How To Persevere In Marriage
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Dave and Ann WilsonDave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus churc...more
How can you keep going in your marriage when it feels so hard? Dave and Ann Wilson encourage couples to persevere and finish well.
How To Persevere In Marriage
Dave: So let’s talk about track. You don’t judge a winner in a race until the finish line, and that’s the way life is. You don’t judge your life, your Christian walk, your marriage by how you start; you judge it by how you finish.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: So let’s talk about eighth-grade track.
Ann: Oh, yes!
Dave: Don’t you remember eighth-grade track?
Ann: I actually do remember.
Dave: You were an amazing runner.
Ann: Oh, thank you!
Dave: Weren’t you an Ohio Buckeye Conference women’s hurdles champion?
Ann: —the 800.
Dave: —800; so you ran the 800?!
Ann: I did.
Dave: I didn’t even know that!
Ann: I ran the hurdles, but I wasn’t as good at that.
Dave: I didn’t know you ran the 800, because—
Ann: But did you run the 800?
Dave: That’s what I wanted to tell—my famous 800 city meet in middle school—so
50 years ago, I was in eighth grade; I ran the 800. I wasn’t fast enough to run the sprints.
Ann: Track isn’t your thing; how did you end up running track?
Dave: I hated track/absolutely hated it, because I didn’t want to—especially the 800; you have to run two full laps around the field—the only reason I did it was to be in condition for football.
Dave: That’s all I was doing.
Dave: I was like, “This will help me be ready for the late summer/fall football”; so I go out for track. They stick me in the 800 because, again, I’m just not super-fast; but I can run distance; right? Here is the thing—and you know this was Donnell Junior High School—
Dave: —now, they call it a middle school; but—
Ann: I went there too.
Dave: Yes—later; you were in fifth grade when I was in eighth grade—you’re just a little girl running around.
Here I am—you remember—the city meet is the best of the three middle schools in our city of Findlay, Ohio. You compete for this championship of the city, so this is like the biggest meet of the season. It’s the end of the year, and I never once won an 800 ever. My teammate, Tom Jones, won.
Ann: Wait; you were in a sport that you weren’t the best at?! There was one that you weren’t?!
Dave: I never won—not one time—I always came in second or third because my teammate, Tom Jones/he, was fast in—he ended up playing high school football with me and baseball.
Ann: So he won every one of those?
Dave: He always won.
Dave: You’ve heard me tell this, I think; I decided: “I’m not going to finish this race; I hate this race—I hate it all—I’m not going to finish it.” I decided—
Ann: What do you mean you decided not to finish it?
Dave: Well, I didn’t tell anybody—but I just hated it so much—and I know I’m not going to win anyway; now, we’ve got Tom Jones, who is going to win. There were six of us, two from each school—so the sixth fastest in the whole city—and I’m not going to win. I probably won’t even get in the top three; so I’m like, “Why even try?” I decided, “I’m going to run the first lap; and then right at the turn, going into the second lap, I’m going to fall.”
Dave: I literally planned it all out.
Ann: This is not like you at all; you’re going to fall and pretend that you are hurt!
Dave: Yes, I’m just going to not finish; because I hate this race. I’m not going to win anyway, so why do it?
I am embarrassed to admit that I am telling this story publicly. Sure enough, the gun—they start the race—and Tom is in first place. I’m literally in last place, going in the first lap/coming around the turn at the first lap; and now, we have one more lap to go. I’m looking up ahead, and I’m last. I’m like, “There is the turn.” Right at that turn, I’m just going to trip. I don’t know what I’m going to do; I literally looked into the infield. I’m just going to fall into the grass, grab my leg, and be done with this! [Laughter]
Maybe, somebody can relate. I just don’t want to do this anymore, and this is my moment.
Ann: But you didn’t want to be humiliated to come in last place, too; yes.
Dave: Yes; it was the city meet. That’s probably more of it/was my self-image. [Laughter] Anyway, as I’m coming up to this turn—again, in last place—I wasn’t far behind, but I was behind the last guy.
Ann: And you’re at the flag pole. I know where this is, because it’s when you start your kick.
Dave: No, this is the beginning of the second lap. I didn’t stay that long. [Laughter] There is no way I’m staying the whole thing. If I’m going to check out, I’m doing the 400; and I’m out—that was it—the 400 and 20 more yards.
I’m starting the second lap, and just as I’m getting—I mean, three more steps—“There it is,” “There it is; I’m going to step out,”—all of a sudden, right in front of me, like five/four runners got jumbled together; and they fell down. They stepped on each other, and they all went down right in front of me. I literally had to step over them.
Ann: Did Tom Jones fall down?
Dave: Yes, Tom goes down—and the other two/three runners that were right there in first place with him—because they were all jockeying for position. You’ve seen it in the Olympics or something: they go down.
Well, they went down right in front of me. I literally have to swing outside of them and jump over them. Next thing I know, I look up; I’m in first place! [Laughter] There are like two more runners left, and they are all trying to get back up and run; but we’re 30 yards ahead of them now by the time they get back on the track. Now, I’m like, “I’m going to finish this thing!”
Ann: “I could win!”
Dave: And I did!
Dave: I won the city meet, eighth grade, 800. I’m your champ right here.
Ann: Ooh! There has to be a great lesson learned in this.
Dave: Well, it’s because they fell down, and they finished later; but yes, the lesson learned is this—I learned a really important lesson that day—one is this: “You never know what’s going to happen. You may think it is too hard; you want to give up; you want to quit. You just don’t know what’s around the corner.”
Ann: That’s really true for marriage/a lot of different things.
Dave: That’s true for life; it’s true for parenting; it’s true in your marriage.
Here is the big principle that I think we want to talk about today—this applies to marriage and family—“You don’t judge a winner in a race until the finish line.” Like, if you would have looked at me at the starting block, you would have said, “Loser: he is in last place, right from the beginning; there is no way he is going to win.” But you get to the end of the race, and there I am, standing. That’s the way life is: “You don’t judge your life, your Christian walk, your marriage by how you start; you judge it by how you finish.”
I thought it would be good to talk about: “How do you finish well?” Now, here is the thing about finishing a race. You know where the finish line is: it is two laps, or one lap, or whatever. In life, you don’t know; but if you are going to finish well, it means, “I’ve got to live today well, because today could be the finish line.”
Ann: So you’re living today like it could be your last day.
Dave: Yes, in many ways. And I would say this—this is the big idea—the big idea is: “It’s not how you start that matters, but how you finish.”
You often think the greatest picture of a marriage is your wedding picture on your wedding day—and that is a glorious moment and, in many ways, a glorious picture—but I think a more beautiful picture is the couple that’s standing together 20 years later;
40th anniversary; 50th anniversary. That’s finishing well.
You know, and we know—after being married 41 years—there are a lot of dark moments that have been in 40-some years/50 years for any couple, where you want to quit. You can quit—and you can even pick the day, like, “I’m checking out right here, right now,”—you just never know what could be around the next corner.
Ann: Yes, I think that’s true for those, who have been remarried—to think/if you’re thinking right now: “Oh, the first one didn’t work,” and maybe, they feel like, “This one is not either,”—to not give up.
I’m thinking about my parents; they were married 70 years. I remember looking at them—we were there to celebrate their 68th wedding anniversary—we went down for that. I can remember seeing them—and my mom had Alzheimer’s for 12 years by that time—my dad had cancer; he also had several heart attacks. I’ll never forget—they had both fallen asleep—and they had chairs, side by side. Remember this?
Ann: They were asleep, and they were just holding each other’s hands. I thought, “That’s a picture of marriage: of being in it the long haul.” That’s a true picture of love, because they’ve endured; and they’ve gone through so much.
Dave: They have—here is a word I think we need to resurrect—persevered.
Dave: I actually looked up the definition to persevere. Look at this; it says: “To continue on a course of action, even in the face of difficulty, or with little or no prospect of success.”
Dave: That’s perseverance.
If you are dating, or engaged, or you are in your newlywed days, you may think, “Oh, we are not going to need…”—oh, yes, you are going to persevere in the face of difficulty, with little or no prospect of success. I mean, our great start to marriage lasted less than six months. [Laughter]
Ann: That is true!
Dave: I mean, it was—
Ann: —six months of paradise.
Dave: I mean, it was glorious on the wedding day. We go to the Weekend to Remember® even two weeks before our wedding; we think, “We don’t even need this conference.”
Ann: Yes, because “We are so amazing.”
Dave: Yes; six months later, we are struggling; and that didn’t end. It continued to struggle. Here we are, 41 years later, because we persevered. Many know our story; but God met us there and helped us persevere,—
Ann: —in the valley.
Dave: —but it has been tough.
It’s sort of interesting: I think we live in a time where we are watching a lot of people not finish well.
Ann: They are falling on the track.
Dave: I mean, Christian leaders—people are deconstructing from the faith—some of our leaders have made decisions that have become public, and they are not finishing well.
What would it look like to finish well?—not just as a follower of Christ—but as a husband, or a wife, or a mom, or a dad?
I think of Paul writing to Timothy. One of the last books that Paul wrote was the second letter to Timothy.
Ann: It is the last book that he wrote.
Dave: The last chapter is sort of his closing remarks on his life. I love what he said in Chapter 4; he says: “I charge you, in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom, preach the word; be ready in season and out of the season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching,”—which is a great word as he is speaking, sort of on his death bed—“Be ready in season to do the work of the kingdom.”
Then he goes on: “As for you, always be sober-minded, enduring suffering, doing the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry”—we all have a call—then he says this: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come.”
I love this statement in verse 7: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” That’s perseverance in the Christian walk; and we know Paul’s story has all kinds of hardship, all kinds of persecution. He could have easily quit and said, “I’m done”; but you talk about a leader in the faith, who persevered and finished well—it’s Paul.
Ann: Well, let me ask you—we both have this passion of finishing well; it was even before we were finishing—we are older now, but we just wanted to burn for Jesus. I see that in you: “What compels you? Why is that? Why do you want to finish well? Why do you want to do it so well?”
Dave: I think it’s a marathon; it’s a long race, and the testimony of God’s power and presence is finishing well. I think it’s a testimony to our generation and the next generation that: “They didn’t quit; they didn’t turn in the towel; they hung in there, in good times and dark times; and they experienced the very power of God in their life, and in their marriage, and in their family. Even when it got hard, they rolled up their sleeves; and they said, ‘Jesus is here. He can meet us. He can get us through it.’”
Is that what you are looking for?
Ann: Yes; I feel that same way of, like, “Man, Jesus changes lives, and He gives people hope, and He gives marriages and families hope.” Isn’t that what people are looking for?—especially in our culture today. We need hope, and we need answers of how to do this well.
Dave: Yes; I would say, “As you think about this, I would be asking this question: “How? How do you finish well?’” We are going to give you four stays to finish well. If I can remember, 20-some years ago, I think I read in a book by Steve Farrar what he called “the four stays.” I am borrowing from Steve Farrar; but it’s like the first one would be this: “Stay in the Word.” Stay in the Word; I think we get off the rails, or we lose focus and purpose, when we get out of God’s Word. If we do that, we can easily not finish well.
I think of what Jesus said in John 15; He said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” When you hear that, what do you think?
Ann: That same thing, like, “How do I stay connected to Jesus?” I don’t mean when I am about to die or finishing; I’m saying, “Every single day, staying connected to the vine is essential, like we are going to wither and die [without connection].” I think of our grandson picking flowers for me. By the time he walks them into the house, they are kind of wilting; because they are disconnected from the root. For us, we cannot be disconnected; because that’s our power source.
Dave: I know one of the greatest things I love about you, which nobody gets to see but me, is almost every day of our marriage, I can remember—and it’s still true now—walking into the kitchen and seeing you with your one-year Bible; or seeing you on the deck with your one-year Bible, and your journal, and your pen, and your paper; sometimes, seeing you on your knees with your hands raised, even on the deck, worshipping God. How many years have you gone through the one-year Bible?
Ann: I think 16 now.
Dave: —in a row?
Ann: Yes. Every year I do it; I’m like, “Oh, this is so good!” There are new things that God shows me. There are new things that I want to study, and it ignites my soul.
I can remember one time talking to these women about what happens when I don’t spend time in God’s Word. I brought out this old sponge that hadn’t been used in years. If you’ve taken your finger across that sponge, it would sound like [crunching sound]. It’s just crusty and hard.
But when you are in God’s Word, it’s like you pour water/like Jesus said, “I will give you rivers of living water.” Every day that I am in that Word, I feel like God’s Word is being poured into me. It softens my heart so that it’s not hard and crusty. It helps me, then, to hear God’s Word; it helps me to obey Him; it helps me to know what He says.
Dave: Yes, and one of the things that our listeners don’t know is that anytime we get into the car, and we are going on a trip, you say this every time: “Hey, let me read you what I’m reading today in the one-year Bible.” I’ve got to be honest; every time, I’m like, “You’re going to read it out loud?!”
Ann: You hate it when I do this.
Dave: But you love—
Ann: I love it.
Dave: —to read it out loud. Honestly, I never stopped you.
Ann: And then I say the same thing: “Oh, isn’t this so good?!” [Laughter]
Dave: You do every time. It’s like the fire in your relationship with Christ and the fire in my relationship with Christ really resonates out of staying in the Word.
Ann: You do the same thing. You’re not going through the one-year Bible, but you are always studying God’s Word.
Dave: Yes, and I’m just like/even as a pastor, I thought/over 40-plus years of ministry, I realized: “People really only want from their minister: they want to know that you’ve been with Jesus today.”
Dave: They just want, when they meet you for lunch and they need help in counseling, they’re just sort of wondering, “Have you been with Jesus today? Has He met you, and do you have anything for me?” It’s either an overflow or it isn’t. Jesus said, “You abide, and there will be fruit.” It’s so easy in ministry to concentrate on the fruit; and He saying, “No, don’t concentrate on the fruit. Concentrate on the root; connect.”
We said, even in our Vertical Marriage book, “Man, if you are going to keep your relationship dynamic, you need to pray together daily.” That’s staying in the Word together so that you finish well in your marriage. I would say, “If you are married, and you are not praying together daily, that’s your action step.” Just choose today to say, “What if we started praying together as a couple?” Some of you—maybe, you are thinking, “We’ve never/I don’t pray out loud,”—you can start today. It can be a very short prayer; and you say, “Honey, let’s pray.” What would you say if your husband doesn’t want to pray?—you [Ann] say this all the time: “Just pray anyway.”
Ann: Yes; just pray anyway—put your hand on your husband, and thank God for them—pray: “Jesus, I pray that You would protect us/guide us.” If your spouse isn’t good with that, just pray anyway—maybe, if they don’t like you to pray out loud, just pray silently—but to love them and to show them the love of Jesus. I think one of the things—you put down this quote, which is so good—“Light yourself on fire with passion, and people will come from miles to watch you burn.”
Isn’t that true?! You can tell when people have been with Jesus, because they are burning for Him. There is something so attractive like, “Man, I want that fire. They have a joy and an essence about them that is contagious.”
Dave: I think the same thing is true in a home. Kids sniff out fakery. If mom or dad aren’t really walking with God—aren’t staying in the Word; aren’t abiding—you can’t fake it. You may be able to fake it outside your home in some ways. You cannot fake it in your marriage; you cannot fake it in with your kids, as a parent. You can’t fake a fire; it’s got to be stoked in the furnace of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
It’s like you can’t go a day apart from Him; because Jesus said, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” Can you do a marriage that stays hot for 10, 15, 20, 30 years? I know it’s easy to think: “I just need to fall more in love with her,” or “…more in love with him,”—that’s part of it—but I think the fire comes from the Word of God and the Spirit of God alive in our lives.
Ann: I think a good question to ask at this point is: “If you had your heart in your hand, would it sound like [crunching noise]—like that crusty sponge? How have you filled up that heart?”
And we don’t do it perfectly by any means—and none of us do—but man, there is something when God gets a hold of those hearts, and we surrender them, that He does something magnificent.
Dave: Yes, I would even add—we said there are four stays, and we’ve only talked about one; [Laughter] we’re going to continue this—but I do think, if this first “Stay in the Word” is not the foundation, the others don’t matter; because you don’t have power/you don’t have His perspective to be able to do the others, because they are action steps. This first one is: “Am I going to be willing to sit and train in godliness by making the Word a part of my daily workout?”
Many of us work out physically, and we don’t miss that workout. What about your spiritual body? Are you willing to pay a price to say: “I am going to walk with God,” “I’m going to lead my family in a walk with God”? Again, one of the ways to do that is to pray every single day, together, with your spouse.
Ann: And I would add one more thing.
Dave: Uh-oh; one more thing.
Ann: As you said pray and get in God’s Word, download the YouVersion app. I’m talking right now to young moms. You’re thinking, “I don’t even have time to read”; but you can listen. Put one earbud in, and listen to God’s Word as you are doing the dishes/as you are doing something. You can get God’s Word in your life.
Dave: And I’ll add one more [Laughter]; I just thought of this. Get The Story of Us. It’s the devotional that we, as the FamilyLife speakers, all wrote in; and it’s a devo for couples. You can just open that thing—it’s a guide—and that’s one way you can get in the Word together and, literally, let God transform you and transform your family as you stay in the Word.
Bob: I think the key idea in what Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking about today is that we need to be purposeful and intentional about building spiritual practices in our own lives and in our life together as a couple. The resources they just mentioned:
- The Story of Us devotional that the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® speaker team helped to create: that’s a great resource for couples to use.
- The YouVersion app: we’ve got a link to that app on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. The app is free; you can download it and start using it immediately.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com if you’re interested in any of these resources.
Of course, Dave and Ann have written a book called Vertical Marriage that is about the kinds of practices that we build into our marriage that will help our marriage go the distance. It’s available both as a book and a small group study. All of the information about these resources can be found on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call if you have any questions or if you’d like to order any of the resources from us. Our number is 1-800-FL-TODAY; 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, a quick shout out today to those of you who are the folks who made today’s program possible—those of you who are, not only listeners to FamilyLife Today, but who financially support this ministry. Thank you for that support; you made this conversation possible. There were hundreds of thousands of people, who have been impacted because of your generosity. FamilyLife Today is listener-supported. Your donations keep this program on the air on this local station; you make it available as a podcast—our website, our resources, our events—all of that happens because of your financial support, so we are grateful for that.
If you are able to make a donation today, we’d love to send you a copy of a book we talked about earlier this week. Becky Harling joined us to talk about how we can be better listeners to our children, things we can do to help open them up. Becky’s book is called How to Listen So Your Kids Will Talk. It’s our gift to you when you make a donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” Thanks, in advance, for your support. We appreciate you.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when Dave and Ann Wilson are going to talk, not only about the things we can be doing so that our marriage will stay strong all the way to the finish line, but some of the things we can avoid doing/we can watch out for. We’ll continue the conversation tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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