Secure in Christ: Developing a Healthy Marriage
April 9, 2008 - We took some time to go to a local coffee shop and hang out with former National Football League star Derwin Gray and his beloved wife Vicki, who is a registered dietitian. They’ve been married almost 16 years and have two children, ages 7 and 11.
interview by Ann Marie Chilton
Derwin and Vicki told us about God’s transforming power in their lives and marriage:
DERWIN: Our marriage, at first, we were glorified roommates. I really had no concept of love. Even the good things I did were out of self-preservation; it wasn’t out of authentically blessing someone else. … When we would have conflict, I would just tune out and say, “Yeah, whatever” because I’m pretty laid back. … Football was my god. Football was my career. My marriage was secondary, and so I didn’t have the resources to be able to engage her properly.
I had a teammate who played with the Indianapolis Colts. His nickname was the “naked preacher.” He would share his faith after practice; he’d wrap a white towel around his waist and ask guys in the locker room if they knew Jesus. After watching his life for five years … as he was sharing the Gospel, God was inviting me unto Himself.
VICKI: I considered that I was a Christian largely because I was American. I thought that made me a Christian. I’m a dietitian, and I worked at a health center in the inner city of Indianapolis. There was a dietitian there, and I always knew [she] was a Christian. She knew I was seeking, and she asked me questions. I said, “Yeah, I’m a Christian. I believe in God.” And she said, “Well, being a Christian is more than believing in God.” I still remember sitting there thinking “Huh. Interesting.” And not really even understanding, but she wrote down scriptures for me … I later put [them] in my Bible and looked them up, but it was definitely a process.
It was relational. We were just friends, but she had the eyes to see… that God was stirring things in my heart and that I was seeking after Him. … It really was a process, and it was because she loved me and was just my friend.
It wasn’t until about a year, maybe even two years later that [Derwin and I] really got it and both had different experiences where we realized that we needed the life of Christ and what that meant. … It was this recognition that there was a God and He did love me and I wanted to know Him.
We were both so hungry to know who God was, that we started just studying [the Bible] on our own, together and separately, and God just revealed Himself to us. We both trusted Him.
DERWIN: Our marriage went from being glorified roommates to people who first and foremost loved God and then developed the capacity, and are continuing to develop the capacity, to love one another. It’s still a process.
VICKI: It was definitely a process, but as we started to receive the love of Christ, that’s when our marriage started to come alive.
DERWIN: For us, it’s not a formula; it’s not a technique. It begins with we love God because He first loved us, and as a result of that, I am now secure in who I am in Christ. I am free to love her, not because of how she’s going to respond, but because of how God has responded to me.
I can be vulnerable because Christ was strong for me, which makes me stronger in my relationships. Many times … we haven’t allowed the Gospel to penetrate who we are. We trust Jesus to get us to heaven, but we don’t trust Him to make us secure enough to love and respect unconditionally.
VICKI: I think it’s a common saying in our culture, “If you want my respect, you have to earn it.” Well how would we feel if somebody said, “If you want my love, you have to earn it”? Even in the church we hear that respect is earned and not given, and that’s just not true.
I would say this to encourage any spouse out there: Our spouses are worthy of respect simply because they’re created in the image of God. And if you have nowhere else to start but there, that’s the first place to start. Then ask God to empower you to respect them in action and in deed as well as in word.
… It’s a touchy subject …Usually it’s a result of somewhere along the way [someone] has felt unloved and so therefore, it becomes a negative cycle—either disrespectful words, or tone of voice, or body language come out of us as a reaction to something we may have perceived as negative. And it may have been negative.
But the great thing about the Gospel is that it empowers us to respect unconditionally no matter how we’ve been treated. That’s what’s going to change people’s lives.
DERWIN: We work hard on our marriage.
VICKI: The only natural outflow is to love … It becomes more organic as you depend on the life of Christ in you, if above all, you desire to bring glory to God through your life.
DERWIN: John 15:5 is important. [“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”] So for us, it’s abiding in Christ. That’s the foundation …
We went to Atlanta [a few weeks ago] and I was going to speak at an event, and Vicki and the kids came along. Usually when I travel by myself, I’m in control. I got my own deal. But when you got an 11-year-old and a 7-year-old arguing and they want to strangle each other, and you want to give them a karate chop … I can choose to walk in the flesh, or I can choose to walk in the spirit. I can choose to respond to my [family] in a way that honors and glorifies them, or I can choose to respond out of the flesh.
We’re beginning to see that all of life is worship. The Hebrews had it right when they said that the Lord our God is one. He is one over all of life.
I think we see that in the life of Jesus. He had a mission to accomplish, He had things to do, but He was never too busy for others. I think when we operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can get things done, but getting things done is always relational.
VICKI: … Really, you’re growing into one flesh so that you’re joining each other in calling.
DERWIN: We don’t compete with one another; we complete one another. We don’t make a decision unless we are in agreement on it.
VICKI: … If we are not on one accord, we wait, because God doesn’t want us to make a decision if we’re not on one accord.
We’re not perfect. As a result of that, we’re going to argue. But what we’ve learned is that, now by the power of the Holy Spirit, we argue to build up, not tear down. … I would even go so far as to say if couples are not arguing, they’re not communicating.
VICKI: We didn’t argue a lot early on in our marriage because he would just shut down and go, “Ok”. But we knew that we were not on the same page.
DERWIN: We’ve seen that God has used conflict in a way that builds us up in marriage because we have to rely on Him …
VICKI: And you do it in an honoring way, instead of hurtful words, putting each other down, jabs to get back at each other, or being passive, now it’s, “Can we talk about this? When you said that, what I heard was this, and it hurt my feelings. Is that what you meant?”
A lot of times it’s not even what you say; it’s how you say it. It’s been a learning process. We’ve been married almost 16 years and we still are learning that there is a healthy way to communicate through conflict.
DERWIN: You cannot do that unless you’re secure. The way you become secure is when you recognize that you are a redeemed, infinitely beloved child of God. The greatest thing about me is not what I produce, but what Christ has produced for me in His life, death, and resurrection.
It’s ok for me to go, “You know what? I’m not perfect,” and I can confess my weaknesses. I apologize to my wife and kids often.
When I realize that I don’t have to fear rejection because God will never reject me, then I don’t need to worry about rejection from my husband. If for a day I do feel a sense of rejection, God will never reject me, so ultimately I rest in that until we can come back to one accord.
DERWIN: … It takes reflection, which takes slowing down. We can have religious externals all around us, but on the inside we’re dislocated. We’ve got to locate ourselves in Christ, meaning constantly abiding [in Him]. It’s beautiful. When we see all of life as worship, even the ordinary things become exciting.
Together, Derwin and Vicki Gray founded a ministry called One Heart at a Time ».