Hard to Love
About the Guest
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Lou Priolo, Bill and Vicki Rose, and Tommy and Teresa Nelson tell about the people in their lives who were difficult to love, and how God helped them extend love anyway.
Michelle: As well-known pastor and author, Tommy Nelson, slipped into clinical depression, things got difficult for Tommy and for his wife, Teresa.
Teresa: One Sunday evening, I went to prayer; and I left him at home. He got the guy to take him to a doctor’s office to get medication. I felt like he was going around me—he was taking stuff that this doctor didn’t know—he’s talking to this doctor. I was beginning to be very irritated with him, to be honest.
Michelle: What do you do when loving the one you love gets hard? We’re going to talk about that today on FamilyLife This Week.
Welcome to FamilyLife This Week. I'm Michelle Hill. When I say the words, “money pit,” what comes to mind for you? Was it your first house?—or maybe, it’s your current house!—the one you thought would be just the perfect fit for you and your family. But the more work that you did, the more you found you had to do.
Renovating a house is an ongoing project, and it can take a lot of time. You’ve heard the saying before—“If something is hard to do, it’s worth it in the end,”—like a house renovation, or restoring that 1969 Dodge Charger, or relationships. We’re going to talk about difficult relationships or hard-to-love people.
Is there someone who’s hard to love in your life? You know, it takes patience, and forbearance, perseverance; it takes humility, whether it’s an angry child, or a spouse that’s antagonistic toward your newfound faith, or maybe it’s a family member who’s walking through a difficult season of depression or sickness.
Let’s talk about that angry child. That’s hard on the whole family. There’s the slamming of doors, and the fist through the wall, or maybe they’re just being argumentative and have spiteful attitudes; your compliant child has morphed into somebody that you don’t recognize. It’s hard, not only to know what to do, but also to hold onto your sanity.
Lou Priolo is the founder of Competent to Counsel International®. He’s written several books, including The Heart of Anger. In a FamilyLife® interview with Dennis Rainey and Bob Lepine, Bob asked Lou about a 13-year-old, who loses her temper, and mouths-off to her parents, and maybe is even starting to use profanity. Just what should the parent do? Here’s Lou’s answer.
[Previous FamilyLife Today® Broadcast]
Lou: Well, I think the first thing you have to do is realize that most teenagers understand that they're angry—maybe not the degree to which they're angry—but they understand that they've got an issue with anger, even though, as I said, it might be somewhat minimized in their lives. But more importantly, most of them know that they are already suffering the consequences of their anger.
What I'm trying to say is that, in many of them—I daresay, in most of them—there is a part of them that really wants to learn how to get it under control, because they know that they're suffering consequences. Maybe it's just in the home right now, or maybe it's started to bleed over into their other relationships.
I think the first thing to do is to try to help them understand that there is a problem with anger and that there are consequences for that anger.
Bob: But don't you think that a teenager is thinking: "Well, I know what the problem is; I know why I'm angry. It's my mom,” “It's my dad,” “It's the unreasonable stuff. If I was living outside the house…” “If I was living at Sally's house…”?
Dennis: "If I had freedom…”
Bob: Yes, "…I wouldn't be angry."
Lou: And that's why it's so important for parents to teach their teens and their younger children the difference between righteous anger and sinful anger. It could very well be that mom and dad are provoking them to anger by their sinful behavior. Or it could very well be that the parents are not sinning/they are not doing anything wrong, and the reason they're [child’s] angry is because there is something they want. They want it so much that they are willing to sin, because mom and dad kept them from having what they wanted.
Bob: So you're saying the teenager may be inappropriately expressing what is legitimate or righteous anger, because mom and dad are messing up as parents?
Lou: I'm saying, before the teenager decides what he's going to do/how he's going to express his anger, he's got to make sure that it's the right kind of anger, not the wrong kind of anger; in other words, he's got to be sure that he's angry because someone has sinned against him, not because someone has not given him what he wants. I mean, that's really the difference between righteous anger and sinful anger. Sinful anger is the result of our not getting what we want. Righteous anger is the result of God not getting what He wants. In other words, when somebody sins, and we become angry, then chances are that's the right kind of anger. But when we get angry simply because no one has sinned, but we're not getting what we want, then chances are that is a sinful kind of anger.
Michelle: Anger in kids is hard. If you’re a parent of a child, who’s angry, that’s tough stuff. But here’s the thing: you have a chance to come alongside of them to guide them and to teach them through this. Lou suggests that, if you or your child are dealing with anger, you might want to keep an anger journal. It will help you keep track of the outbursts and also help you track just how, maybe, you can learn more biblically-appropriate ways to respond. We have a link for a downloadable printout at our website, FamilyLifeThisWeek.com. We’ll also have a link to the Lou Priolo shows on teens and anger there too.
You know, for some kids, this anger thing can get out of control. Please use discernment—if you need to call the authorities to help control your child, if there is something illegal happening, or if somebody is in danger—don’t be afraid to get help.
There’s another complex relationship that’s hard to navigate; and that is, the spouse, who doesn’t share your faith. Bill and Vicki Rose were not Christians when they got married. They lived a party lifestyle in New York City. They had money, and they had fame. They had it all, except they didn’t know Christ. Not surprisingly, after about ten years, their marriage blew up. They were separated, with the young kids living with Vicki while Bill continued to party and do drugs.
It was during their separation that someone reached out to Vicki. Through a series of dinner events and conversations, Vicki gave her life to the Lord. Vicki invited Bill to these evangelistic dinner parties. This was the time when Bill was spending hundreds of dollars a day on cocaine. At first, he resisted; but he loved baseball. So one day, he gave in and attended one of these dinner parties. Here’s Bill.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Bill: The first one, she called me and said there’s a/she thought she had heard that my baseball hero, growing up—was a guy named Bobby Richardson, wasn’t quite sure, but she thought she had—there was a baseball chapel luncheon, down at the downtown athletic club, which is where the Heisman trophy used to be given. And wanted to know/said the guest speaker was Bobby Richardson, and would I be interested in going? I thought, “Yes, that would be kind of cool. I’d get to meet Bobby.”
I went down there for the luncheon. Bobby shared his faith and his testimony; he was very eloquent. Someone introduced me to Bobby, and he came back with me to the restaurant/the sporting club that I owned and spent a good two hours with me and prayed for me in my office. I was not ready to do anything further than let him pray for me.
Dennis: Was he sharing his faith with you?—his faith in Christ?
Bill: Yes, he did. He also shared it at the luncheon. We just talked about the Yankees and our past second-base history. [Laughter] He wore number “1”; I wore number “1.”
Bob: He went a little farther than you did; right?
Bill: He did; thank you for bringing that up. [Laughter]
Bob: So you just swapped baseball stories. He said, "Can I pray for you?" You said, "Yes, that's okay"?
Bill: Yes, I mean, what was I going to say, "No"? That was my boyhood hero.
Bob: And he took off; and you said: "Well, that was neat. I got to spend the afternoon with Bobby Richardson."
Bill: He did; but he said he would stay in touch, and he did. That was where I started—and then, what happened was—I started to get really tired of feeling hopeless: “Is this all there is?” And on Sunday mornings—Sundays were my biggest day at The Sporting Club because it was football. We showed every single game, live, simultaneously—the only place that was doing that at the time.
I remember just being in tears on a Sunday morning—praying out to God, not really knowing who I was praying to—but I was praying out to God, crying out: "This can't be all there is!”
Michelle: Bill was at the bottom of the barrel, and that’s where he met God. God answered years of prayer from Vicki and from her children, and Bill surrendered his life to Christ.
I don’t want to paint a Pollyanna picture of what all transpired in the Rose family; because it took years for their marriage to be restored, but Vicki was faithful. It wasn’t easy; it was hard. Bill was a very hard man; but Vicki remained faithful, first to God, and then also to her husband. God restored a marriage that was completely in shambles.
A quick word of caution here: if you are in an abusive marriage—that could be verbal; that could be physical; that could be emotional—get some help, and put some space between you and your spouse. Enabling sin is never love. Remember that help could be legal authorities as well as your church.
We need to take a quick break. We’re going to be back in two minutes; we’re going to discuss some more about hard-to-love people. Stay tuned.
[Radio Station Spot Break]
Michelle: Welcome back to FamilyLife This Week. I’m Michelle Hill. You’re in it for the long haul, and persistence can pay off. But that does not mean that it’s going to be easy. We’re talking about hard-to-love people on the broadcast this week.
Take, for instance, loving someone through a health crisis. We all think: “Those health crises—they happen to other people—they don’t happen to us.” So what happens when it is us?—and it’s not over like within a week or two? That’s what happened to Tommy and Teresa Nelson. We all know Tommy; he’s a well-known author and also pastor. There was something that has marked his life when he was hit, unexpectedly, with depression/with clinical depression. He had basically worked himself into emotional exhaustion.
What happens when you have this needy, non-functional, housebound husband, who starts leaning very hard—in fact, not just hard—but totally leaning on his wife? That’s when Teresa Nelson hit her crisis point. Here’s Teresa.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Teresa: Well, it turned it upside down—because I became the strong person; I became the safe person; I became the decision-maker—Tommy, totally depended upon me, almost to a stranglehold on me, where he needed me right there beside him. By the time he was well, I mean, I really felt like [sounding weary], “I don’t know if I can go on; [Laughter] there’s such a stranglehold on me.” I mean, he was so dependent.
Tommy: I’m like the world’s biggest tick—big, massive 600-pound tick. [Laughter]
Teresa: I don’t mean that!
Dennis: Tommy/Tommy does not weigh 600 pounds, lest people take that imagery here.
Teresa: No; I mean totally dependent upon me.
Bob: Was it different than if he was convalescing after surgery for four months?
Tommy: Oh, that would have been a piece of cake.
Teresa: Because, mentally, he was struggling. I didn’t feel like he could make/well, he couldn’t make decisions.
Tommy: I could barely drive.
Teresa: He couldn’t drive; I drove him. Even then, that was difficult; because he wanted to be in the house. Yes, it was just total dependence upon me.
Bob: You’re helping somebody, who is, again, recovering from something physical—but you had somebody, who had both a physical and an emotional thing going on—how do you keep that from being personal? Do you know what I mean? I mean, there had to be times when—
Tommy: And she did keep it from getting personal.
Bob: —when his attitude, when his anger, when his frustration—how did you keep from feeling like, “You just need to talk nicer to me”?
Teresa: Well, to be honest, it was just getting kind of annoying; because it was so: “Help me,” “Help me,” “Help me,” “Do this for me.” This was before they said “Clinical depression.”
One Sunday evening, I was at prayer. I went to prayer; and I left him at home. He called the church and got the guy in charge of sound to take him to Lewisville, which is about 20 miles from Denton, to a doctor’s office to get medication.
Tommy: —to help me sleep.
Teresa: I felt like he was going around me, because that’s what I started feeling. I felt immediate anger; I really did. I felt it up to here; I thought, “Tommy’s lost his mind.” But I wasn’t thinking, “clinical depression.” I was just thinking, “He is self-centered.”
Tommy: “You’re not the only person!” [Screaming; laughter]
Teresa: I went home, and I mean, it was like I—I really did—to my shame, I blew, just like that. [Laughter]
Tommy: “You’re not the only person!” [Laughter]
Teresa: I said, “I’m going to start calling you COTU: the ‘Center of the Universe.’” I mean, I was really angry.
Tommy: Now, did you catch what she said? Center of the Universe is C-O-T-U.
Teresa: —not “sinner.” [Laughter]
Tommy: So it’s “center”; C-E-N-T-E-R. That got to be the shortened version: “Hey, COTU!” [Laughter]
Teresa: I did. [Laughter] I mean, because I was feeling angry at him; because I felt like he was going around me. He was being deceptive.
Dennis: Here is the question I want to ask you at this point: “Tommy Nelson—synonymous with teaching Song of Solomon conferences across the country about romance, caring for your spouse—how does the Center of the Universe live out the Song of Solomon in the midst of depression?”
Tommy: Let’s break to a commercial right here. [Laughter]
Teresa: Tommy, quit it! [Laughter]
Bob: Yes, the truth must come out, my friend.
Teresa: Well, he didn’t stay the Center of the Universe. I mean, it was just—he was trying to fix everything, and he was trying to make it right—and then, he went into a true clinical depression.
Bob: Would it be fair to say that, from the middle of May—maybe even before that—until the middle of November, you had a romance-less marriage?
Teresa: Oh, yes. [Laughter]
Tommy: Oh, yes; it was a—
Teresa: Oh, yes; well, I’d say from the middle of May to, at least, October.
Bob: And I know there are a lot of folks, who are listening, who are going, “I know that sounds like a long time, but I’ve been at it for two years,” or “…three years,” or “…five years in a romance-less marriage.” Did it cause you to begin to go: “I don’t know that there’s hope. This may be worse until he dies or I die”?
Teresa: There were a couple of times I thought—hopeless—but not really. I mean, there were a couple of times I just thought, “I hope it’s not this way forever,”—
Bob: —“…forever,” yes.
Teresa: —because to touch him was painful to him—
Teresa: —to just rub his arm or anything like that was just painful.
Tommy: I couldn’t wear a watch; I couldn’t wear a wedding ring; it hurt.
Teresa: I mean, he had real, true pain that they had to give him medication that they give diabetics a lot of time for neuropathy to help their arm and leg pain. But it was not odd; it was like, “This is, not just my duty, but I love this man.”
Dennis: “This is your assignment.”
Teresa: Yes; “But this is what has been dealt to you right now.”
Michelle: Oh, how hard! You know, just like Vicki Rose, Teresa Nelson had the courage to faithfully love her husband during this very painful episode/very painful health episode. God took Tommy and Teresa through some of the most intense suffering of their lives in order to refine them and to refine their ministry. It’s a great reminder that, not only is love hard at times, but God uses those hard things to refine us and to make us into the people that He wants us to be.
One of the mistakes that Christians make is that we get irritable at the slow process. I’m sure there were times Teresa was irritable—maybe even Vicki Rose—irritable at this slow process: “Why wasn’t God moving faster?” It got me to thinking of some verses that Lou Priolo has put to memory to help him through the days of that slow process.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Lou: There are two passages of Scripture that I committed to memory. Both of them, when I find myself becoming impatient or even angry, if I can recall them to mind—I don’t do it 100 percent of the time—but when I can call these things to mind, it helps me tremendously.
The first one is 2 Timothy 2:24-26: “The Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome or argumentative, but kind to all, patient when wronged; in gentleness, instructing those who are in opposition.” Then, two chapters over, 2 Timothy 4:2: “Preach the Word,”—or in the case of a husband and father, I say to myself, “Teach the Word”; because it’s my responsibility to teach my wife/to teach my kids God’s Word; right?—“Be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, exhort, convict”—now, catch this—“with great patience and careful instruction.”
In both of these verses, you have this idea of patient instruction—patience and instruction—instruct with patience. A lot of times, when I’m having a conflict with my wife or my girls, it’s sort of like we’re on the same level: “Nya, nya, nya, nya,”—me versus her/me versus them. When I can remember these verses—I don’t know how I’m going to illustrate this on the radio—it changes the paradigm. Instead of me being on the same level with them, I remember these verses and I tell myself, “Lou, you are the shepherd. It goes this way…you are supposed to shepherd them.” Somehow, by bringing that to mind, it enables me to be more patient; more so, just like I’m patient with my counselees. I’m the shepherd of the family—it’s my job to train them; it’s my job to help them—I must be patient with them, because that’s what shepherds do.
And oh, by the way, they have to be patient—and have been, generally-speaking—patient with me.
Bob: That’s where I find I often am able to cultivate patience in the midst of conflict—it’s by stopping and remembering—“How longsuffering has God been with me?”
Lou: Romans, Chapter 2: “Do you despise the goodness of His forbearance and longsuffering with you, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”
Bob: If I am grateful to God for His patience/His longsuffering—if I have been a recipient of that grace in my own life—that helps me pour it out into the lives of others. I want to be as patient with others as I want God to be with me. He has been exceedingly patient with me.
Lou: And stop and think about 1 Corinthians 13; what’s the first thing on the list?
Bob: “Love is patient.”
Lou: And what’s the last thing on the list?
Bob: “Love endures all things.”
Lou: Exactly; “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” At the beginning and the end, you have this description of love. It’s flanked, on both sides, with the two words we’re talking about: patience and endurance—and even forbearing—I mean, bearing with one another.
Michelle: Patience and endurance. We live in a culture where everything is disposable, where people and things get thrown in the trash as soon as we’re done with them. We don’t tend to practice 1 Corinthians 13 very well, and the skill of patience, and endurance, and forbearance. Maybe it’s time we really take that to heart. It’s about giving grace; and it’s about counting to seven instead of three when you get irritable. It’s about asking God to help us see things from His perspective.
As we close the show, I want to share some sweet words with you from Tommy Nelson, who had struggled with clinical depression. Tommy gave a tribute to his wife Teresa. Here’s what he had to say.
[Previous FamilyLife Today Broadcast]
Tommy: Give me your finger.
Tommy: Yes, you’ve got to touch my finger right here. I would say:
TJ/Teresa Jo, “…where sin increases, grace abounds...” The way we know of God’s love is through struggle and pain; we find the depth of who He is. That’s what I’ve found in you—that you said, “…’til death do us part,” and you said, “…for better, for worse, and for richer, for poorer…”—I had about a year of just the poorer and the worst, and my strength through all of it was you. You never moved; you never faltered; you never stopped loving me.
You told me things that I didn’t want to hear. You took me to the Word. You let me follow you around, buying at Kroger’s, just like your idiot accomplice—[Laughter]—and you never, you never faltered—that you always loved me. And when I doubted my health and I even doubted, at times—I said, “God, like David, You take no pleasure in me anymore,”—but one thing I never doubted was you.
So thank you for sounding the depths of your love. And now, I have more to love, more to praise you for, and a greater sermon for a greater day. Thank you, Babe.
Hey, thanks for listening! I want to thank the co-founder of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and our president, David Robbins, along with our station partners around the country. A big “Thank you!” to our engineer today, who forebears much with me, Keith Lynch. Thanks to our patient producers, Marques Holt and Bruce Goff; they keep me humble. Justin Adams is our merciful mastering engineer, and Megan Martin is our gracious production coordinator.
Our program is a production of FamilyLife Today, and our mission is to effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.
I'm Michelle Hill, inviting you to join us again next time for another edition of FamilyLife This Week.
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