This message was preached at Woodvale Baptist Church on Sunday the 16th of July 2017.
By the time you read this article Karen and I will have celebrated 36 years of marriage and as I write these words I realize how far into the fourth decade of our life together we are!
When we embarked on our journey of marriage all those years ago we were inspired by the words of the poet, Robert Browning who wrote:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be…
It wasn’t a pipe dream that we shared. We had a genuine desire expressed through our marriage vows to continue to grow in our love for each other through every stage of life.
And there have been many stages!
There were the early years where we did not have much money but somehow (with God’s help!) we managed to get by.
Then came the parenting years where we learned to juggle work commitments with the demands of growing children as well as carving out time for ourselves.
Navigating the teenage years was never dull. Everything from staying up until 2.00am, waiting for your child to get home from camp, he or she having driven there for the first time, through to meeting the young man who would like to date your daughter. (Always an interesting experience!)
Then suddenly, you find that all of your children have either married or left home and you enter the phase known as “empty nesters”. I have learned that this term is actually a myth because grandchildren start arriving and they all seem to find their way to Gramps and Grammy’s house!
Our nest is rarely empty these days!
Here’s the thing. I can honestly say that I love my wife more deeply now than I ever have and she can say the same about her feelings for me.
I do not say this to boast or to gloat.
Because of the nature of my work I come into contact with many marriages where couples are living lives of “quiet desperation” and there is no sense at all of deep connection with each other.
The last thing I want to do here is to give the impression that we have it all together, because we do not.
So despite our imperfections, why can I say that our love continues to grow?
The following thoughts come to mind.
From the outset of our marriage we decided that after God, the most important relationship in our lives was our marriage.
We love our children, grandchildren and our friends. But none of those relationships has ever taken precedence over ours. (This also includes our work life).
Far too many relationships come to grief because couples pour all of their energy into these other areas only to realize, too late, that when these are gone, they are left with a husband or wife that they barely know.
We have made time for each other.
Whether it was time at the end of each day catching up with each other or going out together, quantity and quality time as a couple has been a priority for us and we reap the benefits of this today.
We have also prayed together.
This has become a sharper focus for us in more recent years and we have found through sharing with each other about what God is doing in our lives, our intimacy has grown deep.
Praying for each other about “life stuff” always enhances intimacy.
Simple things like these have enabled us to walk the path happily of growing old together.
It can happen for you as well and it doesn’t mean that you have to do what we do. Discover what will work for you and above all, start doing it!
Because Robert Browning was right – the best is yet to be!
May is the month in which we honour our Mums, but I also like to think it is a good opportunity for us to show our appreciation for women in general. (And not just once a year – showing respect and care for women is something that should be a natural part of our lifestyle, regardless of our age or gender)!
And one of the women I admire the most is a lady whose story I first read about over 40 years ago – the late Corrie ten Boom.
Corrie and her family gave shelter to Jews in their home in Haarlem, Netherlands during WW2.
When their activities were discovered, Corrie and her sister, Betsie, were arrested and subsequently imprisoned in Nazi Concentration camps.
Betsie died in the camp but Corrie was miraculously released and after the war she went on to speak to countless people around the world about the love, forgiveness and grace of God.
She also wrote about her own very personal encounter with forgiveness:
It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.
He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. ‘How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,’ he said. ‘To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!’
His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I who had preached so often to people …of the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.
Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? ‘Lord Jesus,’ I prayed, ‘forgive me and help me to forgive him.’
I tried to smile. I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. ‘Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.’
As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.
And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.
You do not have to be a rocket scientist to know that bitterness and resentment destroys relationships and I have seen many times how this has fatally eroded marriages.
Philip Yancey said:
Ungrace causes cracks to fissure open between mother and daughter, father and son, brother and sister, between scientists, and prisoners, and tribes, and races. Left alone, cracks widen, and for the resulting chasms of ungrace there is only one remedy: the frail rope-bridge of forgiveness.
Faced with her hurtful past and former tormentor that day in Munich, Corrie ten Boom chose to travel the path of forgiveness and both she and the man before her were set free.
How are your relationships today, especially your marriage?
Faced with past hurts and angry words, will you choose to hang on to them or will you choose to forgive?
He who cannot forgive another breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.
Perhaps it is time for you to take a walk over the bridge of forgiveness.