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When Winning Means Losing

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit,

but in humility consider others better than yourselves.

Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also the interests of others.

Philippians 2:3-4

“I think this pandemic is good for our marriage,” I said to my husband.

Naturally, he asked, “Why?”

I proceeded to list the reasons. The pandemic had created a slower pace of life, which encouraged us to engage in longer, deeper conversations. It had motivated us to get creative with handling issues as they arose. It had provided us with an opportunity to seek new activities that we could enjoy together. It had given us a reason to purchase a T.V. (OK, that was a win for me.)

When I was done reciting my list, Greg added, “I think any trial of any kind is good for a marriage because it pulls the couple closer together.”


As a divorced woman, I did not necessarily see it that way. It has been my experience that trials have a tendency to drive a wedge in relationships, pulling couples apart rather than drawing them together. And there is data to back this up! According to the experts, communication problems, infidelity, financial troubles, and domestic or substance abuse rank among the top reasons why couples end up in divorce court. So, obviously, trials do not pull every couple together.

But they could.

Communication problems, infidelity, financial troubles, and abuse are often the manifestation of poor choices. They’re not the cause, but rather the symptoms of trials handled poorly. We are broken people living in a broken world, more easily drawn to choose a broken path than admit we might not know everything or need help. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matthew 7:13-14).

The first real argument Greg and I had as a married couple (17 years ago), my voice rose, my heart rate increased, and I proceeded to talk over every sentence Greg tried to complete. After about ten minutes of me working myself into a tizzy, Greg calmly asked me if I’d like to sit down to continue the discussion.

Discussion? What discussion? I thought. We weren’t discussing anything! We were fighting!

But Greg didn’t see it that way. I was fighting; he was learning. He wanted to know why I was upset and what role he had played in putting me there. My husband was seeking the narrow path that would lead to better communication; I wanted to win. Surrender did not come easy. However, once I realized that Greg was for me and not against me, we were able to work through the issue and find a solution—together. Though I no longer have any idea what that fight was about, I do remember it being an eye-opening moment in our relationship. For me, it was a kind of “die to self” moment. Anyone who loves discipline loves knowledge, but anyone who hates to be corrected is stupid (Proverbs 12:1).

When this pandemic first forced families to shelter in place, Greg and I approached the situation as an adventure—albeit a frightening one. Together we looked for ways to not only support each other, but also to thrive as a couple during lockdown. I ordered a backgammon board, and we started to play the game almost nightly. When it became apparent that outdoor gatherings would need to extend into the winter months, I came alongside Greg to learn how to lay stone, and together we constructed a beautiful stone patio and fire pit around which our friends could gather safely. Instead of jumping up after dinner to clear the dirty dishes, Greg and I now spend quality time chatting at the dinner table and postpone clean-up till later in the evening. Greg purchased pickle-ball paddles and, with the help of friends, we’ve learned how to play the game. As the extrovert in the family, Greg has never been interested in watching movies, so we’ve never invested in a T.V. But when I said, “I think I need a television,” Greg told me to go for it! (Not something he would have supported pre-pandemic.)

The writer of Ecclesiastes writes, “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up” (4:9-10). I know I can count on Greg to pick me up when I fall, and he knows he can count on me. We are playing on the same team, taking intentional steps on a daily basis to learn and grow into the people God calls us to be. By working together, we can both be on the winning side.

Consider this old Cherokee tale…

The grandfather of a young Cherokee tells him, “I have two wolves fighting a terrible fight inside me. One is good—full of joy, peace, kindness, truth, humility, compassion, faith, hope, and love. The other is evil—full of anger, envy, greed, arrogance, lies, pride, sorrow, conceit, gossip, self-pity, ego, and hate. The same fight is going on inside of you.”

The grandson thought a moment, then asked, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee replied, “The one you feed.”

This pandemic has taught Greg and me to be more tolerant, encouraging, and loving toward one another AND toward those around us. However, it just as easily could have gone the other way. Had either of us listened to our egos during the last twelve months, life would be very different right now. But together we chose the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 6:22-23) over the love of self and money: boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unholy, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:2-4).

There is something to be learned from every trial, and every problem is an opportunity for growth. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).

So, during this Lenten season, as vaccinations roll out, warmer temperatures roll in, and restrictions are lifted, I pray that each of you will seek the narrow path and feed the right wolf—one step, one crumb at a time.

THE SONG THAT COMES TO MIND IS Surrender by Rich Mullins

Lyrics: “Surrender don’t come natural to me. I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want than to take what You give that I need.”

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