This article is the 11th in a series profiling couples who have been married for at least 35 years. As sociologist Mark Regnerus writes, “Young adults want to know that it’s possible for two fellow believers to stay happy together for a lifetime, and they need to hear how the generations preceding them did it.” It is also important to see that marriages are not always happy all the time, but commitment is crucial.
KANSAS CITY, Kan.—Paul and Kay Brooks, married 42 years, are a spunky couple in their early 60s: two married sons, three grandchildren, physically fit, lots of energy. Kay’s contagious laugh and Paul’s calm presence leave no one suspecting disease. But cancer and heart complications are not discriminating.
This fall, Paul had open-heart surgery and Kay began chemotherapy for chronic lymphocytic leukemia. Neither treatment was on their calendar this summer, but routine doctor visits quickly altered their plans. They understand how serious their situation is, but their response is secure trust: “God has this figured out and we don’t need to lose sleep over it,” Paul said. Neither would have said that early in their marriage.
Paul and Kay fell in love and decided to marry as students at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn. Conflict ensued. Job opportunities moved them around the country—and away from each other.
“We were living separate lives from the same house,” Paul said. Both ambitious, they developed a self-described “quid pro quo” marriage, as Paul recalled: “A lot of keeping score, a lot of ‘I did this so you should do that’ … silly games.” Kay added, “Hurtful games.”
The Brookses were cultural Christians without biblical convictions. To them, faith was an irrational proposition—thinking people knew it was intellectually impossible. But having their first son brought them to church. They remember thinking, “We obviously don’t need this, but it’ll be good for our boy.” Not long after being exposed to intelligent people with humble, life-altering relationships with Christ, both were saved. Ten years after their wedding ceremony, their marriage began.
But challenges remained. The old, selfish approach to marriage—unmet expectations, conditional forgiveness, strategic negotiations—was deep-rooted. “We literally didn’t know what love was,” Paul said. But Christ’s radical love and forgiveness became their model.
They both recalled the first 10 years of marriage as the hardest, but readily admitted the next 32 contained challenges. Throughout childrearing, Kay said she thought she knew what was best for their kids, manipulating Paul to get her way. Years later, she observed Paul’s leadership in an inner-city church plant and was struck with shame that she had often treated a man possessing such “marvelous gifts” with prideful disregard.
When asked about the greatest enemy of Christian marriage, Paul responded, “Thinking I have rights, that somehow Kay owes me something or I deserve something.” Kay agreed, and added, “Marriage is about me giving to him because I love Jesus. Period.”
Forgiveness is another ongoing challenge. Seven years ago, a presentation on biblical forgiveness at a counseling conference changed their thinking.
“Previously we knew that we had to forgive, but we had no idea how to get there,” Paul said. Though they admit it is still hard for two sometimes prideful go-getters to ask each other’s forgiveness, they find it “utterly cleansing” when they do.
Today, Paul and Kay counsel and mentor married couples. Along with wisdom gained through challenges, they relay wise advice: Marriage is not so much picking the right person as being the right person.