Everybody knows that young people make some of their most important, life-changing decisions before age 30, and yet in recent decades their role models, and those to whom they turn for guidance about living life to its fullest, are more contemporary celebrities than wise elders. Some of the fault must lie at the feet of those elders who seek to remain in permanent adolescence rather than become a role model or pass along their accumulated wisdom. Ruth Bell Graham, who died last week, embraced her role as a “pilgrim” and wrote 14 books to pass along the lessons that she learned throughout her rich and full life. But the most important lessons that we can learn from Ruth Graham come from the example of the life that she lived –– especially those related to her marriage to one of the world’s most famous men.
Make your decision about marriage with open eyes: The most pivotal decision that Ruth Bell made was to marry Billy Graham, whom she met while a student at Wheaton College, Illinois. She made that decision with “open eyes.” All of her agonizing went on prior to becoming engaged to Billy. She had planned to be, as I believe she put it, “an old-maid missionary.” Once she made up her mind to marry Billy, however, she never looked back; her plan, adopted willingly, was to simply slip “into the background.” It is not rare today for couples to still be uncertain as they walk down the aisle before their wedding ceremony. Such a pivotal decision ought to be made with eyes wide open. Some couples enter marriage thinking that, afterwards, they can change the things about their loved one that are central character traits or simply annoyances; yet, neither will likely change. Ruth Graham modeled the importance of one’s facing reality, assessing the ramifications completely and straightforwardly before entering marriage and then being willing to accept the circumstances of your marriage “for better or worse.”
Joy and happiness are a choice: Everyone who knew Ruth talks about her joy, her vitality, her charm and her mischievous spirit. Ruth, a woman with an effervescent personality, chose to stay in the background, but she did not live in her husband’s shadow. She raised their five children almost single-handedly, yet she did not complain or slip into bitterness over her lot in life. She chose to stay busy and to develop a ministry of her own. Since her death, numerous stories have been told about her work among individuals in the small community of Montreat, N.C. where she was married and where she lived during all the six decades of her marriage. All of her children report that she used Billy’s absences to do the things that she believed God had called her to do, and she did those things with a joyful heart.