There isn’t a moment when I walk into the house from wherever I’ve been (work, church, some social outing I attend alone) and don’t have my heart sliced in two to see him tucked under blankets and trying to smile for me. Blankets that aren’t keeping him warm and a weak smile expressing relief I’m home. Too tired to manage more.
I hide it well: the way the pain of his struggle carves a chunk out of my heart. I think I do, at least. He knows me better than I usually acknowledge, so he probably knows. It’s a shared grief, this life we’ve been asked to walk, and we do it as well as we can. We deliberately find ways to laugh. We create moments of joy. We dance and bob and weave as life fluctuates and shifts beneath and around us.
But, sometimes, I fall apart.
There are few things in life that highlight the depth and ugliness of your own selfish nature than living with a man who straps on courage and quiet grace in the face of chronic pain and suffering. This past week has been relentless. Minimal sleep and constantly spiking pain has made life difficult and exhausting. On Sunday afternoon as he settled in for a nap, we lay close while I rubbed his back and he sighed quietly under the warmth of my hands and the heavy down quilt.
‘I just can’t catch up. I just need to sleep,’ he mumbled into his pillow. ‘I’ve been so miserable. It’s not fair to you.’ Tears sprang to my eyes and I was thankful he couldn’t see my face in that moment. The room was dark and quiet.
‘It’s fine, love,’ I returned quietly.
‘It’s not fair to you.’
The thing is, I’m selfish. I am. I know it’s fair and valid to say that this is difficult for both of us. I know that I need to ask for help for me as much as I need to ask for help for him. (Okay, I don’t actually know that, but I’m learning and trying. Bear with me.) There is, however, a part of me that just wants everyone to realize how hard it really is. For me. It’s a constant battle to balance asking for help and the absolute imperative to deny myself.
I tell you this because I need you to understand that this conversation we had Sunday afternoon was absurd. Yes, the week has been relentless. Yes, each day had been a frustration-filled struggle. He had not, however, been miserable. Not a harsh word spoken. No off-colour remarks or snarky retorts. The one possible exception to that had been Friday evening when I had asked too much of him after an excruciating day.
And yet? An apology. Unnecessary. Unfounded. Heartfelt.
He feels selfish, you see. A disappointment. Needing me and having me and unable to offer much in return. He feels, I suspect, that, in a week as brutal as this one, my needs are greater than anything he can provide. And, as if everything he is going through isn’t enough, he wants to do more. He’s frustrated by his apparent selfishness of needing to take far more than he has the strength to give.
I cannot count the days where I feel completely inadequate to be the woman he needs in his life. And though he doesn’t often say it, conversations like the one we had Sunday make me aware he often feels the same.
And sometimes I fall apart.
I count it as a good sign. The day that I arrive home and, seeing him pale and exhausted, feel nothing is the day I am not the woman he needs in his life. The day my heart doesn’t crack and bleed at the seams is the day I’ve let my selfishness take over. Falling apart means I am here. I am present. I am knee-deep, committed, and as in love with my best friend today as the day I married him.
My friend and mentor, TonyKS, used to say that within the human heart exists an overwhelming need for the answer to the problem of unworthiness; that the gospel of grace is the only religion that says, ‘Yes. You’re unworthy. Jesus is enough. More than enough.’ In the light of Jesus’ grace, our inadequacy seems to multiply. Saving grace doesn’t heal our unworthiness, it transforms our response. We bow in sorrow, cry out in thankfulness, whisper repentance.
And sometimes we fall apart.
Count it as a good sign. You’re still here. You are present. You are knee-deep in the grit of life, committed, leaning heavy on grace and unmerited favour. You are still choking out praise, offering thankfulness when it feels impossible, lifting up your unworthiness and crying out, ‘You are enough, Lord. More than enough.’
Fall apart if you need to. I know I will.
…he gives us more grace. ~ James 4:6