Love 50 Years
Are long marriages really happy marriages?
Ponderings, No.5 (Sept. 25, 2017)
Robert V. Rakestraw, PhD
Founder and Director, Grace Quest Ministries
Professor of Theology Emeritus, Bethel Theological Seminary
Where go the years? How can it be over 50 years since Judy Kay Engevik and I were joined in marriage at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Thief River Falls, Minnesota? Has it actually been that long since July 22, 1967, that hot summer day when a 23 year-old groom and his 22 year-old bride began life together as husband and wife?
Even though I can remember where we have lived (12 residences in five states and one Canadian province) and what we were doing at each stage of our journey. I nevertheless stand amazed at the thought of a half-century gone by. It’s not that the years have passed especially “fast” (such a relative term) but that the overall span of time, which I used to think of as really long, now seems not that long as I look back.
If someone were to ask how Judy and I “made it”—how we have lived together in love and unity through all these years—I would reply that the following were the major factors contributing to our God-blessed adventure.
- Individual Togetherness. We have walked with God individually as well as together, with God and his Word (the Scriptures) at the center of our desires, activities, parenting, financial affairs, employment, and love for others as ourselves. We have sought—individually and together—to follow God’s leading rather than requesting God to endorse our pre-determined plans. Our goal in marriage (and life) was not “to be happy” (although we have been for sure) nor to live “the American dream.” We knew that happiness is a benefit and blessing of walking with God, not a goal in life. We have each found great comfort and strength in knowing that the other was seeking God on their own, so that we did not need to spiritually “prop up” the other continually (Galatians 6:2, 5).
- Daily Oral Prayer. We have prayed together, out loud, at least once a day, except when we were apart geographically. These prayer times have not necessarily been long, nor have we felt that both of us should pray orally. Together we have spent this time mostly in thanksgiving to God, petition for ourselves, and intercession for others, (Of course, individually we have spent time with God in adoration and confession, along with the other three elements of prayer.) In our prayers we have never considered anything too small or too great, knowing that where two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus, in agreement, there is power in a different way than when we pray alone (Matthew 18:19-20). Some of these times have been before or after meals.
- Financial Stewardship. We have considered every dollar that comes in to our common account as being entrusted to us from God, not as being “our money.” Every dollar we spend—whether for food, home, spreading the gospel, transportation, recreation, or computer services—we think of as distributing God’s money. While we have always given (a minimum set percentage, increased over the years) to our local church and other Christian ministries before we use our income for other things, we do not separate “our money” from “God’s money.” It is all God’s, even when we buy an ice-cream cone (2 Corinthians 9:6-8).
- Mutual Respect. Each of us has sought to demonstrate the very highest level of respect and even preference toward the other, through the cultivation of the nine-fold fruit of the Spirit in our relationship and in our individual lives (Galatians 5:22-23). Self-sacrificing love has proven to be a lifetime blessing, not a burden. While we have sought to follow wholeheartedly the biblical instructions to husbands and wives (Ephesians 5:21-33), we do so with particular attention to the first and last verses of this passage. It is impossible to overstate the importance of mutual submission, love, and respect in a healthy, godly marriage, with Christ as Head and Example. In our marriage we have each learned that listening closely to the other, with total concentration and without interrupting, is a gift to the other which no money can buy. In addition, asking questions kindly and replying to each other truthfully are complements to our careful listening. When there have been misunderstandings we have sought to apologize, confess, and forgive as necessary, and then discuss calmly why and how the difficulty arose and how to avoid such situations in the future, concentrating on our own need for improvement rather than that of the other.
- Local and Universal Church Involvement. In each of the locations we have lived we have been involved in a Bible believing local church, where we bonded with others through attendance, financial support, and serving as we were able. We never looked for, nor found, a perfect church, but joined with other blemished believers like ourselves in common worship, edification, and outreach. Through our local church and through personal relationships and ministries outside of our church, we have supported by prayer, finances, communications, and other activities the advancement of the mission and message of Christ around the world, from the ends of our street to the ends of the earth. We have made no sharp distinctions between social concern and evangelism, but have sought to demonstrate Christ’s love to others in matters of body, soul, and spirit (Matthew 25:31-46; 28:18-20; Hebrews 10: 23-25).
- The Twelve Words. We have sought to say the following expressions, or something like them, as often as needed in our marriage and family life together.
- I was wrong.
- I am sorry.
- Please forgive me.
- I love you.
We did not begin our marriage with these expressions in mind, but we have used them regularly many, many times. We did not even know of this convenient “formula” until recently, when I read them in the book, The Journey Home: Finishing with Joy, by evangelist and esteemed Christian leader Bill Bright, now with our Lord in glory (Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2003, p. 118). This is Dr. Bright’s autobiographical account of the last months of his life, while he was dying from a terrible illness known as pulmonary fibrosis. The healing power in these twelve words, which he says God gave him for his family relationships, when spoken sincerely, will bring grace and hope to every married person who looks to God to work mightily in and through them, even if only one spouse speaks these words when applicable, and the other refuses to yield (Proverbs 15:1; I Corinthians 13: 4-7.).
Are long marriages really happy marriages? Sadly, some are not. We probably all know of some folks who have not been happy at all. But some have been genuinely happy, and we give all praise to the God who instituted marriage that ours has been happy – not free of major struggles and pain by any means, but truly joyful. The above six factors in our marriage relationship have been used by God to give us a healthy and blessed journey over these past 50 years. Please understand that we have not done everything perfectly in our life together, not as individuals, nor as a couple, nor as parents. Speaking for myself, I grieve regularly when I look back over the years and remember times when I sinned against Judy and/or our children (and therefore against God), sinning by commission, omission, and disposition. To the best of my knowledge I have confessed my failures to God, Judy, our dear children, and others, and now strive to move forward – growing steadily until I see Jesus in glory, — to be the person I know God wants me to be. I continue to be astonished (no exaggeration) at the remarkable promise of God that “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
One final word is necessary. As I send out this writing, Judy and I are facing the second most difficult time in our married life together. (The most difficult time has to be confidential.) The hard time ahead, lasting probably until God calls us home, has to do with our health. Each of us is struggling considerably (I want to write stronger words here, but cannot when I think of multitudes on this planet who are suffering beyond anything I can imagine), perhaps not even noticeably if others are around us only for a short while, or even for a few hours, or talk with us on the phone. While we know that God can heal each of us totally and instantly, and we strongly desire that, we also know from the written Word, our experience, and the experiences of many godly servants of Christ, that God’s ways are not always our ways. Sometimes he answers our prayers in ways we simply cannot understand. We sometimes struggle not only to understand God’s ways but also to accept them. We do, however, know and trust that his ways are perfect — not only good, but perfect. As the chorus says, “It will be worth it all when we see Jesus; Life’s trials will seem so small when we see him.” You who are suffering also, please know and trust these words: “No testing (trial, temptation) has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear. But when you are tested, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).
This writing, along with other essays and items, may be found on my website/blog, gracequestministries.org , where you may also order two of my books: GraceQuest (my autobiography, published in 2015) and Heart Cries (on prayer). On the site you may also sign up to receive free postings on issues of major concern for God’s people. You may write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much for your interest in the things of God. God bless you richly always!