The Blessings of a Poured Out Marriage
About the Guest
Author Jonathan Pitts reflects on his marriage to his now deceased wife, Wynter, and the conflict that showed up early and often in their relationship. He recalls her telling him that her idea of a husband was a man who would spoil her like Richard Gere did for Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman" and his idea of a wife was someone who would care for him like his mom did. Neither were right. Pitts tells how they learned that for marriage to work, both husband and wife have to empty themselves of "me" so that they can love each other better and become a united "we."
Jonathan Pitts reflects on his marriage to his now deceased wife, Wynter, and the conflict that showed up early and often in their relationship.
The Blessings of a Poured Out Marriage
Bob: Early in his relationship with Wynter—his girlfriend, who would become his wife—Jonathan Pitts said something that, years later, he realized was just wrong.
Jonathan: We’re 21 years old; I think, in a moment of weakness, where it’s like an intimate conversation about the future, I just said to her, “Hey, it’ll really be hard for me to love you if you ever get fat.” [Gasps] I thought—yes, yes; it was bad.
The good thing is—once you grow up on the inner streets of the city of Baltimore—it didn’t phase her, not one bit. She was just highly offended and gave me a few choice words. It exposed this idolatry that I had, and this image-consciousness, and ugh!—yuckiness.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 21st. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. When we’re young, we still have a lot to learn about healthy relationships, and a lot to learn about how we give grace to one another when we blow it. We’ll hear more about that today from Jonathan Pitts. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve talked a little bit about this—you’re not both loud in conflict; right?
Dave: My wife’s a lot louder than I am, Bob—a lot louder. [Laughter]
Bob: Have you gotten louder over the years?
Dave: Oh, have I gotten louder? I don’t know. Honey?—I’m getting pretty loud right now! [Laughter] I have my moments, you know; but she’s a fiery little pepper pot over there.
Ann: I’m hearing these quiet women and I’m like, “Oh, I wish I was that”; but I’m not. [Laughter]
Bob: Part of the reason I’m asking is because we’ve got Jonathan Pitts joining us, again, today. Jonathan, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Jonathan: Thanks for having me.
Bob: Jonathan is an executive pastor of Church of the City in Nashville, Tennessee. Jonathan is a speaker; he’s a writer. He and his wife Wynter—who, as we’ve already shared this week, went to be with the Lord last year—right before she went home, they wrote a book called Emptied: Experiencing the Fullness of a Poured-Out Marriage.
You are both loud?
Jonathan: No; I’m loud, and she preferred me not to be loud. [Laughter] She was, actually—Wynter was really quiet, and she had very few words. When she spoke—my sisters would describe it as, “When Wynter would speak, you would listen; because if she spoke, she meant to speak, and it wasn’t just rambling.”
Bob: Your early relationship—did conflict show up early?
Jonathan: Yes; it showed up early and often in our early relationship. [Laughter] It typically looked like me trying to force a conversation and her trying to withdraw from that conversation. It was probably a conversation that needed to happen, but my tone was not one that was helpful to her.
She grew up, and her dad was a drug addict. She grew up with her mom and her grandmom in a house. Her mom and her grandmom both gave their lives to the Lord in 1979, the year before she was born. She grew up in a Christian home/very warm environment—inner city of Baltimore; lots of craziness going on around her home—but in her home, it was warm. But there was no father figure in there; so even the nature of that voice for her—it wasn’t one that she was used to in marriage. It was something I had to learn—to kind of bring my tone down.
I grew up in a family—twin brother, three sisters—everybody’s fighting and jockeying for position; you know? [Laughter] We had two very different environments; so that was a struggle, early on—was just figuring out how to communicate well.
Dave: I love the honesty in your book. Immediately, I’m like, “This is a couple that’s going to let us in their marriage—slamming doors, fights, the whole thing.” The story, early in your marriage, where she got lost—tell that.
Jonathan: Wynter—she wasn’t a girl who was good at like following directions or even knowing where she was. In fact, she hated South Jersey, which is a rural part of South Jersey; because there’s no streetlights, and there’s circles, and all this stuff. She leaves because of a fight, and gets out of the house. The reality was—she didn’t know where she was going, so she has to call me for directions to get home. [Laughter]
For me, leaving wasn’t an option. I think, for Wynter, it was kind of fight-or-flight kind of a deal. She grew up; her dad left, and that was one of the struggles she had, early in marriage; but it wasn’t for me. I looked—I watched my parents, who have now been married, 45 years, I think—something like that. There’s going to be intenseness there—there’s going to be all that—but leaving’s never an option.
Ann: How did you work that out when one of you would kind of shut down? Wynter was more quiet, so she would get quiet. Did that frustrate you? How did you guys work that out?
Jonathan: Early on, it would frustrate me. I would just keep trying to assert myself and force myself—and not like horrible ways—but just not in a way that was mature. Even my intensity I talk with right now—like I just have that about me, so I had to learn to temper that. The more I did, the more she would receive anything that I had to offer.
She also had to learn to kind of step up to the table, even when she didn’t want to.
Ann: Open up.
Jonathan: Yes; we met in the middle.
Bob: The title of the book is Emptied. The big idea is that, for marriage to work, we have to go through this process/this ongoing process of emptying the us—not the us—the me. Empty the me out of the relationship so that we can love one another better. In a moment like this, where there’s conflict—and one’s walking out or the other’s walking out—that’s where you have to pull back and go: “Where’s the selfishness in that? Where’s the me that is the problem?” and “How do I empty that?”
We’re talking to people, who have been in conflict in the last 24 hours, who have, maybe, not recognized the me in the middle of that. What do they do when they’re in those moments? How do you drain the me out so you can be emptied?
Jonathan: The book is really based on Philippians 2:7—it is, although Jesus was equal with God, He didn’t take His equality with God as something to be grasped, but became a servant, humbled Himself to the point of obedience and death on a cross. It’s kind of taken from this idea of Jesus—who had every right to stay kind of up here—basically comes down to meet somebody that didn’t deserve to be met—in us.
The idea is—to be Christ-like is to get rid of anything that would be any reason or any excuse as to why we can’t come down to meet in any relationship—but specifically, in marriage, to meet our spouse. Honestly, the goal is emptying ourselves. We thought of a couple things we’d be full of that would need to be emptied: The first was sin—like sin that we brought into our marriage—ugly sin/just sin—we’re human; we all bring it in—history, which we all bring in; and then expectations, which we all bring in.
How do you begin to empty yourselves of those things in order to be filled up?—to be filled up with the Spirit?—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control, which God can’t do if you’re full of all this other stuff and all these reasons as to why you can’t.
Dave: Talk to the person—and it would probably be me—[Laughter]—that is going, “I want to empty; I really—I value what you’re saying. I do want to empty myself and get rid of the me, and love her, and love anybody the way they deserve; but I can’t. I just get stuck.” How do I empty myself?
Jonathan: Yes; well, first, it’s like we end the book by talking about just this reality that you can only do it, looking at Jesus—like looking at Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of your faith. You, literally, have to look to Him as the solution; because in terms of the world, we can all do marriage pretty okay; but to do what God’s asked us to do and become a we?—like that’s not happening without Jesus.
I would say, “Leaning into Jesus, first and foremost—it’s the nature of the task we’re being asked to do—we can’t do it alone.” I would say, “Lean into God.”
Ann: One of your chapter titles is called “God’s Kingdom Purposes.” You say our marriages are about building God’s kingdom. What does that mean? What does that look like?
Jonathan: The reality of your marriage/my marriage is—it’s not about us at all; it’s all about God. It’s His story that we get to participate in.
One of the things that Wynter and I—not only in our marriage but, also, as we raised our kids—is have this perspective that: “Our marriage isn’t about us. Our life isn’t about us. Our kids aren’t about us. It’s all about God’s purposes.” When you do that, you actually begin to let go of some of the expectations that you have for you; because you realize you’re not there for you in the first place. It changes your perspective just a little bit.
Bob: I have to tell you—this has been one of those “ah-ha’s” for me. You’d think, after almost 40 years of marriage, I’d have gotten this quicker. The first phase of our marriage, I was thinking, “Okay; am I happy?” And then I recognized the Bible doesn’t ask that question; it says: “Is your wife happy? Are you serving her? Are you emptying yourself and serving her?” I spent a lot of time thinking, “If what I am doing is making Mary Ann happy, then God is pleased.”
And then, all of a sudden, I woke up and went: “No; the real question is—not if I’m happy or if she’s happy—but: ‘Is God happy? Are we living our marriage so that, at the end of the day, He is going, ‘”I am pleased with what’s going on here”?’” Sometimes, Him being pleased means one of the two of us is not happy; but ultimately, if we both agree that’s what we want to make happen—we want God to be happy with our marriage—so that brings both of us back into alignment.
When things are out of alignment, we can say: “Okay; God’s not pleased with us being out of alignment, because He wants oneness in our marriage. How do we recalibrate so that He’s pleased with what’s going on here?”
Jonathan: Yes; I think it takes it back to purpose. If you think about the Scripture that says, “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross,”—like Jesus didn’t come to just hang out; He had a purpose in coming to earth. “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross,”—He went through all the things He had to go through in order to accomplish the purpose that He came for.
I think the same is true in marriage—like if we have this perspective—that we’re not looking for our own happiness; our spouse isn’t looking for their own happiness—we’re both looking for joy that comes with the purpose of serving whatever purpose God’s given us, then it gives us more energy for the struggle; because there is struggle involved. It’s going to come with God’s grace, but it ends with joy. Right now, I don’t look at my book; I don’t look at my marriage; I don’t look at what we had—and think about what’s ended. I think about the joy that God gave us in the struggle, working through, day by day. We were doing that until the end.
Thinking about God’s purpose will change your perspective on anything/everything else. It will diminish the me.
Bob: And what conflicts with that—that me that’s in us—comes from patterns from the past/comes from our own flesh that wars. You recognized this, early on, when you went out for doughnuts, back when you were dating. [Laughter]
Jonathan: Krispy Kreme® was a thing when we were in college. We went to Drexel University in Philadelphia, and the closest Krispy Kreme was in Wilmington, Delaware. It was probably about an hour’s drive, a little less than that. We drive down to Wilmington to get Krispy Kreme. We get there, and we get doughnuts.
She says, “Do you want to get some to go?” And I’m like, “No; I’m good.” Then she says, “I’m going to get a half dozen.” She gets her half dozen; we make our way back to Philadelphia. We get to her apartment, and she goes to eat another doughnut. I’m like, “Let me have one of those.” She’s like, “No.” I’m like, “What do you mean, ‘No’?” She’s like, “No; these are my doughnuts.”
It was just funny, because it was our first argument. I was actually really offended that she wouldn’t; but she still would say, “I asked you if you wanted any.” [Laughter]
Ann: “You didn’t want any”; exactly.
Jonathan: That was the earliest fight and indication that we were two very different people.
Bob: But it’s also an indication that we bring patterns from the past. You can see, where, with her background, which you’ve already described—growing up in a tough place, without a dad, where maybe you keep protecting—
Jonathan: —self-preserve! [Laughter]
Bob: —you protect what’s yours!
You grew up in a family, where, “Hey, if it’s here, it’s ours.”
Jonathan: My mom split a Snickers bar five ways for us. There were five of us, and we didn’t have a ton of money; so she has stories of splitting a Snickers.
Ann: That would make sense why you’d want that doughnut.
Jonathan: Yes; exactly!
Bob: So we bring patterns in; and then, we bring our own passions and the flesh that says, “I want what I want.” That’s what’s got to be emptied for there to be a oneness that happens in marriage; right?
Jonathan: Yes; absolutely.
Dave: It’s interesting, too—I don’t know if this has anything to do with doughnuts—but the comment in your book, where you said, “If you get fat…” I mean, you said the no-no of all no-no’s to a woman.
Ann: Ohhh, Jonathan!
Jonathan: I’ve documented it in the book, and I’ve said it on several interviews; so I might as well just come out and share it. What I realized, early on, in marriage for me is that the idolatry of this image of what I wanted my family to be. I grew up—I’m mixed—my mom’s German; my dad’s black. I grew up in a neighborhood/a town, where that wasn’t normal; so I just wanted to fit in.
We’re 21 years old; we’re sitting on her apartment steps—the same apartment, where she wouldn’t give me a doughnut. Wynter was not, a day in her life, like over 120; she was just a tiny little girl. This is how you know like something is a stronghold—it was a stronghold for me. We’re sitting there; in a moment of weakness, where it’s like an intimate conversation about the future, I just said to her, “Hey, it’ll be really be hard for me to love you if you ever get fat.” I thought—yes, yes; I know; yes, it was bad.
The good thing is—once you grew up on the inner-city streets of Baltimore—it didn’t phase her; not one bit. She was just highly offended and gave me a few choice words. It exposed this idolatry that I had, and this image-consciousness, and ugh!—yuckiness.
Bob: Do you remember what she said when you said that?
Jonathan: I don’t remember exactly what she said; it was pretty colorful. [Laughter]
Bob: But she didn’t just go, “Oh, okay.”
Jonathan: Oh, no.
Ann: “Oh, okay; I’ll try not to.”
Jonathan: In the moment, no—not at all. In the moment, it became a big argument. Really, what would happen is—you know, trust is one of those things that can be—it’s built up over years, but it’s broken in a moment. What that did was—it broke trust at a certain level. For a girl that like already struggled with, “Am I loved?”—you know, her dad’s gone—like just the classic things that would happen for a girl that has a dad that’s a drug addict, it leaves—she was dealing with that.
So this man comes into her life, that’s supposed to love her unconditionally, and he gives her the first condition. That would be something that would take, honestly, years for us to work out. For me, it was working out the idolatry in my own heart that would work itself out in little things, like monitoring what she’s eating.
When strongholds come—and every listener has them, so they’ll recognize what that is in their life—when they come, like they come with actual, real, tangible things—you might shut down, emotionally; you might say something; you might get a little funky attitude—whatever it is. Whatever the strongholds are, they come; and they come with real implications.
For me, it was, “How do I trust God enough to let go of that thing/my condition?” For her, it was, “How do I trust this guy, again, after he basically told me he has a condition for loving me?” It was horrible. The beautiful thing is—I can document it, because we got completely past that; and my wife knew that I loved her unconditionally.
Bob: Here’s the check I think all of us have to do; because in the back of our minds, “Are there conditions?”
Bob: Do we withhold affection if you’re not performing at the level that’s acceptable to us? And it may not be weight-related; it may be: “Did you do your chores right?” or “Did you take care of this?” or “Did you say the right things?”
Ann: “Are you talking to me? Are you communicating?” I think we all have those conditions that we’re not even aware of. I think it’s a great point—that you’re going deeper into it: “Why do I have those conditions?” and “Where do they come from?” Many of us never go there.
Bob: What do we do to, first of all, see if there are strongholds like that in our marriage?—if there are conditions that we, subconsciously, put on affection or love? And then, what do we do when we recognize that that’s there?—and yet, we still want it done?—and “I’m not pleased if you’re not acting, or talking, or being this way”? How do I deal with that if that’s the reality?
Jonathan: For me, I remember Tony Evans, who’s a mentor of mine, saying—basically, saying that “Faith is acting like God is telling the truth.” When you face a moment, where you have to muster up faith, it’s basically, “Act like God is telling the truth.” So, for me, acting like God was telling the truth on our marriage was that: “If I let go of this condition, and love my wife like Christ loved the church, that there is reward in that for me. God will give me everything that it takes to do that.”
For me, practically speaking, it was like, when those moments would come—you know, it’s like what Paul’s talking about—basically, taking your thoughts captive. It’s, literally, leaning in when I feel like leaning back. It’s leaning in to love my wife more—showing her affection even when like all of my flesh is telling me not to show her affection. It’s kind of crazy, but strongholds can be like that. Acting like God is telling the truth, and leaning in when you feel like leaning back—that’s what I’d say.
Ann: I think what marriage does is—our spouse can push buttons and trigger us into not even knowing a stronghold has been there—
Jonathan: That’s true.
Ann: —or even a lie has been planted in our head.
I know that I have, some times—my dad was a baseball coach—and the whole baseball team was sitting in our living room. I had to walk through that, as a nine-year-old girl. I felt very awkward and very conscious of walking through there. I remember my dad—it was very quiet—and he said, “Boys, this is my daughter; and when she starts filling out her clothes, she’s going to be a looker.”
Bob: Oh, wow.
Ann: And what does that say to me?—is that: “Oh, if that doesn’t happen,” or “If I don’t look a certain way, then I won’t be attractive.” So that was there.
I had another time in high school—I think I was 16—and I heard a girl/one of my friends talking to her mother. She didn’t know I was in the room; but I heard her say, “Ann is really ugly,”—this is what the daughter said to her mom—and her mom said, “I know; but at least, she tries hard.” So, when Dave would tell me things like, “Oh, you look so good,” I’d say, “No; I don’t!”
I think what you’re talking about is—even in your mind, we play things over and over in our mind about ourselves/about our spouse. Sometimes, I think taking that thought captive and looking at it and asking: “Where did this come from? Is this true?” and “Does God say this about me?”
Dave: I would hear Ann say/make these comments. For probably a decade, I was so dense; I never realized, “That’s a stronghold in her life.” I was always—initially, I was—
Ann: You’d get mad at me.
Dave: —I’d get mad. How’s that for a terrible response? But I’d be like, “What do you mean, ‘You’re not pretty’?! You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. You know that; I know that. Let’s move on.” That was my response in my immaturity.
Now, I look back—there were symptoms, over and over, that she was crying out: “This is a stronghold. This is what I really believe.” It’s really cool now, as a husband, to come alongside and go, “I can be the one to be the voice of God.” I can go—like you said—go to the Word of God; say, “This is your identity,” and speak it, and give life continually.
That’s what you did, and that’s what Wynter did with you. It’s beautiful thing in a marriage—to be able to say, “No, no, no; it’s not true,” in a gentle way—because if you yell it—that’s what I did—and now, it’s more gentle, to say, “No; this is what’s true.”
Hopefully, that lands and demolishes the stronghold.
Ann: If we have a spouse that doesn’t do that for us, we have a Father that continually is speaking life into us through His Word. He continually tells us that we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. If we didn’t have the Word of God, I would feel so lost and empty; because He’s continually encouraging us to listen to the truth of who He says we are.
Bob: Well, to get to where we’re talking about getting unconditional love, and affirmation of others, and dealing with things from the past, you’ve got to start by being emptied. You’ve got to start by saying, “Okay; this isn’t about me,” and both of you, together, be pursuing, “How do we please God in our marriage?”
That’s what’s at the heart of the book, Emptied, that Jonathan and his wife Wynter have written. We’ve got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can order it from us, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or if you’d like to call to order, the number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; our toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329—1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Ask about the book, Emptied, when you get in touch with us.
You know, some great thoughts on our marriages from Jonathan. David Robbins, who’s the President of FamilyLife®, is here with us. We’re thinking about marriage a lot, here, at FamilyLife. Did you hear anything that jumped out at you today?
David: I want to revisit what Jonathan said when he said, “To be Christ-like in a marriage would be to get rid of any reason or excuse why we couldn’t empty ourselves to serve one another.” What grabs me in that definition, that I’ve never really thought about, is the word, “excuse.”
I think a lot of us are familiar with the biblical call to empty ourselves and to serve those around us and, certainly, our spouse. But when the rubber meets the road in our lives, how often does what amounts to an excuse prevent me from doing something and serving others? For me, I can make the excuse of timing: “This is just not the right time,”—I make that excuse a lot—or “I’m already focused on something that’s too important, and this just can’t take over that,” or “This season of our kids is so demanding. Let’s push aside emptying ourselves for one another and empty ourselves out for their sake.”
The reality is that those things are real, and we do have our limitations; but I just think, today, I’m reminded: “How can we go to the Lord, and ask ourselves if I’m making those things excuses?” and “If He wants me to rearrange and surrender anything?”
Bob: There’s a parable—Jesus told a parable about people making excuses; didn’t He?
David: Yes; Luke 14—I mean, that is the parable of the feast, where the invitations go out. Jesus gives the example of three different people invited to the feast of the king. They all make different excuses of something they needed to attend to first or something more important—and that’s totally what I do—and they missed out on the feast with the king!
I think, often, we miss out. What if we took Jonathan’s definition to heart and took seriously our call to surrender to Jesus and to empty ourselves of excuses that keep us from serving our spouse?
Bob: “How can we, intentionally, serve one another in marriage? What are some practical ways we can live that out?” That’s good for us to chew on; thank you, David.
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Now, tomorrow, we want to talk more about what it looks like to have an emptied-out life and marriage and how that does bring fullness, both in your marriage and in your own soul. Jonathan Pitts will be joining us, again, tomorrow. I hope you can join us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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