A few months ago a disabled friend asked me a very deep and personal question about my relationship with my wife, and how we get through our challenges. I was pretty challenged by her question and it honestly took me months of back-burner reflection to come up with an answer that seemed true and authentic.
Here’s a slightly re-written version of what I sent her today (some names removed, etc…)
Hi my friend,
First, I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write back. After reading your questions and thinking about them, I realized that I didn’t have as many answers as I wanted to have for you. Heather and I will be married 18 years this year and most of the decisions we’ve made about our relationship – some of which had to be endured through some great trials – have mostly been made and settled. They do come back up occasionally, but I usually only have to remind her (or her I) what the decision was that we made together previously about such a thing.
Something else happened recently that relates directly to your question. I had a conversation with another amazing friend whom I regard as a sister that made me realize something in words that I had never been able to really articulate before. She is a remarkably insightful friend and she knows me better than I like to pretend that she does.
This sister said to me – something to the effect of – “you NEED to love others, it’s who you are.”
I knew this, but I didn’t quite get it. She’s right. I’m divinely made with a need to love and care for others. Not the same way that doctors care for the body, but in the way that you care for a soul, a heart, and maybe some of the physical needs along the way. Whether I’m involved in working with teenagers (one of my favorite things), taking care of foster kids, taking care of my kids, or taking care of my wife… and again I mean much more than the physical needs… those are the times that I feel useful and fulfilled.
Inversely, if I had nobody to care for – or even worse if I couldn’t be trusted by others to care for adults and children – then I would feel useless and empty. My life would be without meaning.
I didn’t become this person because I wanted to be, this is who I am and who I’ve always been. I find it to be completely unalterable.
Now, there are things that can (and have sometimes) take/n that away from me – my own sinful desires and actions, or the sin of others who the enemy would use to take me away from God’s purpose in my life. Maturing or growing for me has meant learning to identify those things for what they are, and then to employ the strength gained through my Faith to overcome them and get closer to my purpose.
Getting to the specific point of your question: I believe that I am made for Heather – perfectly. She believes that she is made for me perfectly, that we perfectly fulfill one-another’s needs. We believe that God brought us together for his purpose (Love) and that with us together, we are doing his work as he has prepared us from the beginning.
Heather is my sounding board, my confidence, my reassurance, my emotional strength when I doubt myself, and most importantly of all – my love. I am Heather’s strength, her resources, her comfort, her drive to make it through another day, her will to conquer her pain, and her helping hands and feet. I’m a large and strong man, and I am made to take care of more than myself.
All this just to say – we try not to see each-other as the “care-er” and the “care-ee” (your words) because the labels aren’t appropriate. If I’m being fair and honest though (and I am) – during particularly hard times of depression, struggle and pain I might occasionally hear Heather say something like “Why do you even love me? I’m such a burden and I don’t do anything for you.” So I know that she fights some of the same battles that you do. I don’t take these questions personally (anymore) because I know that it’s a reflection of her battle with darkness and not with me. Those are the times that I work hard to remind her of everything that she does do for me and of the fact that I simply Love her, and she can’t take that away from me. I try to help her remember (and in that help myself to remember) that she doesn’t have to comprehend that I Love her and that I need to Love her, in order to accept it.
One of the experiences that I cling to that is specifically relevant to this is when – in 2009 – Heather was in a coma in ICU for a month and dying. Her outlook wasn’t good and I was pretty sure that she wouldn’t make it. God hadn’t given me any reassurance that she would, the only reassurance I gained through my faith during that time was that God was with me – and that was supposed to be enough. (long story for another time). ANYhoo… the one thing I kept praying for during that time was something like this:
‘God, I just want my wife back so I can talk to her. That’s all I really need is to be able to talk to her. I can do anything else, but I need her so I can talk to her… so she can hear me. God you know that she understands me more than anyone else on this earth. I just want to be able to talk to her.’
What he gave me instead was a much greater blessing, but during that time is when I realized that all I really needed was her heart, ears and mind.
In a very practical and real-world sense (to steal your own words) – I am the one (like your husband) who takes care of many of the physical needs (not all of them, but someday it might be all of them)… but also in a very practical and real-world sense, I wouldn’t be able to do those things without the strength I get from the relationship I have with my amazing wife.
We believe that it is God’s design that our relationship works this way and no other way (at least right now). Most of the time we joyously accept that it’s meant to be this way for all kinds of reasons that we can’t possibly understand. Sometimes – when the pain is very bad – it’s hard to understand. Some days, we just cry together. Then we pick back up, and we move on… and we continue to Love. Neither of us would ever want our Love to be any less significant or amazing than it is. Neither of us knows anyone who Loves one-another as deeply as we believe that we do. Both of us accept that it seems it must be this way in order for it all to “work” the way that it works. Both of us wish there was another way, but would also worry very much about what any “other way” would look like.
Then this comes to mind – not as Heather being my thorn, but that our weaknesses together being our strength together – divinely:
2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (ESV)
“So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”