dealing with a spouse’s serious illness | as unto the Lord


Part X | as unto the Lord

There’s a note in my iPhone dated December 20, 2011, 8:40 a.m. In it, I unloaded my thoughts on what it meant to do unto Brad as unto the Lord. Mostly I asked myself a rhetorical question: Am I strong enough to stroke Brad’s back? Am I strong enough to do a load of dishes?

In this phase of Brad’s illness and treatment*, I can’t shake the idea that I’m supposed to be like Jesus. Not just in the big things like loving God and loving others, but in the everyday mundane moments where I can choose to serve or choose to ignore. Jesus would serve.

In this mindset, my question isn’t the same as it was almost two years ago. It’s not “Am I strong enough” to put aside my will and serve someone else. It’s “Am I empty enough?”

Have I been broken and emptied out and have I asked Christ to fill me–fill these eyes so I see where I can serve, fill these hands so I can relieve a burden, fill this heart so all this happens with joy, not grudging martyrdom. Am I empty enough of myself that I can take on Christ?

If I say Yes, God, I love you, and Yes, God, I believe you sent your son and he died for me, and Yes, I believe he is coming again, but I inwardly groan when I have to get up to get something for my husband because it’s difficult for him to get up, I’m a hypocrite.

And I am! I’ve done that! I’ll greedily take all the love God lavishes on me, but I’ll be stingy when it comes to handing it back out. We’ve all done that and the grouchy truth is that it’s sin.

Here’s the cure: Serve.

Whatever you do, work heartily as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.
Colossians 3:23-24

The little things–the work of my hands–is where faith becomes concrete, something I can touch and Brad can feel. And the miracle is that in serving my husband, I’m serving my savior.

My questions become:
Am I empty enough to give my hands to Christ to use?
Am I empty enough to listen with the same attention and compassion that Christ would?
Am I empty enough to match the rhythm of my day to the rhythm of suffering? To pick up a burden and walk under its weight the way Simon picked up the cross?

Or to put it more bluntly:
Am I empty enough to wash that scummy scrambled egg skillet? Because if I don’t, Brad will be on his feet to do it.
Am I empty enough to put my book down at breakfast and listen to Brad tell me how he feels that day?
Am I empty enough to not plow through the crowds at the farmers’ market but instead match my pace to Brad’s painful, deliberate gait?

If Brad’s call during his illness is to endure with faith, then mine as his wife is to serve with joy. To do unto Brad as I would do to Jesus if he were the one in my living room. Would I grumble if Jesus desired a clean tub or a vacuumed floor? Or if he needed a detailed meal planned? Oh, I hope not. I hope I would serve and my service would be joyful worship.

In God’s mysterious reality where emptiness equals fullness and surrender means success, service brings joy. I’m almost giddy writing this right now thinking of how happy I’ve been these last few weeks doing things for Brad. It sounds so stupid, but there it is.


*Almost two months ago, Brad started antibiotic treatment for his chronic Lyme disease. We’ve resisted trying antibiotics for a long time hoping we could make progress with more natural treatments. So far, we haven’t, so we’re working with a naturopath to balance the antibiotics Brad is taking with lots of probiotic and herbal support. This isn’t what we thought we’d be doing, but we’re both really hopeful it will work. That’s the good part. The not as good part is the treatment is pretty brutal on Brad. He has to take some type of supplement or antibiotic about every 90 minutes (I made a spreadsheet to keep track of all of it) and they often fill him up so he doesn’t have a huge appetite. Plus, the toxic die-off coupled with angry bacteria means Brad’s normal symptoms–already pretty difficult to live with–have ratcheted up to sort of crippling levels. The doctor tells us this is expected and won’t last forever, though there’s no way to know how long it will last. In the meantime, we’re getting a lot of movie and TV watching in while we wait out the worst of it, so if you have a series to recommend, please share! We like British things. And dramatic things. And Nova things.

Part I | gratitude
Part II | prayer
Part III | faith
Part IV | fear
Part V | frustration
Part VI | truth
Part VII | hope
Part VIII | suffering
Part IX | the body of Christ





  1. Shanna

    Ugh. Super convicting.

    (And our current TV series is Army Wives. I started watching it on a day when I was really sick and unable to sleep, and everybody in the show was going through such difficult things–husbands deploying, daughters dying, etc.–that I felt like they were hurting with me. That was maybe three weeks ago? We’re on season five now.)

  2. Sarah

    Thanks so much for sharing, Joanna. Made me cry. Xoxo hugs and prayers your way, friend.

  3. Lan | morestomach

    my thoughts are with you guys.

    i just finished The West Wing a few weeks ago and started on Fringe. it’s kinda freaking me out.

    cheesy british stuff:
    my beloved loves the IT Crowd (me, not so much), and we are slowly kinda sorta watching Merlin. i started Broadchurch on BBC America and the first episode made me cry. Dr. Who is also really good.

  4. Kathryn

    I think I recommended Broadchurch to you on twitter – it’s really good. Have you tried some of the Scandinavian dramas too? I like the original three series of The Killing and The Bridge. They’re really atmospheric and a very good distraction (I can vouch from experience).

    I hope the antibiotics start having a positive effect soon.

  5. Shanna

    Also, PS!, have you tried “Call of the Midwife?” British, fascinating, lots of babies! : )

  6. joannalinberg

    Guys! Who knew you were such an untapped wealth of TV suggestions!

    Lan, I’ve heard from a couple other sources that Fringe is a good one. I think your recommendation might put me over the edge.

    Kathryn, Broadchurch is definitely on the list and if you score again on that one, I’m never asking anyone else but you for suggestions ever again.

    Shanna, dramatic tragedies? British? Babies? You’ve got my number.

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