Margaret and I were married on August 19th, 1989. On our joyous wedding day, we never thought that chronic health problems would soon invade our relationship, transforming our honeymoon years into a season of medical tests and doctor’s visits. Yet this is what happened. . . and, to varying degrees, has continued to happen for the entirety of our lives together.
A few years ago one my children asked me this: “Dad, when Mom got sick, why didn’t you just leave?” Great question. . . Let’s face it—in the marriage relationship, where the deepest levels of emotional and physical intimacy exist, illness can bring abrupt and unwelcome change. The fusion of physical pain and medications can result in intense and disheartening transformations. The person you love can be altered in both emotional and physical ways. Anger may suddenly fly out at you, and you wonder where his or her calm and caring demeanor has gone. As medications do their work, annoying side effects will likely enter the medical drama as well. Moodiness, weight gain, drowsiness, and a bunch of other undesirables could appear. The reality of new, crushing limitations could spur attitudes of ungratefulness, depression, or both. Most transitions in our lives are hard. Medical transitions are even harder, particularly in a marriage. Everything from holding hands while conversing to romantic times together can be permanently altered. Frankly the whole marriage dynamic may be forever different from what a couple once enjoyed.
I can honestly tell you that everything I’ve shared in the previous paragraph has occurred to us (and quite a bit more). We have had to walk through some difficult seasons of change. These times have not been fun. The acceptance of medically-induced change is painful. It is all too easy to long for the “good old days,” when things were more normal. Yes, our relationship looks significantly different than it did twenty-six years ago. But, through the power of Christ, we have had the help to make these adjustments. We are still together, and share an intimate, committed relationship. The depth of our love for each other has grown over the years. With all the illness-related changes we have had to make, I can truthfully say to you that our relationship is better—different, but better. Better because God has been with us. Better because we have fought the medical battle as a team, and have experienced the comfort of the Lord as a team. Better because our loving Savior is passionate about the health of our marriage. Thank God for Jesus, and all he has done for us!
Here is my heart-felt plea: Please do everything you can to protect your marriage. When physical or emotional changes occur in your spouse, seek the Lord. Read and dwell on verses from the Bible. Make God your refuge, the One you go to in prayer. If the sexual aspect of your marriage is altered, be ready to resist temptation. Attractive, healthy members of the opposite sex will cross your path. Be on guard. Ask the Lord to help your thought life. Stay away from any relationship or situation that could undermine what God has given you with your spouse. “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:21a). God’s desire is your marriage grows through times of adversity. Your medical trial has not come into your life to destroy your marriage. Remember God is in control, he loves you, and will use the chronic illness for your good, and the good of your marriage.
The key scripture that has inspired me often in my care for Margaret is found in Ephesians 5:25a: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church.” As I have studied Christ’s love for me and his church, I have been motivated to lay down my personal, self-centered desires in lieu of Margaret’s needs. Christ died on the cross so that I could live. So too, on a daily basis (if not moment by moment) I should lovingly put aside what I want to do, and be ready to care for her.
Yes, a key foundation for every married couple, regardless of medical circumstances is this: Love as Christ loves you. Pause and let this sink in. How has Christ loved you? He paid the ultimate price for your sins on the cross of Calvary. Despite the offense of your sins, he died so you might live. Through the Savior’s atoning work, he has completely forgiven you. He rose again for your salvation. He is now seated in heaven, and “always lives to make intercession for [you}” (Hebrews 7:25). How vital it is to care for your spouse with the gospel clear in your mind. Prayerfully loving like Jesus will help your marriage relationship. Even with the all the complications that come with a disabling illness, God will build your marriage through the power of Christ.