For a number of years, I have had a cyst on my back. Neither my primary care doctor nor my dermatologist has been concerned about it. But two weeks ago this past Monday, it hurt very much when I leaned back against the hard back of my seat at the Richmond Flying Squirrels game. When we got home, Patty saw that is had grown and expanded. It was painful to the touch. My primary care doctor was able to see me in only a few days. He looked at it and said, "It's infected, and there's an abscess. I want you to go to a surgeon so it can be lanced."
And so, this past Wednesday, I was in the surgeon's office, having the procedure done. He used a local anesthetic. There was some pain involved. He not only lanced the infection, but he removed as much as he could of the cyst, "to reduce the chances that you'll be back in here again while I do this again." As I e-mailed my co-workers later that afternoon, "It wasn't awful, but it wasn't pleasant."
Each day since the procedure, my bride has been my wound care nurse on a part of my body where I can give her absolutely no help. Her job is to use the stick end of a Q-tip to pack more than a foot of sterile, thin, cloth tape into the wound. The abscess has to heal from the inside out and this keeps the wound from closing at the surface of the skin.
My bride and I were married 40 years ago, when we were both 22 years old. Why did 22-year olds get married? Because after a year of being 1,000 miles apart at two different schools, we couldn't bear to be separated any longer. (Back then, we had to get married to live together!) We didn't know enough to know that there was anything to worry about in the future. It was like being on a 24/7 date! What fun.
Can 22-year olds possibly envision what marriage will require of them? Obviously, the answer is "no." For instance, I don't think my 22-year old bride even began giving a first thought to the possibility that she would have to re-pack a surgical wound on her groom's back every day following a procedure ...
There's a great lyric in Robin and Linda Williams' song, "For Better Or Worse":
For Better or Worse that's what we said
Standing in the Church when we were wed.
We didn't really understand those vows
But buddy we know what they mean now!
All of this is simply to illustrate what I have known for a long, long time: marriage partners cannot possibly fulfill those promises we make to each other by our own strength, determination or resolve. It is only possible as the partners are open to the grace that comes from God: the grace of self-giving love; the grace of caring for the other during times of his weakness and vulnerability; the grace of receiving that care with love when it is offered.