Editor’s note: Pastor Pete McNabb has been Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church of Terrell since being appointed by North Texas Conference Bishop Mike McKee on July 1, 2017.
A few weeks ago, I met with a couple planning to renew their vows after 50 years of marriage. They were married right in the eyes of God and the church a half-century ago and they desired to repeat those vows with a small circle of relatives at the exact same spot they had in 1969: the altar in the historic, stained-glass window-adorned sanctuary of First United Methodist Church of Terrell, built in 1900.
In eight years of ministry, I have counseled many couples preparing for marriage. It’s an awesome place to be with a front-row seat on their hopes, dreams, fears and concerns. I try to play part coach, part counselor, part spiritual adviser, sharing what it means to build a faith-based relationship with your eyes wide open.
With this couple, however, I played full-time student. What does it take to not only stick together but thrive together as husband and wife for 50 years?
What’s the silver bullet? What’s the magic trick that those of us who have been married a mere 36 years or so (like my wife and I) can apply?
Two keys: Trust and Commitment.
Is that it? Yeah, yeah, yeah. But isn’t there some secret formula? Some new and improved way of being husband-and-wife? Saying “trust and commitment” is kind of like going to the doctor and being told “diet and exercise” is the key to healthy living. We know that, but do we really want to hear it?
This golden couple shared that trust and commitment had gotten them through changes in their family, finances, careers and health. They shared an interesting insight on love: it changes.
The husband told me, “The love you have changes over the years.” He shared that there is one kind of love you have before you have children, for instance, another kind when you’re raising children, and yet a new kind of love relationship when the children leave the nest.
His wife agreed, describing the empty-nest adjustment: “We found ourselves again as a couple. It was a time to get acclimated to a new phase of our lives.”
Since moving to Terrell two years ago, I could relate to that as my wife and I are now at a stage when our sons are living about an hour from here, one has gotten married, and we have become empty-nesters. It’s a time of new discovery in our relationship.
Trust and commitment are rare in this world of mistrust and broken commitments. Employers used to provide cultures of trust and commitment. You went to work for IBM or General Motors and you had a job for 40 years. You may have been moved across the country, but you were also given promotions, pay raises, retirement and health benefits. The employer was committed to you and you were committed to the employer. Not so any more in an age of down-sizing, temporary and contract jobs and outsourcing.
Trust and commitment are the deepest signs of love. You can have trust and commitment with a friend, a classmate, a sibling or a neighbor, but there is something unique about trust and commitment in a marriage.
Trust and commitment in a marriage begins at the altar. We begin the wedding with the pastor saying, “Friends, we are gathered together in the sight of God to witness and bless the joining together of these two people.” Later in the wedding, the two agree to live together in holy marriage, to comfort, honor and keep one another, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all others, be faithful as long as you both shall live.
Then I ask them individually if they agree to have and to hold the other person, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until you are parted by death.
These are trust and commitment words. Holy words. They signify more than a contract, more than an “I’ll try,” more than a “We’ll see if it works out.” They signify a covenant made in the sight of God with family and friends serving as witnesses.
What advice do my golden friends have for a young couple starting out? “Trust in the Lord. Build a strong faith. Keep the Lord daily active in your lives.”
As I looked through the 1969 wedding album of that young couple and then looked at the 2019 gathering of family there to celebrate the renewal of wedding vows by this mature couple, I could not help but notice something. Many of the family members who were there at that wedding day in 1969 are no longer with us, and many of the ones there in 2019 are new, children and grandchildren born since that wedding day in 1969. These children and grandchildren serve as witnesses of this golden couple’s trust and commitment to put God first.
My prayer is that they, and each of us, see this trust and commitment in their parents and grandparents and say, “I want some of that.”