"I take Thee to be my wedded husband, to have and to hold, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part, according to God's holy ordinance; & thereto I plight thee my troth."
Where is the little girl who hasn't dreamt of the knight in shining armour & the white wedding gown, the woman who hasn't shed a tear as two all too human beings plight their troth before God & man? People don't get married so they can declare marital warfare on each other. They may get married for the wrong reason, or for selfish reasons, from boredom or fear or because all their friends are getting married but the general idea is that they have found one person with whom they desire to share intimately for the rest of their life.
Australia's divorce rate stands at one in three.
So what goes wrong? If there is one thing I would like to scream from the roof tops it is this: Love is not a noun & passive; it is a verb & active!
The truth is most of us are not destined for greatness. Most of us won't be called to do anything much out of the ordinary ~ & there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. That is exactly what gives a nation stability. All marriages have their challenges but some have special challenges. So it is in our marriages more than anywhere else we will find ourselves in the Refiner's Fire.
The marriage vows from the Book of Common Prayer are very noble but down in the trenches amongst the nitty~gritty things can look very different than they do before a church altar with the candles & the incense & the hopeful air of expectancy.
Somewhere along the way Christians got the mistaken idea that they were going to get an easier ride than the Plebs, that their marriages were sacrosanct, that somehow the various trials & tribulations that are the common lot of mankind would not afflict them...& it just ain't so!
Now I am not talking here of marriages where one or both partners enter into wilful sin: pornography, adultery, abandonment. Nope. That is a choice. Rather I have in mind all the other things over which a person has absolutely no control but somehow have to find the strength to live with & deal with day, after day, after day: the partner who becomes mentally ill & whose behaviour becomes erratic & unpredictable; the partner, who through no fault of their own, loses their income plunging the entire family into financial crisis; the strong healthy partner who has worked hard physically all their life & suddenly finds themselves jobless, medicated, in constant pain & confined to the house where they feel underfoot & cut off from the world; the partner who contracts the sort of disease that necessities constant trips to the hospital for treatment, or prolonged stays away from the family; the partner who through medication or accident ends up as little more than a vegetable unable to participate in family life or contribute to decision making; the partners who desire a child & can't conceive & the ones who's child is different to the perceived norm. Any or all of these things can strain a marriage to breaking point & Christians are not immune but Paul says succinctly that marriage is honourable & to be esteemed by all.
A couple of things come to mind about Special Needs Marriages. Firstly I always remember Hosea. You remember Hosea, don't you? God told Hosea to marry the prostitute Gomer & she led him a pretty dance all around town. Just because your marriage may not be picture book perfect does not mean God doesn't have a stake in it. Indeed he may have more of a stake in it because He wants to shine His light & glory through you & your circumstances as a witness & a testimony & as Jillian pointed out in her post on the refiner's fire, when things start heating up God never takes his eyes off you for even a moment! He is, however, refining you as silver or gold, getting rid of the impurities that distort His image in you.
Words are easy to say. Love is an action. When you have to care for a partner day after day, wash them, dress them, medicate them, it is a challenge to continue to do so in a loving & God honouring way. It is tempting to envy those with strong, healthy partners & to long for the personal freedoms such a relationship gives. It is a challenge to deal with the mental confusion & delusions of the mentally unstable with constant compassion. It is frustrating to see the same things repeat again & again with no end in sight but we are not to lose hope for God is our Hope & our sustainer. It can be isolating because people are afraid of what they don't understand, of what is abnormal to them & may not understand the sort of crisis that can lead to the sudden cancellation of plans, delays in meeting appointments & deadlines, the mental & physical weariness that comes with constantly carrying someone else's burden.
The marriage self help books are not for Special Needs Marriages. They can be down right discouraging. Seriously. You cannot plan a romantic night out followed by intimacy with a partner who is bedridden, or having a psychotic episode, or vegetative. You may not even be able to have a sane conversation so forget the communicative advice! They may not be capable of taking their place as the spiritual head of the family & it falls by default to the woman to lead her household.
I have a sneaking suspicion God doesn't view marriage the same way we do. He has no romantic delusions about it. He views it as a covenant contract & those marriages that are less than perfect but hold & love just the same are a perfect image of the marriage contract God has made with His church. We may be broken, unstable, delusional, sinful, broke but God always acts towards us as His dearly beloved bride as if we were indeed pure & whole.
Sisters: if you know of a Special Needs Marriage the very least you can do is pray for them. They need your prayers. Bless them if you can, remembering there are multiple ways to ease their burden by taking their children for an hour or so so mum can catch up on chores or have a quiet hour out; a home cooked meal that can be frozen & saved for a night when everything has gone catawumpus & everyone needs a good feed but are too tired to prepare it; visit & ignore the state of the house, or those things about her partner that may upset & frighten you; sit with the partner &/ or children so she can shop unencumbered & worried; little gifts to show you care will be appreciated out of proportion to the size of the gift. Being different can be exclusive but we are the household of God & called upon to bear each others burdens in love.
Lastly, if you have a good marriage & a healthy loving partner, thank God every day because there but for His grace, go you!