That eternal perspective came, but it took years to kind of fill that out and to know that life is still short, and so we need to spend our moments doing eternal things and not just, you know, wasting them. That's Ryan Frederick, and he joins us today on Focus on the Family, along with his wife Selina and your host, his Focus president and author Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller.
John, here's a question for you. Is your marriage fierce? Fierce? Like, angry? I don't know what that means, but we're going to find out today. Fierce?
All right. Fierce. Do you have a fierce marriage? We have fierce moments.
How's that? Well, sure, but it sounds good. I like that idea of having a fierce marriage. I'm not quite sure yet what that will be defined as, but we're going to talk more about that and what it means today with our guests.
One thing's for sure. Here at Focus on the Family, we love marriage. We don't want to raise it up to idolatry, but we think marriage is, and the family is, God's institution to help us learn and grow, hopefully in His direction, right? God has a purpose for your marriage, and we're going to explore that today. We're going to help you learn how to strengthen your marriage by pursuing each other in Christ within the covenant of marriage.
I think that's pretty good right there. Thank you, too, and Ryan and Selena Frederick created a website, FierceMarriage.com, in 2013. The mission is to point couples, Jim, as you were saying, to Christ, and to commission marriages for the gospel, and I love the intentionality. They've written a book by the name of Fierce Marriage. The subtitle is Radically Pursuing Each Other in Light of Christ's Relentless Love, and I should note that Ryan and Selena have three daughters. Ryan and Selena, welcome to Focus. Thank you for having us. We're glad to be here. This is big. I mean, have a fierce marriage. That's a big statement and a big book.
I mean, that's daring for you guys to write it. Ryan, you first met Selena when you were, I think, in eighth grade. Is that right? You can remember who you met in eighth grade. That's good.
I can't forget her, that's for sure. Good answer. How did you go from eighth grade classmates to romantically inclined, what, teenagers or 20-somethings? Well, it took some time. I had to kind of get my act together because... Oh, good, Selena. Way to go. Way to pull it out of them. I didn't actually introduce myself till, I think, two years later.
That's kind of normal for guys, right? You're still on the wall. Two years to work it out. You know, it's being on the wall at the junior high dance, right?
You never get off the wall. And I still had like braces and bleached hair. I was in like the Northwest grunge scene, you know, and she was way out of my league. But yeah, it took some time. Seriously, it's always good to hear a story like this. And you guys are a young couple, so it's wonderful to hear that the Lord still works through schools to bring people together for marriage.
There you go, yeah. But I mean, you're junior high, right? Eighth grade. Yeah, he visited in junior high the school that we were going to, and apparently he remembers me. I remember the game we were playing in PE because I loved it. That's about all I remember when he was there. And then, yeah, he came back a few years later, and the bleached hair was gone. He just went to football camp.
Oh, so now you know. Braces were gone. Girls were all like, oh, he's such a sweet guy. And I was like, who? And then we were in advanced English class together, and he started sharing his thoughts. I was very overwhelmed by the brainpower that was inside. This is good. No, he started answering questions, and I was like, wow, he's really smart.
I call it Providence because my mom's an English teacher, so I had an edge. How'd that go? Did she correct your adverb application, all that? All the time.
Still does. Happily, not happy. Happily. It was even worse having a shrink for a dad.
You're kidding me. English teacher and a psychologist. Wonderful. Well, that's why you're so well adjusted, right? And you can articulate it very well.
Hopefully, hopefully. But when did you get married? When we were 20 and 21.
Okay. And how are those first couple of years? What were they like?
You know what? We dated for four years, and we were friends, really good friends before that. So, yeah, I'd say the first couple of years of marriage were actually really fun, other than what we talked about in our book, where things kind of went sideways health-wise. But we had our fights, but it wasn't like this.
We were so young, we didn't have our own. I feel like some of our clashes, you know, when you get married that first year, you kind of are like, oh, your eyes are open to somebody, right? But I felt like we knew each other pretty well that it wasn't like this, oh, who is this person I'm living with, or who is this? Those kind of things came a little bit later, to be honest. So would you say normal annoyances?
The normal annoyances of just being with somebody else all the time. And we were busy together. We had a lot of things going on. It wasn't until we faced some bigger challenges outside of our community, like in our church and different things, that we really came to grips with, oh, you don't believe that?
I want to get to that, because you have a really unique story. You did some things early in your marriage that are a bit different, taking a job in Switzerland, for example. How long were you married when you went to Switzerland for that job? We celebrated our two-year anniversary coming home.
So that was it. I mean, your two years in your marriage, you take a job in Switzerland to be an au pair, I believe. To be an au pair in the red horses, yep.
And Ryan gets hired on to be kind of the ranch hand. Basically. Oh, the tag-along hire. That's okay. That's okay.
It sounds exciting. What happened? Well, we just finished our college finals. Ryan was very, very sick. But you didn't know that.
But we didn't know it, no. He just thought he had the flu, thought it was just a combination of lack of sleep and energy drinks and coffee. Yeah, just horrible diet during finals and whatnot. You're 20.
You can live on whatever. Had his persistent cough, and we just, yeah, she had this hair-brained idea to get this job as an au pair. Passion. I had a passion. A passion.
You had a passion. You haven't learned that yet, Ryan. Okay, come on, you've written a book here. We've got a counselor on the line just in case. Yes, thank you.
It's your dad. Oh, great. Actually, that is. I mean, you know, that is quite brave. What was compelling you to go do this? I loved riding horses, grew up doing it, and kind of a dream. You can do that in Washington, you know, where you live. Yes, but the biggest dream would be to go overseas and ride in Europe. That's a big equestrian dream. And so we wanted to go to Europe after college anyways, and I thought why not find a job and make an extended stay a little bit.
So you get to Switzerland, you're married only a year and a half or so or a year and eight months at this point. You're not feeling well. It's a persistent lethargy.
What's going on? Well, yeah, so we land, and I'm trying to work and trying to kind of impress our new boss, and I just have no strength, and I'm coughing a lot. We had fevers. Fevers, and I'm sweating through, you know, a mattress every night.
So I took a few days off, and I just wasn't getting better. This is an important detail, but we bought traveler's insurance of all things. Health insurance. Travelers health insurance, yeah. And so I was like, we have to go see a doctor. I need medicine, but I don't want to pay, right? Right. And so we bought this insurance, and I go, and they couldn't find out what was going on, so they just gave me antibiotics and painkillers and said, come back in a few days, and we'll check the levels and all that.
And so I started feeling better, and I got back to work, and those kind of kept the symptoms at bay, and then until they didn't, right, until we ran out of the medicine and basically just took a terrible turn for the worst. Now, Selena, prior to this, you were kind of feeling like Ryan was letting you down, right? Yes. I love that aspect of it, because it's very honest. In the book, you write about that. You were, you know, my bright, handsome husband is a dud. I mean, I'm summarizing, but you're really internalizing this now.
Yay, I was battling with that internally, for sure. You're on the adventure of a lifetime. You're riding horses in Switzerland. Yes. And you're living your dream. Yes.
Yet, Ryan's not stepping up. Yes. That's how you felt.
Yes. I don't want to overstate it, but what was going on there? No, that was my internal dialogue, was how can I help you meet what I want to do? How can I bring you along? Like, what can I do? How come we can't, like, make this work? What's going on? Our boss thinks you can't work. I mean, I know you're sick, but can you just pull it together a little bit more for me?
You can't be that sick. Yes. Did you verbalize that at all, Selena? In some ways. I felt it.
I felt it. Yeah, and we were two years married. We didn't know how to communicate that well, I would say. It's really important right here, because there's a lot of couples that will struggle if you're married two years or 20 years, 50 years.
These are things that couples struggle with because you really don't know what's going on. You look good on the outside, Ryan. You look reasonably healthy, right? Absolutely. So you're conjuring up these, he's got attitude issues.
He's just not stepping up. Yes. How did the Lord deal with you in that regard? What was the lesson learned spiritually about being the wife and being the husband who couldn't meet that expectation? Well, in hindsight, it's easy to kind of see God's hand on all of it and how it was all working. At the time, it certainly wasn't clear what was going on. I just knew I didn't want to be the reason my wife's dreams were dashed upon the rocks, right? But I didn't want to be the reason that you almost died. Well, but we didn't know the extent of it. Right, but you were sick and how horrible of me as a wife to not care for you. And at that point, it's going to begin to click in. That's why I wanted to catch that answer from you prior to your realization that, oh, this is serious. But once you knew that Ryan was really sick, it changed, I'm sure.
Absolutely. And what happened at that point? Well, the diagnosis came down and basically found out that I had an infection on my heart.
I have a congenital defect that I never knew about, and the poor diet and the lack of sleep and the hard work and all that kind of contributed to this perfect storm that led to this diagnosis. I mean, for folks listening, it was a bacterial infection on your heart valve, right? Yeah, yeah. That's a little scary. Yeah, and they get in there, and it's two centimeters in length, and it's flapping around like a flag. There's a growth on the valve. Just flapping. Just flapping around, and the doctors kind of looked at it, and judging by their reaction, we got pretty scared because it's not like, oh, just take some medicine and go home.
It's like, this is a bad thing. Their reaction was, we need to get you to the state hospital of Zurich now. And they got the, I think it was the head cardiologist for all of Zurich on the phone. They've got this American kid. He's got endocarditis.
What do we do? And it was really crazy because we weren't Swiss citizens, so we didn't fit their system. Right. That's why the medical insurance was so huge. The insurance paid off, yeah.
And we ended up being an inpatient, so spent a week trying to treat it. And all of a sudden, I felt vindicated. Okay, I'm not just a wimp, right? I'm actually sick.
Right, after all these months and weeks of feeling less than. My boss, our boss at the time, he apologized because he thought I was a slacker. He thought I was just being lazy. Lazy American. Yes, exactly.
That stereotype, and I could hear that going on in my head. And yeah, and they finally said, hey, we can't fix it with antibiotics. We need to open you up and have heart surgery tomorrow. Do heart surgery. I mean, that is amazing. You're 22 years old. They encourage you to write up your will, to think about end-of-life issues.
I mean, you're just married a couple of years and you're, what? You had to be going, what? Well, you know, they had that Swiss, and we were in the Swiss German part of Switzerland, so there's that stoicism, right?
So they didn't encourage any of that kind of stuff. It was like, well, this is as a matter of fact, here's what we got to do. We're going to operate tomorrow. I had done an internship with a cardiothoracic surgeon in college, so I kind of knew exactly what they were going to do. And so I explained it to Selena, and so I knew that my chances were good, but they aren't as high as you're comfortable with going under the knife, right?
And so I opted at that point. Just personally, my dad was there at the time, just sitting in silence the night before, and I just wrote out letters to her, letters to my dad, my brother, my mom, good friends. And yeah, just, hey, if I don't make it, here's what I want you to do.
I want you to find a guy that treats you better than me, and you know, crying the whole time. Oh, my. Yeah, so it really kind of brought us face-to-face with our finitude, like our limits as humans, and really knowing that this life is so fragile, and really, after the fact, it kind of feels like a privilege, having to have that perspective at such a young age.
It's created a bit of anxiety since then, knowing that, wow, it could happen any day. Oh, sure. So someone's got to be asking, listening right now, did you let them read the letters? I mean, that's...
I read Selena's to her. Okay. Only like once, because even sitting here when he talks about it, I'm like, okay. Here comes emotions, yeah. How did that make you feel?
Yeah. I, you know, you're two years married, but six years the best of friends, and you just, you try to go past it. I mean, as a young person, you don't have this, even as an older person, the finality of death is something I felt like you deal with for your entire life, you know. And so knowing that that was a possibility for him, a high possibility, it was somewhat incomprehensible to me, and I felt like there was a state of shock, and I still was trusting God, and I think I had a bit of maybe naive grace or something of God just holding me while he was in surgery, and just keeping my mind at bay, and it was a battle for sure. I remember crying thinking, hey, we're not going to get to raise children together, and we knew we didn't want children right away, but we knew that that was something we wanted together at some point.
I'm thinking, like, that's never going to happen for us, and that's just not a reality I'm going to get to experience, and so that's why waking up was so sweet. Well, and that's the point to pick the story up, the fact that you did wake up from surgery, you looked at each other, and the doctors were optimistic that they had done the job needed to allow you many more years. That gave you a different perspective when it comes to marriage.
What changed? To be honest, and to be really candid, initially I was really angry at God, like, how could he let this even happen? And so there was a period of kind of, you know, if you're ever in the surf and a wave catches you on your heels, you've got to recover from it, and that was a really refining time for our faith, and for my faith personally, but then once we kind of got past that, the problem of pain, as C.S. Lewis puts it, like, how can this happen? I'm a good person, right?
How can a good God allow that? But it really started to shape our theology around our capacity to be glorifying to God and how it's really up to His sovereignty at every step, and it's by His grace that we do anything that's good, and the small moments that we have are important, right? So that eternal perspective came, but it took years to kind of fill that out and to know that life is still short, and so we need to spend our moments doing eternal things and not just, you know, wasting them. Selina, let me come back to you, because I want people to really hear your heart, and Ryan, you too, in terms of what you learned, but facing death, you typically don't do until later in life, typically. I know some young people do face it, and that happens, but what did you really take away from this?
What was that one thing that you thought, wow, facing it so early helped me become fill in the blank? Grateful. Grateful every day. Grateful for the moments, the good and the bad and the ugly, and all the in-between, just knowing that what we have today was not for sure.
It was not a guarantee. Grateful to God to have led us either way, led me either way, and be sovereign in the outcomes. Let me ask you this, because again, I so appreciate your honesty in the beginning about the story and how Ryan wasn't carrying his weight.
Did it, and I mean this in the best of ways, did it help you learn to be less selfish? Absolutely. Absolutely. It was very convicting.
I think it slowed me down in my accusing state, you know, as a young wife, accusing my husband of maybe not doing these things or not engaging the way I want him to, why isn't he helping me, and just all of my not realizing there's a deeper issue that I'm not seeing, that I'm ignoring, and so I think it put the brakes on me jumping to those conclusions. Ryan, you wake up. Things are moving.
You're making a decision now. Fierce marriage is where I want to live, and that's where I want Selena to be. What does that mean to have a fierce marriage? All the way back a few minutes ago when we started the program.
Yeah, so the name is Selena's idea. That's my only claim to fame because you're the marketing guy, so this is mine. But it came from, I think, this thought that marriage that lasts and is loving and is Christ-honoring takes a fierce tenacity that never gives up and never gives in, and that was kind of our founding, okay, this is what a fierce marriage is, and this is what we mean by the word fierce, and what kind of compelled us into it and to have this conviction to share is that we had, at the time, actually so we, from the time we were two years married coming back from this trip, and up until nine years married, we were just, I don't know, growing roots. We were figuring out some aspects of our faith, some aspects of our own relationship, no kids at all, and we had friends that had gotten married and some had gotten divorced, and many, not many, but a few, yeah, in that time that we were already married, and so I thought, what's so different about us? Why are we happy? Why are we still together?
And, of course, we landed on, simply, it's Jesus. He's the only reason. I don't mean that as a bad answer, but he's the reason that we have grace toward each other, and we can still— And he's the fuel behind us having that fierce marriage. Well, let me dig into the fierce marriage, because, again, you can take that in a lot of different ways. Fierceness can be negative. It can be used as a weapon, particularly in marriage. You can be a fierce husband in all the wrong ways. Describe more adequately what spiritual fierce marriage looks like. What does it mean when you wake up in the morning?
What do you do? Yeah, so I think it's summarized in the subtitle of our book, Radically Pursuing Each Other in Light of Christ's Relentless Love, and that's really become kind of the refrain, is that we only love each other because we are loved, and we can only love each other, the biblical love, because to the extent that we experience the love of Christ in the gospel, right? And so in our book, we talked about the foundations and how so much of what your marriage looks like, building it, and making a fierce marriage starts with what is your bedrock? What is your foundation? What is your framework?
What is the fuel? And so we talk about the gospel being the absolute foundation of it, knowing who you are. Understanding your beliefs as a couple and how your beliefs really inform your behavior. Namely, believing and knowing that you're a sinner in need of grace and you have received it in Christ, and that's a transformative idea.
No, that is really good. You mentioned in the book the idea of covenant marriage and the importance of it. We've talked about that more from a legal standard of what covenant marriage means, but how do you define it in your book? That's a big question. We deal with it or we, I guess, define it through the Bible and looking at God's covenantal character with his people, and we sort of contrast it with the covenantal versus contractual.
Right, a non-legal. Absolutely, absolutely. A covenant is more of like a living, breathing.
Heart-binding. Yes. Yeah, I like that.
Yes. Whereas contractual is very dependent on you providing me with things and I provide you with things, and if you're not meeting my standards, my needs, all these things that we sort of outlined and committed to, then, you know, we might walk away. So that's kind of the... You know, you guys, you're a young couple, you have young children, so you're living in that space right now. I think older Christians, we might think of younger Christians as being more transactional.
I love what you're saying. Do your peers feel this way too? You know, the committed Christian community that are in their 20, 30-somethings. Are they feeling like there's something bigger than a transactional relationship here?
Absolutely, and I think the funny thing is that it requires the transparency. It requires the time to be able to experience the covenantal, right? The covenantal requires more of us. Right, and frankly, I mean, shame on us because I think older Christians have failed in that way, that we have not figured that out.
I think oftentimes we had the transactional down. That's why divorce rates are so high in the church rather than understanding God's covenantal heart for marriage. So good for you guys, and good for all of us that hopefully see that as the core value that the Lord is seeking in our marriages. Selina, how does that play out when you're busy and your girls are kind of draining you? How do you elevate above the day-to-day to be the covenantal part of your relationship?
Absolutely, no, that's a good one. Definitely reminding, reminding, reminding myself, whether it's being in Scripture and knowing it as much as I can, knowing and understanding who God is, who I am in light of who He is, knowing God through His word, but also knowing that the Holy Spirit is with me and can empower me to die to myself when I don't feel like it, to make those right decisions when I don't feel like it or I don't want to, knowing that there's a bigger outcome, there's life beyond this momentary death of wanting to yell at my husband or lock my kids in their room for five minutes because I'm going to go crazy or something. I think it's also being free to go back to them too and apologize and repent to your own kids and say, hey, I'm a sinner too, I need Jesus and I need your forgiveness, here's what I did wrong. That's always good, especially good in marriage. I mean, it's good when you do that with your kids.
I think in some ways it's harder to do it with your spouse, ironically. Ryan, something in your book really caught me because after your heart surgery, the doctors left some wires attached to your heart that I guess were coming out of your chest. It seems a little odd. Kind of like Iron Man.
Did they forget or what? But I guess it was intentional so that they could, if they needed to, they can jumpstart your heart. But what spiritual application did you apply to that? I love that because the analogy that I drew from it is that any moment they could give life or death by these wires that were connected to these strategic parts of my heart. And the parallel that I drew is in communication. As a spouse, you have a direct line to each other's heart. They've given you access that's unprecedented for any other person, ideally. And so the words you say hold a lot of weight.
The Bible says, your words have the power of life and death, so choose life. So as a husband, early on in our marriage, I would be really harsh. A lot of husbands do this. They're very logical. You try to argue your way out of things and really you seem to empathize.
And so realizing that about my tendency and the fact that she's given me access to her heart gives me kind of this sweet conviction that I need to steward her heart well and speak life and empathize and maybe just even shut my mouth at times. Yeah. I mean, this is so powerful. And I love that analogy, life and death to the heart.
And I'm assuming the doctors did remove those wires. Excruciatingly, yes. And I wasn't asleep for it.
It was terrible. And I think what you have to share in the book, Fierce Marriage, is so relevant to couples of all ages to remember the idea of being known and knowing your spouse. I mean, those are great concepts that all of us should aim for. I think in your book you say Jesus isn't merely a means to a better marriage. Your marriage is a means to a better relationship with Jesus. That is really well said.
I love that. I have one follow-up question for you. But before we go there, let me turn to the listeners. This is exactly why we're here. If you need help in your marriage, we have counselors who can help you. We are a treasure chest of resources and tools here at Focus. And this is one of the great resources and tools that we'd like to put in your hands, Fierce Marriage. And if you can make a gift of any amount, even if you can't afford it, we'll get it to you.
And I'm sure others will cover the cost of that. Let's work on your marriage together so that it will honor our Lord Jesus Christ. Donate and request your copy of Fierce Marriage. And when you're online, go ahead and take our Focus on Marriage assessment, which will help you kind of gauge where you're at.
You'll find all of these resources and so much more in the episode notes. All right, Ryan and Selina, here's that last question. Speak to the husband or the wife listening right now who thinks it might be too late for their marriage.
The fierceness is the negative fierceness that we've talked about. It's survival at this point. What should they do differently? How do they turn that around and start honoring the Lord? I guess I just want to encourage them to see that this is the most opportune time, I think, for God to be at work and for God to soften your heart, soften your husband's heart, and to just rest assured that he is a big God and there's ways that he works that we can't always see or understand, but to press into him, to press into his word, to engage in prayerfully, you know, pursuing your spouse.
You look like you have something to say. Yeah, no, I'm just imagining the couples that we've seen in that situation that have had, they've gone from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh for inexplicable reasons other than God is at work and I think by pressing into God's word and pressing into his community, namely being known by others, and that looks like getting a good counselor, getting a good pastor to walk with you, not just to give you advice and platitudes, but to walk with you. I think every time we've seen a couple do that in earnest, we've seen amazing God works. He works. He's powerful.
Well, that's the point, isn't it? God works. God works. And it's been great and you've captured it in Fierce Marriage. Thanks for being with us.
Thank you for having us. Thank you. And this final encouragement to contact us and get a copy of the book Fierce Marriage. We'll tell you more when you call 800, the letter A and the word family. Join us again tomorrow as we'll hear from Pastor Greg Laurie sharing how he overcame a childhood of neglect. But listen. People's destinies don't have to be determined by their genes or their environment. Your future doesn't have to be dependent on your past. There are no foregone conclusions because when God breaks into your story, everything changes. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening to Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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