June 11, 1965, my parents began their journey together as man and wife. 52 years and a day ago. I will apologize now, but I intend to milk this for two straight posts, because there are at least two important things to say about this event. Today, though, is focused on relationships, commitment and influences. First, though, on a personal note, Mom and Dad, I love you and thank you for the example you two have been to me as a son, a husband, a father, and now a grandfather. When you first started off, you may not have foreseen the generational impact you would have, but I believe it is a testament to your love and commitment to each other, to us as a family and most of all, to God. Happy 52nd anniversary and be thinking about what you’d like to do at the 60th…it’ll be here before you know it.
Okay, so for the rest of us, when a memorable event or something worth commemorating happens, the first thing I look at is what I can learn or how I can grow from it. I mean, think of it 52 years of being together. I love my parents, but I have to believe that, if their lives were like ours, there were probably, at least, a couple of days during that time that they both had questioned whether or not they had made a mistake. As much as I hate to admit it, I know for a fact that Sharon and I have had at least a couple of days like that. (I know it is a surprise to all of you that she would have that type of doubt, but even Thomas doubted… :- ) ). So what makes a relationship last so long? Well, I haven’t interviewed them, but having observed them in their natural habitat for a number of years, I have had a few observations that I think serve all of us well and should give us pause to stop and consider as we enter into relationships with individuals.
First off, they are both a couple and two distinct individuals. They haven’t lost their individual identity over the years, but they have become stronger both individually and together based on their relationship. They have both discovered strength where they did not think they had it and have grown individually because of the other. They are very different people, but their differences complement each other and have made the other better because of it. I remember as I was growing up that Mom sometimes seemed to struggle with being the “image” of a Pastor’s wife. At some point (I believe it was in Lewistown, IL), she finally accepted the fact that she was who she was and that that was good and all that she needed to be. It sounds simple, but the politics of the pastorate sometimes pushes people into molds and patterns, and breaking out of them, while radical, is freeing and edifying. What is important in that instance is that, first, mom realized and accepted that she was who she is and that to be anything other than that would be harmful to her, our family, and our future. The second thing that is important about that is that Dad, accepted it, encouraged it, loved her and supported her when many pastors, especially young pastors looking to the future would be tempted to try to temper that type of activity. So the first lesson is that two different people, who love and accept the fact that the other is different, can positively impact each other individually and, as a result, make themselves as a couple, better.
That is not enough, though, to last 52 years. Many times, when two different people come together and are married, it ends up in divorce, because of the self-centered focus in the relationship. The moment the other party starts to change or go through a trying point, the first party tends to bail because, “this is not what I signed up for.” But that is where the second lesson comes into play. That is what you signed up for and that is why it is so important to be discerning and exercise wisdom when entering a potentially lifelong relationship. Every couple goes through difficult times, and generally those revolve around faith, money, children, approach to big decisions, and, unfortunately, health. These are fundamental challenges that threaten every relationship, and, in my opinion, the key one is faith. I happen to like the concept of oxen being yoked together as a metaphor for relationships. I once did a demonstration with a teen group where I had two teens take a rope tied to a roller bag. I then had them walk in different directions at different speeds, etc. to show that when you are pulling in your own direction and in your own strength, you are constantly fighting with each other. We then took the example a step further and started to talk about oxen plowing a straight row. The only way that works is if the two oxen pull at the pace and strength of the weaker of the two. If they pull too hard, they veer off and if they pull too weak they veer off, but if they pull at the same strength and pace, they stay straight. It is the same way in our relationships, only we tend to bounce from being the strong to the weak ox fairly frequently and sometimes without realizing it. It matters who you pull with and it matters what your focus is. If it is to pull your way, at some point you’ll either find yourself pulling alone or you’ll find a fairly convoluted path, but if it is to pull together, you will find a straight course at a pace that both can maintain.
Finally, the third key is commitment. Frankly, commitment is something that we lack in many areas of our lives, but it is crucial to the success of relationships. This probably sounds harsh, but commitment doesn’t mean anything when times are good. Anybody can commit to staying together then. Commitment is forged and strengthened in the tough times…the times when there is more month than money…the times when you or the other person is particularly unlovable…the times when you are flat out wrong and have hurt or wronged the other. It is in those times that our commitment is tested. It used to be difficult to get a divorce. The stigma against it was tremendous and it just didn’t happen that often. Elizabeth Taylor’s multiple divorces just reinforced the view that Hollywood was morally bankrupt, but today, divorces have not only become acceptable, but expected, because we have either forgotten or just didn’t fully comprehend the concept of commitment. I don’t mean it to sound like I am condemning divorced couples, because, frankly, there was a point in our marriage where we’d both considered divorce, but were too obstinate to admit we made a mistake. We weren’t noble, just cowardly, but it got us through that time and to better times. The point is, marriage and love is a decision that carries you through the tough times and enables you to be committed even if you don’t feel particularly happy with your significant other.
I used to joke with the kids that I chose their mother, not them. It didn’t mean I didn’t love them, it was just that I had not just fallen in love with, but was and am entirely committed to our life together…for better, or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, til death us do part. Those weren’t just words, but a vow. I could make that vow, because, I had a great example of a loving couple before me each day of my life. Sure, they had their rough spots and in some ways still do, but, for as long as I can remember, they have always been there supporting and loving each other, being both the strong and the weak ox at any one time, and committed to each other, knowing that they would not be the wonderful person they are today without the other by their side.
Mom and Dad, thanks again for the light and example you have been. When I look at you guys, I see a successful, happy marriage, not because everything is always happy, but because, at the end of the day, you are by each other’s side and each other’s biggest supporter. Happy Anniversary (belated) and I look forward to seeing you guys again soon.