In a matter of one week I heard three very similar stories.
The first was when a friend of one of my siblings died after a long battle with cancer. I heard that the lady’s husband had left her soon after she was diagnosed with the cancer and had begun the lengthy process of chemotherapy. He wasn’t able to handle that and threw away some thirty years of marriage to escape this painful and difficult family situation.
I was still trying to digest that news when a discussion with an acquaintance led to learning why there was quite an age gap between her children. Her first child had been born with a congenital heart problem. Surgery needed to be carried out immediately after the baby’s birth if it was to survive. Over the next few years more surgery followed. It all got too much for her husband who took off for greener pastures. Eventually this lady married another man and had other children.
In that same week a member of a former congregation posted the news on Facebook of the breakup of yet another marriage because life had become too tough. Their first child had been born autistic and that created some big issues for them. When a second child was born and also turned out to suffer from autism the husband fled the family home and the difficulties with the children.
I confess I want to scream. And deep inside me something wants to pray that Jesus will come back quickly and put an end to this messed-up world and make all things new. I long for that day when there will no longer be these sad situations that make a man run away and desert his wife and children.
I confess too that I am angry. With men! Okay, it’s not only men who run away from it all. There are women too who flee when life gets too difficult and who leave the husband to deal with the mess that life has become. However it seems to me that the male of the species does this much more often. I can understand why one woman once lamented, “Men are like public toilets… all the best ones are taken and all the others are full of *#@#.”
This is not being written by someone who doesn’t know how difficult life can become. As someone who spent nearly three-years as a virtual full-time carer I know that there are those moments when you wonder if you can really do this anymore. I understand that at times you wish you were not there. A man I grew up with has an intellectually handicapped son and in 1998 his wife had a stroke. Since then he has been a full-time carer for her – that’s sixteen years! He wrote me the following words at the time when my first wife, Ali, died: “There are times when I just want to walk away but of course that is not an option.”
And that’s the point. Walking away from it all is not an option… or at least, it shouldn’t be.
It’s not an option because of our marriage vows. The promises that we made before God were that we would be there for our spouse in sickness and in health – until death do us part.
It’s not an option because we don’t do it alone. Family are generally wonderfully supportive and even when they are not, we in the “welfare state” have many resources to help us.
It’s not an option because God is in there too somewhere. He promises that he will never give us a burden greater than we can bear. So I don’t need to be a quitter and run away.
It’s not an option because there are valuable life-lessons that we learn only through trial and hardship. Scripture shows that we grow through those things in a way that we don’t through prosperity.
At present I’m reading an interesting book by Anne Manne, “The life of I: The new culture of narcissism”. It’s not easy reading and it’s certainly not pleasant reading. But Manne makes the point that in a narcissistic culture where we increasingly justify things on the basis that “I’m worth it” empathy goes out the window. In fact she points out that narcissists are incapable of empathy.
It’s only through the gospel that self is dethroned. And only through the gospel is the kind of empathy restored that does not walk out but does the hard yards of seeing tough situations through to the end.