Do You Need a "Re-Focus" When it Comes to Your Marriage Mindset?

It can be easy for a couple to slip into the mindset of their partner being there to make them happy, all the while losing focus on God's intended purpose for their relationship. What are some ways to re-focus this mindset and instill the biblical truth that marriage primarily is a means of glorifying God? In today's podcast, Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff sit down with Bryan Loritts, lead pastor of Abundant Life Church in Silicon Valley to explore this topic based on Pastor Loritt's new book, "Saving The Saved: How Jesus Saves Us from Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love."


Transcript:

Chris Grace:

Welcome again to another Art of Relationships Podcast. I'm Chris Grace.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I'm Tim Muehlhoff.

Chris Grace:

We get to do this again and talk about all things relationships. Tim, it's just a fun journey. It's fun to talk about these things. Sometimes we get the privilege of having a guest on the program. One, again, this week that we're going to have is Bryan Loritts, and Bryan, welcome back to our podcast.

Bryan Loritts:

Go Christian Laettner.

Chris Grace:

Bryan's a pastor, the lead pastor over at Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View, California. I'm sorry, Tim. You know what, as a UNC fan you're just going to have to get used to this.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Married to a woman who is Connecticut. I mean, that's just ... This is brutal in many directions.

Chris Grace:

Bryan, as a pastor, wife Korie, three sons, Quentin, Myles and Jaden, and used to serve over at Trinity Grace in New York City and Fellowship Memphis. We're just so grateful to have you on our program and to talk about relationships. Thanks for joining us today.

Bryan Loritts:

Love being here with you guys.

Chris Grace:

As a pastor you get inundated, no doubt, with issues and questions about relationships and things that are going on. You've been in a couple churches now. Your church is a large, multi-ethnic church, and probably, I would imagine, the biggest things that you face deal with relationships. Let's talk about that today. Let's just talk.

 

What are some of the things that are on your heart, that burden you as pastor? When you look out there and you see people and they come to you, they carry a lot of burdens and a lot of concerns and a lot of pain with relationships, bad marriages, difficult situations that they might be in. Tell us a little bit about some of the things that are on your heart as a pastor that you see out there that you'd like to talk about.

Bryan Loritts:

Yeah, I think that's a great question. I think kind of an interesting perspective I have is I've pastored in the Bible Belt, Memphis. I've pastored in New York City, and I'm pastoring in what's so not the Bible Belt, the Bay. I want to be careful how I say this because I hate male bashing, but I think one of the common themes for me is just extended adolescence. I think that's one of the quiet things that's really killing the church in all sectors, at least here in the United States, of boys just not embracing manhood.

Tim Muehlhoff:

What's fueling that? What's causing that to happen?

Bryan Loritts:

I think a lot of them come from homes where their dads did not really force them to step up and embrace manhood; a lot of them, coddling moms, I think that's a big part of it. A typical narrative is cohabitation, I think, really appeals to the adolescent mindset. Oh, so I can have the pleasures of "marriage" without the responsibilities. I mean, that's classic adolescence. It's wanting the privileges of adulthood without the responsibilities, and that's a major theme I'm seeing a lot. It's interesting, I just the other day did a wedding of a couple. It's a great redemption story. They had been living together for eight years. She got saved first, cut him off, so he's going, "Uh, want to hear more about Jesus."

Chris Grace:

I'm now motivated.

Bryan Loritts:

Seriously, he starts coming to our church and the gospel gets ahold of him, really gets ahold of him. About a year later they end up getting married. It's a beautiful, beautiful story, but we're seeing a lot of that, cohabitation. As a pastor, what I can't do is what would've been popular a generation ago, is, "Oh, you're living together? We're going to kick you out of the church." I think we just have to meet people where they are.

 

Now, we do have standards for membership, so we've had very hard conversations. "Hey, keep coming. We want you to keep coming. Membership may not be for you right now," but we're having to kind of rethink things in order to meet people where they are in this age of extended adolescence. Instead of casting them out of the place that should call them up into manhood and maturity, how do we walk with them where they're at and then take them on this healthy male trajectory?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Let's tackle a couple of these. All of these are great. Noreen, my wife, read a article called Raising a Nation of Wimps. It's about us rescuing our kids from consequences or just from life in general. We always step in and want to make it better. The day she reads me this, the All Stars are announced in little league, and one of my kids is not on the list. That is a travesty. That boy has Muehlhoff genes. I was a theater major. I did mind this child ... We literally read it and absolutely agreed with it, thinking, oh yeah.

 

Then the list comes out and it's like, "No way. I'm calling the coach. I'm calling him." Noreen was like, "Honey, we can't." "Yes, we can because my son ... " That's, I think, what's happening is natural consequences. We're professors, Dr. Grace and I, and we get calls from parents saying, "Hey, is there anything we can do about this grade? Is there anything we can ... " It's like, "Hey, no. Actually, this grade could be the best thing that happened in your child."

Bryan Loritts:

Okay. So Noreen and I were just talking about this right before I got up to speak. She's asking me how my kids are doing, and I'm talking about one of my kids. I'm going, "I'm just waiting for the day to hit him where he goes, I have a test next week and I'm going to start studying a week or two in advance." That day has not come. Now the conversation bleeds into, I said, "Noreen, I never recall my parents talking to me about homework. I never recall them freaking out about my grades."

 

What's the difference here? What is it about me that's hovering? I didn't have that. She made an insightful point. She says, "One of the things I'm noticing about students, they don't seem to be able to cope as well. They don't seem to have a lot of resilience in them." I think those are interesting discussions, and maybe the fragility we're seeing in this younger generation is having ramifications in their relationships.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's good.

Chris Grace:

Somebody approaches you and says they're in a relationship like that and they just don't know what to do. What advice do you have for them? Practical advice, here's a 25-year-old female. She's in a relationship with someone just like this that's struggling. It could be the other way, gender. It could be both. What are you going to tell them? What does she need to do? How does she navigate this process?

Bryan Loritts:

This is where I get into my specific vocation as a pastor. One of the things I'm passionate about as a pastor is I think sociologically I have a responsibility, and theologically, to gift to our society strong, resilient men. I mean, I hit the ground running on establishing a men's ministry that we just simply call the Men's Huddle. We get together several times a year for six-week runs. We go through such materials as 33 The Series, Tony Evans' Kingdom Man, so on and so forth. We want to be a place that encourages and strengthens men.

 

I understand what you're saying. On the one hand, the conversation's good. I want to back up the conversation and go, how can we actually create an environment to actually strengthen men, and of course women bring stuff to the table as well, but to also at the same time strengthen parenting, things of that nature. Again, that's what I want to do. I want to be able to gift, and not just do ER work. I want to get out in front and be proactive. I don't want to just do, hey, this thing's falling apart. How can we create some strong men?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah. I remember saying to my three boys, and we share that in common, I said, "My favorite quote is, in this life you'll either face the pain of discipline or the pain of regret, and you pick one or the other." That's what I want for these young men at Biola is listen, it's worth it, but it's work. Nobody gets to just walk in and do this kind of stuff, so do you have perseverance?

 

I think that's what we need to get is that muscle gets stronger as we say, "Hey, there are setbacks, and there's going to be setbacks your entire life, but what happens when the setback hits? Do you look for your parents to bail you out, or am I like, hey, I need to figure this out and I'm going to move forward." Then that's huge.

Bryan Loritts:

What you were also touching on, Korie and I are trying to do as well, just finding appropriate moments to allow our boys to experience consequences. I just remember, we drop them off at Pine Cove Christian Camp every year.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Of course, yeah.

Bryan Loritts:

That camp, like I'm sure many others, it's cashless so you have to set up their account. I think we put 75 bucks in each of their accounts for the week. We're dropping them off and one of my sons wants to go hit up the camp store right away. I mean, he hadn't even found his room yet. We watch him drop $40. It's on Sunday, and we're not picking him up till Saturday. Korie's like, "Say something." I'm like, "Nope. I think this is an appropriate moment for him to feel whatever consequences he may feel of his decision." That said, when I picked him up he had run out of money, but he bummed money off of the other people the rest of the week.

Chris Grace:

That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We had a son who played little league football, and the coach had a policy. If one person doesn't bring all their equipment, you're doing like 100 push ups.

Bryan Loritts:

Everybody does 100 push ups?

Tim Muehlhoff:

Everybody. Everybody does it. I'm just sick of saying, "Hey, got your gear? Got your gear?" "Yeah, dad, I got my gear." It's like, okay, fine. We were walking out and one of my kids that will go nameless, there's his helmet. I said, "Hey, we all set guys?" "Yeah, dad, we're set." "Okay, we got everything we need?" "Yeah." "Awesome." I am driving to that practice with a smile on my face. I'm just like, this is just awesome. We pull in and sure enough, son number whatever goes, "Huh, dad, I don't have my helmet!" I said, "Oh, really? But I thought your bag was ... " "Dad, go back and get it!" "No, there's not any time. There's not any time."

 

They had to do 100 with that son up front. The person who forgets goes up front, and it could be two or three of them and they're all doing that push ups. I'm thinking, see, this is what we save them from. "Hey coach, sorry, it was like my fault. I should've made sure." No, this is your stuff. I'm not going to ... For some reason, why is it today's parents, we're afraid to let our kids experience that? What do you think it is?

Bryan Loritts:

I don't know. I think maybe the happiness ethic could be driving a lot of things. It's the same reason why 4-year-old soccer leagues, everybody gets a trophy even if your team went 0 and 17. You know what I'm saying? Because God forbid my kid's not happy. I think this happiness ethic maybe colors everything, or maybe it's the success ethic, you've got to be successful. You know what? I think the worst thing I ever said to my kids, one of them came home with just some bad grades, and I said, "Let's just take a walk."

 

We're taking a walk and we're walking around the neighborhood. There's a bunch of construction workers building a house. Without even thinking about it, I said, "Look man, if you don't get your grades up you'll end up being ... " As soon as I said it, I mean, the Holy Spirit was like, "Well, what's wrong with that?" In my mind as a parent, here's what success looks like; you need to be highly educated, corner office, whatever it may be.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Upward mobility.

Bryan Loritts:

Absolutely.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Never going backwards.

Bryan Loritts:

Absolutely.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Always upwards.

Bryan Loritts:

I've got a lot of that in me. When that's your starting point, then you really hover over grades and you really push, push, push, push, push. I know there's a middle ground somewhere.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We have all three of our kids come to Biola, and we said to them of the dean of students, I said, "You get called into the dean of students," and I said, "I know the dean of students. We're not coming with you. Do not pull the my dad's a professor card. You get called in, you go walking in." I think there's something good about that.

 

My dad didn't have a great parenting strategy, but the great thing he did was ... He didn't go to college. He said, "Okay, you want to go to college? I'll pay your first year, Eastern Michigan University. You like it, find a way to stay. Find a way to stay." I was like, "Well, I'm not sure I like it." He goes, "Okay, yeah. Work at the factory at General Motors in the heart of Detroit for a summer." It was back breaking work, and I ran back to college.

Bryan Loritts:

Ran back to the theater.

Tim Muehlhoff:

I ran back to the theater, got a theater scholarship, partial. I did dishes in the cafeteria.

Bryan Loritts:

It's good.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Now looking back on it, that's really good. Yes, which is great. Also in marriage. 

Bryan Loritts:

That's how my parents parented me. I think the three words there are, "Figure it out."

Chris Grace:

Let's talk about that. Tell us in marriage, what do you see there that's coming up in the church that is kind of something that you are concerned about or that you see when it comes to what's hurting and harming our marriages.

Bryan Loritts:

As far as marriage goes, the new thing on the frontier, and it's crazy because I'm getting called in a lot to deal with it, are these social media affairs.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Oh boy, let's look at that one.

Bryan Loritts:

Yeah. Social media's amoral, right? It's amoral, but I think one of the dangers of it is it doesn't let you close chapters. I know this is going to sound mean for a pastor to say, there are some people I never need to hear from again, I mean just honestly, but now I can see that ex-girlfriend from back in the day. Next thing I know I can be perusing her page and a quick little inbox.

 

Now I've got these whole secret compartments to my life. I'm getting a lot of calls of me needing to dive into affairs that have either gone into full-blown sexual affairs or they're emotional affairs. It's people keeping secrets from one another, no sense of oneness, authenticity, openness. That's a concern in this day from a pastoral perspective as it relates to marriage.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Fredrick Buechner said, "We need to find people that we can live an unedited life with." Facebook is my best foot forward. It's the photographs I want to put up. I sanitize the past.

Bryan Loritts:

Yup. Every meal's the best meal.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right. You look at this person you're with 24/7, and you just see their weaknesses. I mean, it's daily. Then you go back to the past and you sanitize it. You say, "Oh, this person, it was so great and now they're great." Man, that fantasy life is for real.

Bryan Loritts:

Then you need to go, well, there's a reason why we broke up.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right.

Bryan Loritts:

You know what I'm saying?

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's right. That's right, yeah.

Chris Grace:

There's some things you put in place in your own life because of that, I would imagine. You probably ask those that are going to come and put their lives in accountability with you and they've been struggling in this area, and one of the things is you need to watch that. You need to have an accountability partner. Anything else you would talk to men struggling in this area and women; I imagine this hits them just as often and just as hard as far as trying to navigate this world where they're seeing versions of other people that they're so appealing and so enticing and it leads them, as you said, into this almost dark place where they're hiding things. You have to put things in place in order to protect that.

Bryan Loritts:

Yeah. I think that's Genesis 2, that's Genesis 3. I mean, Genesis 2, which is as good as it gets, they're naked and unashamed, so there's just this sense of vulnerability. There's no hiding. Then sin happens and they go searching for fig leaves. I think the great challenge of marriage is to remove the fig leaves. That's from a 35,000 foot perspective. It can't start with, "Hey, shut down Facebook," or "Have a joint ... " No, there's a higher thing that we've got to move towards. Then that'll help regulate some other behaviors.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Could there be an intermediate step? I love that, there's a higher thing. I've challenged, periodically, when Jesus says if your right hand offends you, cut it off. I say to people, "Why do you need a smartphone? Explain that to me. Is it central to your job? Why do you need that laptop computer with you 24/7? Why?" If you need it for your job, you need it for your job. If this is just for me tooling around the internet and finding things that I shouldn't be or feeding into a narrative, sometimes I just say to people, "Maybe you need to have a technological fast to say, I'm not going to have a smartphone and I'm not going to always be trolling the internet looking for opportunities."

 

I have Covenant Eyes on my computer with a friend here at Biola. That kind of accountability, man, because just when you're clicking on stuff that's legitimate, there's always that option to the right. If I didn't have a friend who is getting a printout every week ... That's good accountability, and I just wonder sometimes what Jesus meant by that. If your hand is dragging you down, let's get rid of these things that are dragging you down.

Bryan Loritts:

Yup. That's Hebrews 12, strive for holiness. It's at times, I think, the principle there is take drastic measures. I think, was it Origin who literally ...

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yeah.

Bryan Loritts:

I love more of an allegorical point of view, but I don't find too many people-

Tim Muehlhoff:

Willing to do that.

Bryan Loritts:

Willing to do that.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We have some friends of ours, I just mentioned this in a sermon last week, whose house in North Carolina, I mean they were upward mobility, bigger and better. The house was killing them financially. Now, they could be there. They could make it, but both of them are working; he's taking overtime every shot he's got, and this house is killing them. They just sat down one day and said, "This is insane. We're selling the house or we're going down."

 

He said, "The hardest thing was," I so admired him for doing this, he said, "It was embarrassing to go into the other neighborhood, and people would say, oh, are you from out of town? Oh no, actually just community down the road." It's like, "Oh, did you lose your job?" "No, no, got the same job. Just kind of felt like, you know ... " It was embarrassing. He said, "You don't go back. The American narrative is you don't go backwards." That can kill a marriage.

Bryan Loritts:

Absolutely, absolutely.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's why I stopped modeling.

Chris Grace:

You were ruining it for everyone else.

Tim Muehlhoff:

No, I mean, I could be objectified but it was just the shoots in Cancun. Bryan, it was too much. I'm just so thankful you've not had to experience that personally.

Bryan Loritts:

Oh gosh.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That was for the Laettner joke.

Chris Grace:

Wow. That was a mental image I want to erase.

Bryan Loritts:

Right, right.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Hand modeling, thank you.

Chris Grace:

Bryan, talk about those that are thriving. There's something about couples that we love to see who are just doing this well. There are things that set them apart, and there's things that they hold in common. We love having them in our churches, in our places of work, with our friends. What is it about some of these couples? What stands out to you, this couple that gets it? There's something about them. If we could use that to help some young listeners as they're thinking, how do I model my life, give me some good models. What sets them apart? What makes them unique and what do they share in common have you found in your time?

Bryan Loritts:

Yeah. I'm thinking of a couple, Norm and Alyssa Picker, at our church. I so respect their marriage. It's the kind of couple I'd go, "Yeah, I'd want you all to mentor Korie and I." Man, it's a lot of intangibles. I think of words like authenticity. They are really living out their faith. She's got brain cancer right now, and to see the way he's loving her deeply and profoundly and serving her is just incredible. I just literally sat with them the other day for an hour and a half.

 

Again, it's subtle things. It's the way he looks at her. They've been in it now for, I think, 30 years. It's past the puppy love stage, but they still have that look. It's weathered some things. It's battle tested. It's got a few dings to it, but there's this purity to it that that's the kind of marriage ... I don't know how to put all that in a coherent sentence, but that's a thriving, flourishing marriage that I just deeply adore.

Chris Grace:

It's interesting that you bring that up because there's some who have said that if you really want to pick somebody to live a life with, find somebody who suffers well. That kind of illustrates that. Because at that moment in time when those things hit and they're hard and they're difficult, if you're with somebody who knows this deep foundation of where their hope comes from, of where their wellspring of life comes from and if they suffer well, it's a great way to pick and think about that. We don't always see that, but we can kind of gauge that and see how we go.

Bryan Loritts:

Korie and I are coming up on 18 years. I don't know exactly when but I just remember a couple years ago just going, there's a story here. There's a lot of water under the bridge here. You have those moments where you go, it's an insanity for me to pursue an adulterous relationship. I'm not saying I'm beyond it, but there's an insanity to it because you go, why would I want to trade in 18 years of history for that?

Chris Grace:

That's good.

Tim Muehlhoff:

It made me think when you said the suffering part, we're back to the adolescence part of the conversation because we've kept people from suffering. We've shielded them from some of that pain, and they're weaker for it. I need to see that person I'm dating and considering marrying; I need to see them go through those really hard times and see that stick-to-it-iveness because they've faced a couple challenges.

Bryan Loritts:

Don't you think most people enter marriage from the perspective of this person's going to make me happy?

Chris Grace:

Oh, yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Sure.

Chris Grace:

Boy, what a messed up kind of philosophy that can ruin a marriage quicker than anything is the belief that they're going to make me happy.

Bryan Loritts:

I think even though I knew that wasn't the case, I think a lot of the grief that I inflicted Korie with in those first couple years of marriage was because even though I cognitively knew that, I really did function as if she's supposed to make me happy.

Tim Muehlhoff:

Yup, meet my needs, make me feel good about myself. That's important.

Chris Grace:

When we realize there's a bigger purpose to marriage, it seems like the couples that are doing well, that are thriving, have kind of landed on that. They realize this is something that my marriage has something bigger to it. There's a different quality to it. It feels as if they're saying, there's a purpose to what we do here, and a reason why we're together. Maybe it's, as Gary Thomas says, not only just to make me-

Bryan Loritts:

Happy.

Chris Grace:

Yeah, happy, but maybe it means to make me holy. Then that idea of bringing God glory in our marriage. In some way, shape or form there's a bigger purpose to it, and some couples are like that.

Bryan Loritts:

Yeah. To put it in an African-American context, one of my best friends, he hit me up on Facebook. We ended up talking on the phone. He said, "Man ... " This guy growing up never knew his dad; dad never part of his life. My parents always operated with the philosophy of leave an extra plate out. Just imagine my African-American friends coming over to the house. Most of them had no concept of a black man and a black woman still married.

 

Black man, black woman still sitting around the dinner table with the family, and a black man, black woman sitting around the dinner table with the family doing family devotions totally blew his mind. Here he is now, fast forward about 20, 25 years later. He goes, "Man." I said, "How's it going?" He goes, "I was about to leave my wife." He goes, "I'm literally packing my bags to leave when a book falls off the bookcase. It's written by your dad, Never Walk Away."

Chris Grace:

No way.

Bryan Loritts:

He goes, "The first thing I thought about was all those dinners over your house, seeing your parents and having a vision for what could be." He goes, "I immediately started to unpack my bags and to hang in there." He's battling it out, but again, it's this whole idea of my marriage is so much bigger. There's the glory of God. We need to give people a picture of what could be.

Tim Muehlhoff:

You've got to have that time is on your side, I'm not going anywhere; this marriage is secure. I remember Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt getting married, and I told my students at UNC Chapel Hill when I was doing grad work, I said, "They're getting divorced in five years." They're like, "Why are you so negative?" I said, "Well, I read a Rolling Stone magazine where Brad Pitt was asked, well, what do you think about like till death do us part? He said, ah yeah, we're not into that. We're just going to see where this goes."

 

I thought, man, that's not going to get you past suffering. That's not going to get you past brain cancer. That's so important to say, hey, we're in this for life. We're one flesh. We're not going to get out of this. Hey, if you like what Bryan's been saying, he has a book, a new book from Zondervan Press called Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saves Us from a Try-Harder Christianity into a Performance-Free Love. A lot of the thoughts he's been sharing on this podcast as well as the one previous to this are from his book. Please check it out.

Chris Grace:

Bryan, it's great to have you here. Thanks for serving in so many different ways and capacities, even at Biola on the Board of Trustees.

Bryan Loritts:

Always great. We got to get golf in some time.

Chris Grace:

Wouldn't that be awesome. We should do that.

Bryan Loritts:

Absolutely.

Chris Grace:

We need to do it soon.

Tim Muehlhoff:

We give our money to missions, but no, that's awesome that you would ...

Bryan Loritts:

Yeah, Chris will give his money to me and I'll give 10% to the Lord.

Tim Muehlhoff:

That's exactly right.

Chris Grace:

Hey, just great to have you. Tell the family hi. Thanks for being here with us and spending some time with us. For Tim Muehlhoff, I'm Chris Grace. Thanks for joining us on the Art of Relationships Podcast. Check out our cmr.biola.edu website if you want anything else related to blogs and podcasts and events that we're putting on and different events. Just check us out there at that website and we'll talk to you soon.


The Art of Relationships Podcast

The Art of Relationships podcast, hosted by Dr. Chris Grace and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff, is centered on helping you build healthy relationships and marriages. In this podcast, Chris (director of Biola University Center for Marriage and Relationships and professor of psychology at Biola University) and Tim (professor of communication at Biola University and author of I Beg to Differ), weigh in on how to navigate the complexities of relationships in our culture with biblical wisdom and scholarly research. Listen to get practical insights on relationships, dating and marriage that can be applied to all relationships  — family, friends, co-workers and others.

 

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