Once again, that interloper named crisis arrived without warning. It came during our church choir rehearsal. My husband, Dan, was sitting on the front pew, narration in hand, while I sang my part in the soprano section. The music sounded stunning. The decorations were perfect, even exquisite. And to top it off, our son, Rob, was on his way home from seminary in Pennsylvania. I was giddy with anticipation.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed our associate pastor walk quickly toward Dan, touching his shoulder to gain his attention. After a few words, both of them slipped out.
When Dan returned, one glance told me something serious had happened. He motioned to me, but he didn't need to — I was already making my way to him.
The news set my heart pounding: Rob had been in a car accident! As he and two friends traveled home, their car had been rear-ended by a speeding drunk driver, catapulting them over a 4-foot median into oncoming traffic. Two more cars had slammed into theirs. Rob was being airlifted, bleeding and unconscious, to a nearby trauma center. Just like that, life plummeted from joyful to terrifying.
A response that heals
Crisis takes our breath away, sometimes completely knocking us off our feet. An unexpected death. Sudden illness. Natural catastrophe or family emergency. A good name ruined. Financial disaster. Critical times stir up anguish, fear or anger so fierce it can destroy a marriage. If we turn inward, withdrawing from our spouse, we risk damaging the beautiful oneness of marriage.
So how do couples respond to crisis? What helps? I believe God wants us to cocoon together, as husband and wife. Doing so strengthens a relationship, eases heartache and deepens love for each other through the shared pain.
Dan and I learned to cocoon in crisis in several ways:
Run to God
Just as children run to their parents when they're hurt, or scared, so the Lord desires us to do the same. Yet I'm ashamed to admit that many times I've tried to go it alone, which only deepened my anxiety. There is no better response to crisis than to seek shelter together in Christ through prayer and the nourishment of God's Word.
Adversity depletes energy and frays emotions, so it is imperative to get rid of extraneous activity. Distinguish essential duties from responsibilities that can be postponed or eliminated. When my mother recently fought her final battle with illness, Dan and I devoted our energies to her welfare and comfort. Being at her bedside trumped our social calendar. Keeping family and loved ones appraised of Mom's health became more important than household projects.
Insulate, don't isolate
It's natural (but unhealthy) to erect walls of self-protection. Marriages often fall apart during crisis because one person shuts another out. Total isolation can lead to self-pity, anger, increased fear and worry, even depression or suicide. Don't deny your spouse and family the privilege of sharing your pain. Their love and support are vital to your wellbeing; they want — and need — to help.
During our daughter's prodigal years, I spent so much time responding to her day-to-day ups and downs that I neglected my marriage. The prolonged crisis was swallowing me up. So my husband and I made a decision to set aside time for ourselves. Uplifting concerts, energizing walks and weekend getaways brought rejuvenation and restoration.
A crisis might be so overwhelming or so emotionally devastating that it requires expert help. I recently heard of a couple facing the prolonged agony of unsuccessful attempts to conceive. Failure after failure was changing them both. The wife grew irritable. The husband withdrew. Their marriage had nearly disintegrated when finally they sought counsel. They were able to restore their relationship, but it took outside help.
As the details of our son's car accident unfolded, we learned that all three boys had been hurt seriously but not critically. During our son's long recovery, the love my husband and I shared deepened immensely as we clung to each other and to God. In fact, I learned more about Dan as we joined hearts in prayer than I ever could through our day-to-day conversations. He'd say the same.
Ever feel like you need to wear a mask to cover up who you are? Are you concerned that, if people knew who you really are and how you really felt, they wouldn't understand?
One minister, two jobs and the family that's at the top of the list. The number of bivocational ministers, those in full- or part-time ministry who carry an additional job, is estimated by some researchers to be as high as 30 percent of ministers nationwide.
"You should see the church they attend," Lucille said, armed with bulletin and newsletter. Creases formed across my brow as celebration gave way to comparisons a trap that had sprung too many times.