He still calls her Sweetie. My wife, Gladine, and I were enjoying a visit with our friends, Ray and Rosemary. They are well into their nineties and have been married for an incredible 75 years. We were captivated by how this long-married couple looked at one another and spoke to each other. There was a mutual tenderness—a tangible, loving care for one another as husband and wife.
Being married for 75 years is so rare–quite an extraordinary milestone. As Gladine and I were reflecting on the impact of Ray and Rosemary’s remarkable example, I then wondered what younger people might be impacted by our example as a long-married couple of 48 years. I was a bit surprised recently when a couple in their early twenties asked Gladine and me if we would meet with them for premarital counseling. I had assumed that they would be drawn to one of the younger pastoral couples on our church staff—a couple closer to their own age, from their own generation. But no, this couple wanted to meet with us because we were older. They wanted to hear our story and how that might help them navigate the years and decades ahead.
The Impact of Intentional Mentoring
Sadly, many of us in the second half of our married years assume that young adults don’t want to have a friendship with those of us in an older generation. Yet many younger couples crave relationships with older couples—especially older couples who are honest and willing to discuss the ups and downs they’ve experienced through the years and how God’s grace has shaped and sweetened their long marriages through life’s many challenges.
What impact can we long-married couples have? If we have been gripped by God’s saving and sanctifying grace, and if we have experienced many years of seeing his grace shape and empower us to live for his glory, we do have something to offer the next generation. Consider the legacy we can leave to younger people through our seasoned marriages:
We can show younger people the very meaning of marriage by how we live as a long-married couple. Most people get married assuming marriage is for the sake of their own happiness—that their spouse is supposed to devote his or her life to making them happy. How well does that turn out?
We have lived long enough as a married couple to understand from God’s Word that marriage was never designed to be self-centered. Marriage is for our spouse and marriage is for Christ. Marriage is a mission shared by husband and wife of showing a watching world a reflection of the greatest love story ever–the love that Christ has for his bride, the church (Ephesians 5:22–33). We know that in reflection of Christ’s love, marriage is more about serving than it is about being served. This focus on giving oneself for the benefit of one’s spouse is epitomized in the sexual relationship. The apostle Paul said it this way: “The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4, NLT).
What a beautiful picture of reflecting Christ’s generous love to one’s spouse—a pattern that carries over to other dynamics of marriage, such as sacrificially caring for one’s spouse when he is ill or when her abilities are gradually diminished with age. We longer-married couples can highlight our calling to reflect the love of Christ by how we tenderly care for our spouses during times of emotional challenge or in how we encourage one another in our pursuit of knowing Christ in a deeper way. Yes, we can show younger people the Christ-reflecting purpose of getting married—and the Christ-honoring purpose of staying married.
Still being married after 48 years is a testimony of God’s sustaining grace. Rather than reaching for a parachute and bailing out of the marriage plane when the going got rough, we have chosen to face our own sin, confessing our offenses to the Lord and to one another. We have experienced his amazing forgiveness—and the forgiveness of our spouse. In the face of our shortcomings, we’ve had to continually learn to “draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
How many times over the past five decades have we been reassured of God’s promise never to leave us or forsake us as we have encountered yet another difficult situation? By God’s sustaining grace, our marriage has persevered, and we can serve as living examples of God’s sustaining, empowering grace to the coming generations.
How does a husband of 75 years still look tenderly at his wife, calling her Sweetie? Because he has not depended on what he can get from his wife, but on the immeasurable, unstoppable love that Christ has for him. He has deeply experienced the love that is above every other love—even the love of his sweet wife. We are reminded in 1 John 4:19 that “We love because he first loved us.” Knowing and relying on God’s love for us (1 John 4:16) empowers us to love our spouse through the challenges of life and the ravages of increasing age.
Decades of marriage have taught us that as much as we enjoy our spouse’s love, it is only the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. The cake is Christ’s love for us, and there is no shortcoming or disability in our spouse’s life that can diminish the flow of his unceasing love. We will always have enough of his overflowing love being poured into our lives that we can show Christ-reflecting passion for our spouse “till death do us part.”
The Big Picture
Helping younger couples get a vision of the beauty of long-haul, God-honoring marriages will also give them a picture of the beauty of knowing Christ more deeply over the course of a lifetime. This legacy will shape and sweeten not only their marriages but also their sense of ministry calling and their intentional extension of God’s grace to others he puts in their path. Fellow seasoned couples, let’s bring the next generation alongside us so they can see the lasting impact of running after Christ together with their spouse, to the glory of God and the good of the next generation.
GRANDPARENTING WITH GRACE: LIVING THE GOSPEL WITH THE NEXT GENERATION
In this practical and biblical resource for grandparents, Larry McCall helps readers confidently carry out their mission of gospel-focused grandparenting. Grandparenting with Grace explores how to build a legacy of a life worth following and how to faithfully pray for grandchildren.