IN MOST of the cul­tures of the earth through­out most of the gen­er­a­tions of mankind, the elder­ly have been held in high esteem for their sound wis­dom and vast expe­ri­ence. Often peo­ple would trav­el for miles to receive some word of coun­sel or guid­ance from a wise sage. Con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can cul­ture has lost this sense of respect for the sagac­i­ty of the old­er mem­bers of our society.

The glo­ri­fi­ca­tion of youth is at epi­dem­ic pro­por­tions today. The old are con­ve­nient­ly tucked away in rest homes and retire­ment vil­lages. Of course we vis­it them occa­sion­al­ly because con­ven­tion dic­tates that we should, but sel­dom do we come in order to learn from their vast store of experience. 

We are the poor­er for such near­sight­ed­ness. As one of the younger gen­er­a­tion who has spent many hours among old­er folk, I have come to deeply val­ue their insight and under­stand­ing. There­fore, when I deter­mined to write on suc­cess in mar­riage, I real­ized at once that one of the most qual­i­fied groups of peo­ple on the sub­ject is those who over many years have made suc­cess­es of their mar­riages. I thought to myself, Why not have these cou­ples share with the rest of us what has been the secret of their suc­cess? Why not! 

This idea led me to the delight­ful expe­ri­ence of vis­it­ing in depth with six cou­ples whose long and hap­py mar­riages bear tes­ti­mo­ny to the pow­er and love of Jesus Christ. The com­bined years of mar­riage of these six cou­ples totaled 326 years — an aver­age of more than 54 years of mar­riage per cou­ple. What a wealth of expe­ri­ence and accu­mu­lat­ed wis­dom from which to draw!

A good varitey of occu­pa­tions and back­grounds were rep­re­sent­ed in the cou­ples inter­viewed. I first talked with Charles and Mil­dred Beals, an extreme­ly active and alive pair. They have been mar­ried for 48 years, and Charles has spent vir­tu­al­ly all of his adult life in pas­toral work. The Bealses have raised three children. 

Ivan and May Hadley were next on my list and proved to be stim­u­lat­ing con­ver­sa­tion­al­ists as they shared about their 58 years of mar­riage togeth­er. Ivan spent most of his work­ing years as an employ­ee of the Postal Ser­vice, while May taught piano and accor­dion to ener­getic stu­dents. Togeth­er they have raised three boys. 

Buel and Mabel Hock­ett raised a fam­i­ly of three on an Ida­ho farm. The major­i­ty of the 56 years of their mar­riage have been spent in farm­ing. Lewis and Joy Swan­der have one child who is now the wife of a col­lege pres­i­dent. Lewis has worn a host of hats through­out his active life — farmer, car­pen­ter, pas­tor, cus­to­di­an .… The Swan­ders have been mar­ried for 48 years. 

Roy and Crit­tie Knight could well be con­sid­ered the patri­archs of the group with 62 years of mar­ried life behind them. Roy con­tin­ues to be extreme­ly active in preach­ing, which he has done most of his life — as well as being a teacher, a mechan­ic, and a cit­rus farmer. Like sev­er­al oth­ers, Roy and Crit­tie have raised three chil­dren. Dil­lon and Fern Mills have suc­cess­ful­ly raised two chil­dren dur­ing their 54 years of mar­ried life. Dil­lon has been active­ly involved in pas­toral min­istry for over 40 years. 

As I vis­it­ed with each of these six cou­ples, I noticed almost imme­di­ate­ly that cer­tain prin­ci­ples of life sur­faced repeat­ed­ly. Tak­en togeth­er they form a foun­da­tion that helps explain the rare and love­ly com­bi­na­tion of joy and per­ma­nence that is so char­ac­ter­is­tic of these marriages. 

Christ the head

Per­haps the most uni­ver­sal and emphat­ic prin­ci­ple set forth was the absolute neces­si­ty of hav­ing Jesus Christ as the cen­ter and focal point of mar­riage. Dil­lon Mills said, If cou­ples will com­mit their lives to Christ, they will have a cen­ter and a pur­pose … with­out a pur­pose, you become self-cen­tered, and then lit­tle aggra­va­tions become big.” The Knights were not Chris­tians when they were mar­ried. Com­ment­ing on their con­ver­sion, which occurred sev­er­al years after mar­riage, they stat­ed, Our com­mit­ment to Christ made all the dif­fer­ence in the world as far as the hap­pi­ness of our mar­riage was con­cerned.” In this regard Lewis Swan­der not­ed, Take a bib­li­cal­ly based mar­riage and you’re not going to grow apart.” 

To have Christ as the cen­ter of their life had many impor­tant prac­ti­cal con­se­quences for each cou­ple. For Buel and Mabel Hock­ett it meant that they had a com­mon ground upon which to make deci­sions. We were able to pray togeth­er about every­thing. We have had our share of revers­es, but that is not what has stood out in our lives. For us, answered prayer is far more promi­nent than any dif­fi­cul­ties we may have had.” 

There is some­thing sol­id that enters a mar­riage when two peo­ple can hold the deci­sions in their lives rev­er­ent­ly before the Lord. Lewis and Joy Swan­der note that We are both com­mit­ted to know­ing and doing the Lord’s will, and so every deci­sion of our mar­riage had that as its focal point.” When a cou­ple has this cen­ter of ref­er­ence, then every­thing — finances, employ­ment, liv­ing loca­tion, civic involve­ments — has a basis for evaluation. 

Charles Beals not­ed that by fre­quent­ly bring­ing to mind the stan­dard of Christ’s love for the church as the par­a­digm for his rela­tion­ship with his wife, he was encour­aged to be more sen­si­tive to his wife’s needs. Sev­er­al oth­ers not­ed the cru­cial impor­tance of being repeat­ed­ly remind­ed of that stan­dard. To do so elim­i­nates all sense of a pow­er strug­gle in the rela­tion­ship. The moti­vat­ing desire is to meet the needs of the oth­er person. 

The Hadleys felt the fact that both of them were raised in a Chris­t­ian home gave them a sol­id foun­da­tion for mar­riage. We were able to blend our per­son­al­i­ties from a Chris­t­ian basis,” notes May. 

Every cou­ple not­ed the impor­tance of a fam­i­ly altar. The approach­es were var­ied, but the con­vic­tion regard­ing its neces­si­ty remained the same. Mabel Hock­ett put it this way, Our chil­dren nev­er went to school with­out a hot break­fast and prayer after­wards.” Was there any prob­lem of chil­dren who resent­ed such activ­i­ties? This seemed to be at a min­i­mum, no doubt main­ly due to the cre­ative ener­gies of par­ents who sought to make the time attrac­tive and interesting.

Ivan and May Hadley, whose three boys have each estab­lished sol­id Chris­t­ian homes, said, Our boys felt it an hon­or to take part. It gave us a sense of sta­bil­i­ty, of togetherness.” 

Lewis Swan­der shared how know­ing Christ as the head of their mar­riage affect­ed their read­ing habits. We have tak­en seri­ous­ly the idea of Broth­er Lawrence’s lit­tle book, Prac­tic­ing the Pres­ence of God. There­fore, we have deter­mined nev­er to have any kind of lit­er­a­ture in our home that would go against that pur­pose. We like books, but we want them to be of the high­est quality!” 

Divorce

Cer­tain­ly an impor­tant fac­tor in the sta­bil­i­ty of these mar­riages is the uni­ver­sal sense that their vow, till death do us part” is irrev­o­ca­ble. May Hadley notes cryp­ti­cal­ly, We crossed the word divorce’ out of our dic­tio­nary!” There was no sense that if things got rough divorce was a way out of the prob­lem. Each felt that tri­al mar­riage was sim­ply not an option for a Christian. 

The con­cern for the per­ma­nence of mar­riage was but­tressed by an appeal to hon­est speech. The words that one speaks are tak­en with utter seri­ous­ness among these cou­ples. If a promise is made for life, it is to be kept. The Apos­tle James meant it when he said, Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (James 5:12 RSV) There was a deep con­cern that Chris­tians today do not take seri­ous­ly enough the words that they say. 

Charles and Mil­dred Beals expressed a deep con­cern that Chris­tians deal with any poten­tial cause for divorce before mar­riage occurs. Peo­ple need a good sol­id basis for mar­riage, and love alone is not a suf­fi­cient base. Cou­ples need to be in agree­ment and uni­ty upon sev­er­al basic areas if they are seri­ous about liv­ing togeth­er for life.” Roman­tic love alone is not an ade­quate rea­son for mar­riage. There must come to a cou­ple a uni­ty of phi­los­o­phy and pur­pose in life. There needs to be a sense of covenant and com­mit­ment that is above the moment. 

Sev­er­al expressed the impor­tance of an ade­quate time of prepa­ra­tion to ensure a long and hap­py mar­riage. Dil­lon Mills stressed, I did not want to sweep any woman off her feet. I want­ed to be absolute­ly sure that she loved me as much as I loved her. No fleet­ing roman­tic love for us!” In a word of coun­sel to young cou­ples, Ivan Hadley not­ed, Don’t get in too big a hur­ry!”

Deal­ing with differences 

We must not get the impres­sion that every­thing has been sweet­ness and light between these cou­ples. Like any, they have had their share of dif­fer­ences and dif­fi­cul­ties. The key seemed to be the com­mit­ment to work through their dif­fer­ences rather than giv­ing up on each other. 

Lewis and Joy Swan­der shared very can­did­ly about their dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties and how that has affect­ed their rela­tion­ship. Lewis com­ment­ed, Joy is more the opti­mist, I the pes­simist; I have to see it before I believe it; she always believes it before she sees it.” Joy added, Lewis has always been the stronger one — you can always depend on him.” 

In cho­rus Lewis and Joy announced, We are both strong-willed and on some issues we start out with very dif­fer­ent opin­ions. How­ev­er, we are both com­mit­ted to find­ing God’s will in our mar­riage, and that makes all the dif­fer­ence in the world. With that com­mit­ment we can talk it through and pray it through until we come to agree­ment.” In a word of coun­sel that could ben­e­fit many of us, Lewis and Joy are con­vinced that peo­ple with very dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties can still make a good marriage.” 

Rais­ing children 

When asked if he had any advice on rais­ing a fam­i­ly, Buel Hock­ett replied, I used three dif­fer­ent ways to raise three dif­fer­ent kids and I wouldn’t rec­om­mend any one of them!” There was uni­ver­sal agree­ment that each child is dif­fer­ent and his indi­vid­ual needs must be tak­en into account. Just love each one and be sen­si­tive to his indi­vid­ual needs,” not­ed Crit­tie Knight. 

Hav­ing been a busy pas­tor all his life, Charles Beals observed, I always felt I was as respon­si­ble for rais­ing my own chil­dren as I did the chil­dren of the church.” In the church­es Charles pas­tored, he always sought to make it clear to the con­gre­ga­tion that Fri­day night was a spe­cial fam­i­ly night in his home. I tried to encour­age com­mit­tees of the church not to meet on that night, and when there were excep­tions, as there some­times were, we would make Sat­ur­day night our time together.” 

Fri­day nights were great fun,” added Mil­dred. We would always have a spe­cial meal, then every­one would wash the dish­es togeth­er, and then we would play some fam­i­ly game. At the end of the evening, we would have some spe­cial treat like pop­corn or ice cream. The chil­dren loved it.” 

Not­ing the prob­lem of sib­ling rival­ry, Charles coun­seled, I think it is a good idea for the father to take each indi­vid­ual child out reg­u­lar­ly. In this way the child has the full atten­tion of Dad and there is no com­pe­ti­tion between them. The oth­er chil­dren are hap­py to let their broth­er or sis­ter go with Dad because they know that it will soon be their turn. An immense amount of good shar­ing can occur dur­ing those times.”

Prac­ti­cal wisdom 

What are some prac­ti­cal helps in keep­ing mar­riages alive and healthy? Our coun­selors were hes­i­tant to lay spe­cif­ic advice upon oth­ers (“advice is cheap,” they said), but they were hap­py to share from their own expe­ri­ence what they have found mean­ing­ful. Charles has found some way every day to say I love you,’” observed Mil­dred Beals. Charles coun­tered, The real­ly won­der­ful thing about Mil­dred has been that she has nev­er nagged me.” 

Both Hadleys and Knights felt that a good mar­riage is one that sets each oth­er free to be the man or woman God intend­ed. The more they let the lib­er­ty bells ring in their rela­tion­ship, the more it has drawn them to each oth­er. We do not hin­der or inter­fere with each other’s pro­fes­sion­al inter­ests,” remarked Roy Knight. Crit­tie is a great book­keep­er, and so in our mar­riage she does the bills — and does a good job.” 

On every wed­ding anniver­sary, Dil­lon and Fern Mills try to go back to the same spot on the Ore­gon coast where they spent their hon­ey­moon. For them it is a way of renew- ing their love and com­mit­ment for each other. 

Every cou­ple I inter­viewed went through the Depres­sion dur­ing the first years of their mar­riage, so mon­ey was in short sup­ply. You can well imag­ine that care­ful bud­get­ing was a com­mon char­ac­ter­is­tic among them. Regard­less of how dif­fi­cult the times, how­ev­er, ear­ly in their mar­riage each cou­ple made a habit of tithing their income to the church. 

Regard­ing debt May Hadley shared, My father would loan us mon­ey when we were strapped, but he would say, Remem­ber, that lit­tle thing called inter­est can make or break a man.’ We tried to remem­ber that and it has paid off. We can­cel nec­es­sary debts as fast as pos­si­ble, save and put the mon­ey to work somehow.” 

Swan­ders shared this word of prac­ti­cal advice: When­ev­er we moved into a new com­mu­ni­ty, we didn’t wait to have some­one invite us to go to church. We went the next Sunday.” 

The Millses coun­seled, Always keep plen­ty of humor in your home. It will get you through a lot of rough spots.” Lewis Swan­der added this note, Enjoy each oth­er as friends; play togeth­er and enjoy life.” 

Per­haps these six cou­ples could best be described by a com­ment from Buel and Mabel Hock­ett, We’ve nev­er found any­one hap­pi­er than we are!” May God grant that all of us can increas­ing­ly say that regard­ing our own marriages. 

Pub­lished in Evan­gel­i­cal Friend in Octo­ber 1979; orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in Moody Month­ly in Octo­ber 1979, as well.

Originally published September 1979

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