I used to think marital sacrifice meant picking up dirty socks without complaint or spending an hour in the kitchen to prepare a nice meal. The sickness part of my vows symbolized nothing more than making chicken noodle soup for a nasty cold and the occasional run for saltines and Gatorade during flu season.
The big stuff, the hard illnesses, would come later in life. Or so I thought. I was certain that by then I would be the kind of super wife who would serve her husband well.
I was taken by surprise when life-threatening illness hit our home—and even more surprised when it happened to me. I’d been strong and healthy all my life. Without any warning signs, I began experiencing back pain. Within a few weeks and after a number of tests, I found out my left kidney was dead and abscessed; my right kidney was in dire need of repair. I was hospitalized and underwent three surgeries, one lasting nine hours.
My husband, Brian, and I were in our honeymoon season, in the first two years of our marriage. This kind of thing wasn’t supposed to happen. I felt helpless as my husband cared for me in addition to working his full-time job. While I was in the hospital, he stayed by my side, sleeping in an uncomfortable chair and waking to hold my hand when the pain took my breath away.
Once it was finally time for me to come home, he took on all the household responsibilities. He made meals, did dishes, vacuumed and helped me waddle to the restroom. He took time off from work to take me to doctor appointments and cancelled business trips to stay close. He doted on me with a smile, tucking a blanket around my shoulders or bringing me a hot cup of tea in the evenings.
I was undone by his care. I’d never known love like that. Sure, my mother took care of me when I was a child, but to experience that kind of love from my spouse challenged my heart in unexpected ways. I found myself frustrated that I could do nothing in return—not even simple tasks like making him a cup of coffee or helping with dinner. I often wondered how much he could give without feeling slighted—constantly caring for my needs, yet getting nothing in return. So I would try to get up to help, afraid I had become too much of a burden.
He would stop me, cup my cheeks in his hands and gently kiss me. “Go lie down,” he would say. “I love taking care of you. I really do. Now go and rest.”
His kindness melted me. I’d walked a tough road, and I’d taken care of myself for a long time. I wasn’t accustomed to such love. I barely knew what to do with it.
As I look back now, this humbling experience gives me a deeper appreciation of God’s purpose for marriage. Sacrifice is lived out in homes around the world as couples serve each other through illness, depression and financial crisis. No matter their story, husbands and wives face opportunities to love without seeking anything in return. Why? So they can experience God’s heart through one another and live His love for one another.
Every opportunity we have to serve our spouse gives us the chance to live out the love story God crafted for us. He gave His Son so that we could have life. There was nothing we could give in return—nothing we could do to pay Him back. And yet He chose to give anyway.
God calls a husband to love his wife as Christ loved the church, giving himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). My husband did just that. In living his commitment to stand by me in sickness, Brian did more than fulfill his marital vows—he became a living illustration of God’s love.