By Marsha Ducille
IN A WORLD where differences divide us, Chris Tomlin’s music is a rarity that unites people from a wide range of backgrounds. We’ve all worshipped to songs he’s written, co-written, or sung. In 2012 alone, Chris’ songs were performed more than 3 million times in churches around the world – making him, arguably, the most impactful worship leader of our time. Some of his greatest hits include “How Great is Our God,” “Forever,” “Holy is the Lord,” “We Fall Down,” and “Indescribable.” Every age group, ethnicity, and denomination has used Chris’ music to heal their brokenness, and draw closer to God
After chatting with Grammy Award winner Chris Tomlin and his wife, Lauren, I was pleasantly surprised. Lauren was a woman unafraid to pound out any issue. I thought to myself after the interview, “The cliché got it wrong! A great woman isn’t behind every great man; she’s powerfully beside him.”
Lauren Tomlin is unquestionably outspoken, yet she seems to master an interesting balance. She knows when to hammer out an issue, and when to release her grip. It’s a lesson that very few of us have learned. As I listened to Chris and Lauren’s story, I was amazed by the power that women have. Our choices can strengthen the weakest relationships, and tear down even the strongest man. Every woman – whether single or married – will be enlightened by this interview.
The Truth About Men
Marsha DuCille: Lauren, I’m going to start with you.
Chris Tomlin: That’s smart! [everyone laughs]
MD: I read a very interesting article that featured an interview with Chris. In the interview, Chris shared that you got married very quickly because of your attitude and approach to the dating process. What happened? What was your approach and attitude?
Lauren Tomlin: [she laughs]
MD: Chris shared that, while you were dating, you basically said to him, “This relationship, as it stands, isn’t working for me.”
LT: It was quite interesting. We were introduced by a mutual friend when Chris moved to Atlanta, and he told Chris, “I think you’re going to have a good time, but you guys are never going to last.” So, we dated for a season, but it got to a point where I thought there was a wall. And, as a woman, I was trying to navigate the relationship, and figure out what was going on. So, along that line, I said, “I really want to know who you are, but if that doesn’t change in time, I’m probably going to move on.” And nothing changed, so I moved on. A year later, we reconnected by divine circumstances. From there, it was a quick sprint to the altar!
MD: That story speaks volumes to women – especially women who approach the dating process the wrong way. What advice would you give a woman who is stuck in a relationship that’s not progressing – a relationship that isn’t moving toward marriage? When should she move on?
LT: You know, that’s a hard situation. When a woman doesn’t know where she stands with a man, she’ll have a natural tendency to become controlling or needy. But I’ve always admired Esther [in the Bible]. She knew where she stood with God, and where God stood with her. So, instead of going to [King Xerxes] and putting her hands around his neck and telling him what to do, she prepared a banquet for him. She invited him into something different – something he didn’t anticipate. That’s the approach I think women should take in dating, and even in our marriages.
MD: That’s a really interesting point. I like that idea a lot: “Invite him into something different. Invite him into something he didn’t anticipate.” When we (as women) don’t get what we want, men expect us to be needy and controlling. They don’t expect us to be inviting – and they certainly don’t expect us to calmly walk away from a dating relationship.
LT: That’s right. They don’t.
MD: So, Chris, what was this experience like for you? What made you move so quickly toward marriage? [Lauren laughs]
CT: You know, I think we live in a world where (because of things like social media), men feel like they have access to everything in the world. Because you have so many choices, it paralyzes you. Most guys have trouble committing anyway. And, today, who knows who you might meet on Facebook or somewhere else? Should I settle down now? Is the grass greener somewhere else? I was paralyzed by that for so many years. Most men always want to keep their options open. I was kinda doing that when I first started dating Lauren. I had just moved to Atlanta, and was trying to figure the place out. So, I was dragging my feet a little bit. For a lot of guys, it takes losing something to appreciate what you had. Over the course of several months, after losing Lauren, I thought, “Wow, she was special. And I’m not sure if I know another girl quite like her.” And so, I tried everything I could to get her back, and she was having none of it. She was as cold as ice! She was like, “I’m over you! You can move on, because I’ve moved on.” For guys, that drives us even more crazy. God just, thankfully, had it for us to be together. I tried hard to get her back. I tried to be respectful, but I refused to stop communication. I was willing not to stop, unless she told me, “Never talk to me again.” For me, and for a lot of guys, that’s what it took. It took me losing Lauren to have a wake-up call. It made me wake-up and say, “What have I done?”
MD: I love that story! That’s a great message for single women. Lauren, thank you for being brave enough to do that! [Marsha and Lauren laugh]
The Truth About Women
MD: Lauren, do you consider yourself to be in ministry? Everyone who goes to church knows and sings Chris’ music. You, obviously, have a strong personality, and you’re not a woman who’s afraid to make tough choices.
LT: I do have a ministry, but it’s different in that I’ve been hidden. In this season, I’ve sensed God calling me to “man-the-fires” at home. It’s interesting because, when I actually Googled it, I learned that [“Keep the Fires Burning”] is a patriotic song that was sung in World War l. It was about the silver lining that awaits the soldiers when they come home. So, I really felt my role was to focus on the home front. Because I’m home, I’m able to strengthen the foundation of our family, and be present. I’m also able to come alongside Chris in ministry.
MD: In this day and age – especially when women struggle with the definition of who they should be – did you wrestle with the decision to be a stay-at-home wife and mom? Did you ever question whether you were doing enough?
LT: That’s an interesting question, because it’s a daily thing that I have to surrender. Because my husband is in such a prominent place, the enemy comes in and whispers, “You’re in an insignificant place.” It’s only in me hearing from Jesus that I’m able to overcome it. Literally, at least twice a week, I have to seek out reminders from [the Lord] – affirming me in the way I should walk. I think that’s a challenge for every woman – whether she feels led to pursue a career, or whether she feels led to stay at home. Each woman has to personally go to God, and find out which way she is to walk.
MD: Oh, that’s good stuff! And, Chris, how has Lauren ministered to you in that role? What importance has she played in your day-to-day ministry?
CT: My entire world has been touring, and traveling, and playing music. I was 38 when we got married. Lauren had a little bit of an idea of what she was walking into, but not entirely. She could have definitely resented my life – me being on the road – me being away – people paying attention to me, and not to her. She could have been a person who resented that. But Lauren is the opposite of that. I feel free to fly, because of the way she is. I feel such freedom on the road, because we’re in this together. Obviously, she doesn’t like me being gone, but I never feel guilt. Guilt can feel horrible. When I was looking for a wife, I always thought, “If someone never meets me, and they only meet my wife, I want them to think, ‘Man, that guy must be pretty awesome to have a girl like that.’” Lauren is that woman. She’s made me so much better than I was on my own. I’ve learned to communicate things a lot better, because Lauren is an amazing communicator. She’s always challenging me – even in how I’m representing my music, and how I’m connecting with people. She makes what I do so much stronger.
The Truth About Marriage
MD: Lauren, what’s your favorite song that Chris has written?
LT: It’s from an old [Passion Worship Band] album. It’s called “Kindness.” The song says, “It’s Your kindness, Lord, that leads us to repentance.” It’s funny because I didn’t know who Chris was when we were introduced, and I had such a passion for that song. I think it was providential. Years later, once we were married – when we were going through a harder patch – when we were addressing our brokenness – God would continually bring that song to my mind. My tendency was to be reactive. But, God would remind me, “It’s my kindness – my kindness, Lauren – that leads to repentance.”
MD: Chris, from the outside looking in, it can seem like you don’t have many problems. And that, obviously, can’t be true. What do you consider to be the hardest period in your life?
CT: Truthfully, it would be the beginning of our marriage. Before we got married, I didn’t take time to think about the issues I had in my life. I would just keep going. I’m a “rug sweeper.” I sweep everything under the rug. And then, there was quite a collision of our styles in relating, because I married what we call a “hammer.” [Marsha laughs]
MD: What does that mean? What’s a “hammer”?
CT: Well, Lauren’s like, “Let’s get all of this out! Let’s talk about it right now.” She dealt with things with intensity, and I kept everything on the inside – which wasn’t necessarily healthy either. It was a collision of our brokenness. But God wanted to restore those places in both of our lives, and He worked through our marriage to make that happen. There were some issues that I had in my life that I had to work out. They came to the forefront in our marriage. I think it’s fair to say that I’m definitely as human as anyone who reads this article. I think it’s the hardest thing about my position. People look at me and think, “Wow, you must have a red phone to God.” But I’m very ordinary, and struggle with the same things everyone else struggles with.
MD: Lauren, how were you and Chris able to climb out of your marital challenges?
LT: I learned that, ultimately, I could not control Chris. Of course, because of Eve’s fall in the [Garden of Eden], it’s easy for us (as women) to want to control our husbands. I had to let go, and tell God, “You’re the Teacher. You will teach him better than I ever could.” And I found a romance with God. In the places where Chris and I didn’t have what I wanted, I went to Jesus. That freed Chris to love me, because I wasn’t coming to him out of a need – that needy, controlling place. It also freed God to come in and reach Chris in a way that I never could.
MD: Chris – given your position in ministry, and the way the world sees you – is it difficult to seek help, and share your very-human experiences?
CT: Yeah. People easily find advisors for everything in life – this is my financial advisor … this is my coach … this is my teacher … this is my pastor. In every part of life, we have advisors and mentors. But, when it comes to relationships, it’s easy and more comfortable to not let anyone else in. That’s been one of the hardest things for me, because of who I am. What if someone comes in and sees that I don’t have it all together? What is that going to be like? It’s hard to find the right people … people who you can trust.
The Truth About Worship
MD: Chris, your entire life is about worship. Your tours are about worship. Your music is about worship. What does worship look like in a marriage? CT: Wow. Ummm. Wow.
LT: That’s a really good question! These are all great questions, quite frankly.
CT: You know, when you get down to it, worship is what you value the most. Everyone worships something. And, for me, worship is leading my family to the Kingdom. It’s more than just saying, “Hey, let’s go to church.” It’s about what I’m like as a dad, and what I’m like as a husband. Am I the same person off the stage as I am on the stage? If that is different, that’s gonna jack my kids up. They’ll be like, “Well, dad’s one way on the stage, and at home he’s another way.” So, for me, in a marriage, worship is reflecting Christ to my family. It’s being the same person at home.
The Truth About Honor
MD: Lauren, the Bible instructs a woman to honor her husband, yet it instructs a man to love his wife. In your opinion, what does it mean to honor your husband?
LT: That’s such a good question! No, really, that’s a million dollar question! I think that answer varies in every marriage. Specifically, in our marriage, I have found that I can make or break my husband through my words. [Chris], wouldn’t you say that?
CT: Yes, definitely.
LT: That’s probably my greatest strength, and my greatest weakness. In our first couple months of marriage, I was like, “Where did he go?” Well, he was in his office. My approach wasn’t working. So, I quickly learned. God basically said to me, “Shut your mouth. Follow Me, and I’ll show you what to say and how to say it.” I learned very quickly how to use my words. I learned how I could win my husband with my words, versus crippling him. It’s not being “manipulative” by any means. It’s just honoring him with the words that I choose.
MD: And, Chris, in your opinion, what does it mean when the Bible says, “Love your wife”?
CT: There’s one word that I’ve been trying to apply in my marriage, and that word is “recognize.” I think that’s the key for guys in any marriage – and the key for any leader. The way a man loves his wife is to recognize her … with your eyes open, your mind open, and your heart open. A part of loving your wife is recognizing when there are needs, and when you’re not meeting them – to recognize when something needs to be said – to recognize when you need to say you’re sorry – to recognize when you’re not pulling your weight as a dad – to recognize that, no, you don’t need to go play golf right now – to recognize when you need to go on a date with your wife – to recognize when you’re not cherishing your wife like you should. Recognition is a part of great love.
MD: That could be a poem! That was really, really good.