It’s Valentine’s Day, so I’m thinking about love and marriage. I’m thinking about the fact that I’ve had a good marriage for over thirty years. In this culture, I know that’s enviable and certainly not to be taken for granted. To be honest, though, there’s an element to our deep love that is harsher than the ones that can be printed on Valentine’s Day cards or written on candy hearts.
It is pain that has made our marriage strong.
Just barely into our second year of marriage, David suffered a terrifying spinal cord injury. For three days we wondered if he would walk again. After scary surgeries and months of rehab, he could, he did. But somehow, journeying together through that shadow-of-death valley forever cured us of arguments about unloading the dishwasher or lost socks or messy bathrooms. Because he could have died, all other discussions seemed petty. We had life, we had each other; every thing else was manageable. As horrible as that injury was, that experience gave us the gift of perspective that set the pattern of gratitude for all the years that followed after.
When our boys were little, David coached their soccer teams, despite the fact that he walked with a (painful) limp. For thirty plus years he left the house and worked diligently and conscientiously at a career despite chronic pain in his stomach and back. He never wanted to wear his pain “on his sleeve,” so few knew how much his battle with pain was constant, ongoing. On weekends, he remodeled our old house, making it beautiful, one room at a time. He gave himself to others, serving on church committees, leading small groups, giving hope to others even on days when he had little to give himself. He was a fantastic father. For all those years, I watched him battle pain. Time and time again, he pulled himself above it, willing himself on to optimism or kindness or faith. So here’s the truth: how could I not admire a man like this? Other wives find fault with the man they married, and yes, I suppose, I could have looked at David’s shortcomings, resented his faults. But I watched him suffer and still be good, day upon day, week upon week, year upon year. Suffering made him my hero.
It is human nature to want what we want. I get ideas to go places, to join things, to invite so and so to dinner, to plan this or that outing. But Dave’s pain means I have learned to hold plans loosely. When he has had a particularly bad week or a miserable day, we cancel plans. We back out of dinners or cancel meetings. Let me be clear; I could carry on without him. He has never asked me to stay back; he has always told me I am free to go on with plans, and sometimes I do. He does not need or expect me to restrict my activities because of him, but often, I don’t want to go without him. I would rather be at home with him. But here’s what else I know: holding plans loosely has made me a more flexible person. Guess what? Life goes on just fine even when I don’t get what I want.
Deep calls to deep, the Psalmist says. Although the psalm is referring to nature, for me, these words apply to the hearts of men and women. There are plenty of people in the world who won’t admit that life hurts. Monied people and religious people, especially, seem to think that a pretty appearance matters. But holding up a pretense is exhausting, something we’ve never had energy for when fighting chronic pain and the sorrow of chronic pain. So we have always found our friends among “real” people – people who admit their vulnerability and let their blemishes show. We are drawn to authentic people, and they are drawn to us. And of course, these are the best kind of people – deep, accepting people who understand imperfections and limitations and love anyway. Suffering has given us good friends.
Do I wish that life had gone differently, and that pain had not been so much a part of life? Of course. But here is the unexpected and unforeseen: love increased. Here is grace: in all that pain, love grew strong.
Writing Prompt: How has pain made you better?
How have the hard things helped love grow?