to provide practical biblical help and hope for your marriage and your family to effectively develop godly marriages and families that can change the world one home at a time.
These last few weeks of 2021 are significant for our ministry. Hearing from listeners over the next few weeks will determine for us just how aggressively we are able to move forward in the new year to continue providing this daily radio program, the resources you depend on, the events that you look forward to. The real issue is: “How many marriages and families will be impacted in the year ahead?” A lot of that comes down to what we hear from listeners over the next few weeks.
We’re asking all of you to consider making a generous yearend contribution—be as generous as you can be—the reason for that is because there is a matching-gift fund that has been made available to us: $1.5 million in matching funds that are available. We need to hear from listeners, like you, to take advantage of those matching funds. Whatever donation you make, we’ll receive an equal amount from the matching-gift fund; your donation will be effectively doubled.
You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate by phone. When you do, we’ll send you a copy of Dane Ortlund’s new book called In the Lord I Take Refuge, 150 devotions from the book of Psalms. It’s our thank-you gift to you when you make a yearend donation, and we look forward to hearing from you. Again, donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
And be sure to join us tomorrow. We’re going to hear from David and Meg Robbins about when they received the news that one of their children would be born with special needs, and we’ll hear about how that impacted their relationship with one another. I hope you can tune in for that.
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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