Your Marriage: Paybacks or Bless Back?
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Dave and Ann WilsonDave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus churc...more
Is resentment killing your marriage? FamilyLife Today hosts Dave and Ann Wilson discuss the corrosive cycle of bitterness and paybacks and how to deal.
Your Marriage: Paybacks or Bless Back?
Dave: “When somebody hurts you, bless them. Do not repay insult with insult; on the contrary, repay evil with blessing; because you were called to inherit a blessing.” It’s like: “You, of all people, have been called by God to inherit a blessing. Guess what?—you won’t inherit that if you live like the culture lives.”
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Dave Wilson.
Ann: And I’m Ann Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Dave: This is FamilyLife Today.
So here’s a question for you: “If you would look back on 41 years of an incredible blissful marriage—
Ann: Yes, it was amazing; it is amazing.
Dave: Here’s the question, though: “How many days; weeks; months; years, maybe do you think you carried some bitterness?”
Ann: Ohh, way too many.
Dave: I mean, when you add it up.
Ann: I don’t know; I think the first ten years, I carried a lot. I think you carried bitterness; you just never talked about it.
Dave: You want to turn it back on me; don’t you?
I mean, I grew up in a family, where there was bitterness—my mom and dad getting divorced when I was a little boy, and alcohol, and dad had girlfriends—we never talked about it; the divorce happened.
Ann: Did you just shut down your emotions?
Dave: Yes, I think we shut down. Again, we said yesterday, as we started talking about this/this topic of bitterness—a root of bitterness in a marriage—I think I had a root of bitterness, and I never dealt with it. So what do I do?—I bring that into our marriage!
Ann: And sometimes, I heard about what you felt about me when you were preaching.
Dave: Oh, great. [Laughter] It was easier to tell somebody else than talk to you directly about it.
Ann: I was probably scary to talk to. [Laughter]
Dave: No, it was just easier to do it that way because [I wasn’t] really dealing with it. I didn’t deal with it—
Dave: —to have an intimate conversation with you about hurt—and how you felt hurt by me and I’ve been hurt by you.
I think a lot of marriages live where we were living—
Ann: I do too.
Dave: —it’s superficial.
Ann: I think if we asked our listeners—like: “Have you dealt with bitterness in your marriage?”—I think a lot of them would say, “Yes.”
Dave: Oh, yes. I know, when I was recently preaching on this, there was a big response—and it wasn’t because “Oh, wow; that was an amazing message,”—it was like: “I’m dealing with that bitterness,” “…a root of bitterness,” “…hurt,” “…payback.”
Yesterday, we started this conversation, how God wants to reveal Himself to the world. “How?”—through relationships: a marriage relationship, relationships in the church through followers of Christ living in unity in such a way that the world takes notice, like, “How can they be unified?” They’re drawn to that.
Satan has a plan for our marriages and our relationships, which is the opposite. It’s—
Dave: —disunity; it’s destruction. How does that happen?—he uses an offense, a little action or thing said that grows and causes division in a marriage, or a family, or a church. It, basically, is his way of saying, “There’s no God. The people who love God can’t even get along.
Ann: “They’re no different.”
Dave: “They have different churches on every corner because they split up, because they believe the same thing.” I mean, the world looks at our disunity, in marriage and in the church, and says, “I don’t believe because they’re no different than we are.” And yet, God’s really good plan is so much better!
Here’s the thing: when we’re hurt or offended—we said it yesterday—“An offense, or somebody hurting you, is an event. To stay offended is a choice.” You can choose to hold onto that—and we talked about that previously: it’s like I can hold onto it; I can make you pay for that—or there’s a better way.
Ann: I think it would be good, even, for our listeners to think through, right now: “Is there anyone that I’m holding this offense with or this bitterness toward?” I’m thinking of women I’ve talked to—in their marriage—yes, lots of abuse, sexually; physical abuse. I’m thinking of these young women I recently talked to who have been raped. Wow, some of those are really hard, and it’s hard to deal with that. I think this conversation today is going to be really needed and good.
Dave: Yes, we’re not saying, “Just forgive.” We’re saying, “No, there’s a process that God wants to take you through to deal with the offense, to deal with the bitterness, to deal with the hurt.”
Ann: —because He wants to set us free.
Dave: Yes; it leads to freedom.
It’s interesting—we talk about this at the Weekend to Remember—there’s a passage in 1 Peter, where Peter is writing to a church. He’s writing about unity; he wants the church to be unified. He’s sort of coaching them and mentoring them of what that looks like. There’s this passage, tucked away in 1 Peter 3, where—my goodness; you want a vision and really a game plan for how unity takes place?—here it is: 1 Peter 3:8/he says: “Finally, all of you be likeminded,”—there you go—“be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate, and humble.”
Ann: Ahh! If we would apply that—
Dave: I mean, we could stop right there—“likeminded, sympathetic, love one another, compassionate”—those qualities should be indicative of a Christian marriage/of a Christian church. I say that with tongue in cheek; because that’s, often, not what people see. But he’s like, “This is what it could look like.” And then, he says this; it’s almost like: “If you want that—likeminded, love one another, compassionate, humility—if you want that in your marriage,”—"if you want that in your church,”—"if you want that in God’s really, really good plan for relationships, you got to do something; and here it is.” He jumps down, the very next verse, verse 9 and he says in 1 Peter 3/he says: “Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult; on the contrary, repay evil with blessing because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.” That, right there, is a totally unique way to live.
Ann: It’s so hard. [Laughter] It’s so hard.
Dave: I mean, it’s almost like: “Who can do that? When somebody hurts you or does evil to you, don’t repay him back evil—which we talked about earlier—it’s like, “Man, when someone hurts us, we want to hurt them back.” When somebody gets us, we want to get revenge.
He [Peter] said, “No, no, no; when somebody hurts you, bless them. Do not repay insult with insult; on the contrary”—he says—“repay evil with blessing because you were called to inherit a blessing.” It’s like: “You, of all people, have been called by God to inherit a blessing. Guess what?—you won’t inherit that if you live like the culture lives.” How does the culture live? Man, the culture’s like: “Man, if somebody hurts you, get them back.” He’s [Peter’s] saying, “No, if you are a Christ-follower—somebody hurts you—bless them back,” which sounds sort of ridiculous; doesn’t it?
Ann: Yes, it’s so hard.
Dave: I honestly think you can’t do it without the power of God.
Ann: —without the power of the Holy Spirit.
Dave: This is a supernatural power required when you’ve been hurt. I mean, Peter goes on in verse 10—he gets very practical—“For whoever would love life and see good days,”—and that’s—
Ann: We all want that.
Dave: —we all want to love life and see good days—“they must keep their tongue from evil, their lips from deceitful speech; they must turn from evil and do good; they must seek peace and pursue it.”
Ann: What would our marriages look like if we did that? What would our churches look like if we did that? People would be flocking to the church; and they would be looking at our marriages, thinking, “I want that!”
Dave: I think, as we look at this passage in 1 Peter, he lays out two ways to live. He calls one of them “Payback,”—when somebody hurts you, you pay them back—and he calls the other one “Bless back.” Here is what I call—when I was preaching on this, I called the first way to live—the “Closed fist of revenge” or the “Closed fist of bitterness”; we hold onto it. That’s what I would call “Payback.”
Ann: It’s different, too, when it’s evil. When somebody pays back evil, I think that justice part in us resonates.
Dave: I mean, it’s interesting—you think, when you get somebody back, it feels good—it does for a moment, but it doesn’t last.
I didn’t know this until I was in college, maybe, even later—that when my mom and dad divorced: again, I’m a little boy/I’m six or seven years old, so I didn’t know any of the details—my sister, who’s ten years older, told me this, years later/she said, “Do you know what happened with the house?”
I remember the house; we lived in a gated community outside New York. My dad was an airline pilot, flying out of New York; he actually built our house in this exclusive million-dollar neighborhood. I’ve been back there since.
Ann: And he was also a contractor.
Dave: Yes, he built it himself. It was this mansion.
Here’s what my sister told me: “Did you know that Dad left with his girlfriend, months later, calls mom and says, ‘Sell the house; we’ll split the profit’?” My mom is so hurt; she sells the house for $67,000—
Dave: —to get my dad back.
Ann: —because money was his god.
Dave: Yes; and yet, my mom carried that to her grave. She didn’t even show up at my dad’s funeral, because she was still carrying that offense, that hurt, that evil. She was paying back evil with evil.
For a moment, payback feels good; it just doesn’t last.
Ann: You may think that this person doesn’t deserve to be forgiven or blessed in any way.
Dave: The truth is: “The longer you carry a grudge, the heavier it gets.” I carried a grudge against my dad almost my whole life! Here’s the thing: I think little offenses do the same thing: we carry them.
I remember one time, being in a meeting, where a fellow guy—who was a good friend of mine/whom I trusted, said something about my work that was very demeaning in front of a lot of people—that, basically, everything I had done in this certain area of my work, was just worthless. I can tell you where I was sitting, where he was sitting, where others were sitting the moment he said it. It was just a little comment; and yet, as I went home, I told you about it; I laid in bed, for weeks and months, rehearsing that moment in my head. That little offense became a root of bitterness. I was mad; I was hurt;—
Ann: Yes, for sure.
Dave: —I carried it.
I think that’s what we do: your spouse does one little thing—and it may not be big; it may not be like my dad walking out of our family/so that was huge; it could be little—but the same thing happens: a root of bitterness gets in there, and so we sort of want to pay back.
Ann: Well, let me add this—I think this is more typical—maybe some of you have heard this story; and it was in our book and Vertical Marriage, the curriculum. My son and I got into an argument before school. I over-reacted, as I usually do; and then, we got in the car. I said, “Hey, I’m really sorry; I over-reacted,”—I think I ground him for over a month; and I said—“I’m not going to ground you for a month; that was ridiculous,” and “I’m sorry about that. What are you feeling about it?” He didn’t talk to me. And then, I got mad, like, “Come on; we need to talk and resolve this.”
We got to the school; I said, “Don’t get out of the car until we, at least, talk about this. Did I hurt you?” He looked at me; he opened the car door; and he went into the school. I was so upset, because I hate things being unresolved.
He got home [later that day]. I had prayed on the way home: “Lord, I don’t know what to do. I have no idea what to do with this.” God gave me this picture of a little stick-figured girl and a little stick-figured guy. And then, I had put a brick/this brick between us. When he got home, he was laughing when he saw that on his desk. He said, “Mom, are you trying to be an artist? What are you doing?” I said, “That’s me; that’s you; that brick is the fight we had this morning, and we haven’t resolved it.” He said, “I’m not mad about the brick.” I said, “I’m not mad about it either.”
But as you said, Dave, it’s this little brick of bitterness. It was no big deal; it wasn’t that big of a deal. But I told him/I said, “CJ, I see all these people—they have a fight—it goes unresolved,”—and then, I took my pencil: and I [drew] another brick; and then I [drew] another little offense/or brick; and another little offense—“And if those are never dealt with—those little offenses—they become a wall, like a huge wall.” I told him, “I don’t ever want us to have this wall that we can’t even talk, because of these little offenses that have gone unresolved/those little roots of bitterness.”
I love it—because he was a teenager—and he’s like, “So how do we get rid of the brick?”; you know. We talked about resolution and how we never want to create walls between us. Because of that root of bitterness, it can form a wall.
Dave: I was just thinking, when you said that, I said, “A little offense with another little offense becomes A FENCE”; you get it?—F-E-N-C-E
Ann: Yes! Yes, a fence or a wall.
Dave: —or a wall.
Again, if you don’t handle it right, your DNA/our sin nature is going to be: “Pay back; hurt you back, evil for evil.” But Peter says, “No, there’s a better way!” I call the second way to live the “Open hand of grace,” which is: “Bless back.”
You can close your fist/the “Fist of the revenge,” and hold on. I think it’s almost impossible for us to open our hand and let go of that offense/let go of that hurt. Again, I’m not saying it’s: “Oh, I prayed a little prayer, and it’s”—poof!—“it’s gone.” No; this is hard work.
I mean, when you get married, when you do relationships, it is hard work.
Ann: —because it happens all the time.
Dave: Yes, I think a lot of people never do the work.
Ann: Me too.
Dave: It’s like, if there’s anything I want to say to a listener today is: “Do the work. It’s really hard work to bless back someone, who has hurt you/someone, who has offended you. It’s easy to hold onto that revenge/that bitterness and close your fist over that.” I’m telling you: “It will destroy your soul. You will not find what Peter said: a blessing in your life and you won’t be a blessing to others.”
But if you allow God to do spiritual surgery, and say, “Okay, God, I am hurt; this hurt deeply. I need to give it to You, and I need to have You walk me to a place, where I can actually bless back rather than pay back, where I can be a blessing to a person or a group of people”—but especially, in your marriage—“to my spouse when I’ve felt like they’ve hurt me.” That is supernatural; you can’t do it, apart from Christ.
I know we said yesterday that the way unity is built—the tactic that God uses—is forgiveness: we, who have been forgiven, forgiving others. We didn’t deserve forgiveness from Christ for our sin; they don’t deserve forgiveness; and yet, God enables us to forgive them.
I’m not saying you let them off the hook; I’m not saying you don’t have a conversation; I’m not saying that there aren’t things you have to work through in the relationship—but forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things—you may never reconcile this relationship, but you can still forgive someone. Jesus says, “It’s Mine to avenge; the pay back is Mine.” God is the One who will repay them for what they’ve done to you, but we bless back.
Ann: You remember Lisa Terkeurst when she was here? She was talking about being in a counselor’s office, trying to forgive her husband. She was talking about how she wrote all the offenses on a piece of paper. The counselor had her put them on the floor; and then, he gave her a little piece of red felt. They talked about the gospel and the blood of Christ, how His death on the cross has given us the ability, now, to forgive because it has covered us; and because of that, we, too, can have the power to forgive. And then, she covered each one of those offenses with that blood/that felt that’s like the blood of Christ. I thought that was powerful.
Dave: That’s doing the work.
Ann: Yes, yes.
Dave: Again, it isn’t you walk into a counselor’s office, and an hour later, it’s all gone; but it’s the beginning of: “God, I need Your power. I need You to meet me right here, because I can’t let go of this. It was hurtful; it’s still hurtful; I’m bitter/there’s a root of bitterness.”
When I started a journey to forgive my dad, I thought it would take a week. It took close to five years. God did spiritual surgery; it was like a daily journey to forgive my dad. You know what?—when I forgave him/I actually spoke the words to him, he did not respond well. He said, “What are you forgiving me for? I did nothing wrong.”
It was like: “Oh, wow; it really has nothing to do with the other person. It has to do with my own heart.” I can tell you this: when I stood behind his casket, at his funeral—and because I’m the pastor in the family, I officiated my own dad’s funeral—I thought, “I am free [because of the previous forgiveness].”
Ann: I will say you are a different man.
Dave: It changed me.
Ann: —totally changed you.
Dave: It’ll change you; it’ll change your marriage. Again, if you don’t deal with it, and you hold onto it, your marriage will suffer; your kids will suffer—because one of the things I didn’t realize, in the journey, was—as I’m going on the journey to bless back my dad/to forgive my dad, who really, I don’t think, deserved it; but it didn’t matter—God will take care of the payment; I need to take care of allowing God to enable me to forgive.
I never thought about this until later: “When I’m doing this process I’m going through, it’s going to affect my boys/my legacy. If I don’t deal with this, guess what I’m going to pass on?—bitterness/a root of bitterness—
Dave: —“will be part of the Wilson legacy. But if I can allow God to do spiritual surgery on my heart, and I can forgive my dad—and others: you; you forgiving me—if God can do that in me, it changes my legacy, and it will change your legacy.” I think it’s critical.
If you’re listening today, and you’re like, “There’s been some bitterness that’s got a root in me, and it’s grown,”—and it may be small; it may be big—I would just say, “Today’s the day to say, ‘Jesus, I need Your help. I need You to do a work in me. I’m willing to take the journey with You.’”
Ann: Let’s pray for them.
Dave: Yes, pray for them.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson on FamilyLife Today. Be sure to stick around for Ann’s prayer in just a second.
But first, we’ve got the president of FamilyLife, David Robbins, here with us. You know, we talk a lot about what’s happening with FamilyLife, stateside. There’s quite a bit going on with FamilyLife all over the globe too.
David: You know, I come on at the end of these, and I sincerely thank you, often, for giving to FamilyLife for fueling ministry to more families and reaching more people and helping people take the next step toward growth in the relationships that matter most to them.
But, often, what you don’t hear about is what FamilyLife is doing globally and how God is mobilizing couples, around the world, to build marriage and family ministries in their corner of the world. Just a month ago, Meg and I were in Bogota, Colombia, gathering with 250 other leaders of FamilyLife in Latin America. It was a blast to see what these people were trusting God for and the impact they are having in their country.
I just recently heard from a couple in Egypt, who has started FamilyLife Egypt. The story goes back 16 years ago when this couple, Warren and Ann, were living in Qatar. They were ministered to by someone who was leading a FamilyLife ministry. As they eventually moved back, in 2017, to Egypt, God had put on their heart: “What if you started FamilyLife here?” Slowly, but surely, over the last few years, our team has synced up with them; and they have, officially, launched FamilyLife Egypt. You can go to ArabFamilyLife.com and check out the website they’ve put together. They are trusting God in some amazing ways.
When we say, in our mission statement: “We’re hoping to effectively develop godly families, who change the world, one home at a time,” we really are believing God to raise up couples like Warren and Ann, and resourcing them, so that they can extend the mission into their nation toward every home getting the chance to grow in a relationship with Jesus and to grow into a godly home.
Shelby: Yes, that is so good. Thanks, David, for reminding us of how God is using this ministry, both locally, and globally.
Would you consider partnering with us, at FamilyLife, to help continue the advancement of the gospel to every corner of the earth? When you do, we’d love to send you a copy of Jessica Thompson’s book, How God Loves Us: 40 Days to Discovering His Character in the Fruit of the Spirit. It’s our, “Thanks,” to you when you partner, financially, with us today. You can give, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Okay; here’s Ann with a prayer for anyone struggling to forgive someone.
Lord, I’m just thinking of those listeners who maybe do have that root of bitterness, even listening, their resonating—like: “Yes, I have felt that,” “I have gone through that,”—whether it be something really big and hard or, maybe, it’s just the everyday things that we’ve been holding onto. Father, right now, we just hand those to You as an act of our will. We may not feel like it, because the person doesn’t maybe deserve to be forgiven. But Father, would You do, as Dave said, that spiritual surgery on our hearts? Will You begin a work? Will You reveal it to us? Will You show us in Your Word how to resolve that?
Thank You, God, that the thing that has resolved it is Your death on the cross and the resurrection of Your body; because as a result of that, we now have new life and we have Your Spirit living within us. You, God, give us the ability to forgive, to let go, to get rid of bitterness; but first, God, we just lay it before You. We ask You to help us/help us to bless people when we may not feel like it. Lord, would You begin that surgery now?
We thank You, in Jesus’ name; amen.
Shelby: Cards declining, bills coming up; feeling trapped in your finances? Well, stay tuned because, next week, on FamilyLife Today, Dave and Ann Wilson talk with Bob and Linda Lotich about how to get to a better spot, financially; that’s next week.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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