What Does 'In Sickness and In Health' Mean?

Married couples might recall the wedding vows spoken on their special day. Vows have become routine in a wedding ceremony; do we ever stop to think about what they mean? Wedding vows first originated in what is known as the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), published in 1549 under what then was the Church of England. While this was the first printed version, vows are said to go back as far as the 11th century.

This article will explore the phrase, “In sickness and in health.” What are the implications of this phrase today? Do we really have to obey this?

The Vows and Commitment

Do we take time to contemplate the earnestness of the wedding vows before the actual wedding day? It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the planning and excitement and never sit down to ponder the words being spoken on that day. As a young adult, it’s hard to understand the commitment you are about to enter.

Marriage is one of the greatest gifts God ever gave us. In the garden, He decided Adam should not be alone. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18) God decided we do not have to journey this world alone; praise the Lord!

When we stand facing our future spouse, the person we plan to spend the rest of our life with, we have no idea what lies ahead. I have been married for eighteen years, and I don’t know what the Lord has planned for our next eighteen years. There are no promises that life will look like a TV commercial. The only absolute certainty you have is that the Lord is reigning over all, and He will not leave you or forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)

For the planners out there, this might be frightening news. If you think you have everything under control and planned out for the rest of your life, you will be surprised and probably disappointed when things do not fall into place as you desired. Then again, we are here to glorify God, not the other way around.

In Sickness and in Health

I believe we agree on the words “In sickness and in health” when we hear them on our wedding day. There is so much unknown before us on that day. We don’t know the challenges we will face as a married couple. We can pray for health, and we should, but God’s will is sometimes different than ours. This is where hope and faith play a significant role.

Running a household and raising a family is a full-time job. When one spouse becomes ill, the seesaw tips. All the responsibilities fall to the healthy person, including caring for the spouse. This quickly changes life for the couple or family.

Let’s be frank; no one enjoys being sick or injured. Most of us are content with being 100% healthy. I hate being laid up. However, sickness is one facet God can use to teach us things. What is God trying to teach you as you care for your spouse or sit in bed being taken care of? Well, that’s above my pay grade. Sometimes God gives you insight into the lessons you have learned during tough seasons, and other times you must keep going without that knowledge.

I wish we didn’t have to battle cancer and diseases in this world, but we live in a broken, sinful world, and we must make the best out of the short time we are here. When we get frustrated, we look to heaven as a reminder of where our true home will be someday. Until then, we put one foot in front of the other and persevere in this life.

What We Gain From Loving Our Spouses in Sickness and in Health

While we might not like to think of caring for our loved ones as an opportunity for sanctification, the Bible says, “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) He will grow you and mold you in areas you might not have developed before. What could this look like?

You might grow in compassion. Caring for a sick spouse gives you compassion for those that do this full-time for years. You might gain a new perspective and look at situations differently. Maybe you become motivated to reach out to help others. You might start praying for people you know taking care of their ill spouses. When you care for someone you love, even when exhausted, you gain grit and perseverance. You have an opportunity not to give up. You get to display your servant love firsthand. There will be many points of frustration, helplessness, and exhaustion along the way. Remember, you have the hope of Jesus with you. He promises to be with us no matter what. He sees your hard work and will help you continue in the race.

We care for our sick spouses because it’s our job. We committed ourselves to them and God on our wedding day. Caring for them is an opportunity to live out this promise. You get to show them firsthand how you are there for them no matter what. No matter how bad a patient they are, you are by their side. Serving each other in a time of need can make you closer as a couple. Going through the valleys of life typically opens up opportunities for you to be vulnerable with each other and share what is going on in your heart. When you can survive the challenges life throws at you and make it to the other side, you will be stronger.

How We Get Through Sickness in Marriage

Let’s discuss some practical ways you can survive a season of sickness and caregiving. We pray our loved ones get well quickly, but sometimes this isn’t the case. Occasionally, illnesses or injuries last months, years, or even a lifetime. This type of change is stressful for a marriage. Here are a few ways to cope.

Don’t try to do everything alone; you will wear out. At first, you might be the main caregiver while maintaining all your other responsibilities. If the illness remains, this is going to be difficult to continue in the long run. You will need assistance, don’t wait too long to ask for help.

Ask family to help care for your spouse or take on some of your other duties. Find friends to help with carpooling kids to activities. Reach out to your church, let them know what happened, and tell them your immediate needs. Your church family can’t help you if they don’t know what’s going on. You can have a meal train organized to lift the burden of cooking dinner for the family. If you have the funds, hire a cleaning service. Get your groceries delivered. There are many ways to have your other responsibilities taken care of while you care for your sick spouse.

Pray. Pray for God’s strength, wisdom, and patience. You are going to need much help from the Spirit. Use this time to depend on God. Let yourself experience His mercy and grace like never before. Pray for healing and peace. Let the words of Scripture wash over you anytime you get the chance.

I pray your marriage is filled with much health. However, we all deal with injuries and sickness in our marriage. Caring for a sick spouse is challenging; let it be a time to exhibit your love for the other. After God created male and female, the Bible tells us in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them.” He blessed their marriage and deemed it good. (Genesis 1:21)

God blesses our marriages. “Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Live out the words, “In sickness and in health.” Let dealing with an illness be a time you show your commitment to your spouse and God.

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/gorodenkoff

Katie Kennedy headshotKatie T. Kennedy lives in Richmond, VA. She is married to a wonderful husband Jonathan and they have three girls. She is a writer, blogger, and employee of the family business. After a mid-life spiritual transformation, she discovered her love of writing. She loves to travel, read, be in nature, cook, and dream.  She would love to connect with you online at www.katietkennedy.com, Instagram or Facebook.

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