Unpacking the Baggage
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- Vertical Marriage: The One Secret That Will Change Your Marriage by Dave and Ann Wilson.
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Ann WilsonAnn Wilson and her husband Dave are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Mother to three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody and wife to one, occasionally grown-up husband, Dave, Ann balances a home life and professional ministry career building both on the grace and goodness of Jesus Christ. Frequently speaking at Kensington Church, a 6-campus church that welcomes more than 14,000 visitors every weekend, and touring across the country at m...more
Dave WilsonDave Wilson and his wife Ann are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Lead pastor, Hall of Fame college quarterback, and nationally-touring speaker, he wears a lot of hats, but it’s his singular passion for enriching lives through spreading the Word and wisdom of God that truly defines Dave. Since attaining his seminary degree, Dave has transformed his passion for sharing the message of Christ and unique nothing’s off limits style in...more
On our wedding day we think the vow we make to our spouse will be enough for our marriage. Dave and Ann Wilson share about some baggage that we need to prepare for prior to marriage.
Unpacking the Baggage
Bob: How prepared were youfor marriage? How competent were you to become a husband or a wife? Dave Wilson says that’s a good question for all of us to be asking.
Dave: Think about this—if you went in for heart surgery, and you’re just about to go under major heart surgery, and you say to the doctor, right before surgery, “Hey, how many of these have you done?” “Uh, I haven’t done any.” “Well, where did you go to med school?” “Didn’t go to med school. I just held up my hand and said, ‘I promise to try my best to do this.’” You’re out! There’s no way you’re going to let that guy touch your heart; right?
That is the way we go into marriage. Think about this—I looked it up yesterday. Somebody tell me what you think: “How much money does the average couple in America spend on a wedding?”
Dave: $35,329!—alright? But that is for one ceremony/one day.
I looked it up, again, yesterday: “How much does the average couple spend training and preparing to be married?”—less than $100.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 26th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. Here’s a good question: “Since you got married, how much money have you invested in building a stronger, healthier marriage?” We’re going to hear more about all of this today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. This is a pet peeve for you guys; isn’t it?—that the lack of preparation that couples put in—not to the wedding, because they spend a lot of time and money getting ready for the wedding—it’s the marriage that they’re not spending time and effort preparing for; right?
Ann: Exactly! It’s amazing to me that we’ve put so much focus and money into the wedding day, but we spend so little time preparing our marriages. I’m telling you—we carry so much baggage into our relationships, not having any idea that will really affect us.
Bob: You guys went for pre-marital preparation to a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway two weeks before you got married. Was that helpful?
Dave: It was very helpful; although, at the time, we thought, “We don’t need it.” [Laughter]
Ann: We did love it. Do you remember?—we’re like, “This is really good.”
Dave: It was great stuff!
Bob: But you thought you knew it all; didn’t you?
Dave: Yes; we just thought: “We love each other; we love Jesus—it can’t be that hard. So this is overkill for preparation.” Then, we got married! [Laughter]
Ann: I also think that we thought, “Jesus has forgiven our past, so it’s gone,”—not realizing that, sometimes, Jesus lets us look at our past so He can heal it.
Bob: That’s really where we are going to go today. We’re going to hear a message that you did, together, at Kensington Church in Detroit, where you talked about the bags we bring into marriage. This was a little auto-biographical; wasn’t it?
Dave: Yes; it was interesting—we ended up saying, “There are four bags every pre-married couple needs to unpack before the wedding day.” You keep unpacking them—you know, there could have been 50! [Laughter]
Ann: We probably did have 50. [Laughter]
Dave: We just did four for the sake of time. [Laughter] We really felt like these were four really heavy, heavy bags; and most couples have all four of these, plus others, that they don’t realize until they get into that marriage. These are going to be big in their marriage.
Bob: We’re going to hear what those four bags are today; but I need to remind our listeners—last day I’ll get to remind them about the Dave and Ann Wilson special this week. [Laughter] We’ve got about 20/25 Weekend to Remember getaways still happening this spring. Our team said—in honor of you guys stepping into this role as the hosts of FamilyLife Today—they wanted to take a week to celebrate and give listeners an opportunity to attend an upcoming getaway and reduce the rate.
It’s 40 percent off the regular rate if you sign up before midnight Monday—I think is the deadline. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com and get more information, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information. Join us at an upcoming getaway—save a little money if you sign up this week. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information.
Let’s get to unpacking. Here are Dave and Ann Wilson.
Dave: We’re going to be talking about four pieces of luggage you should unpack before the wedding or, at least, start unpacking before the wedding.
Ann: This is your preparation.
Dave: Yes; to help you. If you’re already married—if you haven’t started unpacking these—you need to start right now. You probably have, and you’ll be doing it the rest of your marriage. These four—and there could be fifty—trust me! We only did four because it seemed like, of all the things, these are sort of the biggest four, in our opinion, that especially pre-marrieds need to think about.
The first one is the credit card. If you’re in debt and it’s a really big debt—I’m talking to singles now, who are thinking about getting married—here’s what I would say to you, and we didn’t understand this: “Slow down! Because you’re going to bring that debt into your marriage.” Let me ask all the married couples, “Are there ever any money fights in marriage?”
Dave: Oh, yes; the whole place just lit up. [Laughter]
Here’s what happened—and you don’t even know this, and I didn’t know this either—but I married a spender; alright? That’s what I married.
Ann: And I married a—I married a tightwad! [Laughter]
Dave: I’m a saver!
Ann: You’re tight—you’re so tight!
Dave: It is true;but if you’ve got a pile of debt, I would actually say this—you’ll think it’s crazy: “If you’re single, and thinking about getting married, and you’ve a pile of debt, I’d say: ‘Move in with your parents and pay that thing down first. Delay the wedding.’”
Am I right?! You do not want to walk into your wedding with a huge credit card debt—and you can’t pay your bills and that kind of thing—because money fights are huge. Because if you are in debt, here’s what you bring into the marriage—some of you are already married—you’re like, “This is so true,”—you bring in stress; you bring in anger; you sweat at night; it’s a big wall in the middle of your relationship.
Ann: I think for Dave and I, too, I was blaming him for so many things. I was spending, but I was blaming him; because what would happen was—I didn’t know how much money we had. I mean, I could look, but what would happen is—I would go shopping. This one time, I went shopping [at] Christmas. I had all this stuff in the cart. Dave—the head of the bills/all that stuff—but he would not want to talk about it, because he hated conflict—
Dave: I hated conflict. It’s a really good way to handle conflict—
Ann: —and money!
Dave: —you just avoid it! It works really good. So we never even talked about money.
Ann: He wouldn’t even pay the bills on time because it would depress him.
Dave: It wasn’t that bad!
Ann: I swiped my card. Have you ever done this?—the line is forever—I swiped my card and the lady goes, “I’m sorry; that didn’t go through.” Instant sweat! I’m laughing; and all the people behind me—I am like: “Oh! This one will work,”—nothing—“Oh, I’m sorry, ma’am.” I am instantly angry and embarrassed, but my anger is directed toward Dave. I come in the house, like: “Are we not paying our bills?! What’s happening?! Do we not have any money?”
Dave: And because I am so good with conflict—I knew this day was coming/I knew it was coming—but we never talked about it. She walks in the house. Our boys are real little at the time. I realized our credit cards are maxed—I’m laying in bed, every night, sweating—all because of money issues.
It’s a really important piece of luggage you need to look at. One of the best things that happened, because of that Christmas, is we decided to do a thing—I don’t know if you have ever heard of this thing—it’s called a budget. [Laughter] Anyone ever heard of one of those?—it’s called a money plan. We started to do that. That’s the first piece of luggage—it’s the “Money Bag.”
The second one, I think it’s sort of interesting—
Ann: This is a big one!
Dave: —this one is called, “Unresolved issues.” Unresolved issues is something we don’t even realize we are sort of tied to—because these are situations/relationships in our life that we are plugged into, and we don’t even realize it—things like: unforgiveness, bitterness, resentment, past relationships.
Ann: I think this one is so big because we really—a lot of times, when you’re single or married—you don’t realize how big those issues are. Here’s what we’ve seen happening, and even talking to couples that are struggling—what happens, when you get married, is you have issues and problems with your spouse, not even realizing that it isn’t the spouse that’s causing it. It’s really something that’s plugged into the past.
A lot of times, it’s family issues—things that happened in your home with your parents or your family; a past spouse—maybe you went through a divorce, and you were so hurt and wounded—shame issues; feelings of insecurity, so it’s hard for you to give your heart or to love. Issues with anxiety or depression are, so often, tied to the past. If we don’t get back there—if we don’t prepare ourselves in our ways to go back and deal with that—they will affect the future.
I really thought: “That stuff’s in the past! Dave Wilson is so awesome—they’re going to disappear and I won’t have to deal with them.” But all that happened was—we started having all this tension, not even understanding that that was huge.
Dave: It says here [reading Vertical Marriage]: “We go into marriage”—and so many do this—“and we think the marriage will heal my problems; but we find out marriage only reveals your problems.”
I’ll never forget the day, in my late 20s, when Ann said, “You need to forgive your dad.” Again, I responded so maturely: “What are you to tell me I need to forgive my dad? I’ve forgiven my dad; it’s in the past/it’s years ago; I’m good!” And she was exactly right.
One of the blessings that I never knew—even at that time about marriage—and it’s, actually, part of God’s purpose for marriage—is He wants to sharpen us, husband and wife, to become like what?—like Christ/to become like Jesus. Guess how He does that. He’ll use your spouse to sharpen you if you’ll listen to them speak truth.
She was speaking truth to me. I had to forgive my dad—and it’s a long story—but when I forgave my dad, I realized: “I thought I was locking him up. I was locking me up,” and I couldn’t be the husband and dad my kids deserved, in the present day, because of something, years ago. God, literally, did that!—He cut the cord. It was like, “I’m not going to be bound by that anymore.” I became a man, a husband, a dad. I said to the men here: “I became a man, at 32 years old, the day I set myself free after forgiving my dad.”
Here’s the third bag—we call this one the “Sexual Issues’ Bag.” The old rules of love, sex, and dating—which are really the current cultural rules—say this about sex: “Sex is physical. Hook up with whoever/whatever—one-night stands. It’s in the past; move on from that; it’s not going to really affect you much—it’s in the past. Go for it.” We live in a culture, now, where people hook up before they even start dating: “Take a little test drive.”
Ann: “See if your compatible.”
Dave: It’s always been that way in many ways—it wasn’t any different in the ‘60s and ‘70s—it’s this belief that sex is just purely physical.
Well, here’s the truth: “Sex is deeper than just physical. It’s about the soul.” Why is sex so beautiful and wonderful?—because God gave it to us; it is the most intimate thing you’ll ever do with another person. It’s so much deeper than just body.
Why are relationships that have sex in them harder when they break up than relationships that don’t?—because it involves the soul, and it’s a gift from God—He created it that way. It’s the most beautiful, intimate thing you ever do. He says, “Because it’s so fragile, protect this part.” That luggage piece, I think, is weighted heavier than others. It’s that critical—that we are so vigilant in how we protect this.
Ann: I think, for Dave and I, that’s probably the hardest one, besides the just past issues. This one was big, because—[pauses] having sexual abuse—it was weighty for us. I really thought: “It happened in the past. I don’t have to think about it. It won’t affect the future.” It affected every day of our marriage, at the beginning.
Dave: It was 90 percent of the reason why we wanted to end this thing in year one—it was sexual issues. Some of it was Ann’s abuse in the past, which she told me about before marriage. We both thought, “It’s in the past.” We were just naïve.
We also thought this—I tell you—we grew up around the church. We heard from people that said: “Hey, don’t have sex before you get married. It doesn’t usually go well.” I’m like, “Yes; they don’t know.” We didn’t really obey that [in] every relationship we were in before we started dating each other.
In our relationship, we decided to be sexually pure. But before that, we weren’t. We thought, “Well, that’s in the past; it will stay in the past.” Guess what?—we’ve said this before—“But it will not stay in the past. You walk into your bedroom, in marriage, and it’s a crowded bedroom. Everybody you’ve slept with is in that bedroom.” I know it sounds like, “What?” It’s a soul deal—it doesn’t just go away.
Ann: I thinkour souls were super fragmented—that created worry; and, I think, guilt; comparison; not feeling like I was enough—it was just big! Then I—there was this mistrust—like: “Can I even trust him?”
Dave: Yes; so that’s there.
We’ll say this: “God heals!” But it’s almost like this—there’s a fork in the road that says: “Okay; I can do the old rules, which means hook up with anybody,” or “I can do God’s purity.” We’re standing on this fork in the road and we’re saying: “Take that one [purity]. We took this one [promiscuous].”
You’re looking at us and going: “Oh, you’re good! You’re good!” No; we’re like: “You can’t see what we’ve gone through. You don’t want to go through this—take that one!” If there is anything I would change about my past, that would be the thing. Of all the things—
Dave: No question!! It would be like, “I wish would have listened and chose to do that [purity].” God has healed—and it’s, actually, a beautiful part of our marriage—but it was the hardest part, because we had to walk through so much darkness.
The last bag—this is the “God Issue Bag” or the “God Bag.” In other words, decide what you are going to do, spiritually, even before you get married; and if you are married, man, make this the foundation of your life. I actually dug out the Bible that we started our marriage with. It’s taped together—you can see this—I mean, it’s all falling apart. By the way, a Bible that’s falling apart is usually held by a couple that isn’t.
Ann: Oh; oh!
Dave: Did you get that?—I just thought of that!
Anyway, it’s like we decided, at Day One, we were going to do our dating relationship and our future marriage God’s way, based on God’s Word. I’m not saying we did it perfectly. We decided: “Man, oh man, if I’m going to go for it—after Christ—I’m going to find a woman that’s going for it as well.”
Ann: I’m going to say: “Just run after Jesus!” If you are single—like run after Him and don’t expect somebody—like I feel like I did this for so—we’ve talked about this very thing. If you’re running on the track of life, instead of like pulling someone with you—that’s what I did—the guys weren’t on the track; they were in the bleachers—
Dave: They were losers!
Ann: —“Hey you should run with me towards Jesus!” And like: “That’s dumb. Why would I want to do that?” I’d be: “No! It’s great!”
Even if I got them on the track—one guy like said, “I want Jesus, but I don’t Him to be a part of everything.” So I’m running with this guy. All of a sudden, I see Dave Wilson on the track; and this dude is sprinting hard—and he loves God; he’s trying to make a difference in the world; he’s trying to go for it, spiritually. I remember—like I was dating this guy when I met Dave.
Dave: Trust me, she’s dating this guy; and it was like [flat tire sound] ca-chum, ca-chum, ca-chum, trying to bring this guy with her, you know?—I could see that—like: “What are you doing with your life?!”—right?
Ann: And what were you doing?
Dave: I was doing the same thing!—ca-chum, ca-chum, ca-chum!
Finally, I walk into a dorm room and catch this ca-chum, ca-chum with another guy. It’s like, “My mom was right; all my friends were right; her past is an indicator of what the future would look like.”
Then, I started dating Ann. Many of you have heard this; but on our first date—she’s 18 years old—I said to her, “What are you going to do with your life?” She says, “I’m going to follow Jesus wherever He takes me and impact the world for Jesus.”
I’m like: “Okay! That’s the one!” I knew that first day. It’s like, “Man, what would it look like to be in a partnership, and not settle, but marry somebody that’s on the same mission?”—that God has a mission for our marriage. Many of you know this—but on our wedding night, before we crawled in our marriage bed, we got on our knees, at the foot of that bed, and we prayed. Literally, these were the words: “God we’re not praying for a good marriage; we’re asking You for a great marriage that will, one day, impact the world for the kingdom of God,” and here we are.
Ann: Yes; little 19- and 22-years-old!
Dave: All weekend, I’m praying God is answering that prayer that we begged Him on our marriage: I’m saying, “Do not settle.” And guys, if you’re going for Christ, “Do not settle!”
Ann: I would say too: “If you’re married, God answers and hears those prayers. If you’re married don’t think this: ‘I’m married; and he’s ca-clunk, ca-clunk, ca-clunk, ca-clunk! I need to get rid of him!’”—no!—no!—that’s not true. You need to be with them—and her and him—and love each other unconditionally.
Dave: As we said, in week one, here’s what I would say: “Don’t focus on him,” “Don’t focus on her. Focus on who?” Become the person—the person you’re looking for—is looking for. That means: “Get [before] the mirror and say: ‘God change me. I can’t change them, but You can. God, change them as well; but I’m just going to ask You to change me.’”
I’m sitting here with Ann, thinking: “If I would have settled and not gone after God’s best for me—I am not married today; I’m not on this stage—my whole legacy—honestly, you know what I am today?—I am my dad. That’s who I am.
Because I decided, “I am not settling for anything but what God is doing in me/in my partner,”—here we are. It’s a whole different legacy.
I’m going to tell you/the last thing I’ll say is: “God can do miracles in you, and today is the start of a new day. It really is!”
Ann: And I would say, “Marriage is awesome,”—like it really—for us, it’s been the greatest gift on this planet that we’ve been able to experience.
Here’s my application—you’ll have an application—but I would say: “All this stuff in your life—you know what Jesus wants? He’s looking at it—He’s saying, ‘Just let Me have it,’—like, ‘Just give Me your stuff.’ You can just give Him all of it—just put it at the cross,”—and say: “Jesus, here’s all my stuff—all my brokenness, all my past, all my pain, all the things that I’ve done wrong.”
He looks at it and goes: “I can do something with that; I can work with that! Wait until you see what I do!”—because He has this way of making miracles out of our messes. He has a way of breaking off chains, and bondage, and depression, and anxiety. He has a way of just renewing us and making us the people that He created us the be. But first, we have to give Him all of our stuff.
Dave: Here’s how you do that—because here is what happens—couples get married. On their wedding day, they’re sort of doing this—they are like: “Where do I find life?” Here’s what happens on wedding day: “Ahhh! I found her! She’s going to bring life!” “I found him! He’s going to bring life!”—right? And then, it doesn’t happen. So what do they do? They are like: “Oh, that wasn’t the right one. I’ve got to go find the right one.” What’s the real problem?—they’re looking in the wrong place.
Here you go! This is vertical marriage, right here. This is horizontal [trying to have needs met by spouse]; this is vertical [having needs met by Christ]. I get life from Christ; she gets life from Christ—so what happens? Now, He’s filling me up so I come back to my marriage and I don’t—I’m not demanding she meet my needs and fill me up—I’m overflowing with what Christ has already given me, because she/he can never meet it anyway—that’s the whole definition of vertical marriage.
Now, I give her the gospel—the grace that God gave me, I give her. Here’s a great way to think of it: “Do for your spouse what Christ did for you. Do for your spouse what Christ did for you.” It’s not about what they’re doing for you—it’s like, “She doesn’t deserve this,”—neither did you! And what did Christ do?—He gave His life for you, so do the same thing! That’s a picture of what a great marriage can look like.
Ann: And he still loves me.
Bob: We’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson talk about the bags we need to unpack before marriage; and then, I mean, honestly, just keep unpacking all the way through our marriage; right? It’s not like you get them unpacked and you go, “Oh, okay; we don’t need to worry about this anymore.”
Ann: That would be nice; wouldn’t it? But it seems like there continues to be more.
Bob: You’ve been at this—how many years?
Dave: Thirty-nine years!
Bob: And we’re right there with you—we’ll celebrate 40 years next month. We’re still finding stuff that’s sneaking out of suitcases in our marriage and saying: “Oh! This is from our past, but we’ve got to deal with it in the present.”
Dave: You know, one of things that I would have never expected, in year one or pre-married days, is how much in love I am with Ann, now, compared to then. I’m more in love with her, 39 years in, than year 1.
Ann: That’s nice.
Dave: It is. I would never have thought that, six months in—I thought, “I’m never going make it three decades with this woman.” [Laughter]
Bob: But before you got married, you thought, “It’s impossible to be more in love with her than I am”; right?
Dave: Right; right!
Bob: And now, 39 years later, you go: “Oh, no; it’s possible. It’s a deeper, richer kind of love than we had, back when we were teenagers.”
Dave: Yes; I think the reason is—we’ve unpacked these bags together. It’s been really difficult, but we fought through it. Like you said, we’re still doing it; but without those heavy, hard pieces of luggage—that we went through together—we wouldn’t be where we are today. It’s worth it; you know?
Ann: I think, even in how you closed in that message, was: “God is helping you to unpack those.” That’s a key part—that we allow God to come in and do surgery on our hearts. That’s what makes the biggest difference.
Bob: I’m thinking about the tens of thousands of couples who, this year, are going through Weekend to Remember marriage getaways with us. That’s part of what we do. We help you unpack some of those bags in a gentle way that makes it a little easier for you to deal with some of these issues.
We’ve got the President of FamilyLife®, who’s here with us, David Robbins. David, a lot of couples hear about the Weekend to Remember marriage getaway and they think: “We don’t need to go to that. Our marriage is in good shape.” But the truth is—all of us have got opportunities for growth in marriage; don’t we?
David: Yes; I just recently heard from three different couples at the same Weekend to Remember. They each kind of represented a place that people come in at.
One was, indeed, told me: “I came in to this weekend, looking for an apartment on the way here; and I’m leaving here, recommitted to my marriage.”
Another one was sharing with me, “We were just kind of called to have courageous conversations we didn’t even know that we needed to have.” She called it “courageous conversations,” and I just loved it.
Then the third person/that couple just said, “We’ve gone to four getaways at each decade of our marriage; and each time, it spoke directly to where we were and gave us space to process the stage of life we were in.”
Bob: This is just a great wheel alignment, no matter where you are in your marriage. Your vehicle may be running fine, but this will tune it up. If your vehicle is running a little rough, we can help with some repair work.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com; find out about the Dave and Ann Wilson special—it expires on Monday. So take advantage of 40 percent off the regular registration fee and sign up for an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway. The website is FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY for more information about the getaway. Or you can register by phone. Again, online: FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Speaking of Weekend to Remember marriage getaways, we’ve got one taking place in Anchorage, Alaska, this weekend. Be sure to pray for the couples who will be at that getaway. For everyone else, we hope you and your family will be able to worship in your local church this weekend. Have a great weekend. And then, join us back on Monday—we’re going to talk about how debt affects your marriage relationship. What happens to the relationship between the two of you when there’s financial pressure? Brian and Cherie Lowe are going to be with us to talk about that. We hope you can be there 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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