Today is our 50th wedding anniversary. I remember when couples married that long seemed very old, yet my husband Jody and I don’t feel 50 married-years-old. We are currently sitting in our camper at a beautiful state park in Colorado getting ready to go on a hike among the changing aspen trees. Today I am grateful that God is a God of color and that he gave me eyes to delight in his display of autumn yellows and golds. I am also grateful on this golden anniversary that God prompted me to think about marriage before I said my vows.
I didn’t have a marriage model. Because my father was an abusive alcoholic, my parents’ marriage ended in divorce. I wanted something different so I asked God, What do I do to create a successful marriage, one that ages well? He placed three words on my heart: Pray. Plan. Persevere.
I became a Christian as a college student and searched God’s Word for a marriage model. Proverbs 14:1 says, “A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish woman tears it down with her own hands.” I prayed, Oh God, teach me how to be a wise woman, a wife who builds her marriage. Please show me what this looks like.
As I talked to women, I heard that marriage was far down on their list of priorities. They said things like, “I focus on other things in life; I don’t take time for my marriage. I put more thought, energy, and effort into my relationship with our kids than in my own husband and our relationship,” and “I got too busy and had no time for my husband.”
I realized that being a wise woman who builds my marriage means I must live by design and not by default. A deep intimacy and a fun, growing delight in one another wouldn’t just happen. This meant I had to plan.
If I was going to live my marriage by design, I needed a goal. Who did I want to be as a wife in 5 years? In 15 years? So I asked women to share their goals as wives. Most women admitted they had goals for their roles as moms, in their jobs, in ministry, but as a wife . . . they just “let it happen.”
I knew I needed a goal and that it couldn’t be some lofty-sounding statement like, “to develop a deep intimacy in all areas of our marriage.” It takes two people to develop deep intimacy. I was only married a few weeks when I realized I could share my hopes, dreams, and desires for our marriage with Jody, but my goal for my marriage had to be something I could control, something I could work toward. One of the most important things to learn in life and love is that I can be responsible only for what I can control. I can’t control Jody (I tried; it didn’t work), but I can control me.
My goal for myself as a wife is to be faithful—to become that wise wife who builds her marriage. So living my marriage by design means I ask God every day what love looks like. Today, my Lord, show me how to love this unique man. I have asked this question every day for 50 years.
My goal for myself as a wife looks like this:
I choose to Focus.
I choose a positive Attitude.
I choose deep Intimacy.
I choose to be Thankful.
I choose to be a Helper.
I choose to be Forgiving.
I choose to be Unwavering.
I choose a Lasting marriage.
My goal to daily choose to be faithful has encouraged me through the toddler, teen, and empty nest phases of our marriage. It has helped us to build a marriage that ages well. And Jody has said that watching me live my goal as a wife has pushed him to want to be the husband God desires him to me.
We need to encourage our spouses in each season. When we are young, beautiful, and vital, our ears are attuned to these words of the marriage vows: better, richer, and health. But each couple will enter into seasons of worse, poorer, and sickness. Jody and I have known sickness. He sat by my bed for five days in the trauma hospital after my fall and brain injury. I’ve had my turn to sit in the hospital when Jody’s pacemaker failed, and when he had surgery for cancer. A marriage that ages well perseveres.
“Lord, remind me how brief my time on earth will be,” David prayed (Psalm 39:4). Life is short, and marriage is too. The minutes of our marriage pass so quietly, so consistently, that we fail to realize the time is ticking away, so I go back to my prayer: Lord, let me live my marriage by design. I only have this year, this month, this moment to grow in intimate oneness.
I must think deeply because one of these days, much sooner than I want to face, one of us is going to be sitting beside the deathbed of the other, holding a frail, clammy hand. We’ll look into each other’s misty eyes during those aching, final hours, and the memories will flood through our grieving minds in a raging torrent.
I will not regret a single dreamy walk we took together in the park. I will not regret the time we stayed up so late talking and holding each other that we were both zombies at work the next day. I will not regret all the times we made love and let the housework go. I will not regret choosing to love this man, so different from me. I will not regret telling my husband why I respect him.
But I’ll tell you what I will regret: I will regret the hundreds of hours we spent fighting. I will regret the times I held a grudge. I will regret griping, venting, and complaining. I will regret not really believing that our time as lovers and best friends was limited.
On my 50th anniversary, I realize anew that God gives us anniversaries as milestones, significant points in the passage of time, specific yet mute reminders that more sand has passed through the hourglass. He builds them into our calendar once every year to enable us to make an annual appraisal—not of the length of time we’ve been married but the depth of our intimacy. Not just to remind us we’ve been married longer, but to help us determine if we are now married deeper.
My choice to pray, plan, and persevere has given me a deep marriage that ages well.
My friend, it is never too late to pray, plan and persevere in your own marriage. Today you can begin living your goal as a wife and build a marriage that will age well.
Linda Dillow is co-founder of Authentic Intimacy, and co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making? Connect with her on Twitter at @Linda_Dillow.