Family Stories time. The photo taken in honor of my grandparents’ 50th Anniversary shows that they didn’t just endure each other, they were still very much in love. There was a strong romantic spark between them. When Grandfather passed away in 1991, they had been married 62 years.
At the age of 13, my own parents’ marriage exploded rather dramatically, so I became quite taken and curious about the longevity of my grandparents’ marriage. One day when I was 15, I found myself alone with Grandmother and decided to ask her some very personal questions. I asked, of course, how they met and fell in love. I also asked if there was a time when she almost left Grandfather. She told me that once she heard he was gambling, so she and their three small children met her husband one evening as he came through the door in their travelling clothes with their bag packed (One bag. All their other clothes fit into one bag.) She told him that she heard he was gambling and he had a choice. He could keep her and the children or he could keep gambling. I thought that was unusually brave for a woman in depressed America in the mid ‘30’s dustbowl. She told me not to idolize her for she knew that her mother-in-law and her sister would support her and take them in. What happened? He chose to keep them, of course.
Now you have to picture the scene; She had been working the entire time she spoke. Standing at the kitchen table ironing bedding for the local nursing home – something which she did out of charity, not for gain. She would call them the home up now and then and ask what they needed, what she could make for them.
I decided to risk asking something even more personal. I asked her if there was ever a time when she didn’t ‘love’ or feel any ‘love’ for Grandfather. This question obviously hit her broadside. As she froze – for what seemed like an eternity. Then she said,
“There was a time of about three years when I could’ve cared less if he walked through the door again.”
I gasped. “What did you do during that time?”
“I continued loving him – doing my duty. I had promised to love him, and I honoured that promise.” Then she looked straight at me and said, “I chose to love him.”
Now the concept of choosing to love somebody with your will in spite of how you feel, seemed so strange to me. I don’t know why because I had gone to church all my life and heard how God chooses to love us even when we are unlovely and ill-behaved. Perhaps it is because films, TV and music in American culture emphasizes one’s feelings of the moment as being all-important – Obi Wan’s ‘Trust your feelings Luke’ is only one of a myriad examples I could give. But I recognized immediately that that was the key to their long marriage. It is, in fact, the key to any long-standing relationship being fruitful – whether it is between spouses, parents and children, religious community or even the workplace.
It is, in fact, covenant love – very central to the character of God. And it isn’t easy. The book of Hosea is all about God’s struggle with loving Israel in spite of her obvious disloyalty and bad behaviour. (I must emphasize that this isn’t about accepting criminal or abusive behaviour. No one should stay within a relationship that is emotionally or physically abusive.) It is about rising above circumstances to honour a commitment. And it can be practiced on a daily basis. There will be a time when everyone will behave in some unloving way, and people change over time, so room needs to be given for those transition times. How we respond may depend on remembering the words ‘choose love’.
I asked Grandmother one more question: “What happened at the end of the three years?” She replied with a twinkle in her eye, “The feeling of love for him returned and was much stronger than before.”