I have been blessed by God to be married a total of 56 years. It has been so rich and fulfilling and has inspired other couples to want something similar. I’d like to tell you my story and some of the lessons I’ve learned. Perhaps they will be an encouragement to you.
I was married to Marilyn for fifty-three years, then to Clare for three years. Marilyn died of very early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She was only thirty-nine years old when we first noticed symptoms but those remaining thirty-four years, though difficult, were still a blessing. Clare died of a massive stroke after only three years but that last year was the most wonderful year of my life! I miss them both terribly but my grief is tempered with thankfulness and gratefulness for the time we did have together. I also know where they are (Heaven) and Who they are with (Jesus).
One of the keys to our marriage was that we were committed to make the marriage work—no matter what. Divorce was not an option. We were wise enough to know that every relationship will have difficulties. Jesus said: “In this world you will have tribulation.”1 Unfortunately, so many couples give up when things get tough. Clare (who had a fabulous sense if humor) quoted someone who said: “If two people agree on everything, then one of them is unnecessary!” Our first two years together were difficult and several times we thought we had made a mistake getting married but our commitment to each other got us through. The wise pastor who did the marriage ceremony had us make our vows first to God, then to each other. Although we make mistakes, God doesn’t. I’ll tell you later why those first two years were stressful—it’s a good story.
As I mentioned, Marilyn had Alzheimer’s disease for over three decades. I took care of her at home most of those years until her needs were more than I could take care of. When I finally burned out, I placed her in a good Memory Care residence and went to see her every day. I figured out that I put 18,000 miles a year on my car just going to see her. But it was worth it. As you probably know, Alzheimer’s is a regressive disease where the victim forgets more and more as time goes on. Marilyn forgot how to go to the bathroom, then forgot how to feed herself, then forgot how to talk, then forgot how to walk, then forgot sometimes who I was. However, rather than hating the visits, I was blessed just to be able to love on her. Whether or not she responded, I was fulfilled merely to love her and perhaps make her smile. Jesus said that it is more blessed to give than to receive.2 Over and over I experienced the truth of that.
We men have been told falsely that we need to go get love. However, I think we are wired by God in such a way that instead of getting love we need to give love.3 Giving and being a blessing is what meets our own needs.
I want to relate a miracle that occurred with Marilyn. Just a couple of months before her death, I was wheeling her around the halls in her wheel chair. Now, bear in mind that she hadn’t talked in five years, but I always talked to her, hoping she would know somehow that she was loved. As we were walking, I leaned down and whispered in her ear: “Marilyn, I love you.” To my absolute amazement she whispered back: “I love you too!” Those were the only words I heard in five years but they were wonderful. A couple of months later she went to be with Jesus who undoubtedly also told her: “Marilyn, I love you!”
After a couple of years of needing someone I could pour love on, I reconnected with Clare Bauer. Marilyn and I had known Clare and her giant of a husband Conn for forty-five years. Conn had told me about Jesus, and Clare had been Marilyn’s spiritual mentor. Conn died a prolonged death from post-polio syndrome and Clare had taken care of him for many years. Since I had taken care of Marilyn for so many years, and Clare had taken care of Conn for many years, we had a lot in common. Because she was a widow and I was a widower and we had a common faith, it seemed like we were meant for each other.
I told Clare that my goal for our marriage was that I wanted to give her a place of absolute safety where she could grow to be all that God intended for her to be. I promised that I would unconditionally love her, encourage her, pray for her, accept her, and not criticize her. As a result, she blossomed and had more positive influence on the women of our church than even our pastor. Every day our front door was open to any woman who wanted to stop by. Many came and were encouraged and prayed with. One day Clare told me the most complimentary thing I’ve ever heard. She said: “Drew, I’ve never trusted anyone in my entire life, but now I trust you totally.” I thank God that I was able to have that impact in her life.
As I mentioned previously, the first two years of our marriage were stressful. I’ve since realized that Clare was subconsciously testing me to see if I meant my promise. By God’s grace, I passed. You may have already discerned that I was unwittingly fulfilling Paul’s teaching about building up one another.4
One of my friends who I respect says: “It is the husband’s responsibility to make his wife beautiful!”
So, the things that God has taught me about marriage can be summarized as follows:
- Be absolutely committed to each other
- Be blessed by giving love unconditionally
- Provide your spouse with total safety so she can blossom
There is a common denominator to these three actions: they all require giving of oneself to the other. That’s OK because we always receive more than we can give. Paradoxically, the more love you give away, the more you have. It’s like Elijah’s bowl of flour and jar of oil.5
While doing these things (by the power of the Holy Spirit) it is important to remember that Jesus considers them as done to Him. He said: “The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers [or sisters] of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.'”6 Furthermore He said: “Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.'”7 So always treat your spouse with the deepest respect and love and kindness that you would give to Jesus Himself.
I have been so blessed and fulfilled by marriage. It can be the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven. Consider the things I have learned and enjoy to the fullest your own relationship with your spouse and your Lord.
Photo Attribution: Nathan Dumlao – Unsplash.com
- John 16:33, “In the world you have tribulation…”
- Acts 20:3, “He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
- Eph 5:33, “Each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.”
- Eph 4:11-16, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.”
- 1 Kings 17:13, “The bowl of flour was not exhausted nor did the jar of oil become empty, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke through Elijah.”
- Matt 25:40
- Matt 25:45