Holding Hands After All These Years
By Jackie Kendall
When I was in college, I was very impressed by the love relationship between my English literature teacher (Dr. Evangeline Banta) and her husband. She invited me to spend a weekend at her home where I got a closer look at a love relationship that I had assumed only existed in literature. At the end of our weekend together, I asked Evangeline what was the secret of their love that had flourished and not shriveled after 40-plus years of marriage. I never forgot her remark, and it has been the most important marital advice I ever received. Evangeline said, “We made a commitment on our wedding night that we would not go to sleep angry with one another.” This is such a simple remark, but such a foundational truth for love that will last a lifetime. Today on a morning news show, they had a segment where they were congratulating a couple that was married 75 years. They were asked what the secret was to their longevity and they had the exact same reply as Dr. Banta—don’t go to be angry with your spouse.
Jesus chose the marriage relationship to be a reflection of the heavenly Bridegroom and his earthly Bride. “The marriage relationship is a great mystery, but I see it as a symbol of the marriage of Christ and his Church” (Eph. 5:32 Phillips). I used to cringe when I heard the symbol of marriage compared with Christ and His Church since so many marriages are in such pitiful conditions today.
Then I realized that the emotional divorce in most marriages—caused by unresolved conflict (too many nights going to bed angry)—is the same emotional divorce I see between Christ and His Church. So many Christians are divorced from true intimacy with God because the Holy Spirit has been grieved (see Eph. 4:30) and quenched (see 1 Thess. 5:19 KJV). Ironically, the Holy Spirit is “grieved” by a separation, a gap, when we do not willingly put away anger and bitterness (see Eph. 4:31).
Our natural marriage relationship experiences the same gaps and grief when we do not deal with our anger and bitterness. Just as Christians can choose to live with a gap between God and themselves, many couples choose to live day in and day out with gaps as wide as the English Channel.
At my bridal shower, married women were encouraged to give me advice, which was recorded for me by the hostess of the shower. Every married woman gave her version of the advice that Evangeline gave me that weekend. One woman challenged me to be the first one to make the move across the emotional Grand Canyon caused by conflict. Men are so uncomfortable with emotional realities and need marriage to teach them about handling anger before the sun sets daily. This same woman said that the “first move” in resolving conflict is the most difficult moment, but once the first step is taken, one senses the ability to sprint into the rest of the process. Pouting renders one unable to walk, much less sprint into conflict resolution.
I have often been grateful for the days when the sun shines for a longer period—I feel as though that day is a bonus day in resolving conflict before the sun sets. Remembering that when you go to bed angry with your spouse, you wake up a little less in love.
If you are angry, be sure that it is not a sinful anger. Never go to bed angry—don’t give the devil that sort of foothold (Ephesians 4:26-27 Phillips).
(Adapted from Free Yourself to Love: The Liberating Power of Forgiveness)