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(11th in a series on long marriages)
Stephen and Sherry Collins had been married five years when, in 1980, difficult circumstances led them to Christian faith. On bed rest while pregnant with the couple’s second baby, Sherry, a Jew, watched the film Jesus of Nazareth on TV. After giving birth, she read the Bible during her hospital recovery and became convinced Jesus was the Messiah.
Meanwhile, Stephen, at home with the newborn, woke one morning to find his son cold and rigid in the crib—dead in his sleep. “It was the most shocking thing that’s ever happened to me,” said Stephen. “I felt helpless. I was shaking.” Like his wife, he turned to the Bible: Reading in 2 Samuel, he realized King David’s response to his baby’s death was “the exact opposite reaction that I had.”
Stephen and Sherry both found hope in Christ, but they nevertheless had a rocky marriage in the years afterward. The couple’s different personalities clashed and, with six children, so did their parenting styles. They fell into a repeated cycle of hurt feelings.
A psychologist who evaluated Stephen and Sherry in the early 1990s pronounced them “incompatible.” They separated in 1992 but came back together after a year. Still, they couldn’t stop fighting. They separated again in 1999: Stephen moved in with some single men from church, hoping the distance would help him and his wife sort things out.
But this time their problems intimidated fellow church members. Sherry said she prayed frequently as she cared for their kids and attended Bible studies and counseling. Stephen tried everything he knew: self-help books, Christian conferences, and counseling. After a year without progress, he gave up. He began looking for a new place to move to. It seemed his 26-year-old marriage was over.
One night, Stephen went to bed in despair, but when he woke up, he felt God telling him to go home and love his wife selflessly. His only explanation for the change that came over him: “The ‘me’ part of me died that day, sometime during the night while I was sleeping. The next day it no longer mattered to me whether there was any hope or not: I had to do what God told me to do: Go home, love your wife and your kids.”
Stephen called Sherry and said he was coming home. Sherry remembers feeling “happy,” because she really did love him. When he returned home, he found new ways to serve her, like cooking and doing the laundry.
Nearly 20 years later, they still fight, but now fight differently: Instead of emotional, selfish fights, their conflicts now often end in prayer. Stephen said they are learning to give grace and accept one another, instead of just fixing every problem.
Sherry said, “The Lord taught us that we have to forgive each other and think of each other [as] more important than ourselves.”
Stephen is now 67, and Sherry is 64. They agree the last few years of their marriage have been the sweetest: “The way it feels to hold her hand after 45 years of marriage, there’s no words for it,” said Stephen. “Most of the last 45 years has been God making up for what we do.”