Robert Wolgemuth: Last Lap, Best Lap
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Robert WolgemuthRobert Wolgemuth has been in the media business for thirty-nine years. He is former president of Thomas Nelson Publishers and the owner of Wolgemuth & Associates, Inc., a literary agency exclusively representing the writing work of more than one hundred authors. Dr. Wolgemuth is a speaker and best-selling author of over twenty books, including She Calls Me Daddy, the notes to the Dad's Devotional Bible, The Most Important Place on Earth, and What's in the Bible: The...more
As your marriage ages, is love getting sloppy? Author Robert Wolgemuth challenges you make your last lap of marriage the best ever.
Robert Wolgemuth: Last Lap, Best Lap
Robert: The older you get—this is going to sound crazy—but the more important your tenderness toward your wife is. It’s easy because you know each other so well.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: We got the chance to go to church on Sunday, here in Orlando—with our son, Austin, Kendall, and our four grandkids—all sitting in front of us. Do you remember?
Ann: Yes, I remember.
Dave: It was sort of fun to look at them in front of us and remember when we sat in church. Actually, I was always up on the stage; and you were sitting there with the boys.
Ann: Yes; I was going to say, “I was sitting by myself.”
Dave: Yes; well, here is the question: “What do you remember about that service?”
Ann: I remember watching our grandkids, thinking, “They are amazing!”
Dave: Yes; then, they went to kids—
Ann: Yes, after worship.
Dave: —so Austin and Kendall came back.
Here is what I remember—I remember seeing a couple that I’m guessing have been married for decades—maybe, three, or four, or five decades; who knows?—still in love; at least, it appeared they’re still in love.
Ann: —because they are holding hands. What did you think about that?
Dave: I thought, “A couple on their wedding day is a beautiful thing; a couple married 40/50 years, still in love, is more beautiful.” We don’t look as good as we did on our wedding day, but it’s more beautiful.
Ann: —because you know that they’ve had to endure a lot.
Dave: Yes; and the reason I bring this up is because we have Robert Wolgemuth back with us, here at FamilyLife Today. He wrote a book that sort of talks about finishing well; that sort of was an image of that.
Robert, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Robert: Thank you, Dave. Thank you, Ann. I love the story; I love the story. I’ve been married to Nancy now for six years, and we hold hands all the time. The truth is—I look back on my life: my first marriage, after six years—I don’t think I held hands like I do now.
Ann: Okay, we’re going to have to get into that. [Laughter]
Robert: Oh, come on. Let’s do it.
Ann: I want to hear more about that; yes.
Robert: Yes, yes.
Dave: Even, Robert, when you sent me the book, I love the image of the track on there: Gun Lap: Staying in the Race with Purpose. Here is the funny thing, Robert: I’ve asked several people what they know about a gun lap, and they didn’t even know what a gun lap was. I mean, not everybody knows that, on the final lap of a race in a track meet, the gun is shot—a blank, of course—it signifies you are on the final lap. Obviously, you use that image and the track image on the front of the book to say: “How you finish really matters,” and the things that matter.
You list several different things in the book; I just highlighted one of them. Talk about that a little bit. You really still do hold hands? It’s actually something you—
Ann: Well, I want to know: “Why are you doing it more now than before?” [Laughter] That is really interesting.
Dave: Robert, all she really wants to know is: “Can you get my husband to do it more?” [Laughter]
Robert: That’s where I thought she was going.
Robert: Well, here is the deal. I have the experience of having been married almost
45 years and then saying, “Goodbye,” to Bobbie and then falling in love all over again; and really realizing that I’m not going to have 44 years this time; it’s going to be compressed.
Actually, when Nancy and I were first dating, I said, “So, okay; let’s say we get married,”—she was 57 and had never married; let that sink in; because she felt called, as a single woman, to be a single woman in ministry her whole life—I said, “Alright; what will our first argument be?”—I may have said “fight.” She looked at me and she said, “Do we have to fight?” I said, “Well, I don’t know; I guess every couple does.” She said, “You know what? Maybe, we don’t have to fight.”
Well, here is the deal: when I got married the first time, I was 22; Bobbie was 20. We were kids—let me say that again—we were kids, so we kind of grew up together. Did we fight?—yes. Did we argue?—yes. Were our voices raised at plaster-cracking decibels?—yes, yes. [Laughter]
So now, I’m 67; Nancy is 57, and we’re grownups. We’ve done a lot of life: we’ve had failures; we’ve done life separately, of course. So I’m going to tell you that, after six years of being married to Nancy, we’ve not agreed on everything. She’s a very strong woman, and let me say—she would say—that I’m a very strong man; so we don’t agree, but we haven’t fought. Why raise my voice? Why do that? I don’t have to—I’m not a child—I’m a grownup.
The point is: the older you get—this is going to sound crazy—but the more important your tenderness toward your wife is. It’s easy, because you know each other so well. You may even have a backlog—skeletons in the closet; it’s hard to get rid of those bad guys—but this is a wonderful time.
The story you just told—I love this—I can’t wait to tell Nancy that your kids, your son and daughter-in-law, sat and watched an older couple hold hands during church. Now, this isn’t bragging; it’s true. If they had been sitting close to us in church, that is exactly what they would have seen. I never pass up an opportunity—why would I?—to hold Nancy’s hand. This is a very sweet time, I mean, in terms of the affection that you are pouring on your wife.
She’s a responder; she was built to be a responder. So you/as the man in the relationship, you go first. I mean, I tell young men a lot in marriage relationships: “You, be the initiator. You go first. If it’s making love, or if it’s picking stuff up off the floor, take the initiative. Be the initiator. Your wife will be so thrilled when she sees that in you.”
The Scripture calls that leadership in your home; right? That isn’t just like Sound of Music with a little whistle and having your kids line up. It’s serving; it’s going first; it’s the towel and the basin. That’s an incredible thing to understand in your relationship with your wife during these later years.
Dave: One of the stories you tell in the chapter you wrote about marriage is—if I remember rightly—it was a friend, who was at a marriage retreat with his wife. The speaker said, “Hey, turn to your spouse and say, ‘I love you.’” He says that to his wife; and his wife turns to him and says, “I don’t love you.” As I read that, I thought, “Oh, boy; this is going to end badly.” Yet, talk about that; because he responded in a way that basically said, “It’s not over. [I] can do better, starting right here”; right?
Robert: He was acting like a grownup.
Robert: It’s back to the illustration I just gave. This is one of my closest friends—we text every day—this man we’re talking about right now. This was exactly as you have described it. It was a marriage retreat; the leader said, “Turn to your mate, take her by the hand, and say, ‘I love you.’” So Dave did this, and his wife looked back at him; and I mean, it was eye to eye, no messing around, “I don’t love you.”
For a man to hear that—a man being competitive/a man wanting to win—you say, “I’m out of here. I’ll go find somebody else who will love me.” I said to him, when he told me this story, I said, “Alright; so you went to that retreat. Was that a surprise?” He said, “I guess it was.” I said, “Alright; like on a scale, of 1-10, where would you say your marriage was?” He said, “7 or 8.” Well, his wife would have said, “1 or 2.”
In fact, Gary Smalley—you remember Gary Smalley?—
Dave: Oh, sure.
Robert: —Gary Smalley—he actually counseled thousands; that sounds incredible—but thousands. You guys are probably way up there like that. One of the things he says to each person: to the man, he says, “On a scale of 1-10…” to the woman he says, “On a scale of 1-10…” As I remember him telling me this story, he said, in every single case, the man gives it a higher number than the woman does. In this case, Dave’s wife looked at him and said, “I don’t love you.” Dave tells me this story and says, “I resolved to fix that problem. Instead of running from it, I decided, ‘I’m going to fix it.’”
The first thing that he did—he didn’t go to a seminar—what he did was he found an older married man; and he said to this man, “Here is what just happened to me, and I need some help with my marriage.” This is both a mentoring chapter and the marriage chapter: this is pouring into a younger man or a more inexperienced man. He found a man, who I also know, who was younger than he was; and that man poured his life into—this [young] man—Dave, in this case.
I will tell you what: I see Dave and his wife a lot, and their tenderness toward each other is astonishing. Dave got to the place, where he realized, “Either I do this or I lose her—either really I lose her, she walks out the door; or our relationship just becomes so stale; it’s just humdrum; there is no joy in it.” He did the right thing. He sucked it up, and he said, “You know what? I can do better than this,”—found an older man [with positive experience], a married man, who helped him fix his marriage.
It’s an amazing story, but it’s a gun lap story of an older man, who has experience/more experience—failure/victory from those failures—whatever—poured his life into a [young], married man, and said, “This is how you do this.”
Dave: Yes; I thought, as I read it, that’s exactly how it hit me: it was inspiring:
Dave: I mean, Ann and I have shared in our Vertical Marriage book the very same story in terms: I thought we were a 10; she said we were a .5, not even a 1. [Laughter] It could have ended there; but it was like, “Oh my goodness; I’ve got to change this.” I realized it had to go vertical first—my relationship with Christ had to be the foundation—I can preach it, but I had to live it. Then I had to work on our marriage.
You think about doing that in your 20s or 30s, but you don’t think about doing that in your 50s and 60s; you just coast.
Dave: You wrote another story in there that also challenged me about just how Bobbie was such—your first wife—was such a woman of the Word. You realized that you were just spiritually lazy in the marriage.
Robert: I was; exactly, right.
Dave: Again, your vulnerability there challenged me as I read it. I’m like, “I can do the same thing.”
Dave: I can blame it on, “Well, you know, we’ve married 40 years; we’re good,”—rather than—“We’ve been married 40 years; let’s make the next 10, 15, 20 the best!”
Ann: “Let’s do.”
Robert: Preach it. Preach it, brother; go!
The story I tell: Bobbie loved the Word. She didn’t love the Word so she could write a book. She loved the Word because she loved the Word. The Lord spoke to her early, early every morning. I’d walk by her chair—actually, that chair now is in my daughter’s home, and she uses it for the same purpose—
Robert: —but I walked by that chair early, early in the morning. I’d go upstairs, study for a Sunday school class, write a couple chapters for a book. Then, when Bobby stepped into heaven, I sat on that chair the morning after we buried her body. I heard the Lord say to me, “Robert, you are a lazy man. You have been letting your wife spend an hour every day, or more, in the Word/in My presence. Now it is time; get that baton and pick it up, and start running that track.”
This isn’t boasting—in fact, in many ways, it’s confessing—but maybe, in my seven years since that day, I have probably missed ten mornings—maybe even less than that. This is a gift I’m giving myself.
Anyway, early in our relationship, after that experience on Bobbie’s chair, I thought, “You know what? As I’m reading the Word, I’m going to just look for stuff to jump out at me; and I’m going to text it to Nancy.” So every morning, including this morning, Nancy, when she wakes up—because she stays up late; I get up early—she probably has three or four Bible verses on her phone that the first thing she sees when she wakes up. That has been such a gift to me, knowing that my wife gets to look over my shoulder, see where I have underlined something in my Bible, and have sent it to her just to inspire her/just to bring her joy.
That kind of thing reminds my wife that I’m not in charge; that the Lord is in charge of my life. I’m submitting to Him. I’m taking precious hours, early in the morning—dark o’ thirty—and I’m asking Him: “What is it You want to say to me?” and “What is it I can bless my wife with?” I would not have done that, probably, if I hadn’t seen it every single day [with Bobbie].
Now, my daughter gets to sit in that chair. Sometimes, early in the morning, I’ll text her; and she will be texting me Bible verses that inspired her that day, sitting in her mom’s chair.
Ann: That’s really sweet.
I was intrigued, too, as I’m thinking about men getting older. You talk in your book about talking to your dad as he was getting older. You asked him how he was doing. He said, “Just fine.” And then you laid your hand on his hand—on the top of his hand—and then you said you just waited; and then he said, “I feel useless.”
Ann: I was struck by that. It made me wonder; because I’ve talked to other men, who have a sense of loss and feel useless.
Ann: You talk about that a little bit; and you even talk about, in the middle of the night, having those ponderings. I thought, “That is so interesting,” because you think that only happens to younger people who are asking those questions, like, “Am I worthwhile? Is there significance to my life still?” Talk about that a little bit, Robert.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Robert Wolgemuth on FamilyLife Today. We’re going to hear Robert’s response in just a moment; but first, did you know that FamilyLife Today is listener-supported? That means we rely on generous gifts from listeners, just like you. This week, when you give any amount to FamilyLife Today, as our thanks, we’re going to send you a copy of Sam Allberry’s book, What God Has to Say about Our Bodies. You can give securely online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can give us a call with your donation at 1-800-358-6329. That can be a one-time gift; or you can give a recurring, monthly gift. Again, the number is 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Alright; now let’s hop back into Dave and Ann’s conversation with Robert Wolgemuth.
Robert: Back to my daddy—I’ll never forget it—and it happened just exactly as you described. I remember him looking at me and saying that word, “useless.” I’ll never ever/ever forget it. I knew what he meant. In fact, the previous night we had had like a little family reunion—well, there is no such thing as a little family reunion with my family—it was noisy, and there were little kids running around. The older kids were comparing notes on technology. You know what? It really is easy to feel lost in that setting.
I remember my dad sitting quietly. I mean, there was no way he was going to engage about the latest movie, or the latest musicians, or the latest technology, the latest software. He just sat quietly. It was the next morning that I had this conversation with him. That’s why he was feeling useless; he felt like out of it. I said, “You know, you can pray for your kids, and your grandkids, and your great grandkids,”—I said that—“You can pray for them.”
He looked at me, and he said, “I do.” I can see him smile; he said, “I do every day.” I said, “Dad, that’s the most important—I don’t care how old you are or how useless you feel—that’s the most important gift you could possibly give your children, or your grandchildren, or your great grandchildren.” I can see him smile to realize, “You know what? I’m not useless. I can bring these kids, as tired and feeble as I might feel, to the throne of grace every single day.” So that was that.
Now, to the late-night conversations that you have—in fact, that chapter is called “Self-Conversation”—I think that’s an older man’s nemesis. In fact, this was one of the inspirations to write this book. I’m lying in bed; and Dave, you’ll know that no man our age goes the whole way through the night without getting up, at least, once.
Dave: I don’t know what you are talking about, Robert. [Laughter]
Robert: Yes, you do; you’re lying to me right now.
Dave: Yes, I am. [Laughter]
Robert: So you go back, and you crawl back in bed. You’re trying to go right back to sleep, and you can’t; so these things begin to pop up in your brain.
Robert: I found myself being very critical of myself, and looking back over the previous day with regret with something foolish that I had said to a friend; or maybe something I didn’t follow up but I should have—whatever, whatever. I’m listening to myself, and it’s not good stuff.
I bumped into a great quote—Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the great Welsh preacher of the previous century, wrote this very thing—and he said, “Don’t listen to yourself; talk to yourself.” Then I realized, in the Psalms, the Psalms are filled with David—King David, the psalmist David—imploring the Lord to speak to him, to not just listen to these voices, but speak back to yourself/you say, “You know what? I can do better than that. I’m not going to listen to that voice. I’m going to hear myself say, ‘The joy of the Lord is my strength.’ And I’m not going to be subject to the voices that I hear.”
In fact, one of the most graphic conversations I’ve had since writing this book was with a colleague/a former colleague. This man was brilliant, trained, smart. I mean, I had clients, who are very smart, writing really deep, heady books; and this guy kept up with them. I said, “I haven’t talked to you for a while. How are you?” He took a deep breath [inhaling]—just like I just did—he said, “I woke up this morning; and my first thought was, ‘There is no reason for me to live.’”
I can’t tell you guys how shocked I was to hear that, but that is exactly what I’m talking about: when you get to the place, where you can’t do—and men are doers; right?—you can’t do what you used to do. Those demons come in and say what my dad said: “You’re useless. You used to be productive. What have you done lately? You’re useless.” That’s exactly what my friend was saying to me.
I’ll tell you: for days, I prayed for him. I sent him texts; I tried to encourage him. But that’s not uncharacteristic of men our age: you finish doing your productive stuff—you retire: you got the gold watch; you got the party—and now, you’re looking at life and saying, “What’s next? What am I going to do?” In fact, the actuarial tables have men dying after they retire like crazy because they look at their lives and say, “I used to get my self-esteem from what I did. Now, I can’t do anything; why should I live?”
Dave: Well, Robert, let me say for Ann and I, as we wrap up, “Way to finish well!” I mean, you’re not done; but as you wrote in Gun Lap, you’re on that final lap—it could be a long one; it could be a shorter one—we don’t know. But there are so many—you know this as well as anybody—who started well, who may have run well in the middle of the race—and I’m thinking of Christian leaders, of authors, of influencers—as you and I know, who did not finish well.
You are finishing well, and it’s a model for all of us. We need role models who don’t quit, that don’t even get mediocre. I mean, if you are going to finish a two-mile race, that last lap matters. You’ve got to prepare and be trained so that you can run as strong in that last lap as you did in the first, and you’re modeling that for all of us. So from one man to another, thank you. Way to go!
Robert: Oh, thank you! Thank you, Dave.
Ann: Thanks, Robert. We really appreciate you in all ways.
Robert: Thank you, Ann.
Shelby: You’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Robert Wolgemuth on FamilyLife Today. You can get a copy of Robert’s book, Gun Lap: Staying in the Race with Purpose, at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you know of anyone who could benefit from today’s conversation with Dave and Ann Wilson, as they spoke with Robert Wolgemuth, tell them about this station; or you can share today’s episode from wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, it would really help us out if you would rate and review us.
I’ve got my favorite president of FamilyLife with me today, David Robbins. I’m wondering, as you hear about finishing well, does anyone come to mind for you?
David: There are two people that come to my mind that I go, “I am so grateful to have these two men in my life, running their gun lap well.” One is my dad; it’s so great to see how he’s purposefully living and passing on wisdom he has to people in his community; and the other is Dennis Rainey, the founder of FamilyLife, who passed the baton to me as president. I’m so grateful for his continued mentoring in my life and the way he has cheered me on as he continues to have his own impact with writing and speaking. He has this unique balance of continuing to run the race God has set before him, while he is also looking at his legacy and passing it on so well and saying, “David, this is yours. Take the mantel and run.”
That’s why, at FamilyLife, I’m emboldened to continue to trust God for the mission of FamilyLife: that mission of effectively developing godly families who change the world one home at a time. When I think about the mission that God gave to Dennis to steward that, now, is given to me to steward, I think about people like you—people who hear the truth and will keep growing closer to God—but will also think about: “How will I pass it on to the people around me and my own community?”
Shelby: Yes, that is so important: passing on what we have received from others. If one of the things God has used in your life is FamilyLife Today, we’d love for you to consider passing it on. You do that when you share this podcast; you tell others about this station; and when you give at FamilyLife Today. Again, you can do that at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
How would you respond if a surgeon, instead of removing your child’s defective kidney, removed his only healthy kidney? Erik Reed will join Dave and Ann Wilson next week to talk about trusting God when life doesn’t make sense. That’s coming up next time.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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