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An open letter to husbands of suffering wives

Jeff Walton | 5 May 2020

One flesh. 

That’s what all Christian marriages are called to live out. And yet, whether it be everyday stressors or life altering trials, every marriage will face storms that will threaten that oneness.

For Sarah and I, those storms have come in all shapes and sizes, but chronic illness is one that’s had a constant presence in our marriage since the beginning. As the one who has often been the caretaker, these challenges have tried my patience, shattered my expectations, and put to test the vows that I made to Sarah on our wedding day.

Not long into our marriage, Sarah’s health rapidly declined, and with each of our four children that she bore, she was increasingly unable to function through her chronic pain and illness. On top of that an ankle injury that she sustained in high school has now led to five surgeries and an inability to do much of what she loves anymore as she slowly loses her ability to walk.

We were living in constant stress, exhaustion and worry. All the while, running from doctor to doctor searching for relief and answers to our families health issues, and trying to provide solutions that would allow Sarah to function as the wife and mom she desired to be.

But as the years went by, we began to realize that, while we still need to seek and pray for healing, the battle against chronic illness may remain for the rest of our married lives. 

Instead of making her feel as though her pain is a problem to fix, ask Christ to give you the eyes to see her as he does.

Because of that, it’s tempting to grow weary. She grows weary of pain and the grief that comes with it; I grow weary of watching her in pain and carrying the burdens that she can’t manage to carry.

This thorn in Sarah’s flesh has pricked both of us, causing grief, disappointment, and heartache for each of us, although in different ways and at much different levels, but it has kept us continually dependent on Christ (2 Corinthians 12 v 7).

This is not the picture of marriage that we imagined when we said “I do.” 

Where do we go from here?

During these seasons, the constant questions, demands, and needs are draining, and the stress only increases as I try to keep up with work amidst the demands of home life. If I’m honest, there are days when I’m tempted to ‘check out’ and escape from reality. It’s only by God’s grace that he has given me the strength to press on (2 Corinthians 12 v 9).

Needless-to-say, these challenges have tested our marriage in more ways than one. When we have no guarantee of our circumstances changing, we are faced with the choice of becoming bitter, resentful, and closed-off to one another, or, by God’s grace, turning to him in our disappointments and pain—dependent on the grace and strength of Christ to press on and love our spouse with a love beyond ourselves (Romans 12:10b). The choice is ours to make. 

As husbands, we are called to follow Christ’s example, leading by serving, loving by caring, doing what we can to make our home one where our bride feels protected and where Christ-likeness is celebrated. If you are living in a marriage right now that is being tested because of your spouse’s pain and inabilities, I’d like for us to remember three unique callings God has given to us to care for his daughter that we married and committed ourselves to “for better or for worse” and in “sickness and in health.”

  1. First we are called to nourish our wives, which means we are her provider. Not only in material needs, but for her physical, emotional, and spiritual nourishment (Ephesians 5 v 29). We do a disservice to our wives when we assume that what she needs most from us is to bring home a paycheck, play with the kids and pursue her physically. Nourishing her requires a sacrificial attention to and investment in the marriage, especially when the days are hard and she is battling pain and the disappointments and griefs that accompany it. Remind yourself often that she would rather be strong and healthy, so be careful that your verbal or non-verbal responses do not heap extra guilt on her as though she has chosen this path (Job 16 v 2). Instead of making her feel as though her pain is a problem to fix, ask Christ to give you the eyes to see her as he does and frequently remind her that you love her as she is and that you will remain by her side, regardless of her health or abilities. 
  2. Second, we are called to cherish our wives. We are to see her as a daughter of your Heavenly Father. She is a precious gift, not to be misused, ignored, or taken advantage of. You are to build her up in Christ, displaying tender, genuine care and protection of her (1 Thessalonians 5 v 11). When you cherish her, your heart finds enjoyment in your wife’s joy and pleasure more than in your own. Though chronic illness may have robbed you both of what you imagined your marriage would look like, God has allowed this path for his purposes - and he promises to give you both the grace to walk through it together - for the good of your marriage and the glory of God.  
  3. Lastly, we are called to adore our wives. To see her as beautiful, both inside and out. It means to dwell on what is best about her; to celebrate the ways she is like Christ, and to encourage her to become more and more like him; to see her as Christ does, and to lead her to see herself as Christ does as well (1 Peter 3 v 4). 

You may feel far from being able to step up and fulfill such a high calling; maybe you currently lack any real desire to do so, or you’re battling physical or mental weakness. But none of us are left to our own resources and strength. We can pray as Dr. Robert McQuilkin prayed, shortly after receiving his wife’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis - 

“Lord, I pray that you will do a physical miracle in my wife, but if you choose not to, then work a spiritual work in me so that I can love her well until the end.”

If you are a husband who has the unique calling of caring for your wife who battles a chronic illness like I do, I’d like for us to remember that God equips those he calls, and that he builds us up as we spend time in his word and prayer daily, learning to look to him in humility and dependence, not shirking our responsibility in a selfish desire for ease nor abusing it in a distorted attempt to control (Ephesians 4 v 12-16).

Praise God that he can use the enemy’s schemes to advance his own good purposes. And praise God, our marriages can survive, and even strengthen, in the face of this trial. There is incredible joy in laying down your life for the woman that God has entrusted to you for a time. What a privilege and great responsibility you have been given to love and care for the daughter of the King. Nourish her. Cherish her. Adore her. Show her you will fight for her no matter the cost. Love her well by loving Christ more.

Together Through The Storms helps married couples to navigate the storms of life together. Working through the book of Job, Sarah Walton (author of "Hope when it Hurts") and her husband Jeff reflect on their own experiences in a marriage that has faced chronic illness, baggage from the past, a child with neurological challenges, and financial difficulties—and show how to cling to Christ and each other.

Jeff Walton

Jeff is a member of The Orchard Church in Chicago. He is married to Sarah, and they have four young children. He grew up in Cleveland (and is still a fan of the Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers), and works in healthcare technology sales.

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