Marriage is hard. Parenting is hard. Friendships are hard. Relationships in general are just…hard!

It’s been a very busy few months for the Gibson family. We’ve had a new house to make a home, a new community to explore and learn about, new schools to get our kids settled into, and of course, BIG goals to get off the ground in marriage and orphan care for Fellowship of the Parks. Chaotic doesn’t even begin to describe what our lives have been. But we are finally at the point where we can be together, relax, and enjoy each other.

As things started to settle down for us, it seemed like the perfect chance for us to have a fun family night out together. And when we saw a gigantic sign with “Eat. Bowl. Play.” on it, I couldn’t resist pulling into the parking lot. An evening together at Main Event seemed like a fun-filled adventure for any family.

Now, I should preface this by saying none of us are bowlers. Amateur would be a generous title. Even still, we couldn’t help but feel that competitive spirit come alive as we played, especially since Kari was bowling the game of her life. She was blowing up the lanes with strikes and spares all over the place.

We finally came to the last frame and, with Kari’s score finalized, she was 10 pins ahead of me. I was next. I had one last turn and needed a strike or a spare to have a chance to come back and win. I threw it down the lane and watched nine pins fall down. With the tying pin left standing, the pressure was on for my final toss. I waited for the ball to come back and tried to look like I knew what I was doing by drying my hands with that tiny fan (I’m assuming that’s what it’s for). Meanwhile, Kari came up behind me and whispered in my ear, “Please, please let me win. I’ve never been able to beat you in anything!”

I didn’t respond. I was too focused to really consider showing mercy. Then she leaned back in and whispered, “If you let me win, I’ll …” (sorry that would be TMI).

Bowling ball in-hand and mind swirling as I tried to figure out what to do, I took my position. The stakes were high: Go for the pin and reach for the thrill of victory, keeping my undefeated streak alive, or purposefully throw the game and give my wife the gift of being the champion bowler in our home?

What would you do?

I blame my competitiveness. Whether it’s with board games, water balloon fights, or the classic “who can hold your breath underwater the longest?” challenge, I don’t let my family win at anything on purpose. If they win, they win it fair and square.

Needless to say, I decided to go for the win. “What do I have to lose?” I thought. I figured it’s a win – win situation. If I miss, I can say I purposefully gave that one for my beautiful wife that I adore, and I can walk out being a romantic, sensitive husband. And if I hit the pin, I’m the bowling champion of the family.

I marched forward, concentrating on hitting my mark, let the ball go and watched it make sweet, solid contact with the pin. I pumped my fists upward in triumph as if I had just won a gold medal. And then I turned around and locked eyes with Kari.

I could see in her face that she was a little hurt. When I reached out to hold her hand, she brushed it aside. Of course, I looked around to make sure no one from our church was there to see their marriage pastor and his wife having a spat. We worked it out, of course, but not before I let her know I was sorry for acting selfishly.

Great relationships don’t just happen. They take hard work. The Apostle Paul was no stranger to this truth, which is evident by his encouragement to “always be humble and gentle.” In the rest of Ephesians 4:2, he goes on to say, “Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other faults because of your love.”

For me, the hardest part in a relationship is being humble and patient. As a competitive person, getting the “win” is important. It’s different in relationships, however, where “serving” is what defines a champion.

In the gospel of Mark, Jesus made a radical statement to His disciples that forever changed the definition of a leader:

“You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mark 10:42-45

My favorite word picture to share with couples I counsel is the role I have in my marriage and family. I describe how Kari is the Queen of our home, my son is the warrior, and my two daughters are the princesses. Then, I pause for a moment and then ask them, “What does that make me?” Without fail, they answer, “King!”

“Nope,” I reply. “I’m the servant.”

Having a great marriage requires a straw hat, not a crown. When I put on a crown, I become self-centered. When I become selfish, I get easily frustrated because people can never meet my expectations. My relationships become about me, and those kind of relationships don’t last very long.

The straw hat represents a farmer. A good farmer is concerned about making sure his land has the right nutrients, sunlight, and water for his crops to grow and become a beautiful harvest. He takes delight in seeing his crops grow and be healthy. He’s intentional and willing to work hard. A bad farmer, on the other hand, will scatter some seed out and come back in a few months expecting to see a good crop despite doing very little work for it. He sees his land full of weeds and gets angry, blaming everyone and everything but himself for his dismal harvest.

If we want lasting, loving relationships, it starts with making sure we are becoming good farmers (servants). And being a servant begins with a humble heart. Look at just some of what God has to say about humility:

  • “My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the Lord, have spoken! “I will bless those who have humble and contrite hearts, who tremble at my word.” Isaiah 66:2 NLT
  • “No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this what he requires of you; to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 NLT
  • “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:11 NLT
  • Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love.” Ephesians 4:2 NLT
  • “Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselveswith tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.” Colossians 3:12 NLT
  • “…’God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble’So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:6-7 NLT
  • Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.” James 4:10 NLT

Yes, God wants us to walk in humility, but He also promises blessings. When we make the decision to humble ourselves and love others as Christ loves us, our relationships will be transformed. C.S. Lewis once said, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

In marriage, what if we took personal responsibility for where our relationship is today? Whether good or bad, we can start thinking less of ourselves and more about how to love her or to respect him.

Here’s a great question to ask your spouse:

  • Ask him – When do you feel most respected by me?
  • Ask her – When do you feel most loved by me?

The answers you receive will become your playbook on how to serve your spouse.

My joy in winning the “epic” bowling match only lasted about three seconds. As we walked out of Main Event, I was already asking myself, “What were you thinking?” So, I threw my crown off and put on my straw hat. Once I was able to catch up with her, I got close and gently leaned over to her and said, “You are way more important to me than winning a bowling match. Will you forgive me for putting myself in front of you?”

Instantly, her heart was open and we were back on track to loving each other well.

With humble hearts and a servant mindset, our relationships will grow to be vibrant and healthy. Here’s to being good farmers.