Catastrophic illnesses and events will test your love for your spouse. Your partner’s physical debilitation and dependency may prove your love to be inadequate. You may be tempted to leave your unfortunate other to fend for herself or himself. But stick around, remain faithful, and committed, and you could experience a higher and more divine love than anything you ever imagined.
Kimmy’s tall, athletic body, her stylish wardrobe, and beautiful blond hair made her look like a supermodel. This plus her business success and high income made her a real keeper. She looked good in her husband’s Porsche. But after breast cancer left her disfigured and stripped of her hair and her job, he loaded up his sports car and left. This wasn’t what he signed up for.
“Partner abandonment” is a real thing. A recent study showed that 11.6% of cancer diagnosis result in divorce or separation. Researchers were most surprised to discover that men abandoned their wives or partners seven times as often as women do.
The disparity may be due to men not being as naturally comfortable in a caregiver role or not being as equipped to manage a household and kids. Either way, the results are devastating to the women abandoned. They tend to require more antidepressants, are less likely to sign up for clinical trials, have more frequent hospitalizations, are less likely to complete radiation treatment, and are more likely to die at home.
Today happens to be Valentine’s Day. Despite the symbols of love all around us - the hearts, flowers, candy, and cards, it’s hard not question how well we understand what it means to love. In his sermon “Levels of Love,” Martin Luther King Jr. preached, “Certainly there is no word in the English language more familiar than “love” and yet, in spite of our familiarity, it is one of the most misunderstood words.”
According to King, the most basic level of love is purely utilitarian. We love someone because of what she/he does for us. Romantic, brotherly, family, and other kinds of loves are higher levels of love because they are reciprocal. The highest level of love requires nothing in return but gives everything. It is unconditional love, what the Bible calls grace and agape.
Agape, grace, is God’s love for us. We know what this kind of love is because Jesus showed us and taught us. The Bible tells us. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters" (1 John 3:16), NIV.
As Jesus began his journey to the cross, his friend and disciple John tells us “[Jesus] loved them to the end (John 13:1). During the Last Supper, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. Afterwards, he commanded them, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34, NIV). Days later, “he took up our infirmities and bore our diseases”(Isaiah 53:4, NIV) on the cross so that we would be healed
Jesus did not abandon anyone. He didn’t quit when the going got tough. He wasn’t in it for what he could get out of it. He drew near to those with disease. He showed compassion to the hurting. He gave himself for our healing.
Abandoning a partner in her or his greatest time of need falls short of God’s expectation. We are to cleave to one another, remain one flesh (Genesis 2:24, KJV), and to let no one or nothing separate what God has joined together,” (Matthew 19:6, NIV). Abandonment betrays the example Jesus provided us.
My late father-in-law, Bob Baggett, modeled Christ’s love throughout my mother-in-law five-year struggle with a rare uterine cancer. Dot's treatment required powerful, sickening chemotherapy drugs, and long, invasive, near-death surgeries. Her condition disabled her and made her totally dependent.
As hard as it was, Bob never abandoned his wife. He wouldn’t have considered it. Instead, he abandoned his work and virtually all his self-interests to care for his beloved spouse. He drove her to countless appointments, emptied her throw-up pale, changed her clothes and diapers, bathed her, and cared for her every need. I never heard him complain about it.
I can hear Jesus' disciples - and you and me - asking how this kind of love can be possible. “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). We can ask Jesus to help us, and he will.
“Husbands,” the Bible proclaims, “love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). I’m grateful for Bob’s witness, which continues to inspire me to be the husband God created me to be and his daughter deserves.
Check out these two songs:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=722zPX1npcA Never Once, Matt Redman
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wP9AnsKtrmo I Lay Me Down, Chris Tomlin