“I’d get a divorce…” the two men agreed when I asked:
“If your spouse became severely mentally ill, would you stick by her?”
Both of these men work in the field of behavorial health taking care of acutely ill people.
“…especially if she refused to take her meds, ” said one of the men.
“I couldn’t handle it,” said the other.
Both of these men have spoken lovingly of their spouses. They attend church. They have compassion enough to work with psychiatric patients. But they’ve also seen how family members of the mentally ill can suffer.
Why did I ask the question? At the moment I had been thinking back to over 20 years ago when I asked my husband what he thought of someone we knew divorcing his wife because she’d become mentally ill.
His answer was: “If you ever got like her, I’d divorce you too.”
I had wanted assurance, and had hoped for the romantic answer: “Honey, if that ever happened to you, I’d stay by your side.”
I knew my husband’s response was fueled by his being upset about the illness of this relative and her lack of cooperation with her treatment. Still I felt crushed.
“What about your wedding vows?” I asked these mental health workers. “What about ‘in sickness and in health’? Isn’t mental illness sickness?”
I’d asked Steve the same questions.
They agreed, but stuck with their decision (just as my husband had)–giving more reasons like “I’m supposed to be a husband, not a caregiver.”
After our conversation, I thought of why these two men might be holding so tightly to their “divorce is the only option” position.
Perhaps they thought they’d never have the strength to deal with such a crisis.
At first I judged them, but I realized I’ve had the same attitude. My mind at times has convinced me, “I could never handle that” as I thought of different crises I saw in other people’s lives. I’ve felt the urge to walk away instead of stay and pray when situations in my own life have looked like they were becoming too much to handle. Sometimes I’ve walked away in my mind for a time as evidenced by periods of prayerlessness and despair.
God has been faithful to offer strength to face whatever hardships have come my way. Unfortunately, at times I’ve been slow to call on Him and receive His strength, but instead depended on my own. One reason is because I’ve battled thoughts and feelings of: “God must not love me anymore to have allowed this to happen.”
When I volunteered at Hospice I heard about “dying grace,” the grace God gives to help us face our dying time. I’ve concluded He gives a similar grace to face other “dying times” of life–like dying to my plans of how my life should turn out.
He doesn’t give me grace or strength today to save for what may happen tomorrow. Yet He will give strength when the time comes–for that present moment. Psalm 46:1 spells out this promise:
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” NIV
I asked my husband “the question” recently. This time he gave a different answer. “I’m too old now (61). Where would I go?”
Then he added, “Thank God, our daughter’s a nurse. I’ll get her to take care of you.”
He’s not promising to be my caregiver, but at least he’s willing to find one. He’s come a long way.
We both have. And we’re both counting on God’s strength for whatever happens in our future together.
What about you? Are you ready to believe that God and His strength will help you through whatever you may face in your marriage and in your life?