In Sickness and in Health

When we take our vows, "in sickness and in health", we may assume our situation will always be "in health". But what if it isn't? What's it like to love a spouse with unique physical or mental needs?Susannah Thompson was initially less than impressed by the young Baptist preacher named Charles Spurgeon, but she was soon won over by his charm and demeanor. When Charles eventually declared his love for Susannah, she rapturously praised God “for His great mercy in giving me the love of so good a man. If I had known, then, how good he was, and how great he would become, I would have been overwhelmed, not so much with the happiness of being his, as with responsibility which such a situation would entail.”

            Responsibility, indeed.

Though a legendary preacher, Spurgeon had a fragile body and, in one sense, an ailing mind. When he was just 30 years old (8 years after they married), Charles began suffering from horrendous bouts of gout, an excruciatingly painful condition that in his case came with another crushing ailment: depression.

Susannah knew she was marrying a man who had a special gift from God but she didn’t know she would need to stand by a man with a painful physical ailment and a potentially debilitating mental ailment in a day and age when medicine was of little help to either.

Charles was likewise smitten by Susannah on their wedding day. He and his new bride must have conceived a child on or near their honeymoon, because Susannah gave birth to a set of twin boys nine months and two weeks after the wedding.

Susannah never fully recovered from the birth. She eventually improved a little, but the difficult birth was followed by other physical ailments that, during one particularly awful stretch, kept her bedridden or housebound for a fifteen-year-stretch. Charles preached to an overflowing church building that, for over a decade, his wife never once set foot in.

            Since pregnancy affects a woman’s health in the very first trimester, Charles pledged to marry a woman who was in robust health but who, just weeks later, would never be that healthy again.

Yet Charles and Susannah had a loving and intimate union.   Here are two letters Charles wrote to Susannah. Notice the affection Charles obviously has for Susannah in spite of the physical challenges that assaulted both of them:

My Own Dear one–None know how grateful I am to God for you. In all I have ever done for Him, you have a large share. For in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more, and never less, for your sweet companionship. The Lord God Almighty bless you now and forever!

            And later that same year:

“I have been thinking over my strange history, and musing on eternal love’s great river-head from which such streams of mercy have flowed to me. . . . Think of the love which gave me that dear lady for a wife, and made her such a wife; to me, the ideal wife, and, as I believe, without exaggeration or love-flourishing, the precise form in which God would make a woman for such a man as I am, if He designed her to be the greatest of all earthly blessings to him; and in some sense a spiritual blessing, too, for in that also am I richly profited by you, though you would not believe it. I will leave this ‘good matter’ ere the paper is covered; but not till I have sent you as many kisses as there are waves on the sea.”

            Sickness needn’t destroy a marriage, but it will severely challenge a marriage unless both husband and wife enter their union with the full commitment that they will stick together regardless of what physical ailments assault their joy. We commit to marry a real person, with a real and fragile body, and to stand by them, in sickness and in health.


Gary Thomas,


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One Comment

  1. So much easier on the wedding day than when life strikes. I pray that my husband stands by me as I enter my 14th year with multiple sclerosis. We have been blessed that my condition hasn’t taken my mobility, but it has started to take my mind. I can see the cracks in his patience levels and I can only hope that he can endure.

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