REFLECTIONS ~ Confronting My Fear ~ July 2007

March 6, 2009

            I shouldn’t have fear, but sometimes I do. I should be secure, but sometimes I’m not. I believe in a loving God who watches over me. I believe in the resurrection of the dead. What do I have to worry about? I have normal concerns about money, health and aging. But there has been something else that has made me uncomfortable and I think I now know why. 

            Frank Seekins had suggested marriage counseling with Kristina and me on a couple of occasions. I had put him off. Though I have counseled people in all kinds of circumstances, counseling for our marriage makes me uncomfortable. It is one thing to give advice to others, but another thing to receive it.

            I’m not a typical guy when it comes to asking for help. I have no problem asking for directions. I have been lost in the city, lost in the forest, and lost in foreign countries. When I’m lost, I ask for help. I did discover in France, however, that I needed to ask at least three different people when I wanted directions. The French like sending Americans on wild goose chases.

            I had a little construction company when I was twenty, but I didn’t know much about building things. So, when I got a job laying bricks, I went to the masonry company and asked the man behind the counter how to mix mortar and set bricks. When the complexity of building stairs stumped me, I went to the lumber yard and found a man who could explain to me how to build them.

            I was the senior pastor of our church in Novato at the age of twenty-six. I had never led a church before. We prayed and fasted, seeking God’s guidance. I went to conferences looking for wisdom. I asked older pastors to tell me anything they could that would help me be more effective.

            I don’t mind the pastors on our staff pointing out my faults. I get frustrated with myself and it is understandable that they get frustrated with me. I was raised in a family where everyone spoke their mind. I would rather someone tell me to my face what they think than hear it from another source.

            However, when it comes to asking for help for our marriage, I have been insecure. In 1981, Carol Wise came to me and said, “I am fasting and praying that you and Kristina will join our marriage growth group.”

            “Carol, please don’t do that,” I replied. “We have a good marriage and I’m really busy.”

            She was using one of my own tactics against me. Praying, with fasting no less, to get me to do something I absolutely didn’t want to do. I was concerned that she would talk to Kristina and the pressure to join the group would start mounting. They might think it was good to talk to a group about your problems, but I didn’t want to do that. Besides, we didn’t have many problems since I had become more sensitive.

            Kristina shocked me one day when we had been married about seven years. We had three beautiful children. We had just bought our first house. Our church was challenging, but going well. We had little fights from time to time, but I was stunned when she said, “I’m just not happy with our marriage.”

            One other time a year or so before that, she had said something similar about being disappointed in our relationship. I got angry and told her how hard I was working. I reminded her that she managed all our money and I didn’t spend it on myself. I was faithful to her and came home every night. I loved her and I was doing my best to be a good provider and husband. What more did she want? She cried and I was upset, but I thought we had worked through it.

            This time I didn’t remind her how much I was doing, I listened to her disappointment. She scared me. I knew she loved the Lord. I believed she loved me. But I realized she was at a breaking point. She told me that sometimes she felt like she was losing her mind. Our three children were under six years old, and Matthew woke up every night unable to breathe with asthma. Getting up in the middle of the night with Matt, having three meetings a week in our house, living on a tight budget, and me working seven days a week, were all taking a toll on our marriage.

             So I became more sensitive. I started washing more dishes and helping around the house. I was careful not to complain if dinner wasn’t cooked just right. I encouraged Kristina to relax and take more breaks. I thought everything was fine.

            Though she never mentioned her disappointment again, Kristina was still hoping for more in our marriage. When Carol told her about the marriage group, she told me how much she wanted us to go. I reminded her how much I had changed, but she was resolute. She really wanted to join the group, so my resolve crumbled.

            We met with several other couples in a marriage “growth group” led by Ken and Diane Searle, who were also pastors at the Open Door Church. Ken and Diane would start our sessions by discussing a conflict they were dealing with in their marriage. I can’t remember what their issues were, I only remember my reaction. Their honesty and openness was refreshing and disarming. One of my fears before joining the group was that our weaknesses would disqualify me in the eyes of other leaders. Pastors are supposed to be able to lead their own families or they are not qualified to lead the church. My reaction to the Searles was the opposite of what I expected. They were dealing with the same struggles we were, mostly petty arguments caused by a lack of sensitivity. Yet I trusted them more than ever because of their honesty and openness.

            Two important things happened as a result of our thirteen weeks in that group. Kristina felt more loved and secure in our marriage because she could talk about our struggles openly. And I learned that sharing honestly helps others trust you more, not less.

            I admit that there were a few weeks that I asked Kristina on the way to the meeting, “Is there anything upsetting you that you would like to tell me about right now?” I was hoping I could ask her forgiveness quickly so we could simply say everything was great when it was our turn to share in the group. She would smile and wait until we arrived.

            The lessons we learned served us well for many years. We have attended several marriage groups and seminars since then. Some have been more helpful than others, but each of them had value. Our marriage isn’t perfect, but by the grace of God we weathered many storms and have enjoyed life together. So I was surprised when Frank asked us if we would like some counseling sessions with him. He told me that he likes to help good marriages become great. I suggested we get a small group together. He agreed to that, but the other couples I tried to recruit wouldn’t make the commitment.

            My defenses weakened as I examined my excuses for putting Frank off. Tiger Woods, the world’s greatest golfer, has a swing coach. What am I afraid of? I learned more in six golf lessons than I had in six years of practicing on my own. Having a great marriage should be more important than golf, or my pride. So we invited Frank over to our house.

            He began our first session by asking Kristina, “Do you think Mark really loves you?”

            “Yes, absolutely he does.”

            “Do you always feel like he loves you?”

            The moments of awkward silence became painful. I was caught off guard. It never occurred to me that there was a difference between knowing someone loves you and feeling loved by that person. No wonder my friends didn’t want to be a part of this group.

            The gap between Kristina knowing she is loved and feeling loved is part of what Frank is teaching us. I’m learning the way she processes her feelings while making a decision. We are learning to communicate in ways that give us a better connection. Explaining the way men and women think and feel is Frank’s specialty. He has insights that I never knew existed. It is his gift and he shares it without judgment or condemnation. The pain of our first session quickly faded. The subsequent sessions have opened up a window into a new world. It seems amazing that after thirty-four years we can still grow and learn more about each other.

            The discipline of the Lord is painful, but it helps us grow. It is not meant to belittle us; it is designed to bring us into righteousness and peace. The bible says a husband should lay down his life for his wife. One of the hardest things for us to lay down is our pride. Pride builds walls that divide us. If we want all the Lord has for our marriage and our lives, we will humble ourselves and seek wisdom.

            My experience in recommending counselors and seeking wisdom is that most counselors do great with certain people, fair with others, and strike out with a few. The same is true whether you are going to a swing coach, an investment advisor, or a pastor. We each have gifts and needs. We all have strengths as well as blind spots. God has given different gifts and insights to members of the body of Christ, so that we help each other grow in wisdom and maturity.

            I wish I had taken golf lessons years ago. I did not let others teach me because I thought I could figure it out on my own. I’ve since learned that good intentions with poor techniques produce bad results, in golf and in life. I also wish I had sought out wisdom for our marriage more diligently. Now that I know it is available, I’m going to keep seeking it.

       God’s wisdom can be discovered if we look in the right places. It can be found in the scriptures as well as in people who have grace. The Lord delights in revealing the truth that sets people free. Love and humility are keys that open up the treasures of God’s kingdom. They free us from the fears that can keep us bound up. If we really seek God and love one another, we will find Jesus Christ. He is the treasure of God. 

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