"...heirs together of the grace of life..." I Peter 3:7b
Last November 26, my wife Kathy and I celebrated 30 years of marriage. Looking back, that day in 1982 was a pretty unpretentious affair. Neither of our parents had much money and neither did we. The ladies from Mt. Paron Church in Fordyce, Arkansas helped decorate the church, a friend of the family made Kathy's dress, and I wore an old suit. One of the members of the church paid for the reception, which was held in the lunchroom next door. We had some friends who sang together make a tape for us of hymns, which we played as people came in, and they sang "Sweet, Sweet Spirit" a capella for the processional.
We had only known each other six months. We were so young! I was 18 and she was 21. We had met at my home in Dothan, Alabama, when her dad brought her and the rest of the family on a preaching trip back in May. I took my last exam in high school on a Thursday morning and met Kathy that afternoon. I won't say it was love at first sight, but it was pretty close! There was just something there between us from the very first. I don't know how we knew this, but at the end of that week she was in Alabama, we knew that we were supposed to be together. We were engaged at the end that week (although we kept it a secret for a month) and married six months later. Most people wouldn't look on this as a recipe for a successful marriage, but I can say that the results are in---it most definitely has worked out!
When I look around me at the cultural landscape, I see a vastly different scene than the one of thirty years ago. What was just beginning at that time, has since become a tsunami of destruction towards marriage and family. Commitment seems to be a forgotten virtue, replaced by self-fulfillment and individualism. As a result, the landscape is littered with broken marriages and broken homes. The idea of a man and woman in a life-long committed relationship seems hopelessly out-of-date, but it's the younger generation that is paying for the "new normal." Holidays become hopelessly confusing. I remember talking to a man last November who was telling me about his son and daughter-in-law trying to make four different Thanksgiving dinners because of two sets of divorced parents. This is all too common now. As a result of this, young people are eschewing the very idea of marriage and adopting live-in arrangements (what used to be derisively called "shacking up). In most of these unmarried households, the "'til death do us part" commitment is replaced with "I'll fulfill your needs as long as you fulfill my needs!"
But is there a better way? I think so. As a matter of fact, after thirty years of sharing life together, I can say that I know so! There is something about a committed relationship that is wonderfully freeing. You don't have to worry about whether that person is going to be around a year from now or ten years or twenty years. We both know that, by God's grace, we'll be together until the Lord decides to take one of us home. But, does a committed relationship just happen? Is it just because we were just that right match that we somehow by accident ended up thirty years together? We have a couple in our church that has been together sixty years, doubling our longevity. Do you think that just happened to them? Certainly not! I believe there are some principles that under gird most successful marriages that have largely gone unrecognized. I'd like to share some of these principles with you here:
- Great marriages have a firm foundation. That foundation of our marriage, and the only one that I've found to survive the test of time, is faith in Christ. Our faith is our bedrock. It's what most binds us together and what makes our marriage work. In fact, scripture teaches that marriage itself was put in place to show the love of Christ for His church (Eph. 5:25). Our marriage is not just here for us. It's actually kind of a word picture of what Christ and his church are supposed to be on this earth. Christ unselfishly gave himself up for his church so that she would be a "radiant church-without stain or wrinkle..." (Eph 5:27) We are called to love each other in an unselfish manner. Which brings me to the next principle.
- Great marriages display unselfish love. As a husband, my attitude cannot be that "my wife is around to fulfill my every need." I'm not looking for her to make me "feel good about myself." However, my attitude is to love her completely and unconditionally, regardless of her response. I referred to Eph 5:25 above. Here's the whole verse: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her." I'm to give myself up for her. She's to give herself up for me. A great marriage is found when both of these things happen. However, my attitude simply cannot be, "Well, I'll give myself for her if she gives herself up for me. My love for her is unconditional. And I'm thankful that her love for me is unconditional.
- Great marriages make each other the primary focus of their lives. As a Christian, Kathy knows that Christ is my #1, but that she is my #2. And I'm thankful that I'm her #2 as well! So, outside of our devotion to Christ, we are the focus of each other's lives. She tries to please me. I try to please her. When our kids were little, they were a vitally important part of our lives. However, they had to take a back seat to our marriage. This may seem wrong to some people. It seems like you should sacrifice yourselves for your kids. In some ways, this is right. We as parents will go to all ends to make sure our children our safe and secure. However, Kathy and I knew that without a strong marriage in place, our children would suffer. I see so many couples make the terrible mistake of making their children the focus of everything. The children are the byproduct of the marriage-not the other way around. Your love for each other came before the kids came. Without a strong marriage, not only do the adults suffer, but the kids suffer too. Moms, there's nothing more important that you can do for your kids than to love their dad. Dads, there's nothing more important that you can do for your kids than to love their mom. There's just no doubt that kids thrive in a home where their parents abound in love for each other as well as for their kids. Additionally, how are your children going to know what a great marriage is if they don't see it in your marriage! In our case, I'm convinced that one of the things that Kathy and I had going for us was that we saw great marriages in our homes growing up. My parents were married for forty-two years before my mom passed away and Kathy's parents will soon celebrate fifty-three years together. We saw how it worked growing up. Do your kids see how it works in your home?