In Sickness and Health – What does it really mean?

As part of our wedding vows we promised to love each other in sickness and health, but what does that mean? Anyone that knows us well would tell you that my husband and I have suffered through more sickness than health, so far in our 19 years of marriage. Most recently, or not so recently, I have been battling more than one terribly painful illness after another. For almost 7 years now, my body has been rebelling against life. It took 6 of those years, countless doctors appointments and medications, traveling all over the country, 1 brain surgery, thousands of dollars of non-covered medical bills, and piles of disappointment to obtain 3 rare diagnosis’s, all while spending a majority of each day confined to a recliner or bed to manage the severe pain caused by these rare illnesses. You might be thinking this is the perfect recipe for a very sad pity party, but that is not at all what I am looking for or what I hope you will glean from this post. Many of us (or our spouse) will deal with a serious illness during our lifetime.   Our job is to be Christ to our spouse that is suffering and for those of us in the mist of the illness our job is to point our spouse, children, family and friends to Christ. Having been so physically limited, for so long, I have battled my need and desire to “contribute” to life. Feeling like a bad wife, a terrible mother, etc can really do a whopper on one’s self esteem; it caused me to dig really deep into myself and into my faith.

2 things I have learned that I hope to pass onto you are:

  • God will equip us to be able to do what it is he needs of us. So if he has physically side lined us, he does not need “physical performance” from us but spiritual performance. Night after night, day after day, I would find disappointment in what I was not able to do (the list was a mountain most days) and I would get frustrated asking “but I want to serve you and my family, why wouldn’t you want me to be healthy? Can’t I serve you more or better if I am physically well?” The short answer that God provided to this long and daunting question is: “NO, I do not need you to be physically well to do what I need of you today.” So I learned to embrace my cross and I have trusted that God would provide healing when his plan for me has changed, requiring physical performance along with spiritual performance. Don’t get me wrong, I still fight everyday to be a little bit better, but I learned to focus on what I could do, no matter how small it seemed, instead of what I could not do. The last year I have seen significant improvement in my overall health; I am very thankful for the increased wellness and I look forward to what God needs of me and how He will choose to use me each day.
  • When we are sidelined with a physical illness our job is to point our children and spouse to Jesus. Because of my physical limitations one of my daily battles was not being able to do basic “mom” and “wife” functions. For several years I was physically unable to do the laundry, empty the dishwasher, make meals, take my children to and from school, help with homework, etc; everyday I felt like I was failing my children. Until one day a friend said to me “Your #1 job as a parent is to introduce your children to Jesus! And my guess is you are doing that.” A light bulb went off that day for me. I might not be able to do many, many things for my children and my spouse, but I can point them to Jesus everyday in my attitude, my prayer life, my compassion, and my love. While this might seem simple to the average person, to those of us suffering with physical limitations and the emotional toile those limitations can take, we know this can be a mountain of an “ask” of our emotions. But I gladly embraced the idea that introducing my children to Jesus was more important than any dish I could not clean or any homework I could not help with.

Would you be surprised to know that this vow of “sickness and health” means much more than physical sickness and health? It goes much deeper than that. There are many ways that we can be sick or healthy and many of them have nothing to do with our physical ailments.

In sickness and health also means:

  • To mourn losses with our spouse and celebrate our blessings together
  • To assist our spouse in their weaknesses and lift them up in their strengths
  • To nourish our spouse’s soul when they are lost and to lean on their spiritual strength when we ourselves are weak
  • To carry our spouse through the darkness and search for our spouse in the light
  • To love our spouse despite their “ickyness” and mistakes and to celebrate with our spouse when things are going great
  • To allow our spouse to carry us when we are weak and to accept their strength in place of our own
  • To rely together on Christ when things are falling apart around us and to rejoice together in Christ when he pulls us through!

Hopefully you get the idea. There are many ways that we can be helpful to our spouse when they are weak and “sick” but first we have to be able to recognize that what we are seeing and experiencing is a form of “sickness”. On the flip side, when we are the ones in the mist of a “sickness” it takes humility to allow ourselves to be assisted by our spouse.

For me, the hard part was learning that “putting down” or ridiculing my spouse in his weaknesses was not being Christ like or living out the promises I made in our vows. It is when we show compassion, understanding, patience, and love that Christ is revealed to our spouse.

I think it would be neglectful of me to end this post before addressing the issues of addiction and mental illness. These are also a form of sickness that some of us face in our marriage. Even though addiction and mental illness can seem impossible to persevere through, we are living proof that you can persevere with your marriage intact and break the cycle of these illnesses in your family line. If you find yourself or your spouse is dealing with these difficult issues turn to Christ for strength to persevere and ask for help. Most people would choose the road of divorce as their only way out after countless failed attempts but our prayer for you is that you choose the path that will help you grow in virtue and holiness. Fight for your marriage and your children who could inherit the gene(s) that makes them more susceptible to addiction or mental illness. When you and your spouse beat and manage these terrible illnesses, your children will have an example of what unconditional love really means and they will have an example to follow should the illness affect their life/marriage too. Feel free to reach out to us at servantspouse@gmail.com if you would like some assistance in this area.

 

Suggested Action:

1) Instead of being critical of your spouse look for opportunities to be compassionate and loving. Make a conscious effort to avoid put downs or judgments and take the opportunity to be supportive and helpful. We cannot always be perfect, but we can find love in the mess of our lives when we choose to be broken together.

2) Listen to the song Broken Together by Casting Crowns

Suggested Prayer (by Melissa B):

Lord, on our wedding day you witnessed and participated in the vows we promised to each other. Help me to live out our vows and be committed to them above all else. Help me to avoid my tendency to be judgmental and dismissive and help me to instead be compassionate, understanding, patient, loving and humble when I interact with my spouse. May my actions bring us both closer to you, and may the difficult times make the good times that much sweeter. Only in your strength can we persevere in sickness and health together. Amen

 

Supporting Scripture & Catechism (CCC):

Ecclesiastes 4:12 – “And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”

1 Peter 4:8 – “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins.”

Joshua 1:9 – “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Ephesians 4:2-3 – “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Ephesians 4: 32 – “and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

CCC 1641 “By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.” This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.”

CCC 1642 Christ is the source of this grace. “Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.” Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb:  How can I ever express the happiness of a marriage joined by the Church, strengthened by an offering, sealed by a blessing, announced by angels, and ratified by the Father? . . . How wonderful the bond between two believers, now one in hope, one in desire, one in discipline, one in the same service! They are both children of one Father and servants of the same Master, undivided in spirit and flesh, truly two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one also is the spirit.

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