It just so happened (as it says in the book of Ruth, where nothing just so happens) that the first year of our marriage we lived with Mrs. Herbst. Responding to an ad, we took a room upstairs and cooked for her, and other than that all I recall from 1980 is how she would corner me, lock her eyes on mine, and say accusingly, “He fell sick a month after I married him.” I thought, “Oh my God. The man is 30 years dead and this woman has never made any progress. She has chosen to die pickled in her own gall.”
I have imagined their life together. She would have made his meals and cleaned his house, but in such a way that is careful not to communicate any affection or contentment. In this manner she would be able to have her cake and eat it too: be unimpeachable in her actions, while simultaneously signaling to him that he is the cause of her unhappiness and that if she had only married the other guy her life would be better.
It just so happens that my present husband has been beset by maladies since shortly after our wedding. This pushes all my buttons in a way so ingenious and personal and multifarious that only I and God can fully appreciate His hand in it. Nevertheless, rather than saying to the Lord, “Lord, I see your hand in this,” I have tended to freak out.
One Sunday after my husband was not able to attend Sunday school for the sciatica pain, my frustrated desire came out sideways: “I thought we were going to serve the kingdom of God together.” (The understood second half of the comment was: “Now we cannot do amazing, cutting-edge things for the kingdom because you are sick in bed and I will have to take care of you.”)
David immediately put a question to me: “Where does Jesus say the kingdom of God is located?” “Within,” I replied, sensing his direction. He encouraged me to see obstacles as God’s working on the inside of the cup before sending us out to minister. What good would we be for the gospel if, when it came to preaching about God’s power to transform lives, we ourselves were disqualified?
Then David said, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but …” and he let me complete the sentence: “… of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” His point was: What do we have to give to the world if we don’t possess these? It is the testing of your faith, not the absence of testing, that produces them (James 1:2-4). So we must let patience “have its full effect.” Why? That we “may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Paul the apostle found it necessary to make a second pass through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, to exhort new converts not to be unsettled by trials as if something strange were happening to them. What they were experiencing was normal: “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22)—and enter, and enter.
I realized that I was frustrated because I had had a mental blueprint of the future. I thought my 20-year-plan of ministry duo was indispensable to God. I was annoyed because I had believed I knew best what the kingdom needed, and it needed a healthy husband and wife engaged in lots of activity; I could conceive of the matter no other way.
It’s all about choices. I can choose to rage against the dying of my dream. Or I can suppress outward complaining and adopt a stoic but joyless resignation. Or I can forsake both wretched alternatives and “Be perfect,” as Jesus commands, saying, “I praise you, Father, for giving me exactly the right husband at exactly the right time. If not for this affliction, how would I have seen the extent of my husband’s faith? If not for this affliction, how would I have seen fear of man and worldly desires melt away? Your plan is better than any I had cooked up.”
Besides, who wants to end up 80 and pacing the floor and muttering, “It’s my husband’s fault,” “It’s God’s fault,” “It’s my mother’s fault,” …? As for me and my partner, we will take the adventure that Jesus hands us.