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True to form in our marriage, Nellie Jo and I spent our 40th anniversary yesterday in simple fashion. We went to church and heard our son/pastor preach. Then we went to the elegant Cracker Barrel for lunch.

To be sure, we celebrated our anniversary earlier with trips to Mystic, Connecticut, Hershey, Pennsylvania, and our first geographical love, Florida. But the time at church and Cracker Barrel reflects more poignantly the simplicity and joys of our marriage.

What have I learned in 40 years of marriage? I have learned the cliché, “Time flies,” is more a reality than a cliché. I married my girlfriend when I was 22. I am now 62. Those four decades have been a blur. I have also learned than referring to my wife jokingly as “the better half” is not a joke at all. Nellie Jo is one of the most selfless people I have ever known. She is truly so much the better person in our marriage.

But I did want to share with you readers eight of the most powerful lessons I have learned in 40 years of marriage. I am neither the font of wisdom nor the personification of the good husband. But I have learned some things. Perhaps the lessons can be helpful to some of you.

  1. Marriage is an incredible gift. I have taken the gift for granted too many times. I have taken Nellie Jo for granted too many times. But, with each passing year, I see more clearly what an incredible gift marriage is from God, and what an incredible gift Nellie Jo is to me.
  2. The “for worse” moments” are some of the most powerful moments in marriage. We have embraced and cried with each other in the deaths of three of our parents and our grandson. I cried countless tears when Nellie Jo was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer at age 49. I thought I might lose her. I can’t imagine walking those paths alone without her.
  3. Arguments are normal. I have learned begrudgingly how to fight fairly in marriage. Nellie Jo and I have had our share of arguments in 40 years. My problem is that my competitive nature wanted to win those arguments. In my latter years, I am learning that winning is really losing. I am still learning that the words, “I’m sorry,” are more powerful than, “I’m right.”
  4. I have learned that “the church” and “my family” are false dichotomies. Yep, I’ve been one of those pastors and Christian leaders who proudly said, “My priorities are God, my family, and my church.” The problem with that statement is that it puts family and church in competition with each other. I have learned that when I truly follow God faithfully, I realize that my family is part of the church, and they are the first who receive my love, attention, and ministry.
  5. The next generations are God’s blessings on a marriage. I love my three sons with an unbridled joy. They have become the men they are by the grace of God and the faithful love and attention of their mother. They have given us ten grandchildren, nine of whom we enjoy today, and one with whom we will reunite when we go to heaven.
  6. My marriage is always stronger when I pray with my wife. I have been inconsistent in praying with Nellie Jo. My inconsistency is stupid because our marriage is always stronger when I pray with her.
  7. I have learned to let my wife be herself. Nellie Jo is a free spirit and an artist. Too many times I have tried to shape her in my image. But I love the joy she now has just being herself. As a husband, I have learned every day that God has shaped and gifted Nellie Jo uniquely, and I celebrate the unique person she is.
  8. I am blessed man. After 40 years of marriage, I love my wife more deeply than ever. Nellie Jo is a gift from God to me. I don’t deserve her. We are now in our fourth quarter of life, headed toward the “till death do you part” phase of marriage. My salvation is a gift. My family is a gift. And the love of my wife is a gift. I deserve none, but I am grateful to God for all.

Thank you, readers, for allowing me this detour from my usual articles. Above all, thank you, Nellie Jo, for saying “yes” 40 years ago. I am truly a blessed man. And I love you, girlfriend, so very much.

Thom Rainer is the president of LifeWay Christian Resources and the co-author of Transformational Church: Creating a New Scorecard for Congregations.
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David Greene

commented on Jan 12, 2018

Great words! I too have been blessed with an amazing woman. Mine is named Debby Jo. We celebrated our 40th anniversary last August. I have recently moved from a very large church in Southern California to a very small church and a part time role in Washington. I am finding the additional time to be with my wife to be a great blessing. Rather than being in the "until death so us part" phase of marriage, I am hoping we will be together when the Rapture happens! Hopefully that will be before either of us discards our physical bodies!

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