Gary Smalley Remembered for Saving Marriages
- Samantha Gobba WORLD News Service
- 2016 14 Mar
(WNS)--Renowned Christian speaker and author Gary Smalley died Mar. 6 following a bout with heart complications and kidney disease. He was 75.
The marriage champion, who for years was a fixture of Focus on the Family, and appeared on Oprah, NBC’s Today Show, and Fox and Friends, leaves a legacy of more than 60 best-sellers full of biblical advice on relationships.
Healing marriages was Smalley’s calling. When his son, Greg Smalley, thinks about his dad, he recalls Isaiah 61:4: “They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated.”
“He saw those ‘cities long devastated’ as families and became passionate about restoring families,” Greg Smalley told me.
For nearly 50 years, Smalley’s seminars, books, and other materials helped repair relationships by pointing people to godly principles of love and forgiveness. His books have sold more than 5 million copies, and his Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships videos have sold more than 9 million sets.
That video series breathed life into the struggling marriage of Keith and Jean Porter, pastor and secretary duo of the Hillsdale Free Methodist Church in Michigan. Nearly a decade into their marriage, Keith was struggling to earn a living while Jean cared for their three children. They almost never saw each other.
“It was a non-existent relationship,” Jean told me. “It was just living together.”
In 1987, at a church-sponsored marriage retreat featuring Smalley’s “Keys,” Keith Porter realized a fundamental flaw in his approach to marriage: Men and women are not the same, but created different by God.
“It just absolutely changed my life and helped me to become a much better husband, and understand how to be married to a woman a lot better,” Keith Porter told me.
Now, Porter works with 12-15 couples every year in his 300-member church and uses the Smalley videos for pre-marital counseling. He has even seen the series help restore marriages threatened by an adulterous relationship. The videos continue to help him, even though he has seen them at least 200 times.
“Jean can tell [if] I’ve recently watched the videos, because my level of relationship increases,” he said.
Smalley and his wife Norma began leading marriage seminars in the 1970s while Smalley worked as a family pastor at Highland Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. He had taken over a Bible study of about a dozen students at Baylor University. That group eventually swelled to 600. The students loved him so much they went home during breaks and begged their pastors to host Smalley.
Soon, Smalley and his family were traveling to churches around the state.
“I remember Friday afternoon after school, we’d load up into this ratty old RV, and my dad would drive to these little cities, and we’d kind of hang out on the campground and play and he’d do a marriage seminar,” Greg said.
Once, he recalls his dad writing two books in six weeks. Smalley cranked out For Better or for Best and If Only He Knew in a hotel room to fulfill the promises of an infomercial. To this day, Greg said, those two books are among Smalley’s top sellers.
In 1979, the Smalleys formed Family Heritage Ministries. The family eventually moved to Phoenix, Ariz., to make traveling easier and renamed the ministry the Smalley Relationship Center. All three of the Smalley children—Kari, Greg, and Michael—now work in marriage and family ministries, with Greg Smalley serving as the vice president of family ministries at Focus on the Family.
“[He] spent a lot of time with us,” Greg said. “I think that’s why we all have gone into ministry, is because we weren’t turned off to ministry, turned off to the church, turned off to God. He prioritized us.”
The Smalley home was high-energy, full of banter and practical jokes. Once when their father fell asleep in his chair, Greg and Michael caught the family dog and removed its shock collar.
“We took that Super Barker Breaker and put it under his throat, and then barked real loud,” Greg said. “He just shot up out of his chair, and then he literally ran out of the house.”
Greg also remembers seeing his father on his knees in the early morning hours, bent over a Bible and deep in prayer. On their runs together, his father would pray out loud for the ministry, talking to God about his dreams for the future.
“I don’t think there was a dream he had that didn’t come true,” Greg said. Behind his success was Norma, his polar opposite. Greg remembers hearing his dad describing a new idea and his mom saying, “Well, here’s why that won’t work.”
Smalley strove to love his wife and kids, and if he made a mistake, was quick to apologize. Never satisfied with himself, Smalley was constantly working on improving his marriage, “which I think drove my mom crazy,” Greg said. “He was always working on the next thing in his life to grow in. … He would say, ‘I’ve never arrived. I’ll arrive when I get to heaven.’”
He also saw the importance of a good relationship with his children. Having kids, he told his son, was like making a best friend. And he put it into practice.
“I can honestly say that he was one of my best friends,” Greg said.
As Smalley lay dying, Greg put his hand over his father’s heart and felt the beats begin to slow. He read 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”
“To me, that epitomized him,” Greg said. “It was cool to see him really live that out and be able to speak that verse to him as he was entering heaven.”
Courtesy: WORLD News Service
Publication date: March 14, 2016