In Sickness or in Health

by Jan Silvious

In sickness or in health, till death do us part." These powerful vows have been spoken millions of times. But I wonder how many times these vows are honored.

Elisabeth Elliot, married three times and widowed twice, is a writer whose published works are always first tested in the furnace of affliction. What comes forth is a powerful and moving testament to her faith.

So when I learned of her little book, Love Knows No Limits, I was eager to read her candid remarks about marriage. She spoke of Jim Elliot, her first husband, who was martyred by the Auca Indians in Ecuador. After she lost Jim, she met and married Add Leitch, a godly man who later died a painful death from cancer. The Lord then brought into her life Lars Gren, a hospital chaplain. It was Lars who introduced Elisabeth to some residents of the state hospital in Milledgeville, Georgia. Some of these people were to have a profound effect on Elisabeth.

She writes:

We eat breakfast with Mr. Smith, a very handsome man with white hair, ruddy skin, and bright blue eyes. He is wearing a blue shirt and blue sweater. He tells us a story which brings into sharp focus the words of the wedding vows, "in sickness and in health, for better, for worse." His wife has been a patient at Milledgeville for three years.

"When she first got sick," he said, "I carried her everywhere, I did. The doctor said, ‘She'll get worse, every week and every month. So if you want to go on any trips or anywhere, go now.' We had some good times, me and her. But the doctor said, ‘You can't stand it. You won't be able to stand it.' Well, I said, Ah'm gonna hang on long's I can.

"I took care of her for five years but I lost fifty-two pounds just from worry. I was so tense they broke three needles tryin' to put a shot in my arm. Well, I carried her to twenty-five doctors, but they couldn't do nothin. ‘It's a brain deterioration,' they told me.

"I did everything for her. I dressed her and fed her and everything, but it like to whup me and if it hadn't of been for the good Lord, I'da sworn I'da never lasted six months. But a lot of people were prayin' for me. Oh, yes. But finally I had to give up and put her here.

"She can't do nothin'. Can't move or speak or hear. She's in the pre-birth position, legs and arms locked, heels locked up tight behind. You can't straighten her out. But I come every other day. I go in and kiss her ‘bout a dozen times, jes' love her to death. I talk to her. She don't hear, but she knows my touch."

Elisabeth says, "We went later to see Mrs. Smith. If ever there was a sight to confound a man's love for a woman, to strain to the breaking point the most potent human passion, we saw it in that stark white crib-a crumbled scrap of inert humanity. But there is a love that is strong as death, a love many waters cannot quench, floods cannot drown.

"But that is the love that will make marriage work. God knew it would take a remarkable love that could be called up by one's own choice...not according to how beautiful or pleasant or sweet the object of the love was, but rather according to a vow that was made, not matter what!"

From The 5-Minute Devotional

©Zondervan, 1991