A Helper Suitable for Him
By Brenda Blanchard
I can still remember facing my husband, Nelson, and hearing his pledge of “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health.” And, like most couples, we had hoped the “in sickness” promise might never be a reality or would come much later in our lives. Yet, when we made our vows, we already knew dealing with illness was part of our current lives.
During our engagement period, I was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue. Of course, I cried and, feeling sorry for myself, told Nelson he didn’t have to be burdened with me.
Thankfully, I got over my pity party and walked down the aisle. I soon realized these illnesses required extra effort from both of us. The key phrase is “both of us” and achieving a unity in spirit demanded understanding about the day-to-day meaning of love and sacrifice in marriage. Sure, I loved him and he loved me, but a sacrificial love was hard for me. I’d always been independent, able to envision something and achieve it. As a child, my family dubbed me the “bit bossy one,” which aptly described my desire to do any task to perfection. And generally, doing something right meant doing it my way.
Frank Sinatra’s My Way may have made it to the top in music charts’ “All time favorites,” but “my way” gets no play in a marriage partnership. Sacrificial love for me meant giving up control and trusting the man God had given me as my helpmate in my life.
I stand amazed at how God uses everything to teach His children His way which is always without fail the right way. So, as odd as it may seem, God used an incurable disease to teach me about the liberty that comes through submission. I had heard countless times that failing to submit to my husband equals rebellion toward God, but moving that truth from my head to my heart took an unexpected journey.
In Genesis 2:18, God made Eve for Adam to be “a helper suitable for him.” Just like Eve, I was called to blend my strengths and weaknesses with the strengths and weaknesses of my husband in order to reflect more perfectly the image of God. I realized He had placed my husband in the leadership role in our home, but I rationalized that following his suggested regime in regards to my health wasn’t something I had to honor. After all, it was my health. Consequently, I chose to disobey God’s relational order in marriage.
With illnesses like multiple sclerosis and chronic fatigue, it is imperative to conserve energy. According to my neurologist, I needed to make some drastic changes. He recommended that I quit my job for starters. I smiled and told him I would think about his suggestion. Within five minutes of leaving his office, I discounted his opinion. I liked my life the way it was before the diagnosis and had no intention of doing any major renovations to my involvement at home, work or church.
Whenever Nelson echoed the doctor and asked me to make changes regarding my busy lifestyle, I became angry and accusatory, claiming he just didn’t understand. I did not want to change and was determined to avoid letting my illnesses dictate what I could and couldn’t do. Yet, the more I ignored Nelson’s instruction, the more restrictive my life became. I charged full steam ahead for several days, only to end up exhausted and in bed, incapable of doing anything for the rest of the week.
Nelson would then request that I make some small concessions to my schedule, promising both of us would feel better if I did. His response bothered me because he included himself in my pain. I questioned if Nelson’s proposed changes were right or pure in motive before I was willing to obey them. In so doing, I set myself up as judge and jury. My overall attitude was wrong, showing no respect for him or the decisions he made.
I also found myself no longer wanting to practice ‘cleaving,’ to practice attachment. Attachment to another implies commitment. And in that commitment comes accountability. Here’s where the problem came for me. I did not want to be obedient to my husband’s authority in our relationship. This natural cycle was being blocked in our relationship because I would not allow Nelson to attach himself to any part of my health.
Because of difficulties in my fine motor skills, Nelson tried to do things for me like preparing my medicine for injection and even pre-buttoning dresses and shirts I had set aside for work. He also placed reminder notes of upcoming events in strategic places due to my short-term memory difficulties. Bouquet shaped stickies greeted me daily. Doctor appointment today at 3 p.m.; take essays to school for English class; pick up dry cleaning please. Although I had forgotten many of the responsibilities highlighted for me, I grabbed the one I did recall and accused him of implying I had no memory at all. In my mind, I perceived his acts of service as a way of taking my independence from me.
Every time I suffered a setback in health, I could recall Nelson’s gentle instruction to slow down, prioritize and even eliminate activities. He never said, “I told you so,” but rather continued giving unconditional love, nursing me back to independence. Although I knew Nelson was right, it took me a year of many prostrate days to soften my heart to his leadership. I had to make choices to change my ways. I had to trust my husband and heed his directives. Finally, after a rather lengthy down time which allowed me to have a heart-to-heart with the Lord, I surrendered those things I couldn’t do and embraced those things I could do. I repented of my stubborn mindset and willingly accepted the selfless tasks Nelson was doing for me in reverence to Christ.
As “one,” we planned a strategy for living a quality life with my illnesses. We agreed that I would work in the mornings at the school and then take a nap in the afternoons. In terms of church, we prayed and asked for clear direction to His vision for my life. God is faithful! He answered our prayers, showing me which activities to continue serving.
Through obedience to our plan, I learned liberation is a result of submission. And in the physical realm, I now have many more good days than bad. My respect for my husband grows daily because I know he is the mate God chose and made specifically with me in mind.
Brenda Blanchard, founder of The Door of Hope Ministries and Sisters in Christ Bible Studies, speaks and writes practical messages to encourage a one-on-one relationship with Jesus. See www.brendablanchard.com Brendablanchard1@aol.com