This is another discussion from the trenches--a life lesson based on
experience and application of biblical principles. As we announced last
issue, John and Cynthia Clayton were married on June 27, 2009. There
has been a lot of mail about this “quick marriage” and a number of
questions. We decided that telling our story might be helpful to people
who are single again. We are telling both of our sides in how we both
believe God brought us together. We pray it will be useful to some and
interesting to all.
Longtime readers of this journal know that your editor, John Clayton, was married to his childhood sweetheart, Phyllis, for 49 years before she succumbed to type 1 diabetic complications in May 2008. Many of you wrote me and encouraged me, and I am profoundly grateful for your support. It did not take long for me to realize a whole new meaning to God’s statement “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). In the months after Phyllis’ death my family, friends, and church family rallied around me and supported me, but ultimately I found myself coming back to a house full of memories and reminders of what I had lost. The house was no longer a home, and I desperately needed what I felt I could never have again--a home with someone to love me and share my life.
My mind and my mirror told me that it
would be impossible for someone to love me. Who could possibly fall in
love with an arthritic old man coming off a 49-year marriage? How could
anyone accept a ministry that requires massive amounts of time, energy,
and resources? Who would want a man who had nothing physical to
offer--no looks, no money, and no charisma? In a world where a premium
is placed on physical appearance and material things, it was impossible
to believe that any woman could love me. I found myself telling God
that the only possible solution to my pain was to be allowed to join
Phyllis in death.
In the past five years as I became more
and more aware that it was likely that Phyllis was going to leave this
world shortly, I found widows and widowers sharing their own stories.
What was interesting to me was that there were two groups of Christian
widows and widowers. One was a group who basically said you have to
learn to live alone and you will never be as you were before you lost
your mate. The other group were Christians who had found another
Christian to love. They talked about how thankful they were to have
found someone else to share their lives with. They talked about how
much they had prayed to God for that person. They talked about how
perfect this person was for them. In many cases they said that they
personally believed that God had led them to a new relationship and
blessed them with a real solution to their isolation and loneliness.
Passages like Ephesians
3:20, Romans 8:28,
and Philippians 4:19
frequently mentioned as helpful verses.
The notion that praying for a new person
to love would solve my problem rang pretty hollow with me. Call it lack
of faith, call it lack of trust, call it hypocrisy--whatever accusation
you might want to throw at me--I did not believe that God would bring
me someone else or in any way impact my relationships. In the past when
we had been faced with major problems in life praying never seemed to
help. When our baby Tim was born with congenital problems we prayed and
our friends prayed that he would not be blind, but he is blind. We
accepted that and prayed that he would not be mentally challenged, but
he is severely mentally challenged. We then prayed to help us accept
the blindness and the retardation but that there be no other problems.
We then found he had a form of muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, and
schizophrenia. I battled my way through all of that maintaining my
faith in God, but becoming rather cynical about God answering specific
prayers for specific needs. In my wife’s many struggles with the
complications of juvenile diabetes we prayed fervently that the
problems would go away, but they never did. In all of these cases what
I prayed for never happened directly, but in all of these cases I found
an answer that allowed me to cope with the problem and move on. The
meaning of 1 Corinthians
10:13 became a part of my thinking--that God
gives a way of escape that can prevent breaking if we choose to accept
it, but that He does not always take away or provide direct solutions
to the problem we are facing (2 Corinthians 12:8–9; 2 Corinthians
In the February following Phyllis’s death,
I hit rock bottom. I had tried to be active and positive about life,
but no matter what I did, I always came back to an empty house of
memories and loneliness. I never became suicidal, although I can
understand why some seniors do, but I did sit in a lawn chair in the
middle of a Michigan blizzard and prayed fervently to God for what I
thought was the best answer, “Let me leave this world and follow my
wife in death.” As a codicil to that prayer I said, “If you aren’t done
with me here yet, please send me something or someone who can fill this
horrible emptiness.” In my own mind that might have involved a dog or a
move to where grandchildren were or someone with whom I could have a
special friendship. The notion that a woman could love someone as
unattractive and as complex as I was with all my baggage (the 49-year
marriage, consuming ministry, and being 71 years old, etc.), could not
be a possible option in my view. Was that lack of faith, or acceptance
of the need to adjust to being alone that stopped me from believing I
could ever be loved again? Little did I know that God was already
preparing an answer for me.
On the other side of the world in Hong
Kong was a lady named Cynthia Gift who had been widowed. She too was
praying, but for the strength to live the rest of her life alone. She
had been encouraged to come back to the United States and help care for
her mother who had dementia. So she moved to Grand Junction, Colorado
in July of 2008.
The Church of Christ in
Grand Junction had
been planning a Does God Exist?
lectureship for several years, but had been forced to cancel it twice
because of circumstances--once in 2008 before Cynthia had arrived. They
finally scheduled the program for March 22-25, 2009. Looking back, I
see God’s providential hand in the scheduling. I did the lectureship
and Cynthia came to the program and even asked a few questions. The
personal nature of some of her questions made me realize that she might
need some additional help, so I got her e-mail address and wrote her
some encouraging words--something I do many times every day. To my
surprise she wrote back, and we began to discuss spiritual matters and
issues of faith. Within a few weeks it was becoming obvious that we
shared a lot of views and concerns and I was deeply impressed with her
heart and her spiritual level. For the very first time my feelings
about ministry and life began to tumble out to someone who was a
perfect stranger. I prayed for her and thanked God for a new friend;
but I still believed she would be a sister, not a wife, even though she
started expressing her desire for a Christian marriage and ministry. As
the discussions deepened and prayer became the topic of discussion, we
both wondered out loud if God was doing something for the two of us
that neither of us had ever thought possible. I found I was chastising
myself and saying “John, you idiot! You’re setting yourself up to get
burned big time. God isn’t going to give you a new wife. He isn’t going
to solve all of the problems you bring to a relationship.” Inside I was
saying, “That’s too much for God to handle!”
As John has said, I was praying in 2009 for the grace and strength to live the rest of my life in service to God as a single. To live in undivided devotion to God was my prayer (1 Corinthians 7:35). Because God knew the sincerity of my heart, He not only answered my prayer, but gave me what I did not ask for (1 Kings 3:13a). He not only gave me a ministry I could be a part of, but He gave me the deepest desire of my heart, something I had NOT asked for because I did not think it was God’s will--a loving, spiritually mature husband. When God put John in my life, I was not thinking of marriage. I had resigned myself to being single, but as we got to know each other it became obvious to us that we were well suited spiritually and emotionally, and in so many other ways. As mature Christians, we both prayed and I also fasted to know God’s will for us.
When we met for the first time after the
lectureship and spent time together, we were both convinced God had put
us together and was blessing us. After two months of marriage, that
belief has become our solid foundation and has been a blessing and a
force in our life. God is our life and the foundation of our marriage.
He has helped us in every aspect of our relationship. God most
definitely answered John’s February plea, and He also answered the
unspoken deep desires of my heart.
FROM JOHN CLAYTON:
We finally decided that we needed to get together and actually be in each other’s presence. It was obvious we cared deeply about each other on a spiritual, emotional, and psychological level. I wondered if it could be more than that. I kept telling myself there was no way we could be any more than friends, that no woman could overcome all my baggage and move into a house built and designed by a previous wife, attend a mission Church made up of strangers to her, and be put into a ministry that is all-consuming and demanding. She could not put up with my being eleven years older than her, my unattractive physical appearance, and my battle scars from 40 years in a public ministry. When I met her in the airport for the first time and I saw how attractive she was, all of those fears were amplified massively. This was a woman who would have a whole pack of widowers chasing her. Why would she enter into a relationship with me? Over and over I kept saying that to her, and over and over she kept saying that God had led us to each other and she had grown to love me for who I was, not for my looks or my “baggage.” She finally asked me if I believed that God COULD and WOULD answer my prayer or if my God was too small to bring us together. That stopped me cold.
We were married on June 27--less than a
month after she came to South Bend for the first time. I am writing
this two months after we were married in my back yard with family,
friends, and members of the Church as witnesses.
I am finally convinced that God did in
fact answer a desperate prayer in a positive way without my having to
cope with or adjust to something different from what I asked for. In
the past God’s refusal to answer my prayers in the way I thought He
should always forced me to grow and to mature and be more complete in
my service to Him. I did not like the answers He gave me many times,
but I know that my effectiveness as a worker for the Lord was greatly
increased by what He led me through. Sometimes God gives us ways to
cope with difficulties He does not take away. Other times He surprises
us with great blessings and joys.
We have had to make
adjustments and will
continue to adjust to each other, but I have found a woman who loves me
and who has brought great joy and peace into my life. I have found
peace and contentment and love I thought would never happen again. I
humbly thank God for that! Learning to trust in God is hard, but when
God steps in and does what is way beyond improbable (Ephesians 3:20) we
just need to stop and thank Him, accept the gift and the answer, and
live gratefully in service to Him.
Does God have a role in relationships?
Most definitely--when our prayers and our trust go with God’s will in
our lives. Whether God allows trials or takes them away, we must humbly
trust Him and obey and submit to His will in all circumstances (Job
42:1-6; Hebrews 5:7-8; Philippians 2:5-8). I
readers who are alone and unhappy with being alone not to give up, not
to stop praying, and not to stop looking. Seek the love and
relationship you desire, making sure it is a Christian you seek who
shares your love for God and your desire to serve Him. Putting God
first in relationships (and all things) brings great blessings (Matthew
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