Margaret and I have been married for almost 27 years. For all of our years together, she has battled health issues to one degree or another. Over the years her symptoms from the autoimmune disease sarcoidosis have progressed from occasional flare-ups to our current all-consuming, disabling reality. This morning as I write this blog post, she tries to rest, propped up by her hospital bed, and getting breathing assistance via her oxygen concentrator. She is now in early stage heart failure, and recently lost the vision in her right eye. Yet we still have hope and peace. How is this possible? How have we been able to endure all these years of illness, and face the future with a poor prognosis on our medical horizon? Why aren’t we just another example of the casualty of divorce, since so many marriages don’t survive when they are invaded by a serious health condition?
Well, the answer these questions is linked to three practices I would encourage you to prayerfully consider. In them lies the key to how we have been able to endure, and how we continue to endure. And, I might add, not just endure, but actually grow in our love and commitment to each other. Here they are, and I pray they are an encouragement to you.
- Cultivate Your Personal Relationship with God. You might be thinking, “Come on, Mike, give me something practical here. What do you mean cultivate your personal relationship with God?” Well, let me put it this way: Enduring illness in your marriage for the long haul cannot be achieved by relying upon human strength or fortitude. Frankly, left to our own resources, there is no way we could have dealt with Margaret’s illness for a year, let alone 27 years. We have needed (and still need) supernatural help. And that help can only come from the living God. A.W. Tozer said, “Acquaint thyself with God.” The Bible tells us, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:4). This is the most important thing you can do for yourself, and your marriage: Seek the Lord. Ask God to reveal himself to you through the Person of Jesus Christ. Dig into God’s word, the Bible. Apply the promise of Jesus, when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
- Make Your Marriage Relationship Your Top Priority: The Lord is passionate about the health of your marriage, as you should be. God’s design is to strengthen your marriage through your medical challenges. So, make decisions each day that build your marriage. Love your spouse. Spend as much time as possible with him or her. Love as Christ has loved the church. For me, as Margaret’s husband and primary caregiver, a vital marriage-strengthening practice is giving her the priority of my time. I usually come home immediately after work, to help her and spend time with her. Let’s face it–nothing says “I love you” more strongly than wanting to be in the company of the one you love! Being with her helps our communication, it builds the depth of our relationship, and it provides the context to strengthen and protect all we have together.
- Join a Church that Inspires You to Persevere: For some of you, I realize the thought of connecting with a local church in your community may be the last thing you want to do. Let’s face it—often people, even professing Christians, just don’t understand what the chronically ill and their families are going through. And, sadly in our culture today, some churches have embraced an erroneous theological position that God wants all his people healthy and prosperous—not exactly a welcoming context for those of us dealing with health issues. The good news, however, is that Jesus is the Head of the church, his body, and his desire is that “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26). So, we can pray and trust him to lead us to a Christ-centered church where biblical doctrine is proclaimed, and where we can be comforted and cared for. For Margaret and me, we would have never made it if it were not for the prayers, encouragement, and practical support we have received through our church family. The Lord doesn’t want you to face your troubles alone. He wants you to be strengthened through other people, particularly those who love Christ and understand his heart of compassion for the sick.
May God strengthen you in the days ahead, and if you have any questions about this month’s blog post, feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for additional encouragement? I would highly recommend Michael and Christy Hardy’s blog, chronicencouragement.com.