Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Leslie Basham: Is your marriage strong enough to go through dry times? Here’s Dennis Rainey.

Dennis Rainey: When you go through a period of intense suffering, there isn’t room for romance. And there’s where the culture lies to us, because a lot of life is going to be lived in the midst of storms.

That’s why your house has to be built on Jesus Christ and the commitment, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps. 127:1 NASB). I think this area of marriage gets idealized to the point of not even thinking through what’s going to come at you as a couple in life.

You say, “for better or for worse,” but then what do you do when it happens? A lot of life is lived outside of that romantic ideal that Hollywood tells us exists all the time.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Lies Women Believe. It’s Monday, January 2, 2017. Happy New Year!

Imagine what your marriage could be like if you were purposefully developing intimacy over these next twelve months. Today’s program will show you how.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is talking with Dennis and Barbara Rainey about developing greater intimacy in marriage. Dennis and Barbara founded the ministry FamilyLife and Dennis serves as president.

This conversation began when Nancy and Barbara were discussing Barbara’s book, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife. They invited Dennis to the platform and put him on the spot. If you have younger kids with you, be aware they talk about physical closeness between a husband and wife.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: I told Robert, as I was reading this book, “Honey, this book is gonna make me an incredible wife!” [laughter] He already thinks I am an incredible wife, but I want to be always growing and learning about how to better serve and bless him and how our marriage can better reflect the gospel of Christ. So I was eager to read this book. 

I’ve been loving this conversation with Barbara. The book is called Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife. It is a treasure trove from cover to cover. It looks beautiful; it’s beautiful to hold; it’s beautiful to look at. But it’s even more beautiful to read and to ponder, to meditate on, to get these things into your heart.

We’re offering this book this week to our listeners who make a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts. Sending you this book is our way of saying "thank you" for your support of this ministry.

Being with Barbara has been a treat, and today we’re joined by her husband, Dennis Rainey. Dennis and Barbara, welcome to Revive Our Heart. I’ve been in the “hot seat” a lot of times at FamilyLife, our sister ministry, and now today it’s a joy to have you here on our turf at Revive Our Hearts.

Dennis: I’m a minority in a sorority. What can I say? [laughter]

Nancy: You sure are! We’ve got a roomful of women here. You and my husband, sitting in the back row . . .

Dennis: Thank you, Robert, for showing back up! [laughter]

Nancy: We’ve been hearing Barbara’s perspective on marriage; she writes from her perspective. But one of the things you do so well, Barbara, in this book is you give us a perspective—not only through your own eyes—but through your husband’s eyes, as you’ve learned to know him, to understand him in these years.

And so I thought it would be great as we get to this particular topic today, to be able to hear from you together as a couple. So, here we go.

You have a lot of different images in this book: “Marriage is like . . .” It’s like fine cuisine; it’s like architecture; it’s like photography, and then you come to a chapter that marriage is like a secret garden.

Barbara Rainey: I’m going to tell you, real quick, the story about this chapter. When I was thinking about an analogy for this chapter, I remembered a story my girls and I used to read (the boys weren’t so much into this book, but the girls were). There was also a movie about it. 

The book was called The Secret Garden. It’s a story about a little girl named Mary Lennox, who was orphaned at the age of nine, and she was sent back to live with an uncle in England. When she got to his place, it was this great house with many, many rooms.

She began to explore this house, and she thought she was the only person in the house other than her uncle. She discovered, after a while, that she wasn’t. But in the process of exploring the house and exploring the grounds, she found a garden. The garden had a big wall around it, and it was overgrown with weeds.

As she dug around it, day after day, she finally found a door—and then one day she found the key. She took that key and she opened the door to that secret garden and walked in. Inside she found what was once a beautiful garden, with pathways and beautiful plants that were now overgrown.

The tree that was the centerpiece of the garden had broken limbs. There was trash lying all around. And she had this vision of what it could be again. Then she made friends with a boy who was the son of the gardener.

Together, the two of them set out to clean up that garden and make it beautiful again. And so, the story of the book unfolds as these children transform this secret garden that was broken down and in disrepair, and brought it back to the glory of what it was once intended to be.

I use that story for the introduction and the theme for the chapter in which I talk about sex, because sex is the secret garden of our marriages. It’s the place where only the two of us go; no one else goes with us. It’s meant to be behind the walls; it’s meant to be closed with a lock and a key.

And many of us entering marriage find that our secret garden is much like the one Mary Lennox discovered. It has broken places. There are a lot of limbs lying around; there are a lot of things that are damaged.

And so it takes the work of two and the commitment of a marriage relationship to restore that secret garden to what God intended it to be in the first place. That’s the story of that chapter.

Nancy: And it’s a word picture that actually has a basis in Scripture. We read in the Song of Solomon this magnificent marriage story—a story of love and romance and intimacy—where the bridegroom says to his bride, “You are like a secret garden” . . . a garden shut up, that’s locked.

And that story is the story of how to get into each other’s garden—how to get to know each other in the way that is most intimate, so that the husband and wife find together safety, healing, fruitfulness, blessing, joy in a place that, for so many people, is a place of pain and brokenness and frustration.

I love the way that you, in this book, open up God’s purposes and God’s plan for something that for a lot of women and men is not a place of joy, but a place of pain. So as you think about your journey as a couple in this area, talk about some of the challenges that you faced early on in marriage, in coming to see physical intimacy from God’s point of view.

I’m going to start with the husband. I want to hear from a man’s perspective what we as women need to hear and understand from our husbands.

Dennis: Well, the process in Genesis 2 is “leave, cleave, and receive.” “The two shall become one.” The problem with the culture today is that they’re becoming one without the process of leaving and cleaving, without—not just a formality, but changing loyalties from family to a spouse and then cleaving and making a commitment.

I think the garden is a great illustration—especially back to the story Barbara was telling—because it’s the walls around the relationship that give the safety for two broken people to explore. You’re not going to do it perfectly. There’s where the covenant of marriage . . . Barbara and I are extremely passionate about this. 

Calling couples to truly forge a covenant means “until death do us part. We’re not going anywhere else; we’re not going to leave. We’re staying here.” And that means, when it gets tough, when it’s not perfect, when it’s not this Hollywood romance (like we’re led to believe it always will be—it’s not) . . .

It’s not just that way in real life. You’ve got dirty diapers and kids and interruptions and health issues and business challenges. But it’s the covenant of marriage that builds the wall so the couple can begin to explore the intimacies of marriage together and be able to fail, yet get back up continue on in their relationship.

Nancy: And within that covenant, help us unpack why the physical oneness—physical intimacy—is such an important part of that.

Dennis: I think God, in His ingenuity . . . I don’t think we have any idea what He’s up to. When He calls two people away from having been in their families growing up, to leave those families, to declare a fresh new loyalty, and then to make a commitment and begin the process of a lifetime—of becoming one. I think it’s emotional, it’s spiritual, it is physical. But I think it’s a mirror of something that is even far greater, even in heaven.

Nancy: Now, you’re speaking from the vantage point of forty-three years of marriage and having worked through a lot of challenges and hurdles, so this is a seasoned married couple speaking to us today. But if you could take us back to your early years of marriage, you share pretty transparently in this book, Barbara, that you both brought fears and baggage and failure into your marriage.

How did that impact you when it comes to this whole thing of physical intimacy?

Barbara: Well, I don’t think our experience is that unusual—sadly—from the experience of so many today, because I think all of us come into marriage damaged. Even if we weren’t personally damaged or hurt in a dating relationship or a family relationship, we are all impacted by the damage of sin.

So we all come with that, we all come with shame. But we also, most of us, come with some kind of baggage—some kind of damage—from past dating relationships or family relationships or just really, really wrong perspectives about what this is all about.

We were that way, too. I think the early years of our marriage—so much of it—was just understanding what we were each bringing to the relationship, and how we were both so different . . . how we both approached it so differently.

I had issues of trust, not being able to trust him. I did trust him, but it was not what it is today. That had to grow. Trust is a capacity that grows in any marriage. We think we really trust one another when we get married, but we find those places where it’s hard to trust once we get in the marriage.

We have to explore, “Why is it hard to trust? What is at the root of this which requires more conversation?” And we had lots of conversations. You have to figure out what it is that is making trust a challenge for me or for him and then, “How can we cover that?” How can we heal that area so that, then, trust is allowed to grow, so that we trust one another more than we did when we started?

So trust is a commodity in marriage that isn’t automatic. Most of us come with some level of trust-deficiency that has to be repaired so that trust can grow and come to the level that God wants it to be, and that takes many, many years.

Dennis: And that’s why fidelity is so important, both just in your marriage (to not have someone outside the marriage) but also like pornography today. Emotional infidelity breaks down that trust and makes oneness more challenging.

Every marriage is either moving toward oneness, or it’s moving toward isolation. I think it really is upon the man to, again, build those fences around the relationship that do allow trust to be established. And then, if it is broken—if they do fail—they confess that.

Every marriage is either moving toward oneness, or it’s moving toward isolation.

There’s one other dimension of this, Nancy, that occurred early in our marriage. It’s just called “real life.” We get married, and we think it’s going to be a honeymoon. We know it’s not—theoretically. It’s not going to be a long honeymoon “forever and ever.” 

But we get married, and then we experience real life. For us, there was the period of a year where we moved for the fifth time in six years. We had kids (we’d had two children). We’d been cheated out of money in a home we moved into. We got the only short paychecks we’ve ever received in forty-six years of being in ministry—so we had financial challenges. My father died, and there was a need to go back and care for my mom. All these things happened in a year. We had a son who needed emergency surgery. Then Barbara’s heart took off racing and raced for over three-hundred beats per minute for over eight hours. So she was near death, and I was outside in the coronary care area wondering what I was going to do as a single parent with two kids ages two and under.

When you go through a period of intense suffering, there isn’t room for romance, and there’s where the culture lies to us. A lot of life, as explained in this book, is going to be in the midst of storms. That’s why your house has to be built on Jesus Christ and the commitment.

“Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Ps. 127:1). I think this area of marriage gets idealized to the point of not even thinking through what’s going to come at you as a couple in life. You say, “for better or for worse,” but then, what do you do when it happens?

I remember sitting in our living room listening to a praise song, just going, “Okay, God, there’s no emotion, there is no romance, there’s just a commitment to You and a commitment to Barbara. We’re not quitting, but there is no romance right now.” A lot of life is lived outside of that romantic ideal that Hollywood tells us exists all the time.

Nancy: And yet, in the midst of real life . . . you talk in this book about how important it is to prioritize physical intimacy . . . along with all these other areas you’re talking about. But you related back to those years when you had a lot of little children, had a young marriage. 

You were tired all the time and, at times, you said you felt a whole lot greater need for sleep than for sex, and that physical intimacy, often for you as a wife, felt like it was at the bottom of your “to do” list. And yet it was important not to put that off until your children were grown. 

Dennis: I can attest to that! [laughter]

Barbara: Yeah, it’s a very unromantic concept, to schedule being together intimately, but we did. We had to talk about it and say, “We’ve got to plan for this,” because I knew that it was important to the health of our relationship to keep that aspect of our relationship alive.

One of the radio guests we had a few years ago (I mention this in the book) came and talked about the chemical things that happen when a married couple has sex together. Those chemicals are released, and they increase the bonding between you as a man and a woman.

What that does is, even if you don’t have great sex (and a lot of times in marriage, it’s not great. A lot of times it’s mediocre; a lot of times it’s not even good! But those chemicals are released. And I like that, I like that God has a benefit in our experiences that are less than stellar.

We’re all conditioned from Hollywood and the culture to think that it’s always going to be easy and it’s always going to be fireworks. Well, it’s not always going to be easy, and it’s not always going to be fireworks—but it is important to keep it alive. Why? Because we need that connection. We need that relationship, we need that bonding.

Quite honestly, it is the bonding that oftentimes is the result. So we would hit seasons when we were not together very often, and we would look at each other and we’d have these conversations and we’d say, “Okay, we’re going to have to figure this out. When can we be together?” We didn’t write in on the calendar, but we literally put it on the mental calendar. 

Dennis: Yes, absolutely! And here’s the thing: it’s not wrong to schedule romance. We’d put our kids to bed, and I would cook dinner, and Barbara would kind of take a little bit of the evening off. I’d prepare the food, and then we’d actually have a special meal in our bedroom.

Sometimes getting a babysitter and running around going to a restaurant really kind of defeats romance. So find a way to figure out how you meet, how you rendezvous, and then make it happen. That’s why scheduling retreats some kind of marriage retreat two or three times a year is not out of the question.

Two or three nights away from the kids. Actually, we found that three nights away was ideal for us. I realize some people can’t do that.

Barbara: And it didn’t always happen for us either, but you have to be proactive about keeping your marriage healthy and growing, and this is one of the areas that you can’t ignore. If you’re intentional about keeping this area of your marriage alive, and you’re intentional about spending time as a couple, then your relationship can continue to grow and thrive.

Nancy: One of the challenges you talk about is how men and women view sexual intimacy differently. How does that look different for a man than for a woman, and how do you help come to understand what this means to your mate?

Barbara: I write about that in one of the chapters. You’ll have to read it. I’ll say a few things, but it really is important to read it. It was very hard for me as a woman (and I would suspect that this is true for all of you here today and those of you who are listening) to know what it’s like to be a man. 

Nancy: It’s impossible [for us women] to know what it’s like to be a man!

Barbara: Correct. And it’s impossible for him to know what it’s like to be a woman. Women view sex differently than men do. We have more of an emotional need than we do a physical need. That doesn’t mean the physical need doesn’t exist, it just means that the emotional need is greater in women than it is in men.

In men, the need is more physical than it is emotional. That doesn’t mean it’s not emotional, it just means that there’s a difference between the two of is. And so, coming to understand our needs—the basis for them—why we feel the way we feel, again, takes lots of conversation and lots of interaction. It also takes acceptance for the way God made us as different people.

I came to learn to appreciate the way my husband was made, the way he was wired, the way God built him together as a man. I had to give thanks for that and welcome it and appreciate it, because God is in control and He’s in charge and He’s sovereign—and none of this is a mistake.

Nancy: And if you, conversely, belittle that or disrespect it, what does that do to a husband?

Dennis: Well, it repels him and it crushes him as a man. I mean, sex is very risky for a man.

Barbara: I don’t think women understand that, either. It’s a part of the way we’re so different.

Dennis: Part of how I would explain it is, Barbara is a magnet to me. She is designed as a magnet, to draw me from all over the places I go—either on a daily basis to the office, or from around the country, to just come back home.

I’ll never forget, back in the years when we had the Weekend to Remember conference and we couldn’t afford to take our wives. On Saturday night I went to bed, and Barbara was home, and I called her on the phone to find out how she and the kids were doing, and we talked for a while.

I turned on a movie on TV (and obviously had hung up from talking with her). I was watching the movie, and the phone rang. (I’ll never forget this. It was Kansas City, like 1981. We’d been married less than ten years at that point.) I picked up the phone, and it was a woman on the other end.

She says, “Hi, what are you doing?”

“Well, I’m watching a movie.”

“Can I come up?” she said.

I said, “I don’t think that would be a good idea.”

She said, “Well, why?”

I said, “Well, I’m happily married.” And, at that moment, I really do remember thinking about, I’m married to a magnet, and I want to protect the trust I have with her. I also have a family, and it’s a family built on trust. “It takes two to tango, here, and we’ve got the tango going, and I want to keep it going.” And I said, “The second reason why it wouldn’t be a good idea for you to come up is, the movie I’m watching is The Ten Commandments.” [laughter] And I hung up the phone. That’s a true story.

But think about it ladies: your husband needs one magnet that draws him from all over. You are the only one, just as she [Barbara] is the only one and was designed by God to be the only one, to go into the secret garden with and to explore and to enjoy each other.

I think Hollywood makes too much of sex. I think many times the religious community, the Christian community, is ashamed to talk about it. I love what Dr. Howard Hendricks said: “We should not be ashamed to discuss that which God was not ashamed to create.”

And we need to be talking to our kids about this so they have more of a holistic, family-centered view of intimacy in marriage as well.

Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with Dennis and Barbara Rainey, co-founders of FamilyLife.

To hear more helpful, biblical insight on marriage from Barbara, I hope you’ll get a copy of her book, Letters to My Daughters: The Art of Being a Wife. This is a comfortable read because the book unfolds as a series of letters Barbara wrote to her daughters and their friends. Do you ever wish you had a more experienced woman to pass along practical wisdom? This book is the answer to that wish.

We’d like to send you a copy when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any amount. You can call with your donation to 1–800–569–5959 or visit ReviveOurHearts.com. We’ll send one book for your donation of any amount this week.

Thanks also to everyone who supported Revive Our Hearts last month during a matching challenge. We’re still waiting for paper mail to come in before tallying the final result. You can find the latest updates at ReviveOurHearts.com. Thanks for making Revive Our Hearts possible.

Tomorrow, Dennis and Barbara will tell you how to fight isolation in marriage and develop greater intimacy.

Dennis: To give up on it and to hang it up because it’s been difficult or it’s not easy—you wouldn’t do that in your spiritual lives. Why would you do it here?

Leslie: Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

 

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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