The Hard Good: Lisa Whittle
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How do you find the good after the hard? Author Lisa Whittle chats about the search for the “hard good,” the freedom to be vulnerable, and your own comeback.
The Hard Good: Lisa Whittle
Shelby: Hey, before we get started today, I wanted to mention something exciting. Did you know that there are 8,760 hours in a year? You’ll spend roughly 2,080 of those hours at work; on average, almost 900 hours swiping on social media.
How much time are you spending though with your spouse? What could your marriage look like if you spent time this year pursuing each other? We’re inviting you to take our “500 Hours Together Marriage Challenge”: one year—500 hours—a lifetime of impact.
The concept is simple: print off a tracker; grab the starter kit with ideas to get you started; then keep up with the time you intentionally spend with your spouse this year. The rest is up to you. FamilyLife.com/500Hours has everything you need to start the marriage challenge. Again, that’s FamilyLife.com/5-0-0-H-o-u-r-s.
Ann: I think one of the hardest things/the most difficult things in marriage is trying to deal with the hurt from our spouse, like we don’t know what to do with that.
Dave: Why are you bringing that up? [Laughter]
Ann: I mean, I’m asking you.
Dave: I haven’t hurt you lately, have I?
Ann: It’s been awhile, like a month. [Laughter] But what do we do with the pain? Because all of us experience pain in relationships. I think a good question is: “We all
get that pain; what do we do with it?”
Dave: 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.
You know what I do? I stuff it. [Laugher]
Ann: I know you do.
Dave: I’m not saying that’s good—I’m just saying: my natural process, watching two alcoholic parents, walking through divorce—I didn’t know any of this when we got married. I became a—you know, go to my room, shut the door and pretend I’m living outside of all that pain—
Ann: Well, I’ve heard—
Dave: —rather than process it—and then, we get married. I do/I did the same thing.
Ann: Yes; well, and I think I probably did the opposite. I’d—
Dave: —you chased me—
Dave: —into the room.
Ann: But I think, when people deal with pain—I can’t remember who I heard say this—but you either self-promote or you self-protect. I think you were probably self-protecting; and I would jump all over you, wanting to know what was going on.
Dave: Well, we need help. [Laughter]
Ann: We do need help.
Dave: And our listeners need help. We’ve got Lisa Whittle in the studio, back today, to give us some help about how to deal with our pain, not that you’re a woman of pain or anything like that. [Laughter] It sounds like you’re the pain woman.
Lisa: I also don’t know that I’m an expert on this. [Laughter] I’m thinking to myself, “Whew! Can I/am I the help?” [Laughter] I’m looking behind me, going, “Where is the help?”
Ann: You’re our help Lisa.
Lisa: I’m looking to the sky: to the “H”; the capital “H” Help.
What I will tell you is that this is something that hits close to home for me. Every chapter I wrote in The Hard Good hits close to home for me; that’s why I can write it, right? That’s what authors do: we write about things we deal with. Opening your heart again, when it’s been hurt—for me, that’s been one of the great struggles of my life, honestly—"God, how do I become open again when what I really want to do is stay closed off?”—whether it be with the church, whether it be in my marriage.
I have to say that, in my marriage, my husband has been the one to pursue me; and thankfully, he has; because I don’t know where we would be otherwise. I know not every marriage has that situation. But I’m grateful; because I think there are a lot of times in a marriage that there is one person, who tends to kind of close off; and the other one, who is the pursuer. If we’re both closed off, we’re in trouble, right?
Lisa: But it is, again, the help of God that helps us to stay open; because all of us have gone through things, that our history would tell us: “Don’t open your heart again. You know you’ve been hurt before. You know you can’t trust again.” I think this is a chapter—I believe it’s Chapter 7—for people with trust issues, which I have historical trust issues—again, with the church, with relationships, with friendships—because if you’ve been hurt in those situations, you don’t want to—
Dave: Oh, I mean, we’ve got to talk about that a little bit; you’ve brought it up twice now.
Dave: And we’ve mentioned it yesterday a little bit on the program: you have trust issues with the church.
Dave: Where does that come from? Obviously, it’s connected to your dad being a pastor; but—
Lisa: It’s connected—
Dave: —let’s dive in there a little bit.
Lisa: —to my dad being a pastor. My dad was a pastor, and so I lived my life as the daughter of a pastor. I loved that role—I loved being the pastor’s daughter—I really did. We get a bad rap sometimes—PKs—but I loved it; it was the life I knew. My parents were great to sort of nurture that love for the church for me. It consists still, and it’s why I pour into the church now.
But it was hard when my father lost the church over—really, for lack of a better way to say it—a scandal with the IRS. Because of that, it just led me to a place of questioning, so there was a lot of pain there; and then, there was a lot of trust broken there: “Who can I trust? Who's going to really love my family?” A lot of rumors were spread in the town. It hurt me with my father, who was on this massive pedestal for me as a daddy’s girl. I thought, “Oh, maybe I can’t trust my father,”—you know—“Maybe, he’s the one to blame.” There were just a lot of issues there.
And then, even in my adult married life, my husband and I started a church; and then, we closed it in 13 months. There was some pain there as well. You know: “Listen, if you’re in the church for very long, [Laughter] it’s going to be a place sometimes that you have struggle,”—you know why?—“because we’re all human; and we’re all in the church, and we all hurt each other sometimes.” I’ve inflicted pain on others in the church, as we all do; because we all are human. But that’s a place sometimes, where—if we just live in this tender space of: “I’ve been hurt before. That’s my history; therefore, it must be my future,”—we will not open our heart back up again.
I believe in boundaries; I believe there is a very important space. But what—here’s what I’ve noticed—I’ve noticed that people, who don’t know how to set proper boundaries—the ones who are very wise; the ones who have been worked through—are the ones, who say, “I’m just going to keep my heart closed.” And I have this saying that I think is very important—it is—“The difference between a closed heart and a boundary is one is about being wise/boundary; and one is about staying wounded.” And that’s the difference there. Staying wounded is when we live with a closed heart.
Ann: Well, it’s your subtitle: Showing Up for God to Work in You When You Want to Shut Down. We can all have that tendency.
You talk about this, even after your dad had passed—talk about that a little bit—when you were with your uncle and your dad’s whole family.
Lisa: Yes that was/that was a tough moment. It’s weird—it was a beautiful moment and tough moment—this is the tension: the living in the tension of both/and—hard and good, which I believe life is lived in that tension: we have the beauty and the hard all at the same time. This is the temporary life that we live.
We’d gone to dinner—my mother and my bonus dad, which is what I call him, were newly married—and they live in a city that my whole dad’s side of the family happens to live. We had gone to dinner with my mom and her new husband and my dad’s full side of the family.
Ann: And you and your dad were close.
Lisa: —extraordinary close.
Ann: You went through some hard things, but you say he’s your best friend.
Lisa: He was, he was really one of the great loves of my life; my father and I were very, very close. I felt like I understood him on many levels; we were very similar in many ways. And so, this was a tender night for me. I was very excited to get to see all of his family.
We went to dinner; we went to this fish place that was one of my bonus dad’s favorites. Here we were—all sitting together at this long table—my bonus dad was telling preacher stories, because he was also a pastor; he was telling stories. I was sitting next to my favorite uncle. My favorite uncle and my father were very, very close. I just began to be filled with all these remembrances and stories of times that he and my dad would kind of herd us up, as kids, into the car, and all these things. All of a sudden, as stories and remembrances do, when we’re in grief, I began to cry. You know, everybody else is laughing; and they’re telling stories together, I’m crying my eyes out.
I, all of a sudden, just laid my head on my uncle’s shoulder; because in that moment, it felt like he was my dad—he wasn’t; I knew he wasn’t—but I needed him to be a father figure in that moment. I laid my head there; and I let it lay there until I needed it/just the tears to go. It was that tension of feeling so overwhelmed with how hard this was for me to sit there—with the family that I loved, a bonus dad, my mom; but the one person missing that I wanted to be there—but it was also the beauty of getting to be with all the people that my dad loved the very most.
I think that is what we go through. In that moment, I wanted to close my heart up because it was difficult for me; but I knew that I needed to stay open, because I would miss the beauty of that moment as well if my heart shut. I prayed like crazy, under my breath: “God just help me. Help me just keep my heart open right now.” It might sound simple; but sometimes, that’s the lifeline in that moment.
Ann: —that quick prayer.
Ann: I was leading a Bible study one time—I could see in our room/I was looking in this room of women—and there’s/I knew: “This woman, her husband cheated on her several times,” “This one, she just lost her mom”; and a lot of them were new to the city.
I had brought this fake heart—it looked like a heart; it was the shape of a heart—and I put it on the coffee table. I said, “The tendency is, when we get hurt,”—and I had this little cage thing—"is we want to put this protective cage around our hearts; because we have loved so fully, and our heart has been so exposed.” [Laughter] This is awful—it feels so wrong right now—but I took this little knife; and I just poked it several times, this heart.
I said, “It feels like we cannot survive another poke in the heart, because our hearts will shut down; so we put it in the cage to protect it.” And I said, “We forget who holds our hearts if we give it to Him. It will be: ‘God holds our heart.’ And in the midst of the pain, we can say, ‘Jesus, I am hurting so bad; I need to feel You holding my heart. I need to know that You are my protector; You are my shield; You are my comforter’; so that we don’t live in that seclusion/that protectiveness.”
Lisa: I think that what you’re saying is so important; because sometimes, we do feel like it’s all up to us: “I have to self-protect.”
Lisa: I’ve had that feeling many times.
Ann: And it’s normal, like I want to do that; that’s a natural feeling—
Ann: —of protection.
Lisa: Yes; and again, boundaries are super important in these spaces. I just think, at the end of the day, it is about God holding our heart so that—if and when things happen that we can’t control, because we can’t control other people—that we will be okay, no matter what.
I remember: I had a girlfriend that her husband was doing some things on online. He was involved in some internet porn, and had some extramarital relationships, and so forth. I remember she asked a counselor once, “Well, how do I know he’s not going to do it again? What can I do to ensure that that won’t happen?” And he said, “You don’t; you don’t know. But what you can do is to have your heart be okay; so that if these things happen again,”—because she had decided to stay with her husband, and they had reconciled—he said, “You need to be okay—you and the Lord—so if these things happen again, you will know how to walk forward in these things.”
I think/you know, people have asked me before; they’ve said, “Lisa, can I live with a closed heart?”
Lisa: And my answer is always:
- “Yes and no: Yes, you can live with a closed heart. I’ve known people who have lived their entire lives, closed off; they have gone to the grave with a closed heart. They have been closed-off folks—they have not joined communities; they have lived very hard-shell lives—yes, you can; that’s a choice that you can make.”
- “But if you want to live/if you want to thrive, then my suggestion is: ‘No, you actually can’t; because it’s hard to live with a hurt heart, but it is harder to live with a chronically-closed one.’”
I’ve tried, for times in my life, to live with a heart that was closed off; because I was so hurt. I thought: “This is the better way to live, because I’m self-protecting; because ‘Oh, someone won’t hurt me now.’” But in the process, I’ve been so hurt myself by my own walls that I have put up. I have not been used by God to do things that He’s wanted to use my life to do. We know that the most beautiful life is the life that is used by God in a powerful way; and so my suggestion is: “No, not if you really want to live; you can’t live with a closed heart.”
Dave: “How do you”—you know, I’m sitting here, with two married women, who’ve both written books about this kind of stuff—I know you’ve been hurt by your husbands because I know my wife, sitting here, has been hurt by me [Laughter]—
Ann: —and I’ve hurt you.
Lisa: I don’t write books on marriage, so I defer to Ann. [Laughter]
Dave: —all this stuff applies to marriage—and so I want to get real practical. Like if it’s your dad, or if it’s your neighbor, or if it’s a pastor or somebody in church, it’s one thing to process that hurt—when it’s your spouse; and it can go the other way/maybe it’s your wife—but a lot of wives are listening, and they’re hurt by their spouse. And it isn’t a hurt that was five years ago; it’s daily.
Ann: Oh, yes.
Dave: They feel it every day, because it’s in their marriage. “What would you/how would you help that woman process this hurt?” I mean, you wrote about it in
Chapter 7; so—[Laughter]
Lisa: I was going to defer to Ann.
Ann: I’m like: “All I have—
Lisa: I still defer to Ann.
But I will say, in this book, we/I do have a literal section that says: “Steps forward”; because we need that: we do need actual steps.
- The first one is: “Acknowledge what you wish had been different,”—which again, all of Chapter 1 is about that—I’m telling you: I started the book with “Acknowledge and accept what you wish had been different”; because that is where we get stuck many, many times.
Dave: Yes, yes.
Ann: Well, it’s confession;—
Lisa: It is.
Ann: —it’s just telling the truth.
Lisa: I mean, honestly, it is one of the most important things; but that practice is really important: “Acknowledge what you wish had been different.”
- “Assess where you are right now,”—number two—"and where your pitfalls are.” And then I kind of give a little bit of a process right there.
- Three: “Keep giving it to God,” which is a vital practice. It’s not a one-and-done; it is a continual practice.
- And number four: “Live your life forward and not backward,” which is very important; because we are here today, living and breathing; there is purpose in that, or else we wouldn’t still be here. While we can live in the past, the forward thinking/the forward process is where God wants us to stay.
Sure, we need to assess; and we need to acknowledge—we need to do that—but after we’ve done that, we need to live forward so that we can allow God to use our life, from this point forward.
Dave: Yes, I was going to/I also wonder: “Do you, as you acknowledge it and admit it, do you speak to your husband? Do you acknowledge and admit that, and confront in a loving graceful way; but tell him, ‘I’m hurt’?”
Lisa: I mean, I absolutely would say, “Yes.” I can’t imagine not having that communication with your husband. I would say that would be a problem if you weren’t willing to talk about what the hurt was; I mean, that’s crucial.
Dave: Is there a way—
Ann: Well, I was going to say, because I did it—
Dave: I’ve heard my wife, on the phone, coaching women, like, “No, no, no, no;—
Lisa: I think we need Ann’s coaching with this right now.
Dave: —"do not say it like that.”
Ann: —it’s because I did it so poorly for so many years. Because just telling them, and critiquing them, and saying: “This is what you’re doing to make me mad,” or “…hurt,” or whatever—I mean, I continually did that—but I think what you said, Lisa: “To stop and pray: ‘God…’”
I would say: “Take a day.” I’m a verbal processor, so the things that come out of my mouth aren’t always great if I haven’t processed them a little bit. And so, for me, just to take that moment, to say: “God, I’m angry with Dave,” or “I’m mad at Dave,” or “I’m hurt,” or whatever. “Should I say something?”—to even ask that question—and then, “How should I say it, Lord?”; because I want to speak the truth in love.
I would, a lot of times, skip that love part: “I’m going to just speak the truth”; [Laughter] because I tend to be pretty feisty too. And even for those, who aren’t feisty—who maybe withdraw and pull inward, I think—
Dave: She said, the other day, about one of my sons, who’s a pastor—and I was a pastor—“You guys are all the same!”; [Laughter] and she walks out of the house. That was the truth, not so much in love.
Ann: I didn’t say anything nice.
Dave: And you know what? As she walked out, I’m like, “She’s right.”
Ann: That’s because I said you were selfish. That probably wasn’t the best way to say it. [Laughter]
But you’re right, I think, just to say that prayer: “Lord help me to know what to say; how to say it.” I do think it’s essential.
And Dave, I’m going to turn it on you; because I think, a lot of times in marriage, we women can be sometimes, more verbal; and we can be, sometimes, pretty critical in the tone/in the way we speak to you guys. I see a lot of husbands shutting down.
“So how do you not shut down your heart?” Because I’ve been pretty rough on you over the years.
Dave: We don’t have enough time to dig into that one! [Laughter] That’s a whole other show.
Ann: Because I do think that we talked about that a little bit yesterday: that men can really shut down too.
Dave: Yes, we’ve said this many times—and again, I don’t want to get into our story—but for years, and probably a decade or so, I felt critiqued, like I didn’t measure up. I wasn’t the man you thought I was, and I didn’t do things well, whether I didn’t lead spiritually the way you wanted or whatever.
If you’re a wife listening, you’ve got to understand: “That shuts your man down.” That—and again, I’m not saying that we’re not at fault: we shouldn’t shut down—but when we feel like we measure up other places, and we don’t measure up in our home, we go other places; and when we come home, we sort of shut down. If you’re sitting there, going, “My husband doesn’t talk,”—I’m not blaming you—but it could be part of the problem: you have critiqued him so much he feels like he doesn’t have a lot to offer.
When I told you that—you know, when I finally said, “Here’s what I feel…” and you heard it—
Ann: It was so good that you told me.
Dave: It was hard to say; but again, over years, you’ve affirmed me and believed in me, and you trust me. I mean, I get teary, thinking about it: nobody believes in me like you do, and I know that now. That helped me show up.
And again, I’m not saying that it’s on your spouse, or on somebody else; that’s me. I have to choose either: “Shut down,” or “Show up.”
Lisa: I’m going to turn to the podcast question: “Why do you think this takes so long in our marriages to get there?” Because I think, sometimes, this takes quite a number of years for the husband to say this to the wife, and the wife to get it.
Ann: YES! I/it’s so true. I think/I just talked about this with a young woman yesterday. Men, generally, don’t go to their wives and say negative things—generally—some do, and some are critical; but generally speaking, Dave’s just are nicer than I am. [Laughter] I’m just going to say it.
Dave: You know what it is? We’re—I honestly, when you said that Lisa, my first thought was: “Fear.”
Lisa: Okay, I’m glad you said that; yes.
Dave: I mean, there’s a lot of reasons:—
Lisa: Yes, I’m trying to figure out my husband right now. [Laughter]
Dave: “We’re afraid,” “We are afraid.”
Ann: —afraid of what?
Lisa: Yes, afraid of what?
Dave: It takes courage to walk in a room—a kitchen/a family room—honestly, it’s easier for me to stand on a stage, and speak to thousands, and say something vulnerable than to walk into our bedroom or kitchen, and say, “I’ve got to tell you something: I’m afraid,” or “I feel like you don’t believe in me.”
I can stuff that; and I can live pretty good, you know? And you—
Dave: —the wife is feeling: “I’m not getting his heart”; you’re not.
Dave: Because he’s sort of—I did it; I covered it up—and then, when I finally said, “This hurts,” it feels like you’re a little boy; and you’re supposed to be a man—and we don’t hurt anymore—no; we hurt a lot; we are just little boys in man bodies. [Laughter] It takes courage to say, “Okay, God, I’m just going to say something that’s—I don’t know where it’s going to go, and I don’t know how she’s going to respond—and this may be a bad thing.”
But back to your title: if you don’t go through the hard you’re not going to get to the good; and so you have to walk into that valley. At least, I would say: “Today, I think there’s, at least, a couple, today, that would say: “Okay, I’m going to choose to step into the hard;—
Dave: —"and I’m going to ask God…” It’s Romans 8:28. As I read your book, I thought, “Man, this is Romans 8:28:—
Lisa: It is.
Dave: —“’He causes all things to work together for good.’ They’re not always good; they work together for good. But we have to be part of that process.”
Lisa: Yes; and I love that you brought that verse up, because the one thing that I think people miss with that is they make the verse to [mean] “All things work out.”
Lisa: It’s not—“All things work out,”—it’s: “All things work together…”—it’s the totality; it’s the process—and that’s what The Hard Good really is all about; yes.
Ann: I think, too, if you’re a wife, listening—and you’re thinking: “My husband would never come and tell me anything like that,”—I would pray about it; and then, I would go to your husband, and say, “Hon, do you feel like I’ve done some things that have been hard on/I’ve been hard on you?” or “…things that I’ve done that have really hurt you? Because I think I need to learn from some of that, and I want to hear your heart.” That would be a good question to ask—and a scary question—so I would say: “Pray.”
Dave: And that takes a lot of humility to say: “I want to hear how I’ve been hard,”—both ways/either way.
Shelby: You’re listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Lisa Whittle on FamilyLife Today. You know, dealing well with the hard things in our lives goes beyond just us; it has ramifications on our legacy as well. And Dave’s got a final takeaway on that in just a minute.
But first, Lisa’s written a book called The Hard Good: Showing Up for God to Work in You When You Want to Shut Down. You can get a copy at FamilyLifeToday.com or by calling us at 800-358-6329; that’s 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Okay, here’s Dave on the impact today's conversation can have on our kids, and on their kids, and on their kids.
Dave: As I listen to this conversation about marriage, I think about our kids and our grandkids. I’ve read several different authors that have said this—so I don’t know where the original is—but you know: “Pain that’s not transformed is transmitted.” And if we don’t process hard to good, we will transmit it into our legacy. We’ll watch it in our kids and grandkids; and it’s coming from mom and dad, who never really processed it.
Shelby: Join us next week on FamilyLife Today with Dave and Ann Wilson. They’ll be joined by Kirsten and Benjamin Watson. Kirsten’s an author; a mom of seven; and went through the unique experience of being the wife of an NFL tight end. Kirsten and Benjamin will be sharing the hardships of moving through life, while staying in the game; 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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