After speaking at my 100th FamilyLife marriage conference, I was able to reflect on some of the observations I made about the state of marriages in our culture today.
During the first session of the conference, we asked who had been married for 30 years or longer. A good number rose to their feet. More than a dozen of these couples were married over 40 years, and four couples had achieved “golden” status of 50 years.
Later we recognized those whose parents were still living and had been married the longest. I couldn’t count fast enough to determine the number who had parents who had been married for 40 or 50 years–there probably were about 100.
My own parents were married nearly 46 years when my dad died. Barbara’s parents just celebrated their 50th. Their generation believed in the commitment of the marriage vow. I couldn’t help but wonder: In 30-40 years, what will our children say we believed in?
Throughout the weekend I talked to numerous couples who told me about the problems they faced in their marriages. One wife with five children under the age of 10 wanted out of her marriage because of an insensitive husband. I was left with the impression that, though he definitely had some things to learn, this was a marriage that could be repaired. I looked them both in the eyes and pleaded, “You can’t leave here after hearing God’s blueprints and get a divorce. Give one another a chance. Take God at his Word. Don’t get a divorce!”
Maybe I will find out in heaven what happened to this couple.
Another couple had been through the “valley of the shadow of death” after an automobile accident had almost cost the wife her life. They faced problems with his business and with their own selfishness. They had been separated for nearly six months. Divorce was imminent.
But by Saturday night their hope was renewed. At the end of the conference they asked me to witness and sign their Oneness Covenant (a document included in the conference manual). Tears streamed down the wife’s face as she said they were going home to ask their two children, both under 8 years of age, to forgive them for their foolish choices and for nearly abandoning them.
I left thinking about these two couples and the others who stood in line to tell me their stories of alcoholism, drug abuse, spousal abuse, pornography, affairs, and materialism. Stories of disappointment. Shattered dreams. Destroyed lives. Legacies of good or evil hanging in the balance.
Two convictions began to form in my soul.
First, a huge number of couples are hurting today. I thought of Jesus looking at the multitudes and feeling compassion “because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd.”
Yes, we sold out the conference in Philadelphia, but within 150 miles of that city lives 25 percent of America’s population. We need to reach out to these millions to help them know God and His blueprints for the family.
Second, many of today’s divorces do not have to happen. Christians are breaking their vows for reasons that couples in the past would not have considered grounds for divorce. This slide must be stopped at all costs.
Yes, there is plenty of high drama at these conferences, but there are also surprises. Near the end of the conference I was approached by an impressive couple from India. (And you thought you drove a long way to attend a FamilyLife conference!) They were studying at Princeton, and had had brought 13 of their friends from India to the conference. They wanted to talk about how we could work together to help them take this material back to the one billion people of their country.
Indeed, family is an international language.
As Barbara and I boarded our plane, I thought about the spiritual decisions couples had been making at this conference. These are life-altering decisions that will affect the course of the generations to come. My prayer is that they decided to set a solid foundation for their marriage according to the admonition of Christ in Matthew 7:24: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock.”