How to Finish Well

I love how God uses information for one group, and it ministers to another. Over the weekend I attended a youth conference as the “taxi-driving mama” and stayed to get some work done. I ended up hearing the messages while working and I received just as much encouragement, challenge, and motivation as the teens did. The last session featured a speaker who made it clear the energy from the conference and declarations made don’t impress him.

It’s seeing the same passion six months from now. Five years from now.

Anybody can make a commitment and be excited about it, he explained. The true winners are the ones still reading their Bibles, praying, going to church, and striving to grow in their relationship with Christ.

It got me thinking, isn’t it the same for marriage?

I’ve seen too many couples to count who were passionate about the wedding. When the wedding arrived, they had no idea what to do in the marriage. The passion waned, their frustrations increased. None of those couples made it to ten years.

Commitment.  Marriage isn’t for wimps. It’s hard work that you have to put forth every day. When you wake, your first commitment for the day should be to the Lord. The second? To choose oneness in your marriage over isolation. If you enter marriage with covenant thinking, knowing this is a promise you made not just with your spouse, but with God, you’ve already made more of a commitment than those who were all about the wedding.

The youth speaker compared a serious commitment to a runner.  When my kids set up the Wii and chose the running game, they both thought it was best to give 2000% as soon as the game started. By the time they were 2/3 done, they were struggling to finish. They gave everything they had right away, and didn’t have what it took to finish well. A wise runner knows they need training and balance. When it’s time to strap on their shoes and take that run, they can’t throw all their energy off in the beginning. They are committed to finishing well.

Shouldn’t we do the same for our marriages?

I love reading interviews featuring couples married over 50 years. Talk about commitment! Especially touching are the couples we hear that pass away nearly at the same time. You may have heard of Mr. and Mrs. Yeager. They were married 72 years and died a little over an hour apart. They were so close that their son, Dennis, shared this with the media—

Dad stopped breathing, but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going,” the couple’s son, Dennis Yeager, told “But we were like, ‘he isn’t breathing. How does he still have a heart beat?’ The nurse checked and said that’s because they were holding hands and it’s going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up.”

Billy and Ruth Graham were married over 50 years. Before her death in 2007  he was asked how they stayed married.

“Ruth and I are happily incompatible.”

Couples who accept the marital charge have to be ready to work hard and keep their eyes open for the long haul.  Martin, a man married over 50 years, shared his strategy.

      “After all these years together, 90-year-old Martin continues to write a note to his wife every morning telling her he loves her — just like he did when they were first married. ‘When a man’s born, he’s only born half a person,’ Martin says. ‘As he grows up, the other half — personality, the whole thing — is in a woman. And when he meets that woman, he makes a whole. I make her the whole, and she makes me whole.’ “

As for me and my marriage, we’re only 15 years in.  We might not have the wisdom of the Grahams’ or other couples married much longer than us, but here are things we’re implementing to stay in the covenant and finish well.

1. Keep Christ first. There were times we shifted our priorities and made each other first, or, our kids. It sounds nice, but for a covenant marriage, it isn’t wise. I’ve learned that the hard way. Make the One who knows your family best first and let Him give you the strength and resources to relate with your spouse, and then your children. The world won’t teach you this, but then again, the world’s marriage stats aren’t evidence of lasting legacy, are they?

2. Friends forever. That fire you have for each other in the beginning? Another great quote I read somewhere said that in time, the biggest fires all die down.  The hottest part of the fire though, is the embers. Embers might not seem like much but for me at this stage of my life, I love having the same best friend in my husband I’ve had after all these years. We know each other even better and so much of the fear and guessing is gone. What’s left is a bright, hot, relationship that I wouldn’t trade. And although the honeymoon phase is over in some respects, trust me, embers can rekindle to a roaring fire. Make sure you work on that friendship, and yes, the heat the two of you share together.

3. Brag, within reason. I don’t mean the true definition of brag, but I do mean build your spouse up in front of the kids. It’s tempting to present your kids with the idea that you two are always just mom and dad. Not so! I blushed when my husband let our daughter know she was not invited to our upcoming anniversary cruise because he wanted to spend time alone “with my wife.” He didn’t say your mom, he distinguished the two roles. I’ve made a point to announce how grateful I am for my husband and give a specific reason when he’s in earshot. I don’t do it to be patronizing or true bragging, when the conversation opens to a place where I can encourage him, I will. Every time. So should you.

I hope after reading this you have a renewed energy to focus on finishing well. Like the youth speaker, don’t put all the declarations in the beginning, implement these strategies throughout your marriage, not just now. My prayer is that decades from now it will be you the media will be interviewing to learn your marriage secrets because you’ve hit the half-century mark or more. I’m believing that with you.

Speaking of finishing well, I pray this article is as encouraging and challenging for you as my first. This is my last post with the Marriage Counter, and it wasn’t an easy decision to make. I love sharing my heart for oneness in marriage, but my writing life has taken new direction and I’m sharing surrender themes through fiction. I hope we can stay in touch through my contact information below, and I pray a hundred-fold blessing on you and your marriage.

Surrendering the good, the bad, and—maybe one day—the chocolate

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