Wanted: A Spouse Willing to Suffer

Future husband wanted: A man who is compelled to live out the gospel in marriage through a willingness to embrace suffering.

You’ve probably heard of people creating a list of qualities they search for in a potential spouse. Kind, smart, funny, and attractive are characteristics people often rank at the top of their non-negotiables. But these lists usually miss one of the most important qualities in the life of one who follows God: a willingness to embrace suffering.

This is a radical call. Still, it’s critical if we want to pursue strong, Christ-centered marriages. Over the years, it has become even more important to me as I consider the possibility of being married someday.

Destined to Suffer Alone?

When I was a little girl, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness that would significantly affect and limit me physically for the rest of my life. It wasn’t until I entered my twenties that I began wondering how my condition might translate into marriage. I knew I wanted to be married eventually, but I hadn’t thought about whether my limitations, coupled with the challenges of living with a chronic illness, would make it impossible to attract a man.

Statistics show that adults not only have a decreased chance of marrying if they have a chronic illness or disability, but that those who do marry are much more likely to divorce. According to Focus on the Family, couples have a 75% chance of divorcing if a spouse is affected by chronic illness. Other sources report that 90% of couples divorce when they have a special needs child.

This speaks loudly on society’s perspective of sickness within marriage and family. It’s a sobering reminder that when it comes to seasons of difficulty, we’re not very good about coming close and sticking around. Instead, we tend to stay away from anything that could be challenging and uncomfortable.

Whenever a spouse or child is diagnosed with an illness, people are quick to declare it as something they “didn’t sign up for.”

So how do I, as a single disabled young woman, continue to look toward marriage when my life is the exact opposite of what everyone desires for their future? Someone would have to be willing to choose this life of dealing with illness and obstacles before he would ever consider marrying me. But the numbers aren’t in my favor. Most people do not willingly walk into, or stay in, circumstances of adversity.

When We Are Weak, We Are Strong

If we ever hope to radically infuse life support into marriages today, we have to transform our views of suffering and change how we respond. We must be challenged to shift our thinking away from evading adversity, and remember Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 12:9, as he recalls pleading with God for relief from the affliction he experienced in prison. Paul reacts to God’s words when he reminded him that Christ’s strength is made perfect in weakness: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

A deeply intimate picture of Christ’s power is displayed in our lives through weakness and difficulty. God’s call to willingly submit to suffering for the sake of reflecting and sharing the gospel is undeniable. We often interpret this as persecution or martyrdom before writing it off as inapplicable to our daily lives. But the heart behind the message still speaks directly to our everyday afflictions, even if they seem trivial in comparison.

We’re asked to drastically alter our focus to see our trials of many kinds as pure joy while we move towards the mature and complete faith of which James speaks. God never commanded us to avoid or run away from suffering, but to understand the part it plays in the life of a Christ-follower.

Embracing Suffering Where We Are

The concept of encountering difficulties within marriage is not foreign to any couple. But these moments give us the opportunity to recognize that all of our circumstances are working together for good, and that we have been entrusted with the task of mirroring God’s Word through the process.

Sickness or disability does not have to be a part of a marriage to fully understand this poignancy. When we think about Christ’s willingness to endure ultimate suffering to be the gospel, it seems like such a small thing for him to ask us to faithfully live out any type of hardship with our spouse, so that together we could reflect his message of hope.

A man who is willing to suffer, someone worth marrying, will stand out from the crowd in the way his life and heart echoes Christ’s very own words, “Not my will, but yours” (Luke 22:42). He’ll withhold nothing from God so that his life and marriage can be used for its primary purpose of bringing God glory, not merely his own happiness. He will be armed with the attitude that present sufferings are incomparable to the glory we will experience later (Romans 8:18).

Perhaps if we better understood the great calling and gift it is to suffer for the sake of sharing and reflecting the gospel, we may be more willing to submit instead of running away — especially as we enter into the covenant of marriage with a guarantee of adversity. May we step forward joyfully to experience the fullness and goodness of Christ through our suffering.