Reflections on 41 Years of Marriage – by Arlin Sorensen
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My bride and I crossed the 41 year mark in our marriage in 2018. We celebrated with little fanfare, which is what we actually enjoy most. I delivered a keynote in Lincoln on the actual day – July 16 – and then we did some shopping and had some time together as we travelled home. What have I learned in 41 years of marriage? I have learned that “time flies” and it doesn’t slow down with age. I married my beautiful bride when I was 21 and didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. Now I’m 62 and some days still don’t have a clue. But four decades later I know without a doubt that referring to my bride jokingly as “the better 95%” is not a joke at all. She is truly so much the better person in our marriage.
If you know me at all, you know I normally refer to my dear wife as my bride. I do that as a form of respect and position of love, as she is the one God knit together in her mother’s womb to become my helpmeet and best friend, and whom I pursued to convince her to leave the big city and join me on the farm. She does have a name – Nancy Ellen Gregory Sorensen – and I place her on a special pedestal of honor and love. I haven’t always done that, but definitely have learned the importance of doing so and working daily to make it so.
I did want to share with you ten of the most powerful lessons I have learned in 41 years of marriage. I learned these things, often slowly and after numerous failures on my part, but there is no reason for you to struggle with things I am finally starting to figure out. Perhaps these lessons can be helpful to you on your marriage journey.
1. Marriage is God’s plan first and foremost and is an incredible gift. He has a very specific design, which doesn’t fit how the world views things today. I have taken that gift for granted too many times. I have taken my bride for granted too many times. But, with each turn of the calendar, I see more clearly what an incredible gift marriage is from God, and what an incredible gift my bride is to me. This diagram shows the biblical design, which some will say is outdated and obsolete in today’s world, but I challenge you to really study God’s design for marriage in scripture. This is how he created it back in the Garden with Adam and Eve and it has remained as the foundation ever since. Before dismissing it, please understand God’s design. It isn’t about submission or power, it is about protection, leadership, provision and legacy.
2. There have definitely been some “for worse” moments in our marriage. I created most of them, and while they were extremely painful and almost destroyed what God had brought together, these have become the most powerful lessons in our marriage. Unfortunately when two fallen people come together, and sin rears its ugly head, things can get bad. We have endured financial difficulties, personal loss, health challenges and a lapse of faithfulness. It was during that last one that God broke my hard heart through my bride’s faithful prayers and caused me to cry countless tears over the reality that I was a sinner and might lose my bride. I would have, if not for the grace of God and the godly woman I married 41 years ago.
3. Communication is hard. It is a challenge in all relationships, but more than ever in a marriage. Beyond the normal difficulty of male and female perspectives, we have to factor in personality types and all the other things that actually caused us to fall in love in the first place. Those differences are good at bringing couples together, but not so good when it comes to connecting and keeping them in touch. It is true that opposites attract, but opposites don’t communicate all that well together. Make it your problem if there is a communication issue.
4. I was one of those Christ Followers who entered marriage saying, “My priorities are God, my wife, my family, and everything else.” And I went on with the prideful comment that our marriage was beyond failure and we’d never allow the “d” word to enter our vocabulary. How prideful and foolish to challenge the enemy with such statements. Priories are key to successful living but the problem with them is that they are in competition with each other. Each of us are only allotted 168 hours a week, and if we’re honest, we have at least 200 hours’ worth of things we want to get done. That means good things have to give way to great things, and we have to learn to say NO to the unimportant. I have learned the importance of building a discipline of attempting to follow God faithfully, realizing that my marriage and family must be the next to receive my love, attention, and time. Other things just have to wait.
5. The next generations are God’s blessings on a marriage. I love my two amazing children more than I ever imagined possible. They have become who they are today by the grace of God and the faithful love and attention of their mother, in spite of my poor influence and leadership at times. But then, when you think it is as good as it can get, God provides the opportunity of grandchildren, all four living a quarter of a mile up the road. They fill our life with love and action and will certainly keep us from getting old.
6. My marriage is always stronger when I pray with my bride but unfortunately, I have been inconsistent in that spiritual discipline. My inconsistency is stupid because our marriage is always stronger when I pray with her. It doesn’t have to be long and drawn out – just time to stop and seek God together. Nothing ties our hearts more closely, and brings us together in a more powerful way, than praying together. In our early marriage days, I tried to force a very early morning prayer time, which just never worked because my bride is a night person, the exact opposite of me. You have to find a time that works for both, and then just take time to stop for time before the throne together. Still working to figure this out and do it well. The closer we each become to Jesus, the closer we become to each other. There are three of us in our marriage – Jesus, my bride, and I – and how we come together around Christ is a key component to the health of our marriage.
7. I have learned that we are very different in the way God created us, and that is ok. I’m a morning person, and my bride is definitely a night owl. I am not terribly creative or focused on details, while she has the ability to design and create all sorts of beautiful things and execute flawlessly on the details. She loves order and everything neat and in its place which is not my main focus. If you’re not careful, you can see the differences as irritating and frustrating, but the reality is they are complimentary and make you stronger together than you will ever be on your own. That’s how God created two to become one, and the results are powerful if you focus on the right things.
8. By far the biggest mistakes I’ve made in my personal life or business happened when I ignored the wise counsel of my wife. She often can’t explain it, but her intuition is almost always 100% right. I can’t explain it either, but I have learned how important it is to listen to her promptings from God. When I coach leaders around important decisions and actions – I always encourage them to get the counsel, and listen to it carefully – from their wife. It is often far more valuable than anything I can provide as an outside advisor. God uses our spouse to speak truth into our life. We have to listen and act accordingly.
9. Don’t point fingers and say “I told you”. After 41 years, I continue to learn that winning is really losing and that the words, “I’m sorry,” are far more powerful than, “I’m right.” Far too often we make winning the focus, and often regarding things that aren’t even important. It’s hard to just let things go, even if you think you’re right. But it isn’t about that, it’s about being unified and together and most of the issues that escalate have no impact on life or love. It’s just the pride of being right. Let it go!
10. I am a very blessed man. After 41 years of marriage, I love my wife more deeply than ever. I know my bride is absolutely a gift from God, and one I certainly don’t deserve. We are now over the hill, maybe quite a ways down the back side of the slope, and headed for the “till death do you part” phase of marriage. My salvation through Jesus Christ is a gift. My family is a gift. And the love of my wife is a gift. I deserve none of the blessings God freely has bestowed, but I am grateful to Him for all these amazing things and the journey we’ve shared.
My overall analysis of 41 years with my bride – I’m blessed far beyond what I deserve and am excited to continue the journey together. The best is yet to come!