He still calls her “Sweetie”! My wife, Gladine, and I were enjoying our visit with our friends, Ray and Rosemary. They are well into their 90s and married an incredible 75 years. Our conversation was enjoyable, but what really caught our attention was how this long-married couple spoke to each other. There was a mutual tenderness—a tangible, loving care for one another as husband and wife. Being married a “mere” 47 years, Gladine and I came away from our visit humbled and grateful—humbled in realizing how much more learning and growing we have yet before us as a married couple even though our Golden Wedding anniversary is in the not-too-distant future—and grateful that in this season of our marriage, God was graciously giving us an even-longer married couple to inspire us to not stagnate in our own relationship.
Being married for 75 years is so rare that few of us can name a couple who have reached that remarkable milestone. But, there are quite a few of us couples who have celebrated 25, 35, 45 or even 55 years of matrimony. Even as Gladine and I were being impacted by Ray and Rosemary’s example, I wondered what younger married couples were being impacted by our examples as a longer-married couple, even if they haven’t told us so. That question invaded my thinking when a couple in their early 20s asked Gladine and me if we would meet with them for premarital counseling. As a semi-retired pastor and a card-carrying senior-citizen, I was a bit surprised by the request. I assumed that this young couple would be drawn to one of the younger pastoral couples on our church staff—a couple closer to their own ages—from their own generation. But no, this couple wanted to meet with us because we were older. They wanted to hear our story and how that might help them navigate the years and decades God may have laid out before them.
Sadly, many of us in the second half of our married years assume that young couples wouldn’t want to have a friendship with us because of the generational differences—and because we are so cognizant of the failures and shortcomings in our own marriages over the years. Yet, many younger couples crave relationships with older couples, especially older couples who are honest, willing to discuss not only the “ups” in their marriages but their “downs” as well and how God’s grace redeems and restores.
So, what impact can we have on our kids’ marriages? Our grandkids’ marriages? The marriages of those younger couples in our churches? What do we longer-married couples have to offer younger couples through our examples? If we have been gripped by God’s saving and sanctifying grace, and if we have had years of seeing his grace shape us and empower us to live for his glory, we do have something to offer younger couples. Consider:
- Purpose: We can show younger couples the very meaning of marriage by how we live as a couple. Many (most?) people get married thinking “marriage is for me. I’m getting married so that my spouse can devote his/her life to making me happy.” Yet, how does that turn out? We have lived long enough as a married couple to know from God’s Word that marriage is for our spouse and marriage is for Christ. Marriage is about “giving” more than “getting” (see 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, for example). Marriage is a mission shared by husband and wife of showing a watching world a reflection of Christ and his love for his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Yes, we can show younger couples the purpose of getting married—and the purpose of staying married.
- Perseverance: I can image hearing a number of “amens” to my confession that still being married after all these years is a testimony of God’s grace. Over the years, we have had to face our own sin, confessing our offenses to the Lord and to our spouses. We have experienced his amazing forgiveness—and the forgiveness of our spouse. How many times have we had to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16)? How many times over the decades of our married life have we been reassured of God’s promise never to leave us nor forsake us as we encountered yet another difficult situation or broken relationship? By God’s sustaining grace, our marriage has endured, and we can serve as living examples of God’s preserving grace to the coming generations of married couples.
- Passion: How does a husband of 75 years still call his wife “Sweetie”? Because he has drunk deeply of that love that is above every other love—even the love of a spouse. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Knowing and relying on God’s love for us (1 John 4:16) empowers us to love our spouse through the challenges of life and yes, even the ravages of old age. Decades of marriage have taught us that, as much as we enjoy our spouse’s love for us, that is the icing on the cake, but not the cake itself. The cake is Christ’s love for us and there is no shortcoming or disability in our spouse’s life that can diminish the flow of his love. We will always have enough of his love overflowing from our lives that we can show Christ-reflecting passion for our spouse.
Yes, let us show them the way—the way of Christ.