Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Intentional About Marriage

Leslie Basham: Even though her children are grown and out of the house, Kim Wagner says the empty nest can be an exciting and fulfilling time in life.

Kim Wagner: These days are such an adventure . . . to be able to be fruitful for the Lord. I’m so content, whatever He has, to be fruitful. That’s what we desire to do ‘til our very last breath.

Leslie Basham: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, July 9. Yesterday, we began a series called, "Flourishing in the Empty Nest." Nancy?

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: I’m so enjoying this conversation with my friends Kim Wagner and Holly Elliff and Rebecca Lutzer. We’re talking about some of the blessings and challenges of middle age, empty nest season of life . . . the fact that seasons do change. It seems like you just blink, and you’re in another season of life. They go so quickly. So if you’re thinking, “I’m not in that season of life,” it won’t be long. It’s so good to be able to prepare our hearts for what God has ahead for us.

I’m delighted to be talking with three women who are growing in grace and aging gracefully, which I want to do—we all want to do. Listen, if you’re twenty, you’re aging! You want to be doing it gracefully. (We’re not twenty.)

Let’s talk about this whole issue of marriage as your children grow and leave the house. How do you prepare for that season? What are some of the ways you can keep your marriage fresh and growing? That’s a season when a lot of marriages don’t make it. What things, as you look back, have you done in your marriage that are standing you in good stead now?

Kim: We still dated while we had children at home, and I feel that was important, that we kept that connection and we kept sending love notes to each other. The nightly prayer together is huge for us—that commitment to never go a night without praying together, no matter where we are and in what parts of the country.

Nancy: So you didn’t “wake up” and realize you were married to a stranger. 

Kim: Exactly. So now it’s like we’re on our honeymoon again. And, Holly, it will come. Maybe you can go to New Zealand for that. It is much less stressful because you don’t have that added pressure of, “Okay, we need to be at this ballgame . . .” Or when children are young, children are going to walk into the room at any moment. You just don’t have that added stress and pressure of activities with children, or children in the home . . . the continual care giving that children require.

So it’s a great season to be married—it’s fun!

Holly Elliff: We’re not quite there yet, but this past weekend one child was gone and the other two were at a youth retreat. We woke up on Saturday morning and there was no one in the house. We thought, Whoa . . . it’s party time. There was no one there but us.

It was just a neat glimpse into what will come someday, because right now our lives are busy and loud. It was a sweet day together to just be able to sit and talk and go out and enjoy Arkansas, which is beautiful. It was refreshing.

What happens so many times—because we have so many people in our lives, we're a pastor’s family, we are the care givers for my mom who has Alzheimer’s—life is full, and many, many times, Billy ends up at the bottom of my list. I think these things have to be done, and Billy will survive if I can’t meet all his needs. I do think that’s a caution, and it’s hard to keep our husbands off the bottom of the list. It was a refreshing weekend for us to remember that we do enjoy being together.

Rebecca Lutzer: I would say that you really do, still, have to plan time to be together. If it’s not one thing to keep you busy, it will be something else. It didn’t seem like we had a lot of time between the girls getting married—as they got married one at a time—and then the grandchildren started coming. I was busy helping and so forth.

When we’re together, and we do travel together on ministry trips and so forth, we just really enjoy each other. We enjoy being together. It can be very intense. Then there are times when I’ll go visit the daughters and the grandchildren, who are farther away, and I’ll be gone for four or five days, so Erwin’s by himself.

I leave ways that he knows that I love him. I prepare meals and leave them in the freezer. I prepare things ahead of time so that he’ll know that he’s cared for. He’s never complained. Maybe I just don’t know . . . but he has often thanked me so much for making sure that his needs are taken care of.

He loves our daughters and grandchildren, and he’d like to go and be there, too. But you just have to make the most of all the time you have together. So many times you cannot be together for different reasons.

Holly: I think the word that probably pops in my head when I think about this is the word intentional, because if we are not intentional about getting time together, it just does not happen. Like Kim said, my husband and I try to go out together once a week, if we’re both in town, and have a date night—usually with another couple we’ve done that with for years. It is just a night out for us.

Rebecca: Just sit and talk. Don’t do anything else. Just listen to him.

Holly: It’s so easy, with the press of normal life, to think that that doesn’t matter, or that you can put that off. You can tell when your marriage needs a little TLC, when it needs focus. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. You can see it in your marriage when you feel like strangers sometimes, because you’ve been so consumed with other things.

I think there are seasons where you have to regroup and be very intentional about the fact that you want to maintain this relationship for the long haul, so that when you are aged (which I don’t think we are yet!), that there will still be a relationship there.

Nancy: I know we have some younger women listening who are in a dysfunctional or difficult marriage right now, wondering if they can stay the course, wanting to get out of the marriage. What would you say to those younger women? Why is it worth hanging in there and pressing through the challenges? What are you experiencing at this season of marriage that you’d say, “I’m so glad that we didn’t let those problems drive us apart.”

Rebecca: Because you are going to grow up, you are going to mature, and you are going to see things differently as time passes. God will change your heart. You’ve invested too much to throw it away. I’ve counseled, not only women, but couples, who want to end it. I’ve said, “Do you realize what you are talking about throwing away? You can’t do that. You have to save this marriage because it matters. It matters to God and it matters to your children.” They stop and think about it.

Holly: Too, it’s a covenant relationship. When you get married, it’s a covenant before God. I think our society takes that very lightly. We don’t see it as that. Now the new term is “starter marriage.” Some of my kids’ friends are on their second marriage already. They’re in their early twenties. It’s tragic, because it is thrown away. That covenant relationship is precious to the Lord, and it’s all the more precious when you have to fight for it and be a champion for your marriage.

Kim, I know that’s on your heart, because that’s part of your life message, fighting to keep that marriage strong.

Kim: Yes, if we would have acted on our feelings at five years, we would have divorced. For me, I love telling women that no matter how dark it is, if God steps into that situation, He can transform you and your husband. I have seen that happen over and over again. We are living that out—the joy of what He has done and what He can do.

I encourage women—don’t try and fix him, don’t work on him. Instead, work on your heart toward God. God is your primary relationship. Out of the overflow of your love for God, love your husband. Love him with 1 John 3:16 type of love . . . that love is demonstrated in laying down your rights, your demands. I'm not saying that you become an abused wife. But to lay down your selfishness, your selfish self, to love him.

Colossians 3:12–19 lists all these things that we’re to put on . . . humility, compassion. At the very end it says, “And wives, submit to your husbands.” It’s like it’s just kind of tucked in there. It’s because it’s all of these things that we’re putting on that will help us desire to love our husbands and be in that relationship with our husbands as God intends for us to be.

Holly: I think for younger couples, too, there is such an assault on marriage right now. Marriage in general is under assault, but especially if you have children. They are not going to hear from the world that marriage is worth fighting for. They are not going to hear from the world that staying in a marriage for a long time honors the Lord.

If you have Christian parents who are teaching their children, “This is worth fighting for. We will stay together in our marriage because we want to honor the Lord.” Then those children have a much better chance of walking into their future and coming into a solid marriage and passing that onward down the chain.

Divorce is tragic. I know some in this room know that. I deal with single moms in our church all the time who are struggling to raise their kids on their own. It is hard. It’s hard to raise kids as a couple these days, but it is really, really hard as a single parent. As Kim said, it is worth going before the Lord and saying, “Help me to be the woman you want me to be, to love the husband you’ve given me.”

Sometimes I deal with a friend of mine whose husband left after multiple affairs, abandoned their family while they were in a foreign country. There was not anything she could do after that. She is struggling now to raise her kids, but she wants her children to know that she still believes that marriage is a good thing, and what God’s type of home would look like, because they don’t have that at the moment. She wants them to believe that that’s what they need.

Nancy: Let me come back to marriage in the post-young children era. How do you keep from boredom, from taking your mate for granted? How do you keep the relationship fresh and growing? I know we talked about intentionality. But what are some practical ways, once the children are out, or mostly out, of the home? How do you not just get bored with each other?

Kim: One thing we like to do, on Friday nights, we read through books together. It’s normally him reading. It’s not necessarily always a theological book. It can be a novel that’s good, but it usually is something we’re both interested in, theologically. Last year, he read through The Chronicles of Narnia, again. We did that with our children, then we did that together.

Here we are, old grandparents doing that together, but we love it, and then we talk about it. It was precious. I’m watching my husband tear up at this one scene with Aslan, and I’m tearing up. I love having that kind of dialogue and tenderness together, where we’re sharing things we’re both interested in, in the privacy of our home enjoying one another.

Saturday mornings are our favorite time together. He has his coffee, I have my tea, we have our devotional together. He reads to me from your devotional.

Nancy: It’s called The Quiet Place.

Kim: Then we talk about that, and then he shares with me what he’s going to be sharing from the Word the next day, and we just have our time of really relating what’s going on in our lives, but also spiritually what’s going on.

Rebecca: I think you almost have to be dead, or in a coma, to be bored. There’s just so much going on . . . things that people expect of you, things that you’re responsible for that you need to do. We get our calendars out, usually on a Saturday morning, and we compare our calendars and make sure we both know what each other is doing. Sometimes there are some surprises, sometimes we both have something going on the same day.

But we need to just really communicate a lot, and to be really kind to each other. It feels different when you’re  old, getting older, when you’re relating to this man that you said “yes” to forty-some years ago. You really both are different by now. You look different, feel different; you have your aches and pains. You’re comfortable with each other. You really just care about each other so much.

I like to say to a couple when I say “good-bye” and I know I’m not going to be seeing them for a while, “Take good care of each other,” because I really think that’s something we need to think about—to take care of each other.

Nancy: And the point will come, generally, when one of you will be without the other.

Rebecca: That’s already happening in our age group.

Nancy: Do you talk about that? Do you prepare for that?

Rebecca and Kim: We do.

Holly: You do? 

Kim: Maybe that’s because it’s so fresh, with my dad passing, and watching my mom walk through it, but, yes, we do talk about that. I told my husband, his grandparents all were in their nineties, so I’m hoping he’s going to live out what they did. I hope I’m not going to lose him, but we talk about that.

Holly: Well, we don’t talk about that right now. Nancy was talking about asking the Lord to give her eighty-five years. So I’m thinking, Okay, old may be eighty-two—starting into old age.

Rebecca: You must not have any aches and pains.

Nancy: Listen, my mother was widowed at age forty. My dad died suddenly. We know there are younger widows. You can’t assume that you’re going to have him until your children are grown.

Holly: That’s true, and I don’t know that that he will live a long time. I’m really, really grateful for the years the Lord has given us. Billy’s mom had Alzheimer’s. My mom has Alzheimer’s. But we don’t sit around talking about, “What if we have Alzheimer’s?”

I think the Lord intends for us to live with intentionality with what He’s given us right now. Right now our plates are very full with what He’s given us right now. We want to be faithful with that. If and when the Lord brings another chapter, I’m also very aware that the Lord will be sufficient for that chapter.

We tend to keep our focus more on what God is doing right now.

Nancy: Do you think it’s important to talk about things like (I hope I’m not embarrassing anybody here) . . . I’ve been talking to a lot of my married friends, and I’ve been finding that, in some cases, the wife—and in a few cases, the husband—has no clue about their financial situation. Is it important to have that kind of practical discussion?

Rebecca: Maybe we’re just strange, but we’re comfortable talking about, “If you go before I do, or I go before you, what would that look like, with our home and the things that we have and our kids. Where you might go . . . where I would be?”

Yes, knowing the finances and where everything is . . . I write all the bills because that’s just easier for me to take care of than for him to do. But he needs to know all about that, and I need to know all about finances as far as retirement and accounts and things like that—absolutely.

I’m like you, Nancy. I know multiple situations where couples didn’t talk about that or a lot of other things, and it was just a shock and a surprise for either the husband or the wife to be left and not know. No, I don’t think it’s strange to talk about it.

Kim: In this season, what our prayer is, for however long we have, we’ve adopted Psalm 92: “The righteous flourish like a palm tree and grow like the cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God” (vv. 12–13). We want to flourish in our final years, however long we have. I hope we do have until eighty-five or ninety, if that’s what the Lord has for us.

We pray this will happen, “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him” (vv. 14–15). We want to declare to this next generation that the Lord, He is God. For me, right now, these days are such an adventure—to be able to be fruitful for the Lord.

I’m so content, whatever He has. If it’s today I’m to sit with a loved one in the hospital who’s dying, or if it’s that I’m to come up here and be with you ladies for a recording . . . to be fruitful. That’s what we desire to do ‘til our very last breath.

Nancy: I want to throw out a challenge to women who are kind of in that empty nest season of your marriage. The younger generation needs for your marriage to reflect something that they would want to have. I’ve heard younger people say, “I don’t know any marriage that I really respect. I don’t know any marriage where I really want to have that kind of a marriage.”

That’s a really sad thing. Now, I think there are those marriages that are worth emulating, but it’s not just a matter of you being happy with your mate in this season. It’s a matter of, if you are married, what are you reflecting to your children, to their friends, to the younger generation? Are you reflecting what selfless loves looks like, what sacrifice looks like, what living for others looks like—and that God can bring joy in every season of life even though there are hard things and hard times?

What a responsibility and privilege we have, as women in those middle-aged years (that’s what they are—technically they’re past middle-age) to be casting a vision for younger women . . . to say, “It’s worth walking with Christ; it’s worth pursuing faithfulness. It’s worth loving your mate well; it’s worth working through the hard times.”

For them to see a couple who love each other, that are still fruitful, that aren’t living for themselves—I think that casts a vision. It gives those younger people something to follow and something worth living for.

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss, encouraging all of us to embrace the opportunities God is providing in every season of life. This week we’ve been focusing particularly on women in the empty nest season. Nancy’s been visiting with Kim Wagner, Holly Elliff, and Rebecca Lutzer.

We’d like to send you a copy of their conversation on CD when you support Revive Our Hearts with a gift of any size. Your donation will help us continue providing Revive Our Hearts on the radio and online. Your gift matters a lot, especially here in the summer when donations tend to be lower.

When you provide a gift of any size, ask for the CD series Flourishing in the Empty Nest. Our number is 1-800-569-5959, or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

For several years Holly Elliff cared for young children and a mother with Alzheimer’s. She says she had to keep telling herself the truth.

Holly: “This is not accidental. It is in your life, but it is not by accident. If it’s in your life, and I’m in your life, then there is provision for what you need.”

Leslie: Hear about God’s strength for “the sandwich generation,” tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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