One night last week my wife was working late, so I grabbed a bite by myself at one of Plant City’s landmark restaurants, Fred’s. As I was getting back into the car to go home, I noticed a man helping a woman into a van. She did not appear to be old enough to be his mother, and the way they interacted almost certainly indicated that she was his wife.
And she was in poor health. She used a scooter to get around, and she was also on oxygen. In order for her to get into their van, she needed her husband’s help. I watched as he positioned the scooter in order for her to stand up and then navigated her into the passenger seat. This took a long time, and obviously took a lot out of her. Then, he moved the scooter to the back of the van, and (after some effort) mounted the scooter on the brackets that held it in place.
I was so moved by his obvious care for his wife that I almost got out of the car to ask if he wanted help. But he clearly was capable, and what seemed to me like a time-consuming and challenging task was no doubt quite routine for him. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help watching, and I regret not at least rolling down my window to let him know how touched I was by his patient care for his wife. Maybe I will see them again and have the chance to say as much (looks like I have to eat at Fred’s again!).
Why did this simple scene have such an impact on me? Maybe it had to do with the fact that this was the night before my wife’s next cancer treatment, at which we were scheduled to receive her latest scan results (which happily showed no progression in the disease). Kristi is blessed with great health overall even with Stage 4 cancer, but that night I was confronted with the fact that many couples live a much more difficult story. To think that every time the anonymous husband and wife went anywhere to do anything that they had to go through this tedious process was indeed a bittersweet idea to contemplate. How sad that this is their cross to bear; how sweet that they are willing to bear it.
This chance encounter was even more poignant in light of the seemingly endless barrage of stories in the news right now about sexual harassment and abuse. Day after day we learn of another man who exploited and abused women (or children, or both) for perverse sexual gratification. These stories are so widespread – involving men from all social, political, and religious (or non-religious) backgrounds – that it almost seems like virtuous manhood is extinct.
But then I saw this man serving his wife. Of course, it is possible that this wasn’t a faithfully devoted couple at all. For all I know, they could turn out to be criminal masterminds! But at this one snapshot in time, what I believe I saw was a man who loved his wife “in sickness and his health.”
Love between a husband and wife as Scripture speaks of it is not ultimately a feeling to be experienced, but a promise to be kept. It is not just an emotion; it is a decision. In the traditional vows used for generations, it is a pledge to “have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” We don’t take vows to do things that are easy. I’ve never vowed to eat dessert! We make vows precisely because something isn’t going to be easy.
But this isn’t how lots of people look at marriage. They walk away when adversity strikes, or when the passion wanes, or just because they see someone else who is appealing. Rather than modeling the gracious and giving love of God, they subvert it and take God’s place, creating an idol out of self.
But if we could see ourselves as God sees us, we would know that he loved us in sickness – period. Grievous, terminal spiritual sickness.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
The love we share in any of our relationships is really just the overflow of God’s undeserved love that was poured into us through Christ, cascading through us and on to others. Such love makes marriage especially sweet in times of health and prosperity, but it makes marriage comforting and resilient in times of sickness and adversity. This is the joy that comes to husbands and wives “as those who share God’s life-giving kindness,” as God’s Word translation renders 1 Peter 3:7.
So, thank you, anonymous husband, for reminding me what commitment looks like. Thank you for modeling what a real man looks like. And thank you for giving me a glimmer of the love of God in this increasingly dark age.