In Sickness & In Health: 10 Years of Marriage

Today is my tenth wedding anniversary.  It’s also been 10 days since my wife coded and was revived in the hospital shortly after the birth of our 2nd child.  So, I’ve been thinking a bit about marriage today.

[My wife's arm after a few days in ICU--it actually looks much worse today.]

 

Some years ago, Dr. Paul Brand wrote a book about what he called “The Gift Nobody Wants.”  The book was about pain.  Dr. Brand was a medical missionary for years and he treated patients with leprosy.  Without pain, lepers are unable to know something is wrong.  No one wants pain, but it has a purpose.

If ever there were a culture totally unsuited for enduring pain it is ours.  For most of us, the highest good to be achieved is the avoidance of pain.  We spend our days amusing ourselves to death, popping pills and seeking diagnoses, jumping in and out of bed and in and out of marriages, all with the end of minimizing pain and maximizing comfort.

Pain cannot ultimately be avoided, however.  You can numb yourself with opiates, but the pain in your soul will only increase.  The brief physical pain that comes from dental surgery can be palliated, but soul pain must be endured.  Which brings me to marriage.

On my wedding day I said:

“Better…Richer…Health.”

Everyone likes those words; those words are why we want to be married in the first place.

But the vows I said on my wedding day also include the antitheses of those words:

“For better, for worse, for richer, for poorerin sickness and in health….”

How wise of our ancestors to include in the wedding service the words that nobody wants.

Nobody wants worse or poorer or sickness, and yet marriage includes those words, too.  Marriage, like all of life, includes pain.  It’s the gift nobody wants.

Last week in the middle of the night, I leaned over my wife’s bed in her ICU room and used a straw to drip drops of water on her parched tongue as she looked at me with eyes wild with pain and fear.  Drop.  Pause.  Drop.  Pause.  At that moment I was afraid she was going to die, but at that moment I also felt that I was closer to being her husband than any previous moment in our 10 years of married life together.

Pain is the gift nobody wants, and I’m wondering if pain is not also the primary gift of marriage.

Don’t misunderstand: my wife and I rarely fight and our first 10 years of marriage have been exceedingly happy.  What I mean is that marriage has a way of confronting you with pain.  One day of course, there will be the pain of death and the loneliness of being left behind, alone.  There will be the pain of seeing the other suffer throughout your married life together, in small and great ways.  And, most importantly, there is the pain of being confronted with your own selfishness.  This last pain, I believe, is the primary gift of marriage.

Tim Keller says somewhere that selfishness is the cause of all marital problems.  I believe, though, that selfishness is why God calls a man and a woman together into a marriage–to use the husband to confront his wife’s selfishness, and vice versa.  When you are married, you are constantly discovering that your heart is much more selfish than you’d previously understood.  Men and women are different, and the effect of bringing a man and a woman together into marriage is friction.  It’s pain.

That pain is the gift nobody wants.

And yet it’s the pain we need if we are going to become the creatures God created us to be.  If there were another way for us to become holy apart from pain, we’d have discovered it centuries ago.  But there isn’t.

No one chooses pain.  Some people are physically courageous and will endure physical pain, but the deepest pain is spiritual pain, and spiritual pain breaks everyone.  A boxer might step into the ring year after year; he can stand the pain of getting his nose broken over and over again, but not the pain that comes when two sinful people are joined together in marriage.

The pain that comes from marriage is a searing pain: it hurts to know that you are not as good as you want to believe, that you yourself caused your wife pain with a petulant remark or hard heart that chooses not to forgive.  Sin burns.

It’s not surprising that a culture that sees avoidance of pain as the highest good will struggle with marriage.  This is why the Christian story of marriage is so countercultural.  Marriage, the church has always taught, is not a contract to terminate as either party desires, but a covenantal promise that includes better and worse, richer and poorer, in sickness and in health.  And it’s when we endure the worse, the poorer, and the sickness that we can become wise and good.

I don’t want pain.  I don’t want the pain of watching my wife’s vital signs taper off, and I don’t want the pain of being confronted with my own selfishness and sin in the daily work of marriage.  And yet I know that pain is a gift, even if it’s the gift nobody wants, and I’m grateful.

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19 thoughts on “In Sickness & In Health: 10 Years of Marriage

  1. That is so beautiful and true, Andrew. Thanking the Lord for your healthy baby Annie and Elaine’s miraculous recovery ~ you are both so very blessed to have each other.

  2. Such a beautiful and moving post! Wishing you and Elaine the happiest of anniversaries, and (since I can’t give this to you two in person) a big hug to both of you!

  3. Beautiful Andrew.
    I wish more couples would take their vows more seriously. Watching Ruel endure aggressive chemo treatment was both painful and scary. It made me realize how fragile life is. I treasure every moment we have together.
    I am so glad Elaine is doing better and can’t wait to see Annie.

    • Dana,

      You know what I got just a taste of last week? The utter loneliness of being separated from a spouse through suffering. That’s the worst part: the one person in the world you want to talk to is the very person you can’t talk to. Gave me a tiny insight into what being a widow or widower must be like.

      Andrew

  4. If we didn’t love, there wouldn’t be pain. Love is worth it. We’ve been learning similar lessons this year in our own marriage.

  5. You have a beautiful teammate who is STILL by your side, and we thank God for that!!! I’m so happy Anne is with us, and your family has another faithful, powerful story to share. Much love for the Forrests.

  6. Sadness and loss is the price one MUST pay for both loving and having been loved….truly a small price to pay…..as a widow for almost ten years now, not a day goes by that memories do not bring both a smile and a tinge of regret for words both said and unsaid…..for every moment, good and bad,
    I am truly grateful!

  7. I hope your wife makes a full recovery, and that you can both enjoy your beautiful family. Your post is beyond beautiful.

  8. If only I had your wisdom, insight, and relationship with Christ 20 years ago when Guymon had an aortic aneurism 6months after I said “I Do”. You inspire me. It is never easy to watch your spouse suffer in pain. We had a total do-over in 2017, and it was no easier. But I had faith and the power of prayer and community this time. I hope that we can uplift you and Elaine during this difficult time. We love you both.

    • I’ve thought about you both these last few weeks–you know a lot more than me about hospital stays and recovering from illness.

  9. So many many blessings – Miracles for Munger! We thank God for you, Elaine and your family and how God has placed you in all of our lives at Munger. Thank you for continuing to share your heart and lives with us. Wishing you peace and joy – happy homecoming!! Hugs and love! Jean and Bobby