“For better or worse…”
On the occasion of the 50th Wedding Anniversary of my parents, Don and Marie Way, I felt compelled to write this booklet, primarily to those who are married, but also to those who will one day be contemplating the sacrament of marriage. This booklet is written with a spirit of concern and admonition; accompanied by a burdened and heavy heart. As we celebrate this momentous occasion, let me address the younger generation. I am going to mount the proverbial “soapbox” and express myself. You need to listen and listen well.
Most every wedding ceremony includes words to this effect: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer and poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, til’ death do us part.” And when the vows are completed, they are affirmed with an “I do.” But statistics prove that most people lied when they said, “I do.”
The current generation needs to read carefully – there is a lesson to be learned. If the lesson is not learned, the reader will discover that they will never reach a 50th Wedding Anniversary and will be fortunate to make it to five or ten.
Starting with my grandparents, Andy and Hattie Bell Way, and continuing through their four children, 13 grandchildren, and even some great-grandchildren, there have been 21 marriages. Sadly, eleven have ended in divorce – 52.4% - higher than the national average. In fact, it was divorce #11 that prompted this booklet.
The Way family in general has failed to keep the vow, “for better or worse.” This is strange because Andy and Hattie Bell Way were married for just under 65 years until the death of my grandfather in August of 1997. Their marriage endured the Great Depression where people worked for 50 cents per day; World War II and the Korean Conflict and even Vietnam; lean-to shacks with dirt floors and outhouses; and the cotton fields of West Texas. Obviously they kept their vows.
Sixty-five years through thick and thin, good and bad, “for better or worse”, and for richer or poorer. The marriage of Andy and Hattie Bell covered the entire roller coaster ride of life and marriage. Where there problems? Of course. Was it difficult? You know it was.
Was my grandfather an easy man to live with? Absolutely not! Was he a difficult man to live with? Absolutely! More than likely I knew my grandfather better than any of the other grandchildren. I probably spent more personal time with him than all the other grandchildren combined. I spent hours sitting across the table with him playing one game or another, in one conversation or another. We were partners in many games such as pinochle and ‘42’ dominoes and he was competitive, even to the point of cheating from time to time in order to win. I know firsthand how difficult a man he could be from time to time. But now that I am older I can see that my grandparents believed their vows and kept them ‘til death did indeed them part.
I recently turned 47 years of age. For the better part of 40 years I have been actively involved in the lives of Don and Marie Way. I’ve seen the better – and I’ve seen the worse. I’ve lived the poorer – and experienced some of the richer. I’ve witnessed the ups and downs, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly. My life has been made fuller and deeper because of these experiences.
The experience of the stressful and difficult times has been just that – stressful and difficult. My heart has been burdened more than once with the difficulties of my parent’s marriage. The memories of some dark and dreary days are still painful. But somewhere down inside of my parents’ hearts there was a determination to work through the problems and make a marriage work – “for better or worse.”
Just as A.J. and Hattie Bell many years before them, Don and Marie stood together at a marriage ceremony and said, “I do” – and meant it. Most people will never understand what it takes to get to a 50th Wedding Anniversary – they don’t have a clue. You cannot get to 50 years, much less 65, without a desire and determination to keep those wedding vows.
I’m sure that I know Donald Way as good as anyone (except for my mom). I know his strengths as well as his weaknesses. Each and every one of us has more weaknesses than strengths. He has been my father, my pastor, my boss, my mentor, as well as my friend. As any family knows, the home life is under a microscope and ours was no different. As his father before him, he can be a difficult man. But I have watched my parents work through every difficulty, fight through every challenge, struggle with difficult decisions, and come out emotionally bruised and battered – but still together.
My wife and I are soon to celebrate 28 years of marriage. As my grandfather and father before me, I know that I can be a complex man as well. By God’s grace and a lot of hard work, our marriage has stayed strong. Have there been trying times? Of course. Have there been times of pain and pressure? Certainly. But when we said “I do” on December 21, 1974, we meant it. When we said “for better or worse” we meant it.
The vows, “for better or worse,” have become a farce. What the present generation apparently has failed to learn is that love is a decision. It is not an emotion or feeling – it is a decision – it is action. The trouble with my generation and subsequent ones is that they have confused “love” with “lust.” They are in “lust” with one another instead of being in “love.” This is proven time after time after time when a young mother learns that the father of her children loved her for a night – but not for a lifetime. This is proven time and time again when a man comes home from work to an empty house because his wife has left him. Lust will not stand the tests of time. Lust will not and cannot endure the difficulties and marriage. Lust wilts under the pressures of marriage, and there will be pressures. Lust fades and is tempted by more lust. Love prevails in spite of pressure and temptation.
We see genuine love many times through painful marriages. A woman will endure physical, verbal, mental and emotional abuse from her husband because she loves him. In spite of all his problems, deep down inside she loves him and truly believes that he will change – she believes “all things.” She tolerates virtually anything and every thing in the name of love. Often we look a woman like that and say, “Why doesn’t she leave him?” And if asked, she will respond from her heart and say, “I love him.” And if the time comes where she leaves, she does so with a heart full of hope that it will work out – she never gives up. If we question that kind of love, then we have proven that we do not truly understand love. Please do not misunderstand me. I would never condone that type of behavior in a husband. I believe he should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. My point is that love, true love, will suffer untold hardships.
In I Corinthians Chapter 13 we find the Biblical basis for love. The passage is often read at weddings. Verses four through eight sum up what is true love, genuine love, Biblical love.
“Charity (love) suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth…”
We are told in God’s Word that love is patient and kind. There is no envy is true love – “envieth not.” Genuine love “seeketh not her own,” meaning that true love always thinks of the other. Self-centeredness is the number one sin and the root of most every other sin – and probably most divorces. From time to time I hear this lame excuse, “Well, I need to find myself.” The Bible has a verse for people like you – Proverbs 18:2, “A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his (or her) heart may discover itself.” Trying to find yourself defines you as a fool.
Verse Seven sums it up best with four characteristics of true love: “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.” The key word is “all.” No matter how you cut it, no matter how you try to define it, the word “all” means exactly that – ALL!
You are saying, “But you don’t know what he did to me.” “You don’t know what she did to me.” “He had an affair.” “She had an affair.” “He had to go to prison.” “She betrayed me.” “He hurt me.” And you are right. I probably have no idea. But I do have a Bible that says that true love – genuine love – Biblical love – bears and endures all things. I didn’t say it would be easy, I’m just saying it can be done. II Corinthians 9:8 says, “And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work.” The Bible says God is able to give us grace in “all” things.
“All” means good and bad – “for better or worse.” True love, the kind most people never experience, bears all things and endures all things. Genuine love could never walk away from a marriage – it would have to be driven away after years of abuse and neglect – and even then it would be extremely difficult. Even after all kinds of abuse and neglect, that real love would keep trying to find a way to make it work – to make it last.
One of these days we will realize that love is a decision. It is a decision to give your spirit, soul and body to an individual without reservation. Will there be problems in a marriage? Of course! Will there be times when it seems to be unraveling? Yes. Will there be times when it seems impossible to stay together? Could be. But love decides to ride out the storm and work it out and stay together. That’s what love is and does.
Often we hear that people “fall” in love. That is just not true. No one falls in love. They decide to love exactly like they decide to no longer love. Maybe that’s the problem. People fall in love and then fall out of love. When you fall you really have no choice – it is not a decision – it is usually an accident. And most marriages are accidents because people fell in love. The kinds of marriages that last are the ones where people decide to love and decide to bear and endure all things – “for better or worse.”
If you are married – decide now to keep your vows. You said, “I do,” and you should honor your vows. Will it be easy? No. Will there be some truly difficult days ahead? Yes. Will there even be times when you think it is over? Possibly.
If you decide to get married and you do not intend to keep the vows, either take out the vows, or don’t get married. If you are not ready to suffer the hardships and come out on the other side – don’t get married. We need to prove to a skeptical generation that there are people who actually believe “for better or worse.”