Last week Prince Philip died at age 99 after 73 years of marriage to Elizabeth. They met when she was 13 and he was a dashing young naval cadet. They married 8 years later, 5 years before she unexpectedly ascended to the throne as queen. Their marriage has been an enduring love story for almost three-quarters of a century.
Few marriages are as well known as Elizabeth and Philip. But, in spite of all the odds against it, more than half of all those who make their vows at the altar remain married to one another throughout their lives.
Alexander and Jeanette Toczko met when they were eight years old in 1927 and fell in love. Thirteen years later they married each other. Seventy-five years after they said their vows, they knew they were dying.
Alexander played golf into his nineties and remained active until he broke his hip. Their children knew how much they wanted to be together and had their beds placed side-by-side in their home. On June 17, 2015, Alexander died in his wife’s arms. His wife hugged him and said, “See this is what you wanted. You died in my arms, and I love you. I love you. Wait for me. I’ll be there soon.” In less than 24 hours Jeanette joined her husband. They were buried on June 29, 2015 in San Diego, California.
I understand a little of how Alexander and Jeanette felt about each other. My wife and I celebrated our 50th anniversary in 2018. I married her when she was 19 and I was an older and wiser 22. In a little church in Freeport, Texas we said our vows and promised to love and cherish each other until death. A few years ago, I wrote a poem in which I tried to capture my feelings:
Where did she come from?
This woman who walked into my life
When I was young,
Who joined her life to mine,
And all the time
My life was joined to hers.
Who bore my children,
Who raised them and taught them
By her example,
how to love
By loving me.
How did this happen
That she became more than my lover
And my friend;
That she became my very soul?
Marriage is God’s wonderful gift to the human race. He bestowed it in the garden when He saw that Adam was lonely. God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, took from his side a rib, and fashioned the first bride. When he saw her, Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:21-24).
God gave us marriage as a mysterious bond and endowed us with the awesome power to pro-create. “Be fruitful and multiply,” God said. (Genesis 1:28). And so we did. It is the one command we have been pretty good at.
Most of our conversation, it seems, revolves around our bodies and money: how we look, how to stay healthy, how to remain young, how to become wealthy. We spent 2020 hunkered down, masked up and isolated just to stay alive.
Concern for our bodies drives a large segment of our economy. United States health care expense passed $3.81 trillion in 2019. Most of this, of course, was corrective surgery and treatment, but elective cosmetic surgery totals more than 13 billion dollars. This includes liposuction, breast augmentation and hair removal. The fitness industry with its books, talk-shows and exercise facilities is enormous. In 2014 fitness center revenues in the U.S. exceeded $24 billion.
I can understand this. Since my body is the only one I have, I want to take care of it. Of course, I guess there are limits to which I want to do this. I love Blue Bell ice cream and I like to sit in the stands snacking on a hot dog while I watch healthier people compete on the field.
I can also understand our interest in money. We all have to pay our bills, and most of us have ambitions to own our home, drive a nicer car, send our kids to college and enjoy vacations.
But what happened to the concept of the soul? We seldom hear the word mentioned, including in our churches. Jesus taught that, as important as our bodies may be, nothing is as important as our soul.
Regarding the body in comparison to the soul, He said, “Do not be afraid of those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” With respect to money, Jesus said, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”
Horatio G. Spafford, a wealthy lawyer in the 1860s, seemed to live a charmed life enjoying both health and wealth. But, in 1870, he lost his son to scarlet fever. When his wife’s health began to fail, he decided to move his family to Europe. Delayed by his commitments at work, he sent his wife and four daughters ahead. On November 22, 1873, their ship sank at sea. Only his wife survived. Returning to the spot where the ship sank, Horatio Spafford stood looking over the swelling seas where his daughters drowned and wrote these words:
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”
Horatio and Anna Spafford spent the rest of their lives caring for homeless children, the poor and oppressed.
We are more than our bodies and more than our money. Our “soul” is who we really are, whether rich or poor, healthy or sick. Our soul is shaped by acts of kindness, honesty, virtue, generosity and faith. The destiny of every nation and every generation is ultimately determined by the soul of its people.