by Wynter and Jonathan Pitts*
A Special Note from Jonathan
It was a proud moment when at 3:45 p.m. on July 24, 2018, I hit send on an email to our publisher with the final edited manuscript of Emptied, the book Wynter and I had labored together to write. On that same day, around 7:30 p.m., Wynter’s physical heart failed her without warning, and she began a new journey with an eternal reality. Her sudden death was gut-wrenching and heartbreaking. It was beyond reason and understanding. She was only 38. By allowing me to turn in our marriage book the same day Wynter passed from death to life, God, in His infinite wisdom, was sending me a sign of His goodness and providence, reminding me that He is the Author, and He decides when a book will end. My hope is that Wynter’s death will continue to bring life, that her story and our marriage will stand as a light on the path of your marriage, so that whatever might be dead or lost or unattended will begin to receive nourishment and sustenance. I pray that you might begin or commit anew to a poured-out marriage so that you might experience the fullness God promised for those who live out Christ to each other.
(Jonathan) The wedding photo captures the assumed bliss of marriage in a frame, but rarely does the photo capture what the true state of marriage will be on a day-to-day basis. Couples quickly discover that marriage is more like a journey than a snapshot. Marriage will take more than they ever thought they could give, and it will test every aspect of their will. Emptying ourselves is the key to ultimately bringing about what God has in mind for us in this vital relationship.
In our earliest days of dating, it was nearly impossible for Wynter and me to think clearly about our differences. I mostly focused on our similarities, assuming my personality was strong enough to win Wynter over to my side in areas of life where we differed. Because Wynter was a woman of few words, I didn’t realize that she had the same aspirations. We soon found our differences were quite different! Thankfully, we had our faith in Jesus in common, which we knew would be the glue that would bind. We just didn’t realize how much glue it would take!
I was raised in a small, southern New Jersey town. The part I grew up in had cow pastures, cornfields, forests, and back country roads. I was a brownish, biracial kid growing up in a brown-less town. My father, who is African-American, grew up in a single-parent home amid the turbulent times of civil rights and integration. In his late teens, he made a commitment to Jesus Christ that began to shape everything about his future, including his marriage. My mother was the granddaughter of German immigrants on both sides. She grew up in a traditional German-American family. Her father was a Lutheran Missouri Synod pastor of two small churches over a 50-year career. My parents’ lives could not have looked more different from the world’s perspective, but they held on to one thing with tenacity—the purposes of God. They believed that passion and fullness in marriage come when a couple understands that God’s purpose in marriage is far greater than the sum of two people’s lives.
(Wynter) I am a city girl. I was born and raised in Baltimore, Maryland. While Jonathan grew up surrounded by fields of corn and compost piles, I played in a cement backyard. Riding my bike in small circles around the metal pole we used for drying clothes was true city living. Many families in my neighborhood experienced a life full of poverty, drug abuse, and fatherlessness. Mine was not much different. Although my parents married young and were happy newlyweds, my father’s decision to experiment with drugs led him down a long and destructive road of drug abuse. Their eventual divorce prevented him from having any role in my childhood. Thankfully, my mother began going to church where people accepted her, held her up in her weakest moments, and loved her right into the arms of Jesus. Both my mother and grandmother became God-fearing women who had a massive influence on my life. For 18 years, the wisdom, advice, and conversations that played in my ear were in the female voice and from the female perspective. They did their best to teach me God’s Word and show me what it meant to live as His daughter. Though Jonathan and I came from significantly different backgrounds and different family makeups, there was one common denominator—a commitment and dedication to following Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told His disciples, “If anyone would come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Following Jesus is a process that has allowed Jonathan and me to think about and see ourselves less so we could see each other more. Something beautiful happens when you begin to see the beauty in your spouse.
(Jonathan) From a gospel perspective, there is only one motive for marriage: to build God’s kingdom. When Adam and Eve were given the command (Genesis 1:28), “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” two things were to be reproduced—children and the image of God. We should strive to reproduce the character, qualities, and gifts God has given us in those He has put in our path—biologically-related or not.
Unfortunately, Wynter and I brought some things into our marriage that would leave only on the other side of trials, experience, and a willingness to humble ourselves. Marriage opened the door for full exposure and vulnerability that never quite existed in our lives before. This kind of exposure may feel threatening and awkward, but marriage, at its best, is where we can be exposed without fear of judgment and condemnation. We move toward full exposure with maximum grace from each other and from the Lord. Our me becomes we as we fulfill God’s purpose for our lives, starting with giving without expecting anything in return and laying aside our own wants and needs.
(Wynter) One day within the first year of our marriage, Jonathan and I had a huge fight in our two-bedroom apartment, with yelling, screaming, and door slamming. The scene resembled that of two strong-willed, spoiled, and uncontrollable toddlers—but in this case, with 23-year-olds. After letting Jonathan know it was over, I turned around and stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind me. After about two hours, I came back—well, actually, Jonathan brought me back. I got lost in the neighborhood and called him for directions to get back home. After we calmed down, Jonathan looked at me and said, “Babe, leaving is not an option. Remove those words from your vocabulary.” Those words zapped my emotions into place and took up permanent residence in my heart.
Jonathan and I both brought bad fruit into our marriage. And the more time we spent with God, the more we were convicted by it. The pruning process would include forgiveness of sin—even sin we each committed prior to entering marriage. We would have to deal with our history, and it would certainly include the breaking down of expectations we had placed on each other that weren’t godly or even reasonable. The pruning process would be a pruning of the heart.
(Jonathan) I was about as prideful as anyone could be. I felt like I was bringing fantastic good fruit to our marriage. How naïve I was! Early and often, God reminded me how little I had to offer Wynter and how much I needed from Him myself. I found myself broken over and over, realizing that what I was bringing to the table wasn’t enough. My efforts, skill, willpower, and hard work were not enough. But this place was exactly where God wanted me. Broken! Surrendered! The entirety of the gospel is about giving up our own will—surrendering me for the sake of we.
Being emptied in marriage is a mindset. A simple scripture describes it best: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). Our emptiness is the only state where we will be renewed and transformed. In marriages renewed by the Spirit and following after Him, spouses can say: It’s my job to serve my spouse, and I should be willing to lay down my emotions and my desires, if necessary, to value my spouse.
(Wynter) I’m proud to say that Jonathan’s willingness to serve me has been one small win on our way from me to we.
(Jonathan) It’s important to recognize Christlikeness in each other on a routine basis. Calling out your spouse’s beneficial attributes is a sure way to remain grateful for the person God has placed in your life. The attributes Jesus brought to this earth are examples for us to follow. Philippians 2:7 says Jesus “emptied himself.” What a mindset! He was God when He decided to come to earth to save us from our sins. He emptied Himself of everything that would stop Him from completing His mission. Just as Jesus came down from perfection to serve the least of us, He asks us to come down from our imperfect pedestals to serve our imperfect life partners. He is asking us to adopt a mindset of lowliness.
(Wynter) Most of us expect to be a we when we walk the aisle, but it is a process. The Bible says, “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). From leaving to cleaving, God knows it takes real work to complete what He intended. Thankfully, the work is not a work of ourselves but of the Spirit. God wants to connect with each of us to give us back everything that has been corrupted by sin.
Under the control of our own spirits, we all tend toward our sin nature. And nothing exposes the natural patterns of our lives more than life in proximity to someone else—marriage being the height of that experience. The greatest force fighting our marriage and the vision God has in mind for it is not our spouse, and it’s not our circumstances. It is the very real presence of the devil—the deceiver, as he is called. But the greatest force fighting for our marriage is the very real power of the Holy Spirit. In every decision we make, we are choosing one spirit or the other—God’s or Satan’s.
(Jonathan) I’m grateful for the Holy Spirit’s power because He has overshadowed the immaturity I brought into marriage. The Holy Spirit comforts, but He also convicts, and, thankfully, through Jesus, instead of condemnation, He offers grace.
If our marriages are going to flourish, and if our me is going to become we, our minds need to focus on a few key ingredients that come from the source of life Himself—God, the Holy Spirit. The fruit of Christ’s Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23). Look to Jesus and trust earnestly for His Spirit to fill you with His power so that you can pour yourselves out until you are empty. Then, the fruits of His Spirit will draw you closer to your spouse than you ever thought possible!