About the Guest
It's often the little things that can annoy you about your mate. Widower and father of four Jonathan Pitts reminds us that the goal of the Christian life is to be filled with and walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and to be conformed to the image of Christ as we live out the fruit of the spirit. Pitts shares how he was intentional in trying to die daily to his own wants in order to serve his wife and family, and illustrates this with a story from his marriage about changing a bad habit he had since childhood.
Widower and father of four Jonathan Pitts shares how he was intentional in trying to die daily to his own wants in order to serve his wife and family, and illustrates this with a story from his marriage about changing a bad habit he had since childhood.
Bob: To have a marriage with no regrets, Jonathan Pitts says you have to learn how to get yourself out of the center.
Jonathan: In my marriage, although I wasn’t perfect, I was intentional to try to die daily to myself, and my desires, and my wants. It was hard most days—it was hard to the very end—like it’s always hard. It’s always going to be hard giving up what you want; you know?
But now, my joy is based in the sacrifice. If I wouldn’t have sacrificed for my wife/if I would have been more selfish—I’m not saying I wasn’t selfish, but if I weren’t working on that—I would have tremendous regret right now, and that joy wouldn’t be present.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, May 22nd. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. To experience fullness in a marriage, we have to learn how to live an emptied-out life. We’ll explore that more today with Jonathan Pitts. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have to confess—
Dave: Oh, it’s confessions by Bob Lepine!
Ann: Good! Everyone listen up! [Laughter]
Dave: This should be a regular segment—[Laughter]
Ann: That’s a good idea!
Dave: That’d be sort of fun; wouldn’t it?—
Bob: Well, now, wait until you hear—
Dave: —Confessions from Bob!
Bob: Wait until you hear this confession; because the confession is—I did glance at Jonathan’s fingernails—
Dave: Oh, oh; I know why. [Laughter]
Ann: I didn’t!
Bob: You didn’t look at the fingernails?
Jonathan: I’ve reverted a little bit, but I have a good excuse.
Bob: So, you know why I was looking at his fingernails?
Ann: I have no idea.
Dave: I think you’re going to tell us.
Bob: So, Jonathan Pitts joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today; welcome back. Why was I looking at your fingernails?
Jonathan: I’ve been a fingernail-biter my whole life; my wife hated it from the time that we met. I remember being in the car with her, driving—I think we were on a date—and I reached my hand out to touch her leg. She recoiled from my hand. That was a moment, for me, that was a game-changer. It was one where I would begin to own, “What does it look like to not be…”
Ann: You weren’t angry or defensive at her recoiling.
Jonathan: I used to be angry and defensive; and at that moment, I was kind of heartbroken. That was a need for her—to know that her husband could stop biting his nails for her.
Bob: Jonathan Pitts is the executive pastor at Church of the City—[Laughter]
Jonathan: That’s funny, after he was telling that story. [Laughter]
Bob: I thought I’d throw this in—executive pastor at Church of the City—
Ann: “I want to hire you!”
Bob: —in Nashville. [Laughter] He is also the father of four daughters. His wife Wynter—who is the co-author of the book, Emptied, which they wrote right before her passing a year ago—that’s what we’re talking about/we’re talking about issues in marriage and emptying yourself in order to achieve oneness—to drain the “me” out of the “us” so that we can really be focused on: “What does God want for our marriage?” and “How can we come, together, to make that happen?”
It’s not just about being emptied, though; because Jesus tells a story about a guy, who empties the house—he has a demon in the house—so he cleans it up, and empties the house, and that’s all he does—is he empties it—and what happens? Seven more demons come and fill up the house. We can’t just empty ourselves; we have to be filling up with something in order for there to be a structure here.
If we’re going to empty ourselves—I know the Sunday school answer is: “Well, you fill up with Jesus,”—but what does that look like? How do we do that?
Jonathan: Well, Galatians would tell us that the goal of the Christian life is to be filled with the Holy Spirit; and the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. The Bible says, “Against such things there is no law,”—like we’re supposed to have those things in increasing measure.
As we’re being emptied of sin—as we’re being emptied of expectations, as we’re being emptied of habits that might not even/sometimes, those things that we’re being emptied of aren’t even wrong things. Like I remember—Dave, you’re a football guy; I’m a football guy—and I remember, on Sundays, we used to go to my family’s house for Sunday, all day. You get out of church—one o’clock game, four o’clock game, evening game—it’s an all-day thing.
Dave: Yes; I love this guy. [Laughter]
Ann: That’s still kind of our house.
Dave: That works.
Jonathan: Wynter just joined with that journey. We got married—I’m 24 years old, fresh out of college; 23 years old, fresh out of college—and we start going to my family’s house every Sunday for the Sunday games. She’s like, “Hey, can we go home now?” I’m like: “What do you mean? We are home. This is my parents’ house, where we watch football.” That wasn’t, necessarily, a wrong thing; but it was definitely one that was destroying my marriage, one Sunday at a time! [Laughter] Thankfully, God would move us across the country, away from my family, for that very specific reason, I think, so I could lose that habit really fast.
But some of the things that we need to be emptied of aren’t even wrong things; they’re just things that are keeping us from being fully one and intimate. As those things are being emptied, God wants to fill us with some other things—love being one, peace, patience—like all these things that God gives us and wants to give us in increasing measure. To the degree that we empty ourselves is to the degree that God can and will fill us with those things.
Bob: I think you’d agree with this—it’s not that we need to isolate nine specific character qualities and say: “Okay; I’m going to try to build this today,” or “I’m going to try to build this today.” The fact that the Bible describes this as the fruit of the Spirit means that what we need to do is be filled up with God’s Spirit; we need to be oriented, where our life is about Him and His purposes, and then what grows naturally,—
Jonathan: Yes—out of that.
Bob: —in that situation, is this fruit.
That list in Galatians 5, which is a great list—I don’t think it’s an exhaustive list—I think the Spirit bears all kind of fruit in our lives. That’s just a good representation of what a Spirit-filled life is going to look like.
If you wonder if you’re Spirit-filled, you just ask yourself the question: “Am I loving? Am I joyful? Am I peaceful? Am I patient?” You can go through that list and say, “Are these things true about me?” If they’re not, then you’re not Spirit-filled in that moment; so you need to turn back and say, “Okay, Spirit; fill me here”; right?
Jonathan: Yes; you know, one of the beautiful things, when I think about—you said it’s not an exhaustive list; there are other things there—one of the things that I’m really grateful for now, eight months out from my wife’s passing, and just realizing the level of desire that she had to lean into the Spirit of God—and now, I look at the fruit that was borne out of the ministry that she built: first and foremost with my girls, and then second, with her earthly ministry in For Girls Like You.
You know, I even think legacy—like leaving something behind—is one of those fruits that’s borne out of living the life of the Spirit. I was actually reading about it in Proverbs this morning. But that’s just a reality that I get to think about, often, right now—just where I am with my wife not being here—but realizing that she’s, literally, still present through a godly legacy that she’s left behind here on earth, through investing in the kingdom. It’s a beautiful thing.
Ann: If someone asked you, “How do I get filled with the Holy Spirit?” what would your simple answer be?
Jonathan: Yes; it’s probably a cliché one; but “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.” I would say: “That’s it—it’s seeking God. Seeking God looks like a lot of different things, but it looks like looking for Jesus in everything—looking for His kingdom purposes, looking to His Word, finding godly people around you that you see that being exemplified in. There are a lot of different methods, but seeking means seeking—like it’s looking for it; trying to find it”; you know.
I wish I could give like a step one, a step two, and a step three; but the only step I can give is: “Seeking, first, God’s kingdom and His purposes.”
Dave: You know, I think, Jonathan, what you write about in the book is really that emptying, which, in a sense, is taking my will, which—every second of my day—is fighting for first place.
Dave: I want my way in my marriage/in my life—you name it. It’s fighting/it’s saying, “I’m going to lay that down/empty that out,”—which is hard; because it’s every day; or most of it’s every minute, because it raises back up—it’s like, “I’m going to empty that; I’m going to lay that down.” What replaces that, as we were talking about earlier, is the Spirit of God then floods in that empty space—that we say: “Okay, God; come in. Do Your will.”
Let’s talk about this, because you get into this in your book. The fruit of that/the fruit of the Spirit—capital “S”; not my human spirit; the Spirit of God in my life—is really one fruit that has sort of nine character qualities. Talk about it.
So, the first one’s love. That’s a word that nobody understands: “I love you,” “I love ice cream,”—you know? “What’s it mean?”—it means nothing. But yes: “What does love look like?—the Spirit of God doing godly love in your marriage/in your life, what’s that fruit look like?”
Jonathan: Well, it looks like something; I can tell you that. It’s very practical in nature. It’s not ethereal; it’s not an idea; it’s an action—so Jesus, when He loved us—He took action.
My wife loved surprises. I could easily just—you know, I’m just a guy; I’m a typical guy that doesn’t like to work really hard when it comes to things like that—it’s sad, but it’s true. I didn’t want to work hard to surprise her. It would take me years to develop the understanding that a part of loving her well was surprising her, because that was something that she really enjoyed.
Ann: She loved it?
Jonathan: Yes; she loved it! I got better and better at it; and I executed it perfectly on our 15th anniversary, which I think I talked about earlier. But it’s just like—love looks like something; and depending on who our spouse is, it looks different. So, love looks like my stopping from biting my fingernails; love looks like surprising her.
Love—it’s so many different things, and it works itself out in so many different ways; but it’s tangible, and it’s not just an idea. I can’t just say to Wynter, or I couldn’t just say to Wynter, “Well, I love you; so that makes all…”—no; show your love—let it be worked out in action.
Ann: It’s interesting, because another fruit that you talk about is joy. As I watch you and think: “She’s been gone—Wynter has been gone eight months—and yet, you exude a joy. I see it in you—it’s palpable; it’s present. How do you have that joy?”
Jonathan: Well, one, it’s all God; but I think back to that Scripture, “For the joy set before Him He endured the cross.” In my marriage, although I wasn’t perfect, I was intentional to try to die daily to myself, and my desires, and my wants. Now, I just feel like in this moment—I’ll tell you story.
I’m backing up a little bit more. Dr. Evans was teaching—I was at Dr. Evans’ church/Tony Evans’ church. He’s teaching on Esther/the Book of Esther. He’s talking about how Esther had a choice to make between, basically, potentially giving up her life to the save the Jewish people or just being like: “You know what? I’m good; I’m in the king’s palace; I’m going to sit back.”
I had this moment, where I wrote down that: “God wants to use me, but to the degree that I actually give up what I want to serve God’s purposes will be to the degree that God can use me.” It’s like God was driving me towards more and more giving up what I wanted for His purposes, which meant, a lot of days, being sacrificial. Now, my joy is—because of the endurance I had in marriage and because of the things that I decided to give up, intentionally—it was hard most days. It was hard to the very end; it’s always hard—like it’s always going to be hard giving up what you want; you know?
If I wouldn’t have sacrificed for my wife/if I would have been more selfish—I’m not saying that I wasn’t selfish, but if I weren’t working on that—I would have tremendous regret right now, and that joy wouldn’t be present.
Bob: It’s not that you don’t have grief. We’ve already talked about the fact that grieving is still there.
Jonathan: Yes; well, no. What the gospel gives us/what Jesus gives us is the paradox—you know, you have sorrow on one side and joy—you could have joy in the sorrow.
Ann: That’s what I see.
Jonathan: That’s what, for me, grief is right now—joy in the sorrow. I can talk about my wife, and just have joy in my heart for what I had—the gift that she was to me and the gift that I didn’t even know that—like she was a gift in a lot of ways, and I didn’t even know I needed a gift.
A couple years ago, if you’d have told me I’d be sitting around this table, talking to you guys, I’d be like: “I’m not worthy of that. I can’t do that,” and Wynter would be speaking confidence into me, like: “God’s made you for this. God’s crafted you for this.” She would speak confidence into me—that was a gift, you know.
Bob: You know, we look at that list in Galatians 5 and we, most often, will ask about ourselves, personally, “Do I have love, and joy, and peace, and patience, and kindness?” But stop and think about your marriage, and just say: “Is this a marriage that is characterized by love? Is this a relationship where joy is present? Is this a relationship where there’s peace in the relationship?”
Now, all of a sudden, we’re talking, not just about an individual, but about a Spirit-filled marriage. For it to get there, both of you have to be walking in the Spirit—you both have to be filled with the Spirit/surrendered to Christ. It’s one thing for me to be joyful—that’s a good thing—but when we’re joyful in marriage, together, that’s not just one plus one, that’s kind of like two times twelve.
Bob: The joy that’s there, when you’re both operating in that, is pretty spectacular.
Jonathan: Actually, you get to experience it at a lot of levels; for us, specifically, in ministry. When we both got on purpose in our marriage, like God began to grow us and use our marriage in a way—and our parenting—[in a way] we never would have thought possible. I’m really grateful for it.
Dave: Honestly, there are a lot of listeners, whose husband or wife won’t pursue Christ like they are; so they’re sitting here, listening to us, like, “Okay; I’m listening to couples, whose spouse is on-fire for Christ like they are; but what do I do when my husband won’t go to church with me?” or “…will go, but he’s not going to surrender all?” or “My wife won’t…” What do you say to that spouse, who’s sort of alone in this; but they have to empty when they know their spouse isn’t going to empty? How do they navigate that?
Jonathan: I mean, I would first say that’s kind of what Jesus did for us.
Jonathan: You know, it’s what He did for us! But I mean, that’s a very biblical answer; but the reality is—you know, like Paul’s talking about that specifically to wives, that you can win your spouse—
Dave: First Peter.
Jonathan: Yes; 1 Peter—you can win your spouse over just by your faithfulness. But yes, I think you have a unique opportunity to show them Christ in you. You know, “For the joy set before you endure…”
Dave: In a sense, it really is sort of the hardest thing to do; because when your spouse isn’t going where you want them to go, our eyes get fixed on them, and one of the things we have to do—I know Ann had to do this with me—is take her eyes off me and look back to the One—capital “O” One/Jesus—and say: “That’s where my life is. I’m going to find it there.”
The more we look at our spouse, the more disappointed we might get; because they’re not going where we want. God can fill us ourselves, and then we can do what 1 Peter said—then I can respect my man/then I can love my woman in a way that draws them to the One, who’s given me the power to do it.
Jonathan: Yes; another thing I would say is—I think we talk about this in the book—this reality of/like there are qualities—even if our spouses aren’t perfect, there are qualities in them that we can call out that, actually—just like with our kids; we can call out qualities in them that make them want them to rise to the occasion.
I would encourage them to call out—if you see a godly characteristic in your spouse, like call it out. Even if it’s not perfect—or there’s 90 percent that’s bad—where’s the
10 percent that you can call out and just encourage them in?
We did a Weekend to Remember; and we wrote these letters, where we were calling out on each other. I have Wynter’s—that’s a gift to me from 2014—a letter that she wrote to me that I want to read, if you don’t mind.
Bob: We’d love to hear it.
Jonathan: This is her calling out what she sees in me—
Bob: This is the love letter that she wrote to you during the project on Saturday at the Weekend to Remember getaway.
Jonathan: —2014 I think it was. Yes; and it’s on the letterhead, so I’m not lying. [Laughter]
Dear Jonathan, When we first met,—
Her handwriting’s not that great, so—
Dear Jonathan, When we first met, I could tell there was something different about you. You were genuine and kind, without seeking anything in return. You were louder than me, and I was actually drawn to that. I appreciate your ability to speak up and to be able to talk to anyone. You know that you are not shy, but it comes from such a pure place of loving people; and I appreciate that, and I’ve grown from you in that.
You have so many qualities that I don’t have, and they seem to drive me nuts; but I’m learning that it is because you challenge me to grow. It’s your self-discipline with working out, or eating healthy, or discipling the girls and I. You are showing the girls and I what it looks like to die to self and live in humility. Thank you for that.
I am committed to receiving you and all the pieces of who you are. I know that God gave you to me because I needed the you He created you to be in my life. I receive you and value you. You are my gift, and the more I unwrap, the more precious you are and the more I realize how much of you is needed and wanted in my life. Thank you for always being you. I am so excited to continue to grow with you. Signed, Beezy
—which was her nickname.
There were probably a hundred things that Wynter could have put on a sheet of paper to tell me what I’m not doing right, even in that moment, just a couple years ago. But one of the things I loved about that weekend was just this great opportunity to be able to call out in each other just what you see—the godly characteristics and all that—so that’s special; it’s framed on my bedroom wall.
Dave: It’s really cool. I was thinking, “You know, we called it, at the Weekend to Remember—we called it a love letter; but as you read that, I thought, ‘To you, that was a respect letter.’”
Dave: You know, I’ve said this many times—Ann, over the years, would give me a love anniversary card: “I love you,” and throw it in the trash. [Laughter] I mean, I’d say, “Thanks; but when I went to my office later, I’d just, “Ah, that’s nice.” But then, she started to write things like that—and you saved it, and I saved it—because it’s a life-giving respect. “I believe in you,” is what Wynter said.
Dave: How beautiful that is that you have that.
Bob: I want to read, from the last chapter of your book, just a paragraph-and-a-half here. You said:
On our marriage journey, we can’t deny God’s preordained hand brought us together. The things that had to happen or not happen for us to be together are clearly seen when we look back. We’ve faced a few moments of perceived destruction that could have ended, in death, to our joy, death to intimacy, death to our peace, even death to our marriage; yet in those moments, we have learned to say, like Esther, “If I must die, I must die.” It hasn’t been an easy process. We’re still learning to accept death to fulfill the fairytale ending that God has planned to us.
We know what you’re thinking: “I don’t want to die”; well, neither do we. Thankfully, we aren’t necessarily talking about physical death, but figurative death; though God does call some to die for a spouse, but rarely. He’s calling us to die to anything and everything that is not of His Spirit, to whatever keeps His Spirit from growing inside of us.
You pushed “Send” on that manuscript; and a few hours later, your wife had passed from this life to the next. It had been—not spiritual death/not dying to self—but it was death. But even hearing those words, again, that the two of you wrote together—those are precious words.
Jonathan: Yes; yes. [Emotion in voice] It’s kind of crazy to think about where I am right now, and even—I haven’t read that last chapter there in awhile. It’s ended physically—“…till death do us part”—it’s ended, physically, for us now; but I’m forever grateful for this project. It’s, literally, for me, something I’ll always have—just to remember what God has done in our marriage and is continuing to do through it, even though it’s ended now.
Bob: This is a memorial stone.
Jonathan: Yes; yes.
Bob: Yes; and it’s a gift for all of us—to not only read about your journey—but to see the insights that you guys had into what it looks like to align your marriage with God’s purposes, and we’re grateful for this.
Thank you for being here. Thanks for sharing your story; thanks for crying a couple of times. [Laughter]
Jonathan: Thank you for making me cry a couple times.
Bob: And for listeners—if you’d like to get a copy of the book, Emptied, we have it for you in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Go, online, to FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy. Again, the title of the book is Emptied—by Wynter and Jonathan Pitts—Experiencing the Fullness of a Poured-Out Marriage. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order: 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, thinking about a marriage that is designed to honor Christ—and that’s our goal with marriage—that’s something we can’t accomplish on our own. David Robbins, the President of FamilyLife®, is with us; and that’s a principle you’ve learned, both experientially and theologically; right?
David: Yes; I mean, if we’re going to empty ourselves and not have the power of God be the thing that fills us to be able to live out the things He’s inviting us to step into, then we will be worn down, empty vessels. I mean, the way He did it is: “I’m going to put the resurrection power of Christ inside of you, and fill you to and move you to live out and follow what I’m inviting you into.”
If you haven’t heard me say this before—at some point in this journey together, you will get sick of me saying this—but kind of a life mantra I’ve had to learn is that: “If dependency is the goal, then weakness is actually an advantage,”—just as
2 Corinthians 12 says: “His power is made perfect in our weakness.
David: “His grace will be sufficient.” A lot of times, though, we seek to serve and not actually tap into the power source of Him being inside of us—His Spirit. If we’re following Jesus, His Spirit’s inside of us and He enables us to be able to depend upon Him and to live it out.
Bob: So, if we’re feeling strong and confident in our marriage, we ought to pause for a minute; right?
David: I think there are seasons, where we can delight in it, I will say, where God just gifts us with grace; and we’re really enjoying. But if we think we have everything handled, I think, oftentimes, we’re always called to trust God for things bigger than ourselves. If we feel like we have it all under control, we may need to pause and ask Him, “God, am I really living the God-sized life?”
Bob: That’s good, David. Thank you for that.
Let me, once again, remind our regular listeners about something pretty exciting going on, here, at FamilyLife. We have had some friends of the ministry recently come to us—knowing that summer is just around the corner and that, during the summer months, we often see some decline in donation revenue—and as a ministry, that is on the air every day throughout the summer and experiences ongoing costs throughout the summer months, these friends came and said, “We’d like to help you make sure you head into summer in good shape.” They have agreed to match every donation we receive, during the month of May, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, up to a total of $645,000—very generous offer on their part.
We hope to take full advantage of that matching-gift opportunity. To do that, we’re asking you to make a donation. In fact, we’re hoping—if you’re a regular listener/you’ve been listening for awhile—would you consider becoming one of our monthly Legacy Partners? Legacy Partners provide the financial underpinnings for this ministry—you make the ongoing operation of FamilyLife Today possible.
Because of this matching gift, if you sign up and become a Legacy Partner during the month of May, two things are going to happen: first, every donation you make for the next 12 months is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, until the matching-gift funds are gone; and second, we’ll send you, as a thank-you gift, a gift card so that either you, as a couple, or someone you know can attend an upcoming Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, either one of the remaining getaways this spring, or into the fall, or even into next year.
Maybe you know somebody getting married—you’d like to give this to them as a gift. The gift card is our expression of thanks to you when you support the ministry of FamilyLife by becoming a Legacy Partner this month. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com; you can donate online or become a Legacy Partner online. Help us take full advantage of this matching-gift opportunity. We appreciate your partnership with us.
If it’s easier to contact us by calling, our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can donate over the phone or find out more about becoming a Legacy Partner. Again, the number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to tackle a question that was sent to us by a FamilyLife Today listener. The question really revolves around, “What do you do if you’re in a loveless marriage?—a marriage where your spouse has said, ‘I don’t have any love for you’?” How do you handle that? Dave and Ann Wilson and I will tackle that tomorrow. We’ll talk about what it’s like being in a Leah-like marriage. If you’ve read Genesis, you know what we’re talking about. I hope you can tune in for that.
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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