It’s been awhile since I’ve written a blog post and it just so happened that Jason finished an essay he’s been writing and asked to share it on my blog. It’s with love, honor, deep gratitude, and a few tears, that I welcome my first guest blogger, my beloved husband, Jason Baker:
I have wanted to write this blog for quite some time. I really just wasn’t sure how to start out and I have struggled with sharing some of these experiences. I want to raise awareness of chronic illness and to share my perspective as a husband of a wife who suffers from chronic illness. If you search for blogs on chronic illness, you will find most of them are written by women, and good luck finding any written by men as a sufferer or as a spouse. I will share some of my experiences and I will also share what I believe to be much broader issues beyond my personal experiences.
The information I have found on couples and chronic illness is staggering. Over 75% of marriages that have one spouse who suffers from chronic illness end in divorce. If it is the wife that suffers from chronic illness the divorce rate is higher. The husband either decides to leave or the wife is forced to leave due to neglect or abuse. I believe this speaks volumes of where we as men are as a whole. We have lost what it really means to be a man. We have taken our eyes off Jesus Christ as our example as a Christian and a man.
My wife and I have been married for almost 7 years. It seemed almost immediately after we married she became very ill. Within a matter of months, she lost 50 pounds with no explanation. This began the gauntlet of doctors. She went through 3 primary care doctors with no real answers. Two doctors wanted to push her to psychiatrists with the thought that this was all psychological. Going through this process helped me realize just how often women are not listened to and dismissed as if it were all in their heads. These were not the only times that this happened to my wife. Over the years she has been to at least 10 specialists on this path to trying to figure out how to help her heal. I am going to be honest about this experience. It was one of the most frustrating times of my life, and even so I can’t imagine how it was for my wife. I am the husband. I am supposed to be able to protect my wife. I am supposed to have the answers. I saw my wife demeaned by doctors as they shrugged off her illness to it being all in her head. I watched a rheumatologist laugh in my wife’s face and tell her, “There is no Lyme in Tennessee,” when she told him that she was being tested for Lyme Disease. The test was positive, by the way. I know God was with us then, because all of those doctors still have all of their teeth and I am not in jail. It came to the point that we had to go outside of the mainstream medical field because they really just did not have the answers that we needed. Not because the answers were not out there, but because her foundational illness (Lyme) has been so politicized and misrepresented in the medical community that doctors have been indoctrinated with misinformation. Up to this point, we have been to four naturopathic providers. They have been able to provide a much more comprehensive perspective on what is going on with my wife. She finally found a primary care doctor that actually listens to her. He is willing to work with her naturopathic providers to give her the best care possible. It has taken 5 years to get to this point.
One of the hardest things I have learned through my wife’s chronic illness is to say, “I don’t know.” That is hard in general for a guy to say, but to have to look into the eyes of your chronically ill wife and say those words is heartbreaking. I have watched her crumble to the floor in physical exhaustion. I have seen her emotionally and spiritually spent and all I can do is sit with her. I want to fix it and make it all go away, but that is simply not in my power. I have learned what it is to watch my love suffer and realize that I am powerless in all of this. There was a time in our marriage that I had to sit down and prepare myself for the possibility of losing my wife. There are absolutely no words to describe what was in my heart at that time. Chronic illness has taken much from us. It has taken my wife’s job, her health, her ability to drive, our ability to have children, it has almost taken her life. It takes so much, but one of the most devious sides of chronic illness is that many people who suffer from it on the outside don’t look much different from anyone else. They could be dying on the inside, but many would never know. This brings a whole other dynamic that challenges those with chronic illness. In the present situation our nation is in, many of us have griped and complained about not being able to go out and do what we want during the COVID-19 quarantine. You have just experienced a very small fraction of what my wife has experienced for years. Welcome to the life of someone who has chronic illness!
This is where I am going to make some generalizations based on feedback from others and my personal experiences, knowing there are always exceptions. I think the church as a whole falls short in caring for the chronically ill. A blogger my wife follows has suffered from chronic illness to the point that there was a time she could not even lift herself out of bed. She asked chronically ill Christians to send in their experiences and testimonies in order to help her own church see how to better minister to their chronically ill members. She received thousands of heartbreaking letters from Christians seemingly forgotten by their own churches. I think there are several reasons this occurs. As I stated earlier, most chronic illness is outwardly invisible. Someone can be suffering on the inside, but outwardly look okay. This means in order to know the chronically ill, one must reach out and actually get to know that person. Learn their struggle. Most churches do great supporting someone in their local body that has a heart attack, auto accident, cancer, etc. These conditions are often acute or short-term conditions. Even if they are longer term, they are familiar and more easily understood by the general population. Church members will go out of their way to do meals, mow, home repairs, and whatever is needed. Secondly, I believe that a proper biblical view of suffering is commonly neglected in the teachings in churches. Suffering does not fit in with our American view of God. Suffering has always been a difficult topic for Christians. Initially Christians may come alongside the chronically ill with the diagnosis, but as time goes on and they see healing is not taking place, it challenges their own theology. Often, the chronically ill will see the many dwindle to a few as their fellow church members fall away from them. I have witnessed this with my own eyes. I have seen the confused looks directed toward me as I’ve had to explain yet another flare up, and church or any other outing was simply not an option for that day. If you are going to walk in life with one who is chronically ill, know it is a hard path to follow. It is not a sprint, but a marathon that will last for years to come. It will shake the foundation of your faith, but if you stick with it and work through it, your foundation will come out much stronger in the end. My wife and I have both really had to dig into our own beliefs and to seek out truths concerning God and suffering. As we continue to pray for healing, we understand that physical healing can happen, but it is NOT promised to us from God. Most of God’s promises are founded in things that are eternal. Often what we learn or gain from these situations is something much deeper, something of eternal value. I would like to challenge each one of you to be a supporter and prayer partner to someone with chronic illness. Simply take the time to call them. There are so many who suffer with no one to walk with them for the long haul. You may never know how much just hearing the voice of another will mean.
Up to this point, I have spoken of what chronic illness has taken away from us. Now I would like to talk about what it has done for our marriage. Since my wife fell ill so early in our marriage, I really don’t know what our marriage would be like without chronic illness. You may see that as a loss, but every day it becomes more of a blessing. When she lost her job, it put us in a tight spot. We have had to depend so much more on God to provide for us. I have had to become more sensitive and aware of my wife’s needs because of her illness. I don’t have any hobbies and I only go out with friends probably once or twice a year without my wife. Many of you men may be cringing right now. I am not asking for sympathy, I take being my wife’s caretaker seriously. In marriage, we should learn to use our lives to support our spouses and to glorify God. My wife is my best friend. There are many couples that cannot say that. I have always been a firm believer in the symbolism of Christ (husband) and the Church (wife) that is in the Bible. What lengths did Christ (husband) go for his Bride? There was no limit to his love for us. Men, life is not about what we get out of our marriage. It is about what we give in our marriage. This is simply stated, but it is a lifelong calling. I am certainly not a master of this. Chronic illness affects loved ones as well. I have endured times of depression. I have grieved future losses when I found out that I could never have them. I too have gone to God with many questions and even sometimes complaints. It is not in times of ease and plenty that we grow as Christians, but it is in the times of adversity that we struggle, grow, and mature in Christ. Because of her illness, my wife has one of the most real relationships with Christ I have ever seen. That makes me want to be more. When much has been taken away in this world, blessings of an eternal, different, and deeper kind make their way into our lives.