June 23, 2017

In Sickness and in Health

Gary Thomas — 


I’m rather late with this post. One of the reasons for that is that I’ve been writing a devotional book for engaged couples that will walk them through every line of the traditional “statement of intent” and vows of a wedding ceremony. The idea is that on their wedding day, when they agree to this statement of intent and repeat the marriage vows, they will have deeply considered, prayed through, and discussed every aspect of what each word means, making their special day all the more special.

Here’s a sample. It’s a first draft and will likely evolve somewhat by the time it reaches book form, but it addresses the aspect of vows where we agree to keep each other “in sickness and in health.”


Susannah Thompson was initially less than impressed by the young Baptist preacher named Charles Spurgeon, but she was soon won over by his charm and demeanor. When Charles eventually declared his love for Susannah, she rapturously praised God “For His great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man. If I had known, then, how good he was, and how great he would become, I would have been overwhelmed, not so much with the happiness of being his, as with responsibility which such a situation would entail.”

Responsibility, indeed.

Though a legendary preacher, Spurgeon had a fragile body and, in one sense, an ailing mind. When he was just 30 years old (8 years after they married), Charles began suffering from horrendous bouts of gout, an excruciatingly painful condition that in his case came with another crushing ailment: depression.

Susannah knew she was marrying a man who had a special gift from God but she didn’t know she would need to stand by a man with a painful physical ailment and a potentially debilitating mental ailment in a day and age when medicine was of little help to either.

Charles was likewise smitten by Susannah on their wedding day (January 8, 1856). He and his new bride must have conceived a child on or near their honeymoon, because Susannah gave birth to a set of twin boys on September 20th of that same year.

Susannah never fully recovered from the birth. She eventually improved a little, but the difficult birth was followed by other physical ailments that, during one particularly awful stretch, kept her bedridden or housebound for a 15-year-stretch. Charles preached to an overflowing church building that, for over a decade, his wife never once set foot in.

Since pregnancy affects a woman’s health in the very first trimester, Charles pledged to marry a woman who was in robust health but who, just weeks later, would never be that healthy again.

Yet Charles and Susannah had a loving and intimate union.

Here are two letters Charles wrote to Susannah, both from the year 1871. Notice the affection Charles obviously has for Susannah in spite of the physical challenges that assaulted both of them:

My Own Dear one–None know how grateful I am to God for you. In all I have ever done for Him, you have a large share. For in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more, and never less, for your sweet companionship. The Lord God Almighty bless you now and forever!

And later that same year:

“I have been thinking over my strange history, and musing on eternal love’s great river-head from which such streams of mercy have flowed to me. . . . Think of the love which gave me that dear lady for a wife, and made her such a wife; to me, the ideal wife, and, as I believe, without exaggeration or love-flourishing, the precise form in which God would make a woman for such a man as I am, if He designed her to be the greatest of all earthly blessings to him; and in some sense a spiritual blessing, too, for in that also am I richly profited by you, though you would not believe it. I will leave this ‘good matter’ ere the paper is covered; but not till I have sent you as many kisses as there are waves on the sea.”

Sickness needn’t destroy a marriage, but it will severely challenge a marriage unless both husband and wife enter their union with the full commitment that they will stick together regardless of what physical ailments assault their joy. You are committing to marry a real person, with a real and fragile body, and to stand by them, in sickness and in health.

Heavenly Father, we don’t need to know the future because we know you’ve already gone there before us and will provide us the grace to meet whatever challenge we may face. Help us to take full advantage of our days of health—to enjoy each other, to serve you and others, and to relish in the blessing of vitality and strength. But as we enjoy these times, prepare our hearts to stay true if our bodies or minds should begin to break down. In Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

  1. Share some things you’d like to do while you have the good health to enjoy them. How can the two of you be good stewards of whatever health situation you are in now?
  2. Knowing that your spouse is committing to be there “in sickness and in health,” what changes do you need to make in your lifestyle (eating, exercising, sleeping) in order to be a good steward of your health and not unnecessarily burden your future spouse?
  3. Discuss ways that the two of you can encourage each other toward healthy living.



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This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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11 responses to In Sickness and in Health

  1. I truly believe that there is a process of being able to stand next to, behind, and also in front of your spouse. Knowing that you are a team of God’s strength helps you to then take care of them when they’re sick or depressed. The trick to all of that is to not look aside at your spouse or down at them for what they go through.
    Acknowledge the sadness and acknowledge the ill health and then pray together for guidance – this in turn will help lift you up together and eliminate any possibility of feeling alone.
    To look into each other’s eyes and then either touch their face or hold their hand – with Faith each moment can be cherished.

  2. Great post, Gary.
    As you may know, I’ve been sick for a couple years; and last year, I was diagnosed with a painful twisting disease called cervical dystonia. I don’t know what I’d do without the Lord and the help of my loving, supportive husband. He’s been a gem, and I thank God for him!

  3. Bill Gilfillan June 23, 2017 at 9:38 am

    Thanks for rekindling your blog Gary and may the Savior refresh and strengthen you in every thing you do, sir. One of the things I take away from this is while we naturally think of marriage through the lens of love, this part of our vows calls us to see marriage through the lens also of faith. We need to trust that that the God who first kindles our love calls us to trust him by showing love to the person who has entrusted their futures to us. I think of numerous couples who prove this and wonder if I would do as well. Thanks for writing even when tired.

  4. When I said my marriage vows I meant them, and I have stood by my husband in sickness and in health, and in all sorts of trouble that ailed him: unemployment and poverty, addictions, depression, abusive behaviour…now for the last year I have been suffering with a chronic illness, and I find that the same love I poured into him for years is not returned. In fact he has consistently shown annoyance and even anger at my illness, and has hinted over and over again that I am probably faking or it is all in my head. He expects me to work as hard as I ever did and makes sure to let me know what I am doing is not good enough. At one point I suggested I stop homeschooling the children because I was finding it too tiring and he said “What would you do all day? If you put the kids in school you’re getting a job. You need to earn your keep.” But I am often so fatigued I can’t even get out of bed in the morning. I homeschool the kids, do all the housework, have a small home business, and grow a large garden, as well, but it is never enough to please him and he will only help me in small ways when I ask very nicely, and it’s grudgingly. I have considered separating from him but I don’t know how I can do that when I am so ill and can’t support myself. I know I can’t “make” an unloving person feel compassion, but do you have any advice for me? I feel like living this way is making my illness worse because it’s such a drain to be around a person who is constantly annoyed with me for being ill. He told me before that if one of his tools at work stopped working he would be angry at it, too, so of course he’s going to feel angry when his wife no longer works as hard. So I am an object to him. This hurts so badly. I feel like I am in a downward spiral of health now and I don’t know how to get out of it, because the sicker I get the worse he treats me.

    • Rachel, you sound like you’re near a breaking point. This can’t go on. You need two things: someone to give you wise counsel and guidance and someone to confront and work with your husband. Are you at a church that can do that? Endurance won’t be possible and may not even be wise if things don’t change here. This goes beyond needing “advice.” You need someone to walk through this with you.

    • Rachel, I am SO SO sorry to hear this. Espcially after all of the things that you have done for your husband. One of the most important things in any relationship is empathy. And that can not be overstressed because when there is no warmth and genuiness it is very obvious, and it hurts. So many people across the world have become hard in their hearts and aren’t even aware that they are not sharing sensitivity. Know that I am praying for you and praying for a way to be made in the wilderness and that God would provide rivers in the desert. I pray for clear guidance and healing in your body. This is not easy, but I assure you that there are more with you then with anyone who is against you. Take care.

    • Rachel, you are in a very difficult situation and I am very sorry. I suffer from dibilitating migraines, and as loving as my current husband is, my ex was a lot like what you depict your husband to be. Do you have the resources to find someone who could talk to you both? All marriages take two…I am so sorry your husband is not loving you as you should be loved. Big hugs, and will pray for you. Your post touched me, as I have been there. I currently support my household, my husband stays home caring for the kids. I am dealing with fatigue, and do get a bit of attitude when I just want to stay in bed on the weekends, but nothing like what you describe. I will pray for you, for what it’s worth.

    • When you see your physicians you NEED to tell them this is going on in your marriage. They are the kind of authority it is ok to divulge your marriage issues to, especially since this affects your health greatly. Maybe even ask your physicians to talk with your husband. If he knows he is being watched and held accountable, it may be a catalyst for him to treat your better.

      I am the caregiver spouse and it is frustrating sometimes to deal with a sick spouse. It is draining and scary and feels unfair, just like being sick us draining, scary, and feels unfair. We live in a broken world, and both caregiver and ill spouse needs to have God at the forefront.

      You need to stand on truth so you can get well or be the healthiest your body can allow you to be.

    • I’m not sure if this analogy is of any help, but maybe your husband would understand that even a mindless, soulless tool needs to be maintained (cleaned, sharpened, oiled, stored in a proper place to ‘rest,’ not thrown around or left to rust or chip or break) in order to keep functioning properly as it is designed. Then again, if he openly admits “if one of his tools at work stopped working he would be angry at it (an inanimate object) too,” the logic may be lost on him. Even maintaining you for functioning purposes is not the same as cherishing you as a wife though. My heart aches for you.

  5. I appreciate the tender words Charles wrote to his beloved. Thx, Gary.

  6. I never thought about blessing the healthy portion of my spouse and basically, the calm before the storm. She’s a cardiac nurse and I’m a retired homicide detective. We both know death could happen in an instance, and yet we thank God for the day but never for our health now.
    Honestly, God knows our future and He knows our hearts…after all we’ve been through, I don’t know if we could or would make it through a long illness together.