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What’s the Formula for a Marriage that Lasts?

My nine-year-old’s question, “You and Dad stayed together because you had so many kids, right?” got me to thinking.

Once, on being asked the secret of my 46–year marriage, I replied with little hesitation, “Commitment.” There were other attributes I could have cited, like love or companionship or openness. But there were some hard times, especially early in our marriage, when those qualities fluctuated with circumstances. The one thing that never faltered was the commitment with which we had entered into the relationship—the for-better-for-worse, until-death-do-us-part kind of commitment.

Our marriage was blessed with five children, the first three in rapid succession, and a household of three little boys, all under school age, challenged every expectation I had of a tranquil family life. Fortunately there was a gap before our daughter and another son entered the scene. But since those last two grew up with older brothers, they had to be dragged along while we took in basketball games and school programs and church youth events. It was a long time before our household could be called tranquil, and often it was downright difficult!

When our daughter was about eight or nine she spoke up during a conversation about a divorce happening to someone we knew: “You and Dad stayed together because you had so many kids, right?” I felt sad that it was not such an unlikely thought for her. Every one of her close friends lived in single parent homes, seeing their fathers on rare weekend visits or not at all. Divorce, outside of our own family, was already a familiar fact of life to her.

I quickly responded, “No, Erin, we stayed together because when we got married, we made vows before God that this was a commitment for life.”

It is hard to say what the word meant to her at that point in her life, but she did know about promises. She knew that keeping a promise was important, even when it was hard sometimes. There were the promises to keep a secret, to finish her homework, to be somewhere on time, or not to make marks in a library book.

These kinds of promises are linked to the Golden Rule. Treat others the way you would like them to treat you. You don’t like to be kept waiting, so watch the clock when you have plans with someone else and get there on time. You don’t want to be left to do more than your share of the work, so show up when you have agreed to be part of a team project.

Then there are the bigger kinds of promises, like signing a contract to pay for what you have purchased, or being honest in carrying out the requirements of a job—or continuing to work out problems with a spouse, even when they become so large that it might seem easier to walk away.

"Every one of my daughter's close friends lived in single parent homes."

Of course, there are severe situations in which marriages do end in spite of the most earnest efforts to keep them intact. There is grace and forgiveness for those who have finally let go of the struggles and have had to learn to build again in a different place. Yet it is to be hoped that these are cases of last resort. In my own case, I often thought as the years went on that had we given up as easily as many couples do, we would have missed the best part—the satisfaction of building a long-term legacy for ourselves and our children.

We find in the Bible stories of persons who demonstrated extraordinary commitment. Ruth of the Old Testament remained committed to her husband’s family even after he died. When her widowed mother-in-law Naomi decided to return to the land of her forefathers, Ruth made a new kind of commitment—to leave her own homeland and go with Naomi. Arriving in Bethlehem as women without male protection, Ruth went to work in the fields to support them both. Because of her faithfulness in following through on her promises, she caught the attention of Boaz, eventually marrying him and becoming an ancestress of David, and thus part of the lineage of Christ.

Turning to the New Testament, we find that Joseph was faced with an agonizing decision when his young fiancée revealed the fact of her pregnancy to him. He responded to the angel’s assurance that Mary had not been unfaithful to him; the life within her was of God. Joseph honored his commitment in the face of undoubtedly harsh criticism and probable damage to his reputation and his livelihood. He gave his support to Mary throughout her own ordeal, and became the earthly stepfather of our living Lord.

After Jesus remained committed to His ministry right up to His sacrifice on the cross, we read in the book of Acts how the apostles, empowered by the Holy Spirit, faced constant trials and persecution as they obeyed the Great Commission given by their risen Lord. Many years later, Paul wrote from prison of his own commitment to the cause: I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me... to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. (Philippians 3:12,14).

Is there a greater example of commitment?

Actually there is an infinitely greater example—that of the Creator to the people He brought into being. Verse after verse of the Psalms sing of these promises, which continued even when those very people had turned their backs on God. “Surely Your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life,” (23:8). “God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever” (73:26). And from Isaiah: “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of all the earth. He never grows weak or weary. No one can measure the depths of His understanding. He gives power to the weak and strength to the powerless” (40:28-29).

Then read these words: God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Such true commitment is given for our example so we can follow in the footsteps of the One who promises everlasting commitment to each one of us, His children.  

Dorothy A. Walker lives in Flint, MI.

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