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2. Richard’s World

I was a pastor--wasn’t my marriage supposed
to be one of perfect harmony?

It was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania that I uttered my first squeals--actually in the Women's General Hospital (and was I ever embarrassed!). My dad was an enthusiastic, outgoing salesman at Sears, and my mother a quiet, more introverted housewife, both of whom dearly loved the Lord. Dad was attending evening classes at Philadelphia School of the Bible and looked forward to entering the ministry.

I have happy memories of walking to the corner to meet him after work, and climbing on the running-board of his car (remember them?) for the short ride home. He held me securely with one arm as he drove with the other. I also remember happy times with my widowed maternal grandfather and a bachelor uncle who lived with us during my early childhood years.

Along with the happy times, however, I remember being rather shy and self-conscious, with a poor self-image. I lived in the shadow of a father with a strong personality, who was usually at the center of everything that was happening, and who would gain increasing national prominence as an outstanding preacher and Bible teacher. I grew up thinking that I would never measure up to Dad's standard. I can remember wanting to please him, but seldom being sure that I had.

The one experience from my childhood that overshadows all others in my thinking occurred the day I arrived home from school and found the door to our row-house locked. That was different. I rang the doorbell and pounded on the door (it was a French door with glass panels from top to bottom), but nobody answered. As a little second grader, I could feel fear overtake me. Where were my parents? I pounded harder and accidentally broke one of the glass door panels. That's when I panicked and took off running toward a friend's house three blocks away. Somewhere enroute it dawned on me that I had been told to go there if ever my parents were not at home after school. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing with my friend.

When my parents returned home that evening, they asked me if I knew how the window had been broken, and I told them that I saw a kid throw a snowball through the glass. They were reasonably sure I was lying since there was no puddle of water on the inside, but they couldn't prove it. So the incident was dropped . . . until the following summer. That's when a neighbor lady who happened to be chatting with my mother told her that she saw me break the glass. My lie was exposed, and lying was totally unacceptable behavior in my family.

You can be sure that I was not looking forward to Dad coming home from work that day. And he did exactly what I expected him to do--he led me upstairs to his bedroom. I had been there before and knew what was coming. And it did. After explaining to me calmly why lying was unacceptable, he "drove the lesson home" with a spanking. Spankings were no fun, but somehow I sensed that Dad loved me even when he spanked me because tears streamed down his face. I never understood why it hurt him so much until God gave me children of my own.

But something else happened that day which turned out to be the most important and most pleasant experience of my entire life. When we each stopped crying, Dad used my lie to show me kindly and lovingly that I was a sinner and that I needed a Savior. He went on to explain that Jesus Christ had paid for my sin on the cross of Calvary and wanted to save me from its eternal penalty. If I would put my trust in Him, He would forgive me of all my sin, accept me as His very own child, and give me the gift of eternal life. We knelt down together beside the bed and Dad led me in a prayer of faith. While my understanding of eternal salvation would grow with the passing years, there is no doubt in my mind that Jesus Christ entered my life that day. And what He did on that occasion would ultimately become a major contributing factor in helping Mary and me solve our marital problems.

A clear understanding and a firm assurance of eternal salvation are essential ingredients for a successful marriage. It is difficult to reach out to our mates with forgiveness if we ourselves feel guilty before God. It is difficult to extend to them an attitude of acceptance when we ourselves feel rejected by God. It is difficult to be tolerant of their shortcomings when we feel as though God is angry and impatient with ours. It is difficult to offer them unconditional love if we feel that we have to perform to a certain level in order to earn God's love and favor.

But the assurance of our salvation can eliminate those problems. In Christ we are eternally forgiven and unconditionally loved and accepted. And when we have that confidence, we are free to relate unselfishly with our mates. Enjoying the reality of God's gracious salvation lays the foundation for healthy marital relationships.

It was some time before I understood fully what I possessed in Jesus Christ: that I am unconditionally accepted, with nothing to prove and nothing to lose, that it is Christ who lives in me and is willing to live through me, that all my personal needs for significance and worth are fully satisfied in my relationship with Him. Through my early years and on into my marriage I worried a great deal about what people thought of me and how they treated me. And this insecurity was the source of many marital conflicts. A more complete understanding would come in time, but it would never have been possible had I not first acknowledged my sin and put my trust in Christ as my personal Savior. The day Jesus Christ washed my sins away was crucial to eventually making our marriage work.

Like so many other children who have grown up in Christian homes, I cannot remember having a particularly warm and vital walk with God through my early teen years. But I did want to do the will of God. It was at a missionary conference when I was about fifteen years of age that I yielded myself to God and told Him I wanted to live my life for His glory. I didn't always do that, but God kept bringing me back to the commitment I had made. And while I considered other vocations, there was always a feeling deep within me that God would eventually lead me to serve Him in some kind of professional Christian ministry.

That's why the conflicts Mary and I were having seemed so devastating--since I was a seminary student, and later a pastor, wasn't my marriage supposed to be one of perfect harmony? Weren't we to be the model couple to our friends and congregation? Then why did we fight so much?

Walking Together

If you have never trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior from sin, do it now. Acknowledge that your sin alienates you from God, that God's eternal, sinless Son paid the penalty you deserved when He died on Calvary's cross. Then put your faith in Him alone as your sin-bearer and deliverer from the guilt and condemnation of your sin. At that moment God will give you the gift of eternal life, and His Spirit will enter your life to enable you to do His will.

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