What I Learned About Marriage from Nels Oleson

What I Learned About Marriage from Nels Oleson

Today I’m writing on the topic of love. Not just any love, I’m talking about agape love. It’s the greatest virtue one can possess because it reflects the love of God that reached down to us while we were yet sinners. Jesus died for the undeserving. He gave up His life so that we could have life.

Even after He was whipped and crucified and nailed to the cross He cried out, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

1 Corinthians chapter 13 tells us that love bears all things. Some translate that as patience, but what it really means is, to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others. (Strong’s G3114)

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not encouraging anyone to be a punching bag. That kind of behaviour is dangerous and should be reported immediately.

When I read that scripture I’m reminded to offer grace to my husband on the days he gets under my skin. I’m encouraged to be patient with him when I’m frustrated. I’m resolved to forgive him as God forgave me.

Growing up, I witnessed two men that exemplified this kind of love. One was my dad who loved Mom with patience and grace. And of course there was also Nel’s Oleson.

With popcorn in hand, I sit down to watch season nine – episode 21. I’m reminded of this gentle man who came into our home week after week, illustrating the virtue of love.

Willie wants to get married, but he knows that his mother won’t take it well, so he keeps it a secret from them. Purposely failing his college entrance exam he sets off his mother. In true Harriet form, she explodes into a hissy fit, stomping her feet and wailing out loud, until finally he announces his plans to work at the restaurant and marry Rachel Brown.

Self-centered Harriet weeps as Nel’s leaves the room to encourage his son. First he gently scolds Willie for not handling the situation honestly, and then congratulates him with these words, “You’ve got to live your own life, not your mother’s, or mine.”

For the next 30 minutes of show time, Harriet is miserable and she wants everyone to know it. Meanwhile her husband holds his tongue. He doesn’t snap back.

The wedding day comes. Harriet is under the covers pouting, still hoping to control the situation that’s slipped out of her grasp. She’s angry, controlling, insensitive, and rude.

Pleading with her, Nels is gentle and kind. “Please, please just get dressed and come with me to the wedding,” he says.

She’ll have no part of it, and so she continues to dig her heels in, refusing to go.

She does eventually appear at the wedding to mourn. Dressed in black she’s weeping at the back of the church. After nine seasons, we’ve come to expect this of her.

I love the way the writer wrapped everything up in the end. It’s brilliant and emotional, in a way we wouldn’t expect.  In fact after watching it again, I think it just might be my favourite episode of all time. Even more so than Sweet Sixteen.

Wedding music is playing in the background. Nels enters the room to find his wife in the parlour with her hair down, she’s wiping her tears.

“It brings back memories, doesn’t it?” he says. “My mother didn’t want us to get married. She said it would ruin my life. Well, she was wrong.”

Harriet listens intently, while his grace softens her heart, “Marrying you is the smartest thing I ever did,” he said.

Turning to face him she asks, “Do you mean that?”

Finally, holding her head in his hands, he looks into her eyes, “If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing… May I have this dance?”

That right there is agape love.

It’s a fictional story I’m sure, but the principles are true to my life. I’d love to throw stones, but dropping them to the ground, I’m reminded of the countless times I’ve stood in her shoes: self-centred, impatient, angry, grumpy, and down-right hard to live with. Over and over again I’m served that same agape love that keeps us together. And you know what? My heart softens by the way that he loves.

In the same way, there are days when I don’t feel like being patient and kind, but I do it because I know it’s God’s will for our marriage.  I love this man, and the best way to soften Michael’s heart is by the way that I love.

We’re not all blessed with a Nels in our life. I know that. But we are blessed by a God Who loved us before we loved Him.

“Please, please come with me to the wedding,” He says.

And that right there is agape love.

Dear Heavenly Father, 
Teach me to love the way you love–with patience, and kindness, and grace. Help me to love well on the good days and bad. You have given me much to be thankful for, Lord. May Your Holy Spirit guide me to shine as a light in this dark world—keeping in step with Your will. Amen.

You are loved by an almighty God,

Darlene Schacht

Today’s Challenge:
Love your husband, even and especially if you’re having a bad day. 



  • Ashlyn

    I, honestly, have never seen the show you speak of but I understand the love he is displaying. I too have found myself grumpy or angry and been softened by the love of my patient and ever kind husband. I am thankful every day for the love he shows me and the ability to give that back to him. This article touched my heart, thank you!

  • Rhonda

    I just saw this episode a couple days ago – I hadn’t seen it for a long time. I cried then and I cried as I read this. After 35 years of an interesting marriage – I have sometimes been Harriet, sometimes I’ve been Nels — but this reminds me I need to be Nels more often! If Nels can do it – I can do it! 😉 Thank you for this article – I still watch Little House on the Prairie whenever I see it on – so many wonderful, kind lessons to be learned from that show.

    • Darlene Schacht

      That’s so fun. I was talking to my mom about that exact episode last night. I haven’t seen it in a long time! I’m going to go over and read yours today! Thanks for the link!!

  • Tania

    Darlene, I just love to read whatever you write about. You have a way of bringing things to the surface that I just don’t think about. Yes… that is a BEAUTIFUL illustration of agape love. My husband is also a wonderful example. I think about the childishly immature girl that he married and how I must have caused him so many heartaches in our beginning years. Being an only child, I expected that he would understand that everything was about ME when we married! I smile now and shake my head… oh how God had to transform my thinking. AND… God knew that I would need a very patient man that loved me unconditionally to withstand the punishment and pain I would try and deliver. But here we are… 34 lovely years later. Married happily, in love deeper than I understood was even possible… and what a better way to introduce me to a TRUE relationship with Jesus Christ than to have the man in my life show me what love was really all about. Thank you for sharing today. Thank you for being transparent and blessing us all with your sweet thoughts.

  • Kate Hunter

    1st week….start saying a kind word each day…
    2nd week…..add to that an I love you….
    3rd week…add I love you every time he leaves…phones….or textes…
    4th week….dress for him….make up…hair brushed…etc you are his bride remember
    EVERY week….sit close to him in church…I mean VERY close….(I sit so close that people say “did you just get married”) that was 32yrs ago. I often remind myself why I fell in love with him…baby steps to happiness….Blessings…

  • Kendra Burrows

    I love your line on p. 58 of the book: “…we can’t let someone else’s lack of character define who we are. YES! This is so true – in our marriages and in our other relationships (family, co-workers, strangers, friends). Thank you, Darlene.

  • Heather P

    I really needed this today! Especially being reminded of Nels Oleson and how he dealt with Harriett. Thank you!

  • angela

    very true @darlene…Agape love is simply unconditional..i am praying that God gives me grace to continue..thanks .

  • Myra D Martinez

    Darlene, I am truly enjoying your book & blog posts. I am a little behind, but am grateful for the opportunity to catch up! This lesson on love is a very good reminder to me that I am not perfect but God is. There are many times I have struggled to show my dear husband love because I get stuck on his imperfect behavior as well. I am praying that not only will this study draw me closer to my perfect Lord but will also draw me closer to my husband, even though, at this time, he is so far away from The Lord. I am encouraged that through Christ, my attitude will be more like His and my husband will eventually see Christ and desire to move closer to Him. Thank you for the Nels illustration! It is funny to watch but at the same we can get a look at how our own attitudes can be at times & hopefully desire to change them!

  • Angie

    There are days I feel like Nels. I am patient and understanding. Then there are days I feel like Harriet. I want to stomp my feet and cry. I appreciated the part you wrote that a virtuous wife is not perfect. God isn’t looking for perfection-we’ve already been perfected by grace.

  • Carrie

    This quote of yours, “When I read that scripture I’m reminded to offer grace to my husband on the days he gets under my skin. I’m encouraged to be patient with him when I’m frustrated. I’m resolved to forgive him as God forgave me. ” really caught me today. I have been really struggling to do this the past two years, and I can feel it in my lack of respect for my husband, in our marriage in general, etc. There are so many reasons why I feel like I should be deserving more (from him/in our life etc) but in not offering him grace I am in fact not offering myself or our marriage grace and also spurning God’s grace to me, aren’t I?! Your words have broken my heart. I feel so humbled, shocked, and repentant this morning. Thank you for your ministry and allowing God to use you. Please keep praying for us young wives, and busy mommies!!!

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