A Promise Kept

It seems to me that the word "lover" is thrown around too callously these days. But if there is anyone I would nominate for that greatly misunderstood term it would have to be Robertson McQuilkin. Robertson’s book A Promise Kept is nothing less than a contemporary classic on the theme of enduring married love. Robertson McQuilkin doesn’t fit the stereotype of what we imagine a famous lover might look like. He was a seminary president; a little dowdy perhaps, a bit nerdish, at least by Hollywood standards. He had climbed to the top of his career as an educator when his wife Muriel was diagnosed with Alzeimer’s. After a few difficult years of trying to manage both his work and the care of Muriel he decided he only had one choice.

So Robertson became a homemaker and a caregiver. When he accepted his new life, he thought of it as an end to his ministry. Instead, it was a beginning of sorts. Not only was he now caring full-time for Muriel, but he was discovering that such a choice was both unique and rare. In a culture like ours, a culture that prizes individual freedom and self-realization, Robertson McQuilkin became (unexpectedly) the model lover.

Let me cite a passage from A Promise Kept that seems to sum up Robertson’s story. This moment takes place when Muriel had already begun to decline in her mind, although still able to be quite mobile. Because of the Alzheimer’s, Muriel was often restless, and sometimes panicked. But Robertson was patient with her:

Once our flight was delayed in Atlanta and we had to wait a couple of hours. Now thats a challenge. Every few minutes, the same questions, the same answers about what we’re doing here, when are we going home? And every few minutes we’d take a fast-paced walk down the terminal in earnest search of -- what? Muriel had always been a speed walker. I had to jog to keep up with her.

An attractive woman executive type sat across from us, working diligently on her computer. Once, when we returned from an excursion, she said something, without looking up from her papers. Since no one else was nearby I assumed she had spoken to me or at least mumbled in protest of our constant activity.

“Pardon?” I asked.

“Oh,” she said, “I was just asking myself, ‘Will I ever find a man to love me like that?’”

[Robertson McQuilkin. A Promise Kept. p.18-19]

Its a simple anecdote, to be sure, but the beauty and power of it is clear. And that is why I nominate this rather plain looking academic as one of the great lovers of our time.

In our current reductionism, where love is sex, and sex is mere physicality, we have lost the image of great love. It is therefore necessary for us to find stories like that of Robertson and Muriel McQuilkin, stories that anchor us in a deeper meaning and higher calling. Of course, there was a time when Robertson and Muriel were lovers in the usual way we think of that term. But their love for each other did not deplete in the passing of their youthful beauty and physical strength.

In Ephesians 5, Paul tells husbands to love their wives in the same way that Christ loved the church. If you need to see how such a calling actually works, get the book.

Bob Osborne