By Mary Lebeau
Editor’s note: In the fall of 2008, Mary Lebeau and her husband, Scott, took the “Love Dare”—a 40-day series (based on a book by Stephen and Alex Kendrick) of challenges and activities designed to strengthen and even rekindle a couple’s love relationship. In each journal entry she lists that day’s dare from the book, and then describes her experiences. The Love Dare is featured in the Kendricks’ film, FIREPROOF, which tells the story of a failing marriage and the drastic steps a husband took to save it.
A group of people from our church went to see the movie FIREPROOF last fall. The night was a fun one—good people, inspiring movie, and a bit of fellowship afterward. But there really was no reason to think it could be more than that.
Then the leader of our marriage ministry decided to dare the couples who attended to go through the same “Love Dare” that the lead character in the movie took. My husband, Scott, and I decided to join three other couples in accepting the challenge. And so began 40 days of focusing our marriages toward God and away from the mundane daily life and outside influences that so often lead us away from our Creator’s intentions.
My reasons for taking the dare? Well, there are quite a few. First and simplest, I support the marriage ministry in our church as much as possible; it has honestly blessed the two of us, and I want to keep it moving forward. That’s the easy answer, but of course the full answer is always more complex. I want us to draw closer to God and each other, of course, but I also needed these 40 days to be a time of personal reflection.
Our relationship is complicated; we’ve experienced times of true connection and total betrayal—with each of us defining those words in different ways. I do know how much I’ve been hurt in the past, and how far we’ve come since then, but I also know that sometimes the past comes back and hits me so hard I recoil. The wounds may heal, but scabs seem to get knocked off sometimes, and this is my problem. I have to learn to accept the scars for what they are, and not allow anything or anybody to cause the past come back to haunt me.
So I’m daring myself to take the plank out of my own eye, and to step up hand in hand with the man I love, our eyes focused on the God who put us together.
Day 1: Love is patient
The Dare: For the next day, resolve to demonstrate patience and to say nothing negative to your spouse at all. If the temptation arises, choose not to say anything.
Today’s dare was relatively simple. Okay, so maybe my tongue was bitten once or twice, but I’m sure things will get more challenging as the days go on.
I’m pretty good at editing my words, except when I get angry, and I can’t hold back and I spew all sorts of craziness all over the place. (How’s that for transparency?)
Unfortunately, Scott has been on the receiving end of that spewing more than anyone else. Maybe it’s because I feel most comfortable with him, which frees me up to be downright ugly in front of him. That speaks volumes to our connection, but doesn’t do much for letting him see the love I feel for him.
So I did hold back all negativity, and our day went pretty smoothly. He did the same, and even though we were presented with a challenge (of the parenting kind, which is pretty normal in our lives), we remained positive in our words to one another. So I guess we passed this dare.
What I found most interesting though, was today’s reading from The Love Dare book. I guess I never really thought about the role patience plays in our marriage. Like the book said, patience is more than biting your lip or holding your tongue (which is what my “self editing” is all about). It’s like a deep breath—taking in fresh air and a new perspective before things get out of control. It’s waiting and watching, like the early Christians did, and believing that all things are in God’s hands.
So I can pat myself on the back for my editing skills, but I really do need to work on patience. That’s the stuff that makes a strong marriage—and a better person.
Day 12: Love lets others win
The Dare: Demonstrate love by willingly choosing to give in to an area of disagreement between you and your spouse. Tell them you are putting their preference first.
To paraphrase Dorothy to the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz: “I think this one will hurt most of all.” I hate to lose. I always have. When I do have a position on a topic, it’s pretty hard (read: almost impossible) to change my mind.
But something in today’s reading jumped up at me. It was this line: “You’ve already lost the fight by making this issue more important than your marriage and your spouse’s sense of worth.” Bam! There it was—I was making winning the argument more important than my marriage. That had to stop because I’m smart enough to know that, if I won every single argument but lost the gift of Scott that God created especially for me, I would be the big loser. (No argument there!)
So when Scott decided to okay our daughter’s bedtime snack even though she hadn’t eaten her dinner, I bit my tongue. Okay, I admit that wasn’t much of an argument, but we do have a lot of disagreement about parenting, and this was the only issue that came up today. I’m going to have to remember to keep doing this beyond today, as I’m willing to surrender my pride to keep my marriage healthy and strong.
Day 13: Love fights fair
The Dare: Talk with your spouse about establishing healthy rules of engagement … resolve to abide by them when the next disagreement occurs.
Time for a bit of irony: We actually fought about today’s dare! Yes, the one in which we were to establish rules of engagement for future fights.
This one should have been really easy for us, as we just came back from a Weekend to Remember marriage conference which had an entire session on “Rules of Engagement: A Conflict Survival Guide.” The session was great and gave us lots of suggested rules for keeping a fight fair and on focus, so naturally we referred to our Weekend to Remember books as we wrote our own rules.
We were cozy and content, almost in complete agreement, when Scott suggested we air our problems as soon as possible after they happen, instead of letting them brew and bubble over.
Well, that makes sense, right? But my husband has the habit of telling me I’m imagining things when I voice concerns, so I usually wait until I have three solid examples before I say anything. Now on one hand, this is good—we have a third less disagreements. But he’s right in that by the time I have stoked my arsenal with three examples, I’m pretty upset about something that could have been nipped in the bud by speaking up immediately. We bickered a little about this (okay, it became pretty heated) but I think we came to the understanding that I should speak up immediately, and he will give careful consideration to my concerns.
At least I kept in mind one important lesson I learned during the Weekend to Remember: “The relationship is always more important than the issue.” Now I’m challenging myself to remember that truth whenever an argument starts simmering.
Day 25: Love forgives
The Dare: Whatever you haven’t forgiven in your mate, forgive it today. Let it go … unforgiveness has been keeping you and your spouse in prison too long. Say from your heart, “I choose to forgive.”
If people knew all that Scott and I went through in this marriage, how much pain and betrayal was involved, they’d probably come to the conclusion that I was pretty forgiving. I would have had to be, to allow us to get past all that and lead us here, in a relatively healthy and happy marriage. But the truth is my forgiveness hasn’t been as unconditional as it should be. I’m always one argument, one suspicion, one hurt away from ripping open old wounds all over again. Why? Well, I guess the truest answer is that it hurt – it hurt to be betrayed by the person I trusted most.
But as a Christian, I believe I am forgiven. I have confidence that the blood of my Savior has washed away my sins—not just covered them with red, but cleaned my soul white again. So if the perfect God is willing to do this for me, how can I deny forgiveness to a fellow struggling sinner?
So today I’m choosing to unlock that prison, the bars of the past that have kept my relationship enslaved. I put my trust in Jesus, because He is always there and always reliable. Even if I’m hurt again, I have the everlasting love of Jesus to sustain me and help me through.
Day 39: Love endures
The Dare: Spend some time in personal prayer, then write a letter of commitment and resolve to your spouse. Include why you are committing to this marriage until death, and that you have purposed to love them no matter what.
I do believe I will love Scott forever. So why do I find this dare so frightening? The answer can be found in the last three words of the dare: “no matter what.”
“No matter what” opens you up to all sorts of hurt, all sorts of disappointment, rejection, and pain. If I put that sentiment into words, am I giving Scott a “get out of jail free” card when it comes to my heart? Am I saying, “It’s okay, walk all over me … I’ll be your doormat forever”?
As I’ve shared, I have issues. I’ve been hurt and I’ve been deserted; I’ve felt abandoned and rejected and alone. But, as Jesus showed me as He shed His blood for me, it wasn’t love that hurt or rejected or abandoned. That was failure, human failure.
So the only way to become truly one is to trust in the Lord, accept this wonderful scary gift He has given you, and open yourself up to its possibilities. Yes, there is the possibility that I’ll be hurt again, but there’s also the possibility that we’ll grow together and glorify the Lord by living the life of love He intends for us. I can only fully live that love by opening myself up completely.
I picked up my pen with a great deal of trepidation but overflowing with love. “My dear Scott,” I wrote, and I committed my life—warts and all—to my husband. God gave me the courage to write through my tears, and filled my heart with hope of a love without boundaries or expiration. The hope of the love of God.
© 2008 by Mary Dixon Lebeau. Used by permission.