On the eve of our 43rd wedding anniversary, I am reminded of an incident which occurred in the life of some folks I know and love very dearly. This incident demonstrated in a very practical way the truth of the challenge in Scripture for husbands to love our wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25), as well as the encouragement for each of us, as true followers of Christ, to finish well.
That incident occurred a few months ago. I stopped to visit with a lady in our church who happens to be a resident in a senior care facility. She lives in a private room there and much of her day is spent with her husband, with whom she has shared her life for more than 60 years of marriage. This godly woman is pretty much restricted in her ability to move without assistance, so much of her day is spent lying in her bed and looking out the window. She lives with several ailments which restrict her, not the least of which is a disease which limits her ability to recall and remember both people whom she has met and events which she has experienced.
As I visited with her that day, her husband was sitting at her bedside, helping her eat her lunch, which had just been served. Without complaint, he cut into small, bite-sized pieces the meat on the plate in front of her and calmly, with a fork, picked up a piece of that meat and allowed her to eat it. He would then alternately pick up some vegetables and some sort of side dish and with each attempt he would patiently give these bites of food to his lovely wife. Every so often, she would frown and say, “I don’t like that,” to which he would respond, “but you need to eat some of it,” or an “OK” and would then calmly put the bit back on the plate and pick up something else to feed her. Her favorite food seemed to be the ice cream dish she had been served for dessert. Interspersed in all of this, he would give her a sip from one of several drink glasses that were on the tray – water or milk or tea, or, even lemonade.
Every so often, he would stop and simply stroke her hand or her face, and even bend over and give her a kiss, whispering an “I love you, honey,” into her ear as he did so.
That visit was a day I hope I never forget. Not only did that fellow provide a very concrete and down-to-earth example of what it means to love your wife as Christ loved the church, but he also demonstrated in a very practical way what it means to finish well. I was reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul when, near the end of his life, he wrote to his young disciple Timothy: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith” (see 2 Timothy 4:7). He was talking about the importance of finishing well. Paul could see the end coming. He knew his earthly life was in its final stage and he wanted to encourage his young disciple Timothy not to give up and to keep on keeping on. Standing in that room watching this man care for his beloved wife was doing that for me. Throughout their lives, they both have honored God, and He was proving himself to be faithful.
Finishing well and loving your wife sacrificially, neither of these are in vogue right now. After all, looking out for No. 1 and winning is everything, seem to be the keys for survival in our dog-eat-dog society these days. The only people our culture seems to honor are the winners, not the finishers. Whether it be the Kentucky Derby, the Indianapolis 500, the Academy Awards, the Super Bowl or the World Series, only the winner gets the prize.
But God says in His word that the ones who run the race and finish will be given the rewards. “Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8).
In other words, God rewards finishers, not just winners.
What I have learned from God, and from this couple in that senior care facility, is that no matter what people say, no matter what I am encouraged to do, I need to keep close with God, to keep the faith, and fight the fight, and finish the race.
Derek Redmond is a British runner who participated in the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Barely into the 400-meter race he pulled a hamstring and fell to the ground. Everyone thought he was finished, but much to the surprise of the spectators this courageous athlete slowly stood and began to hobble around the track.
However, even with such tenacity it was apparent that there was simply no way he could finish the race. Just as he was about to fall again, a man came out of the stands, put his arm around the injured runner, and assisted him all the way across the finish line. The stadium roared with approval as Redmond completed his race.
The scene was a moving one, made even more significant by the realization that the one who came alongside Redmond was his father. Together, linked arm in arm, father and son crossed the finish line, as one.
The point: finish the race and finishe it well.
Oh, and by the way husbands, “love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
Happy 43rd, honey.
Chuck Tabor is a religion columnist for The Times-Gazette. He also serves as pastor of Port William UMC.