How often have you sighed along with Don Henley, “There’s just not enough love in the world”? Me too. But there are still some surprises out there. I went to a church service not long ago at which the sermon was a personal testimony delivered by a new member of the congregation’s ministry team. I never returned to the church, but the message made a lasting impact on me.
The man, “Steve,” shared the gut-wrenching story of how his prosperous, happy life began to unravel because of a sudden affliction that struck his wife, “Mary.” For reasons neither Steve nor anyone else could begin to discern, Mary’s usual lucidity had been overtaken by a rapid onset of psychosis.
Mary’s behavior degraded into bizarre rituals and self-destructive acts. She lost all contact with reality and became unable to properly care for herself. Her illness had made her dangerous. She left burners on, overflowed the bathtub and left the house in her bathrobe for places unknown. Many were the occasions when Steve had to leave work early to go and search for her and bring her home again.
Steve did everything he could, spending thousands on doctors and psychiatrists. None of the various medications and therapies helped. Mary sank deeper into her lonely world of madness. By this time, Steve was nearly bankrupt, and Mary’s condition had rendered him almost incapable of maintaining his livelihood.
At this point, Steve’s friends and even the professionals he had consulted told him the situation was unsustainable. “As bad as it sounds, you’re going to have to commit her to a state hospital,” everyone told him.
But Steve couldn’t bring himself to do this. He felt that, as bad as his situation was, more was required from a man who had taken a vow to stand by his mate, “for better or worse.” He thought about the meaning of the words. What was this situation, if not the “worse” he had vowed to endure with his wife? Mary wasn’t at fault for her condition; she hadn’t betrayed him. Her only crime was being crazy.
Steve had to act. No doubt Mary needed the company of another person at the house, but the more urgent issue was that she couldn’t be trusted at home alone. It was a miracle she hadn’t already burned their house down. So Steve made a hard choice, opting to borrow money he had no projected means of repaying in order to hire a live-in nurse to stay with Mary while he was at work. He refinanced their home, tightened his belt and kept going to work every day. At the same time, he started praying harder than he had ever prayed in his life. He reminded God that he was honoring his vows and going out on a limb financially to love the woman he had committed himself to.
The months dragged on. Steve continued to shell out the borrowed money. Mary continued to languish in her dark, solitary world. Then, after many months, as Steve began to wonder whether circumstances would break his ability to stand by her, Mary surprised everyone and began emerging from her illness. Her destructive behaviors began to disappear. She started reaching out to Steve again in small ways. She was far from restored but unquestionably on the mend. At the time Steve shared his story, Mary was well enough that he had been able to dismiss the live-in nurse. Other developments, including his being hired onto the ministry team at the church, had taken some of the financial pressure off him. The couple were on a slow road to recovery.
As I sat in the pew and listened to his story, I marveled at the incredible love and devotion of this man for his wife. I thought that Steve had somehow been endowed with a divine love. For is this not a fitting picture of how God deals with us? We are all children of madness, crashing through the world in various degrees of insanity, threatening to burn down God’s creation in our orgy of foolishness. God doesn’t ship us off to the state hospital, though He has every right to. If we examine God’s actions, it becomes clear from His forbearance not that He doesn’t care about the havoc being wrought down here, but that His desire for redemption and healing is greater than His insistence on punishment. In the words of James (2:13): “Mercy triumphs over judgment.”