Remember those beautiful vows we make before God, our spouse, and our family on our wedding day?
“I take you to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy law. In the presence of God, I make this vow.”
A few months ago, I got a new perspective on the vows “in sickness and in health.” I meant those words with all my heart and truth be told; I always thought I would be a great wife in that situation. I really love to serve others, and although I hoped with all my heart my spouse would never be sick, I just assumed if it did happen, it would be fine and that I would be able to handle it with grace.
I got the tiniest peek of what that might look like, and what I saw was not what I imagined! My husband came home from a long day of work on Thursday with a backache. He designs and remodels kitchens, bathrooms, and garages, so his work is very physical, but this was not his normal soreness. By the end of that night, he couldn’t walk to bed on his own, and the next day he was even worse. He was flat on his back for most of the first week, and it took several weeks after that for a complete recovery. For a busy guy who rarely sits down, this was quite a shock to both of us.
Please don’t misunderstand me and think I’m comparing a slipped disc to a spouse who is caring for someone who is chronically ill, disabled, or dealing with cancer. However, what I learned in those weeks gave me a brand new empathy for those who are in the situation of having a sick spouse. Here are the things that were surprising to me:
1) You feel helpless. It’s unbelievably horrible to watch your favorite person in excruciating pain. Not knowing how to help is a scary feeling.
2) You feel lonely. Not only is it difficult watching them be in pain, but because of that pain they aren’t themselves, and you miss them.
3) You’re exhausted. You have to wait on them for every need on top of your regular responsibilities, in addition to taking on the things that they are generally responsible for. It’s overwhelming, and you don’t want to make them feel even worse by showing them you’re tired and scared, so you put on a happy face, but that takes extra energy too!
4) There is probably a financial aspect that you are now dealing with. For us, it was minor since his condition was temporary, but those weeks without income were still difficult for us budget-wise as business owners who don’t have paid time off. I can’t imagine someone who has to deal with the loss of an income for an extended period on top of medical expenses.
5) You fear the unknown. What if they don’t get better? What if this is your life now? He is back to normal now, but the thought did cross my mind: “What if this is permanent?”
I think when we say these vows, we don’t realize how hard it will be when that time comes around. The word “vow” by definition in verb form is to “solemnly promise to do a specified thing.” When we stand in front of each other, we say the noun part and make the solemn promise. But in marriage when they are put into play, they turn into a verb, and we walk that promise out.
It’s important to promise beforehand so you can remind yourself that a promise is not kept or broken based on how you feel. It’s held because you made that promise before God to one another and that means something. Again, don’t get me wrong or think me overly dramatic, because I was in no way questioning my vows! But my point is that after only a few days, I was tired. He was tired. It wasn’t easy. Like I said previously, I imagined myself handling this with grace. Picture angelic wife floating to her husband’s bedside with a warm smile, a kiss on his cheek, and encouraging words on her lips. What went down was me rushing in to help him with a baby on my hip, a toddler throwing a tantrum in the hallway, sweat dripping down my face, and a tightening in my throat from fighting back the tears. I felt stretched and panicked, and I just wanted him to get back to normal, so I wasn’t doing everything on my own. Nice, huh? Not how I thought I would be!
But I’m glad. That was real life! The compassion I felt for our bookkeeper whose husband is fighting cancer and is on a feeding tube, and all the appointments she has to take him to suddenly overwhelmed my heart. I called her to tell her I will be praying even more for her than I already was and that I thought she was a freaking saint. My husband told her of his incredible new amount of compassion for her husband, who is so sickly that he is in a wheelchair and can’t walk or eat on his own. My husband’s heart was broken for the helplessness of their situation.
“God brings good out of everything for those who love Him” (Romans 8:28). The good that came from those difficult weeks were more compassion on my behalf for those who are sick and hurting, and for those who are helping the sick and hurting. It gave us a new perspective on the promises we made in our marriage. When he told me one night that he felt bad because of how I was serving him non-stop, I said to him that I knew if the situation reversed he would do the same for me, and this was part of the deal—in sickness and in health. He smiled and held my hand because we both knew we weren’t going anywhere, no matter how hard it gets. It made us stronger.
My challenge to anyone reading this is to say an extra prayer for the people in your life who are not only sick and hurting, but for those who are doing the caretaking. And if you have time, maybe call, pick up some groceries for them, make a meal, or send a letter of encouragement. It will mean a great deal more to them than you can imagine!
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