Ecclesiastes 5: 4 & 5
“When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay.” (Ecclesiastes 5: 4 & 5)
“Almost all women stand by their men, very few men stand by their women.” The distinguished oncologist lived constantly with dying people and that was his verdict. I felt a deep surge of anger when he told me. What’s wrong with those men? But then the light began to dawn. Perhaps that explains the startling experience I was having. Why would hundreds of people- many I had never met- write of the high impact my simple decision had made on them? Perhaps some of those men were tempted, and some of those women wondered what might happen to them if they should fall to Alzheimer’s or some other dread disease. But hadn’t I simply done the normal thing? I really had no choice in the matter, did I?
It’s been a decade since that day in Florida when Muriel told the couple riding with us the same story she had told us five minutes earlier. Funny, I thought; that’s never happened before. But it happened again. Occasionally. Three years later, when she was hospitalized to check out heart palpitations, a young doctor called me to one side and said, “You may need to think about the possibility of Alzheimer’s.” I was incredulous. These young doctors are so presumptuous. And insensitive. Muriel could do almost anything she had ever done. True, we had stopped entertaining in our home- no small loss for the president of a thriving seminary and Bible college. And she was having uncommon difficulty producing a portrait of me which the Board had requested to hang by the splendid portrait of my predecessor which she had painted earlier. But Alzheimer’s? I had hardly heard the name. Still, the dread of a living death began to lurk about the fringes of my consciousness.
When her memory deteriorated further and she lost other basic skills, we went to a neurologist friend who gave her the full battery of tests and, by elimination, diagnosed her as having Alzheimer’s. But there was some question. There was none of the typical physical deterioration, so we went to Duke with the conviction I should get the best second opinion available. We would accept the verdict and not chase around the country after every new miracle treatment we might hear about. Go standard. Little did I know the day was coming when we would be urged- on average, once a week- to pursue every variety of treatment under the sun. And some over the sun! Vitamins, demons, chemicals, this guru, that healer, the other clinic. How could I even check them all out, let alone pursue them? I was grateful to friends who made suggestions, however, because each was an expression of love. But for us, we would trust the Lord to work a miracle in Muriel if he so desired and work a miracle in me if he didn’t.
About this time I made the decision that when the day came Muriel needed me full-time, she would have me. I hoped that wouldn’t be necessary till I reached retirement and could survive financially, but at 57 that seemed problematical. I told the Board of Trustees and advised them to start planning for my successor.
But the decision was firm and it didn’t take any heavy duty thought. It was a matter of integrity. Hadn’t I promised, 37 years before, “…in sickness and in health…till death do us part?”
It wasn’t some kind of grim duty to which I stoically bowed, however. It was only fair- she had cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I cared for her for 40 years I would never be out of her debt. As the country song has it, “I can fly higher than the eagle because you are the wind under my wings.”
But how could I walk away from the responsibility of a ministry God has blessed so signally during our 22 years at Columbia Bible College and Seminary? Not easily. So many dreams fulfilled beyond our imagination, but so many dreams yet on the drawing board. And the peerless team God has brought together- a team not just of highly competent professionals, but of dear friends- how could I bear to leave them? Resignation was painful; but not difficult. Because whatever Columbia needs, it does not need a part-time, distracted leader. Better to step aside and let God’s choice leader step in while the momentum is surging. As I told our students, “If Columbia does not continue to grow in strength and influence after I leave, I have been one sorry leader.” How is it with you? What promise is difficult? Solomon exhorts us in Ecclesiastes 5:4-5: “When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow.”