By Ben Tolly

I am a sinner who has been granted grace many times by our Savior, Jesus Christ, and blessed with guidance from the Spirit despite my stubborn ways. I write this not with any sense of hubris but as a 55-year-old who knows my failings well. Thankfully, by God’s grace, I also know where the victories lie.

Despite any ministry accomplishments, my greatest joy is found in these: the radiant countenance of my wife, a testament to God’s goodness despite extreme life-threatening trials, and our two daughters who love God and regularly testify to others. What more could I ask for?

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We have routinely faced challenges that seemed destined to end the ‘us’ in our family life.

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I was once asked to write a devotional on “Fostering a Healthy Marriage and Family Life.” While there was nothing wrong with the title, I found myself drawn to a different focus. You see, my marriage and family life haven’t always been happy and healthy. We have routinely faced challenges that seemed destined to end the “us” in our family life.

My wife, Julie, nearly lost her life twice to cancer before she was 30. My mother came to live with us for two years to help me raise my two little girls while Julie recovered. I endured major back surgery, which took me from a wheelchair to walking over the course of a year. Our eldest daughter underwent a million-dollar medical procedure to save her life and still faces daily health struggles. We nearly lost our home to bankruptcy due to a mountain of medical debt.

Despite these and other unmentioned difficulties, we were part of a thriving church we planted in 2000. Were we a healthy family? I believe we were, and are, a persevering family.

Home and Church

How did we persevere? The Lord, the prophets, and the apostles often used marriage analogies for the relationship between Christ and the church. Therefore, it is correct to assume that marriages should understand such church language and relationship dynamics within our homes.

Our home was the first church we served. We persevered by discipling each other amid trials, relying not on cute sayings like “Live, Laugh, Love,” but on the high expectations placed on followers of Christ and the church.

 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23).

“Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you” (2 Corinthians 13:11).

“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Corinthians 14:26).

These were just a few of the verses we used to build a resilient and persevering home.

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“Love in marriage must not just exist as a feeling but requires a deliberate choice.

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The Choice of Love

Love is obviously the cornerstone of a happy marriage. It is patient, kind, and enduring. Love in marriage must not just exist as a feeling but requires a deliberate choice, a commitment to cherish and support each other through every season. It was often a choice to continue to love. Generally it is believed that tough stuff will come at the end of the 50 years of marriage. That isn’t always the case though, is it?

Julie and I received an early dose of caring for each other and our children during long and difficult hospital stays. These were times when none of us were particularly lovable due to physical pain, fatigue, financial worries, and fears about health outcomes. We dug deep, calling on the Lord to empower us when it seemed there was no energy left to continue serving.

I spent hours on my knees in hospital chapels pleading for healing and relief. God delivered though many avenues, and each one was told to our children repeatedly to bolster their faith and tenacity in the face of trial.

Embracing Differences

We also grew to embrace our differences. A family brings together unique personalities, temperaments, and perspectives. Embracing this diversity gave us overcoming properties. We needed each other’s strengths. Just as a symphony is composed of different notes harmonizing together, so is a persevering family a blend of complementary qualities and shared values.

We made time to celebrate the richness of our differences, fostering an environment where each person feels valued and understood. In the challenging days of hospitalizations and separation, each of us had assignments of overwatch that were crucial to our success as a family. These were drawn along gifting and ability, and family members applauded the results.

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“Expressing gratitude and appreciation for our partner’s presence and contributions fosters a culture of love and respect.

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Gratitude and Appreciation

When running from one health crisis to another, it is easy to take each other for granted. Gratitude and appreciation are crucial. Even in less challenging days, letting each other know you are thankful for them is important. Expressing gratitude and appreciation for our partner’s presence and contributions fosters a culture of love and respect.

Every day, I acknowledge the little things — a kind gesture, a supportive word, or a loving glance — that enrich our lives and strengthen our bond. Gratitude cultivates a spirit of humility and contentment, reminding us of the blessings we share in our journey together. I practice regularly thanking for anything that would be easy to take for granted.

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“Choose love when it is hard.

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Admitting and Apologizing

Finally, to build trust and collaboration, we had to admit when we were wrong and apologize. It seemed hard at first but eventually became quite cathartic.

My family knows we can admit when we’ve blown it. We have nurtured an understanding that we won’t always exhibit our God-given best, but when we don’t, repentance before God and each other strengthens our relationship. Without this approach, resentments toward each other can grow deep roots over time. Such resentment will undermine the celebration of good events and fracture the family.

Principles to Persevere

Want the persevering home? Choose love when it is hard. Understand and celebrate each other’s strengths. Face challenges together with God. Live with gratitude for one another. And admit when you mess up. You just might be surprised how healthy the home is too!

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Ben Tolly is serving his third term as superintendent of the Gateway Conference. During his time as superintendent, this Free Methodist conference has halted a decade-long decline in churches by planting new churches of many styles and invigorating Latino, Nepali, Central African and African American ministries. He previously served as the director of Men’s Ministries International and on staff at Crossroads Community Church in Michigan, and he was the founding pastor of The Bridge Church in Illinois. He received his master’s degree in leadership and ministry from Greenville University. He currently serves on the Project Scotland Board and St. Louis Urban League Grill to Glory Support Team and has previously served on the Greenville University Board of Trustees, Briner School of Business Advisory Board, and Edwardsville YMCA Board. He has two daughters, Willow (married to Mike) and Winter, and his wife, Julie, works in St. Louis.

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