Showing Up with the Grace Your Marriage Craves: David and Meg Robbins
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David and Meg RobbinsAs 17-year veterans of Cru, David and Meg Robbins have served in a variety of capacities, beginning as ﬁeld staff at their Alma Mater, the University of Mississippi. In 2003, they moved to Pisa, Italy, to serve as overseas team leaders for Cru. It was during that time they fell in love with ﬁnding ways to relate and communicate with a secular, pluralistic culture. They trained to serve overseas long-term until God surprisingly led them back to the U.S.
Your spouse has questions: “Am I enough? What happens when I seriously blow it?” David Robbins and wife Meg explore ushering grace into everyday marriage.
Showing Up with the Grace Your Marriage Craves: David and Meg Robbins
Meg: Marriage really is a constant opportunity for lavish grace.
Meg: But at the same time, there’s often this temptation to withhold it or not even ask for it when we need it.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: Yes, you are, and I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: What a week, grace week.
Ann: Fun week.
Dave: We’ve been talking about grace all week.
Ann: I’ve been learning a lot. Have you?
Dave: You talk about a topic that you can’t talk enough about. The grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ can never be over explained. You talk about needing to understand it and applying it to marriages.
Today we get to apply it specifically to marriage. We’ve got David and Meg Robbins back in the studio; the President of FamilyLife.
Welcome back, guys.
Meg: Thanks! We love getting to sit around the table and talk to you. We always have fun.
Dave: Let’s talk a little bit about grace. Here’s a clip from Dane Ortlund. You guys know Dane. He’s amazing. Here’s a clip that we recorded previously.
Dave: You wrote in chapter two, I think, “It is impossible for the affectionate heart of Christ to be over celebrated, made too much of - exaggerated. It cannot be plumbed but it is easily neglected, forgotten. We draw too little strength from it.”
Then you say this, “When Christ sees the fallenness of the world and its affect on His people He moves toward that sin and suffering; He does not turn away from it.”
Forever we’ve had the opposite picture: “He turns away from me, and I have to turn away from Him.” Sometimes, wait, wait, wait—are you saying we can’t over celebrate this? You are.
Dane Ortlund: Yes, he says His heart is gentle and lowly; His heart. We know from the testimony of Old Testament and New, the heart is not anything frothy. It’s not merely your emotional or affectional life. It’s what pours out most deeply from your innermost core.
When Jesus tells us what His heart is, He says “gentle and lowly.” Conclusion: We are never going to overstate the wonderous, endless patience, and love of His heart. We will understate it. It’s all we’re ever doing! But we can’t go beyond that ceiling.
Again, this is consistent with the testimony of the Old Testament. “The Lord, the Lord,…slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love….” Exodus 34 [Exodus 34:6], which is picked up time and again throughout the Old Testament. Not the God I think is naturally there: “The Lord the Lord, tepid and calculating in steadfast love,” no.
This is, as you say, Dave, we picture God as the photo negative of this. It feels very morally serious to make much of God’s holiness and to sort of say, “Hang on; tap the brakes on His grace.” That feels right because we know way down deep we are guilty sinners. But actually, we are dishonoring Christ.
We are free to honor Christ by letting His forgiveness loom larger than all our guilt, shame, and regret.
Dave: Let’s talk about what Dane was getting into, the grace of God and applying it to our marriages.
Let’s frame it this way: If you would say to your spouse, “I need grace,” what area would it be? Who wants to go first?
David Robbins: I’ll go first. I think one of the ways, Meg, you do this often and I’m grateful for and every time we get in a situation like this, I’m so thankful for how you connect with Jesus and are able to operate in grace that is like His and reflects His, is that when I’m weak and experiencing discouragement or doubting myself, you don’t come in to fix and control.
You come in and you get to the places of my longings where we start talking about how I am feeling: “Do I have what it takes?” I think most men are—that’s a core question that we have—
Dave: Juli Slattery says every man wakes up every single day—
David Robbins: Every day—
Dave: —saying, “Do I have what it takes?”
David Robbins: Man!
Dave: I think she’s right.
Ann: Let’s just pause for a second. Is that really true? Do you guys both wake up thinking that: “Do I have what it takes?”
Dave: Yes, I would just say—I don’t know about you, David—I would say, I don’t have that literal word structure in my brain. But I think pretty much all day long, and I could say for every day of my life, there’s a part of me [saying], “Am I measuring up? Did I do good job with this? Did I lead this meeting well? Did I do a good job on this broadcast? How did it go? Am I a good dad; am I a good husband?” all day long.
Dave: There are times I go, “Yes, yes, I did a good job,” and there’s a lot of times I go, “Whoa, I could have really done a lot better.”
Meg: Right, it’s funny to hear you say that you think, “Did I do that well?” because if feel like I don’t. I get so caught up in all the things happening in our home and often miss the opportunities to say, “You are doing this so well. Thank you for the ways that you come alongside me or lead at FamilyLife or lead in our family.”
David Robbins: I’m just saying, when the insecurity crops up and I become aware of it—it’s fascinating, Dave, that you ask that question that Juli Slattery said and I had an example that I could go, “I left a message with somebody today.” I wasn’t thinking about it consciously, but, holy cow, that’s exactly what was happening this morning.
When I crack open about that, Meg, you do hold space. It’s such a gift that you operate and give me what I don’t deserve, simple definition of grace. You allow me to bring that to you and together process that of “How do I bring that to the Lord?”
I think that’s what you do well is that you allow it to not just get so crippling that you go, “Let’s talk about that; tell me more; unpack more of it. I want to know what’s there.” From that place we can actually go to God Himself and experience His grace in deeper and deeper ways.
I just think you are convince in a healthy way and you operate with me that weakness is an advantage; like, you are not enough. So, when you are weak it’s actually that amazing opportunity to lunge toward Jesus to the One who is strong enough that can make me a strong man. You help me do that.
Ann: Is that something we should ask as women? “Do you feel adequate? Do you feel like you can do this? Do you wake up in the morning wondering if you have what it takes?” [Laughter] Should we ask that or should we just encourage our guys; like, “I want you to know that you have what it takes”?
Dave: Part of me is thinking, “Don’t ask it; just tell us we are.”
Meg: —just assume it.
Dave: Yes, there’s times when if you ask that question, I feel like you are my partner.
Meg: When I was listening to Dane Ortlund, the quote at the beginning, it’s like I’m listening to that and I’m thinking, “Marriage really is a constant opportunity for lavish grace.”
Meg: But at the same time, there’s often this temptation to withhold it or not even ask for it when we need it. When I hear you, David, say that’s where you need grace, it’s like, “Okay, what does it look like to step into those moments every time that door is opened.”
I think I probably do hold back at times. That’s what’s so amazing about how Jesus’ grace for us is so lavish every time. But He can give us the power and strength to do that for each other.
David Robbins: Makes me think of an example from last month where we were going into board meetings and I feel like I was really struggling with “Man, we’re not as far as I wanted to be.” I was a little concerned at the progress report that I was giving.
I think I cracked open that day to Meg; like, “I’m just discouraged.” Ultimately, I was seeking their approval subtly more than the Lord’s approval, and you right sized that going, “God has been providing so much.” And you called out a few things that just lifted my eyes of how much God is doing and how much growth FamilyLife is seeing.
A man, going back to your question, Ann, I feel like we are always “What’s that next step; how do we get to more?” We don’t rest in the provision God give us, the abundant grace in times of good, or the sufficient grace in times of struggle and wilderness time.
God is always relating to us in grace. We sometimes, in our flesh, stive for “It’s never enough.” You, in that moment, really helped me see God in His abundant and sufficient grace is doing amazing things, go in with your identity in Him.
It was that little switch that I needed. It just reminded me of Henry Nouwen quote “You have to listen to the voice who calls you the beloved, because otherwise you will run around begging for affirmation, for praise, for success. And then you’re not free.”
I go, “A God of grace makes us free, but you can assume instead of ask.” I think you don’t have to ask.
Ann: Yes, that’s good.
David Robbins: You can assume your man as just the churn of life starts happening starts running around begging for that affirmation, praise and success. It’s just wired into most men, not all. These are generalizations. But “Do we have what it takes?”
That brokenness that surfaces, and it goes back to why I brought this up, it is a bridge to encountering Jesus’s grace, not a barrier. That’s what you do; you help take me to Jesus when I open up the brokenness that’s happening in me and how I can encounter His grace.
Dave: That’s what men wake up thinking. I just thought, “What do women wake up thinking?” What do you two wives wake up [thinking]? [Laughter] Is there something that sort of drives you like it sort of drives us?
Meg: I will say, I don’t know that this is what I wake up thinking, but one of those underlying things that I know I need grace from you, David, is just my desire for you to know me deeply, but my hesitancy to let you in. I think I just need massive grace for you to keep pursuing me when I’m closing off. I think you do that so well.
Just last night, we were on a date, and you asked me a question, and I had just recently heard someone say that sometimes when your spouse is asking you a question—you should always answer honestly—but sometimes you need to say, “Actually, thanks for asking that but here’s the question I need you to ask. This is the area where my heart is feeling closed off.”
You jumped right in in that moment last night. You were really humble and able to say, “I’m sorry; I haven’t been pursuing you and asking those questions.” But I think you were extremely patient and gracious just to wait because I’m very much an internal processer, so sometimes it’s really hard for me to say on the spot, “Oh, how are you doing?” or “What do you really thinking or feeling about that?”
David Robbins: Let’s just say as an activator, I didn’t do a good job early in our marriage when she would say, “I don’t know.” I was just—
Ann: David, I’m an activator, and Dave’s an internal processor. I would just drill into him. [Laughter]
Meg: My goodness.
Ann: It was terrible.
Dave: I really didn’t know.
Meg: That is what David used to do to me.
David Robbins: Right.
Dave: I didn’t know yet.
Meg: I didn’t know the answer.
David Robbins: And your thoughts are forming but you are not going to say it until it actually is a thought.
Ann: I’m like, “How can you not know what you are thinking?!”
Meg: Right, right; that’s exactly our conversation.
David Robbins: So, the grace to not drill in when I don’t know has been something we’ve learned.
Meg: Oh, goodness, but it reminds me of Proverbs 20, verse 5, that says, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” [NIV]
I have just seen you so many times over the years in our marriage have amazing lavish grace to have the insight and the patience to draw those things out. Sometimes it’s continuing to ask and waiting for me to say, “I don’t know,” many times. But other times it’s “Let’s re-visit this when you’ve had more time to process it.”
It would probably be easy for you to fill in the gaps and to speak, but I think also of how we are called to be slow to speak and quick to listen. Sometimes we sit in silence. But I do long to be known. I do want him to know what’s going on in my heart. But sometimes it takes me time to process that with Jesus and be able to process that with him openly.
Dave: It is interesting, years ago, Ann said to me, probably around year ten when we were really struggling with, you were struggling with your feelings for me, which our listeners have heard that many times, but remember you said, “When we go on a date, I would love you—” and she said, “—write this down; write this question down: ‘How are you doing?’”
“What? I don’t ask you how you are doing?” And she said, “No, and I would love you to.” What’s she’s saying, Meg, is what you said, “I want you to know my heart, and I’m not doing well right now. We’ve got little kids in the house and I’m crazy. Could we just stop at a meal and go, ‘How are you doing?’”
Ann: I’m a verbal processor so sometimes just talking it through helps me to know what I’m feeling.
Dave: The next date, whether it was a week or two later, when I said, “Let me ask you how you are doing?” she started to tear up. It was so—it was like, “Thank you for asking.”
Meg: It’s like, as women, you asked “What do you wake up thinking?” I think we do—I as least, have a deep need for emotional connection and intimacy and to be known. I think we are all created with that desire to be known and to be loved/to be fully known and fully loved.
Of course, we get that fully and completely from the Lord. But there is something about oneness in marriage that comes from being known.
That question, as simple as it may seem, “How are you doing?” that’s digging into your heart.
David Robbins: One thing, that connection piece is something we had to practice last night. It’s been a recent thing that’s popped up of looking at each other in the eyes while we are sharing our heart.
There is something so powerful, and yet we almost forget; like your processing and you do need to think up and look to the right; “What am I thinking? And I want to share my heart.” But yet as you begin to share it, we stopped last night; like, “Could we—"
Meg: You did that. You said, “Can you look me in the eye?” [Laughter]
Dave: Did you really?
David Robbins: Yes, I did.
Meg: It really—there’s a much greater level of vulnerability when you do that.
Ann: It’s the authors that we interviewed: The Four—it’s the brain guy.
Dave: Marcus Warner and Chris Coursey, and their book, The Four Habits of Joy-filled Marriages.
Ann: But that’s one of the exercises that they say is so important: When you speak to one another, look each other in the eye directly.
Dave: That’s grace.
David Robbins: Yes.
Dave: When you give somebody the honor of “I’m not going to look at my phone,” you’re going to listen to them, and look them in the eye, you are literally being graceful. You are saying, “You are valuable; I want to hear what you say.”
We don’t do it with our own spouse. I’ll be watching a football game and be like, “Really, you want to talk about your heart right now? Come on; it’s the third quarter.” [Laughter]
Ann: You know who’s always intently wanting to hear, is Jesus—talk about His grace of just being in it with me. It helps me just to say to Him what I’m feeling and to verbalize to Him sometimes first, before I take it to Dave because it helps me to get settled in my mind.
Meg: The quote in the beginning that we listened to, I think you said, Dave, that when Jesus sees the fallenness, He moves toward us in it.
Dave: That’s a Dane quote, not a—
Meg: Yes, Dane talks about that.
We have the opportunity to do that in marriage. Ultimately, when I’m closing off and being self-sufficient, that’s my mess, my sin that David has the opportunity to move toward me and say, “No, I’m going to keep pursuing. What is this in your heart that you’re…? Maybe I’m afraid to share or maybe it is something that I haven’t processed yet.
Ann: —or wounds from the past that we aren’t even sure why you aren’t bringing it to David.
Dave: I tell you what, when I thought of what I wanted to say to Ann that you have done to give me grace, that was it. I feel like in my sin, in my weakness you have been graceful. When I snap in anger/when I sin, I feel like I get Jesus’ response. There have been times—
Ann: That’s miraculous.
Ann: Let’s just say.
Dave: Yes, and there have been times it’s been really difficult for you to understand some of my—but we’ve been married a long time now. I’d say the last ten, fifteen, twenty years—that’s a long time in itself—I’ve received grace.
Ann: That’s so nice.
Dave: I live with Jesus; that’s what I do. No, really.
Ann: You do not.
Dave: No, I don’t but I mean—
David Robbins: —Jesus coming through you.
Dave: —you have extended [grace].
Ann: Here’s mine, you guys. Mine is so recent; I feel like this has been an ongoing need for grace, because I feel like I’m not good at it and I’m not always doing well in it is putting the kids before my marriage.
Our kids are all gone. Yet, I still have grandkids and it’s always in my mind; like, “What do we need to do for them? How can we help them? How are they doing?” It’s still there.
They are out of the house and I’m still thinking of that for our grandkids.
Meg: You are telling me this isn’t going to change. [Laughter]
Dave: It is not going to change.
Ann: And I’m prioritizing them, often, before our marriage still. We just looked at a condo to downsize and I’m thinking, “What will it be like when they all come to visit?” So, it’s always in my mind.
Dave: And I’m like, “That happens like once a month.” It happens more but I don’t go there first, so that’s been hard.
Ann: It’s been hard for you because when our kids were little, I was tired. Their needs are just demanding so you are always putting your kids needs [first] because you have to address them. I feel like you were gypped out then.
But I feel like I still need your grace in that. You’ve been really gracious to me because I know that’s super frustrating.
Dave: No comment. [Laughter]
David Robbins: You know what’s beautiful about that is that as we give and receive grace from one another and encounter with Jesus and extend it to one another, Jeremiah 2:13, comes to my mind: “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and they have made for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” [Paraphrased]
In a marriage, we end up knowing the broken cisterns each one of us has more intimately than anything else. We can use that against one another and “Yes, there you go again. All this need you have you are going—”
Ann: “Your kids are your idol.”
David Robbins: That’s right; “—going to that broken cistern to fill your cup. They’ll do it but it will always beg for more because it’s going to leak out.”
Yet, in grace, we can love one another, approach God’s throne of grace to receive the grace and mercy that we need in our time of need, and we push one another to the living water, the fountain of living water that we find out in John 7, of course, is Jesus Himself that can flow in and through us through the Holy Spirit.
This is the invitation we get and Jesus allows us, in a marriage, to extend that to one another and leave away our broken cisterns and go to the Living Water.
Dave: I would add this: As you were saying that, David, I thought, “We can’t do it, unless we allow the Living Water, Jesus, through His Spirit to empower us.”
We all want to receive grace— “Please give me grace,” but do we want to extend it? It’s hard; I think it’s impossible. But in the power of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we go, “I’m going to forgive; I’m going to give you grace.”
When that happens, the spouse is sensing the Living Water. It draws you to the source of life.
Ann: A good verse to close out on is Matthew 11:28-30, when Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Shelby: Rest, sounds good, right? I love those words from Jesus.
You have been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Meg Robbins and President of FamilyLife, David Robbins on FamilyLife Today.
Stick around. David wants to share his appreciation for you in just a second.
But first, you know earlier this week we talked about experiencing the grace that Jesus gives in the context of our families. We did that with author and pastor, Dane Ortlund.
He’s written a book called Surprised by Jesus: Subversive Grace in the Four Gospels.
We’ll send you two copies as our thanks when you partner financially with us at FamilyLifeToday.com. That’s one copy for you and one to give away.
You can get your copies, when you give 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.”
We’d love for you to join us along with David and Meg Robbins for the 2024 Love Like you Mean It® Marriage Cruise. Our biggest sale is happening right now for the cruise.
Join us next February in the Caribbean with many of your favorite Christian speakers and artists for a romantic week you will not forget. I’ve been on the cruise before, and I have not forgotten it. Trust me. You can learn more at FamilyLifeToday.com.
We wanted to throw it back to David Robbins with a few more important words about this special time in FamilyLife Today’s history. Here’s D. Rob.
David Robbins: As we think about all that God has been doing, one more thought in this moment that we have together: The day we are recording is the 30th anniversary of FamilyLife Today going on the air.
When I think about the grace of God, continuing and sustaining and the marriages and families and perspectives and relationships with God that have been transformed over 30 years, I just want to thank you, as a listener. You journey with us every day; you pursuing your own walk with Jesus; you pursuing your own home and the relationships that matter most; you seeking to reflect Jesus to the homes around you, that’s what we are all about. We’re so grateful that you are part of FamilyLife.
For those of you who are partners of FamilyLife and give financially in order to keep programs like today going for 30 years, we are so grateful for the ways you sacrifice to get the good news of Jesus and the beauty of the gospel and the timeless principals that are found around marriage and family in God’s Word to more and more homes.
We are so grateful for your partnership. It really is a treat and a privilege to get to serve alongside you.
Shelby: Yes, it really is a treat to be a part of a ministry that impacts so many people for the glory of Jesus. I am personally so grateful for FamilyLife and all that it has done in my walk with God, in my marriage and in my relationships.
Are you feeling distant from God lately, maybe even turning away and even questioning the truth of His Word? I’ve been there. Maybe that’s okay. I believe a message next week may be for you to help you in this season of doubt.
Dave and Ann are going to be joined by John Marriot to tell us the hidden realities of losing faith. That’s next week; we hope you will join us.
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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