I just love weddings.
The hope. The promises. The look of love in the couple’s eyes.
I love to listen to the vows. Often I’ll reach over and squeeze my husband’s hand as I remember that precious day in October 1984 when we proclaimed our love and made promises before God and our families. …..”to love, honor and cherish, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health...”
Sadly, the joy felt at weddings does not always last. The divorce statistics tell us that! The challenges of every-day life get in the way and the next thing we know the hopes, dreams and promises are shattered. This is especially true if one of those every day challenges happens to be a chronic illness or disability. A staggering 75% of couples faced with a chronic illness or disability choose to end their marriage.
How can we reverse that trend? Why is it so much harder to stay married in these circumstances? What does the Bible say we should do? How can we safeguard our own marriages from this deplorable statistic?
Too often couples will find that the emotional toil, financial burdens and constant demands dealing with an on-going illness will create insurmountable stress. Add that to the stress of careers, children, extended family, bills, etc and it’s a recipe for disaster. An illness present before the wedding may be easier to cope with than something that comes along in the prime of life and disrupts the status quo. Acceptance may come hard to either party. Big changes might become necessary over time. And with the changes there might be heartache, bitterness, sadness, disbelief, exhaustion, anxiety, frustration, anger, depression.
“This isn’t what I signed up for!” might become the battle cry of either party. Certainly the one who is ill did not expect it unless there was some way to foreshadow the onset. It is almost expected that one, if not both parties will suffer some kind of illness in the “golden years.” That’s bad enough! But to have it happen in the “prime” of life upsets all the plans and joys of that magical wedding day.
I ran across this this beautiful essay a number of years ago. Although it was written by a mom coming to terms with her child’s disability, it is appropriate for anyone coming to grips with a disability in the family.
WELCOME TO HOLLAND
Emily Perl Kingsley.
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley. All rights reserved
I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.
Living with a disabled spouse is like waking up and finding out your plane landed in Holland. It may not be what you planned or hoped for on that special day, but it can be enjoyable, none the less.
The secret lies in not focusing so much on what you are missing, but in rejoicing in the blessings you have been given. It involves remembering to laugh often and keeping the friendship alive, much the same way healthy couples need to do in order to keep their relationship strong. It is learning to live for today.
Bitterness, despair, anger,sadness or resentment may try to destroy your union however they need not be allowed a stronghold upon your marriage. It takes quite a bit of effort to safeguard against these negative influences. Just as you took vows on your wedding day, you must make a commitment to each other to work earnestly to stay the course.
Scripture tells us:
- Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will bring its own worries . (Matthew 6: 34)
- Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. (1 Corinthians 13: 7 NLT)
- Come to me all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.(Matthew 11:28)
So how do we learn to enjoy our detour to Holland?
First, believe in your heart that your love will endure through every circumstance. You believed it on your wedding day, didn’t you? Pull out those wedding photos and recall all the love, faith, trust, hope and joy you both felt on your special day. If you are like most, your photos will reflect the deep love and emotional bond you share.
Second, imagine, if you will, that you can take all your troubles and concerns that normally weigh you down and place them in a basket. Trouble with relationships? Put it in the basket! Bills? Put them in the basket! Health issues? Put them in the basket. (You get the idea!) Fill that basket to overflowing. Now imagine yourself dragging that basket to the cross and saying, “Jesus, I tried to carry this basket myself. I don’t know what I was thinking because this load is far to heavy for me. I need you to take this burden from me.” Then put the basket down at the base of the cross and walk away from it. Allow Jesus to carry the basket of burdens for you.
Third, as long as you do not attempt to get the basket back, you should not have to worry.
Focusing on God will give you both the strength and hope to face the future together. Let Him show you the delights that Holland has to offer.
Marriage is not easy. Living with a chronic illness or disability is not easy either. A marriage that is affected by a chronic illness can be a challenge however there is no challenge that God can’t handle. You believed it on your wedding day. Believe it now as well!