This is the final installment in a three-part series.  Read part one here and part two here.

February 20, 2012

In recent weeks I’ve been writing about commitment to our wedding vows. We pledge to remain married “in sickness and in health … until death do us part,” but what do we do when that time of “sickness” comes?

A number of you have written e-mails and comments in response to these articles, and for some the discussion was deeply personal. You’ve told stories about struggles in your own marriage after one spouse develops an ongoing health issue. “I think people romanticize ‘til death do we part,’ until something really happens to test this commitment,” wrote one wife. “We say, ‘I would stick by you no matter what.’ What if that ‘what’ means that life and your spouse will never again be the same?”

She was speaking from experience: She suffered a serious back injury shortly after her wedding. She’s had five surgeries in less than seven years of marriage, and she’s been unable to work. “Things are far different than either my husband or I ever expected. My husband is still with me, although I know that there was a time that he thought of leaving me (perhaps more than one) Somehow, through prayer and God’s grace, he has remained true to his word.”

I appreciate e-mails like these because they encourage me to remain faithful in the times of hardship that are inevitable in a marriage. Here are three of the themes that ran through your comments:

1. One reason for making wedding vows is the certainty that, at some point, marriage will be much different than expected.  Both you and your spouse will change. You will go through times of great joy and great sorrow. And, at some point, you or your spouse will likely be called upon to care for the other.

“No one’s marriage is ever the marriage they signed up for,” wrote one reader. “We all have our ideas and our dreams, and at some point we realize that life’s circumstances often change what we had hoped or imagined life would be.  Sometimes life is wonderful and at other times it is truly difficult and we don’t know how we can make it another day.

“It is during these difficult times that I remember that our covenant is forever.  I remember my God, who is faithful to His covenant.  I want to obey Him and honor my covenant to my husband. … By His grace I am able to do that.”

2. To fulfill your vows during difficult times, you will need to make a choice to give your life to God and rely on His strength to do what you feel you can’t. This choice will probably not be an easy one—it will mean giving up some things you enjoy doing. It means less independence and less time for yourself. It means accepting the life God has given you.

But when you do make this choice, readers say, some unexpected blessings await. One wife wrote:

My husband had a stroke last year at 57 years old. He is mentally and physically changed, but I know it is my duty as his wife to remain just that. I have had to mourn the loss of the life we planned, and the man I married. I am now learning to connect on the level he can engage in, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I am learning to love him where he is right now in his recovery. There are sad, lonely times for me, but there are also sweet times of connecting with my husband. It is a daily decision, but one I would not change at all. I intend to uphold my marriage views, as I would hope he would uphold them if it were me.

Another reader wrote to tell about the brain injury her husband suffered just three years after their wedding. “It’s a good day if my man recognizes me and can remember my name.  He often has no memory that we are married or memory of the life we shared together before his injury.”

Over the last two years, through much pain and sorrow, she says she has experienced the joy of seeing God direct her steps:

Early on in this journey, God gave me the Bible verse Jeremiah 31:4 “I will build you up and you will be rebuilt.” Then God showed me that when you are remodeling a house, and you gut it from the inside out, you don’t rebuild it the same as it was before.

I believe God is rebuilding [my husband] and I know he won’t be the same as before, but then again … neither am I.  I do know that God has plans for us and that this is part of our faith journey as husband and wife.  Through prayer, God has given me a new love for my man every day. …

Both my man and I know that we are unable to walk this journey on our own, we both need God for every breath we take, for every step forward we go, and for His help in giving us a renewed and cherished love for each other.

3. Fulfilling your vows gives strength to others. Many people are watching you—your children, your friends, your co-workers. When you are faithful through the difficult times, they will be encouraged to do the same.

One reader said that her father was “far from what I would call nice, easy-going, gentle, or kind.” But he did have a “relentless commitment” to God and to his responsibilities as a husband and father.

My mom had cancer which spread throughout her body, starting out as breast cancer, to the lymph nodes, spinal cord, and then brain. Needless to say, every type of medical procedure was done to save her which left her a completely different woman. She began to regress into childhood then in the final stages [she was] motionless for what seemed for so long.  He never found comfort in another’s embrace except the arms of Jesus.  He never lost his eyes of faithfulness towards her, despite her being more like another daughter than wife. We never worried regardless of all circumstances that he would leave my mom.  

A family has weaknesses, and we have many, but one thing my dad showed my brothers and me (and to this day we hold on to it tightly) is we are a family committed to God no matter what. We are committed to each other, and my brothers and I know how to be committed and faithful to our marriage vows.

Responses like these from Marriage Memo readers remind me that marriage is about much more than romance and happiness. It’s about more than partnership. It’s part of God’s grand scheme, a picture of His relationship with His church. It’s part of the legacy we leave to the next generation. As one reader said, “marriage is an institution where we have the opportunity to learn to die to ourselves and become more like Christ. In true love, Christ laid down His life for the church, an imperfect church, and we are called to lay ourselves and our selfishness down daily as we learn to love our spouse through relying utterly on Jesus.”

© 2012 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.