The Paper Pulpit
As a young man, Robert McQuilken dreamed of becoming the president of Columbia Bible College in Columbia, S.C. His father, whom he adored, had held that position, and he aspired to someday take his father’s place.
Not everyone has the opportunity to see a dream come true, but Robert McQuilken did. When he was chosen president of this outstanding school, he moved into the office his father had occupied with the firm conviction that it was God’s will. He believed that God had called him to the task.
Dr. McQuilken served as president of Columbia Bible College with distinction, and under his leadership it became a premier Christian institution. It has prepared literally hundreds of young men for Christian service, both in the United States and overseas.
It was at this point that Dr. McQuilken had a tragedy on his hands. His wife, Muriel, began to show symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Her condition rapidly deteriorated, and in a matter of months he found himself faced with the dramatic consequences of her failing health. She not only lost the memory of much of their life together, but she was unable to even recognize him.
He knew he had an important decision to make, and he quickly made it. In March, 1990 he resigned the presidency of Columbia so he could give full-time care to his wife. It was a decision to which he did not give a second thought. He walked away from the position to which he had felt called by God as an act of love for his wife.
There were realists who told him that it didn’t make sense for him to do what he was doing. He had adequate theological training and many spiritual gifts that equipped him to capably serve this outstanding institution.
Anybody could take care of his severely incapacitated wife, they said, but not everybody could be president of Columbia Bible College. “Your wife would not know the difference,” they said, “for she does not even recognize you when you come into the room to help her.”Then there were the superficially pious critics, the kind who plan to go to heaven (provided they don’t overshoot it), who told him he was walking away from a calling from God. “No one should ever go AWOL from God,” they said. “You are letting your personal concern for your wife interfere with your service to the Lord.”
He answered his critics magnificently. To the realists he said, “I know she doesn’t know who I am, but that is not the point. The really important thing is that I know who she is! Furthermore, I recognize her, though she is very forgetful, to be the same lovely woman I married many years ago.”
At this point he turned to his superficially pious critics. His words to them were even more profound: “There is only one thing more important than a calling,” he said, “and that is a promise. Forty-two years ago when we got married I promised to care for her ‘in sickness and in health’ and to be there for her ‘until death parts us.’” Dr. McQuilken knew the difference between what is important and what is most important, between promises made and promises kept. Not everybody does!
Jack Dossenbach, Sanford businessman, and one of the most outstanding Christian laymen I ever served as pastor, in the 1980s faced the same dilemma Dr. McQuilken faced. His precious wife, Sadie, was afflicted with the debilitating effects of Alzheimer’s disease. The last few years of Sadie’s life were spent in a Lee County convalescent center. Every day Jack was by her side at the appropriate times to feed her lunch and dinner. Late one afternoon I visited the center while Jack was there. As tears rolled down his cheek, he said to me, “Preacher, she doesn’t know who I am, and I am so lonely.” The important thing was this: Jack knew who she was. He was by her side every day because he knew the value of the promise he had made many years before. The world could use more men like Robert McQuilken and Jack Dossenbach.
The strength of a nation depends upon the integrity and faithfulness of its families. Sadly, millions of couples in our country live together outside the bonds of matrimony. Countless other couples who get married view their union as a short-term option until problems develop, not as a lifetime contract. Such marriages generally go through three stages: matrimony, acrimony and alimony.
The difference between a marriage that lasts and one that fails? Knowing the value of a promise!
The Rev. D.E. Parkerson is retired pastor of First Baptist Church of Sanford.