“How priceless your faithful love is. Important and ordinary people alike find safety in the shadow of your wings. They eat well because there is more than enough in your house. You let them drink from your river that flows with good things” (Psalm 36:7-8)
“The greatest test of spirituality is how one treats his wife or how one treats her husband. (John Gregg)
In March, Mechthild and I celebrated 40 years of marriage. I can still clearly see this scene over 40 years ago, sitting close to Mechthild on the floor of the Teen Challenge Coffeehouse that I led in Wiesbaden. (As way of explanation for the younger generation, it was quite typical for my peers during our youth to chill out, sitting on the floor with friends.) I know it’s hard for some people to believe but I did not get on my knees and ask Mechthild to marry me. Holding her hand, my conversation went something like this:
“We both are committed to serving God and I believe we will be more effective together than separately in his service. I have no idea where this journey will lead, but I don’t want to go this way without you. I can’t make any promises what the future might bring other than I truly love you and please let’s get married.” I am so glad Mechthild said yes, and six months later we tied the knot, and the rest is history.
To say that marriage between two very head strong personalities has always been heaven on earth would be an exaggeration. To say that our marriage has been like the children of Israel wondering aimlessly in the wilderness for 40 years could never be further from the truth. We have enjoyed a fulfilled marriage and are overwhelmed with joy to look back and see the results of our teamwork in planting of six churches. And to top everything off, both of our adult children and their spouses are today diligently serving the Lord. The apostle Paul best expresses our life’s testimony: “But because of God’s grace I am what I am. And his grace was not wasted on me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10a)
Being the spouse of a church leader is no easy thing. I have the utmost respect for those men and woman who stand with and behind their husband or wife in local church leadership. From time to time as a pastor I have had to deal with some very difficult and unpleasant situations. Often, just because Mechthild is married to me, she suffers more when she knows I am in great need.
There are many things one could talk about that help to sustain 40 years of a fulfilled marriage, but for the purpose of time I want to focus on the two ‘C’s as the essential ingredients. By the way the two ‘C’s are not just restricted to marriage but are helpful tools that can be applied in your church, company, and anywhere that you relate to people.
- Speedy ‘Conflict’ Resolutions
Due to my nature and family upbringing, I have difficulty allowing conflict to simmer. I always seek resolution. So when Mechthild gets upset with me, I will not remain passive. Bob Floods states: “The course of a conflict is not determined by the person who initiates, but by the person who responds”(1) Not responding to a conflict usually leads to more conflict. I remember reading many years ago Walter Trobisch’s book The Misunderstood Man. He points out that too many men are like the sitting Buddha, they just sit there motionless and stoic, doing nothing and saying nothing when conflict arises. Of course how we respond in a conflict situation demands wisdom and sensitivity. The tone of our voice makes good or bad music. Most arguments in a marriage are about unimportant matters. Conflict in a marriage (or anywhere) is only resolved when both people are more concerned with being in right relationship than with being right.
- Constant ‘Communication‘
A happy marriage is like a long enjoyable conversation that always seems too short. Howard Hendricks states: “Nothing is easier than talking, and nothing is more difficult than communication.” I remember a well known pastor speaking at conference about some of the conflicts he had with church members and how that affected the relationship to his wife. One night, while lying next to his wife in bed, he was carrying on about difficult people in the church. She spoke the following words to him, “Would you for once and all, kick our church members out of bed. Our bed is not to be shared with anyone else!”
In conflict resolution, as in life, it is much better to be a good listener than to be a good talker. Life-long learning in conflict resolution and communication will lead to a more fulfilling and happy marriage. It may be necessary, at times, that we seek someone out who can help us develop more effective tools for communication and conflict resolution. We should never be ashamed to ask for help and it is never too late to take this important step.
After our church wedding ceremony in Wiesbaden, an older couple came to us and shared a Bible scripture that we will never forget:
“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry. Don’t give the devil a chance. (Ephesians 4, 26b-27)
May this word speak to your heart today, no matter what may be happening in your marriage or family or even in your church.
May God grant you today, his peace, that passes all understanding!