This article is the 14th 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.
MAPLE PLAIN, Minn.—Rick and Lynne Shenk seem to have a lot in common. Rick, a lead pastor, theology professor, and police chaplain, and Lynne, a chemistry professor and Ph.D. student, spend much of their day together reading, studying, exercising, cooking, and cleaning their home west of Minneapolis.
But despite all of these common interests, the couple—who met at Wheaton College, married in 1977, and have two grown children—have often found themselves at odds with one another. Lynne is cautious and reserved, while Rick likes risk and is outgoing. Lynne believes Rick drives too aggressively, and once he took their young kids close to a cliff edge at the Grand Canyon, despite Lynne’s objection. Scenes like those often prompted battles between them, as Lynne felt unloved and Rick untrusted.
For 20 years, when issues arose, Rick wanted to work through them, but often Lynne did not. The more he tried to force discussions, Lynne tended to withdraw. These “immaturities” frustrated the couple and spawned “many difficult fights a month.”
Fifteen years ago, Rick and Lynne decided they needed help, so they turned to counseling, Bible study, and books like When People Are Big and God Is Small, by Edward Welch. They began to seek God’s approval, rather than get angry at each other. They also observed how other couples persevered between the valleys and mountaintops of their lives together.
Recently, as they sat on their living room couch together, Rick and Lynne smiled and traded eye contact as they shared some of the things they have given up for each other. For instance, on their 25th wedding anniversary, Rick, to make Lynne happy, quit his lifelong habit of wearing cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, while Lynne gradually consented to snuggling in bed more often.
“Life is hard,” Lynne said, but the Shenks have made progress by holding on to Christ and their vows.