In its October 8 issue, CHRISTIANITY TODAY carried the story of Robertson McQuilkin, president of Columbia Bible College and Seminary. In that article, Robertson recounted the story of his wife’s gradual succumbing to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.
When I read that article, I couldn’t keep back the flow of tears, as my heart ached for my friend and his beloved wife. (You’ll understand that if you have read it; and if you haven’t read it, you ought to.)
Early on, Robertson decided to resign his presidency of the flourishing college and seminary he had nourished for nearly two decades. He chose to care for his wife. It was his privilege and his duty. “Why?” you ask. Because he loved her, and she needed him. Had he not promised many wonderful years ago “to love her and care for her so long as we both shall live”?
But what about the schools and the thousands of young people who would be preparing at Columbia’s college and seminary for worldwide Christian ministries? Did they not have needs as well? But Robertson also believed in the sovereign God of the Bible. Though the need was great, others could be found to continue his work at the schools. Only he could serve his beloved wife, Muriel.
Conviction And Compassion
Thank God for a man like Robertson McQuilkin. I pray that every young woman who marries may find a husband like him, and that every young man who marries may prove to be that kind of husband. To be that kind of spouse takes certain virtues and disciplines. It demands both conviction and compassion, a balanced character. It requires both softness and firmness, a deep sensitivity and empathic power, on the one hand, and a rooted loyalty and resolute love, on the other.
Elsewhere in this issue, philosopher Peter Kreeft discusses spiritual warfare and points out that our ancestors were better at the “hard virtues” (like chastity and courage), while we seem to be better at the “soft virtues” (such as kindness and philanthropy). It seems that a long and enduring marriage makes the same demands as spiritual warfare: that we develop both hard and soft virtues. Such a balanced character does not happen apart from the ministry of God’s Spirit in our lives, and marriage itself is the classroom in which he chooses to teach us.
But what if my wife gets Alzheimer’s disease? How would I cope with the conflicting demands of ministry and marriage?
Ruth has been my dearest and best friend for over 50 years. I, too, promised to honor her and care for her so long as we both shall live. I don’t know what the future holds. But if I am physically and mentally able and my wife will permit it, I know what I shall do. I shall love her and care for her till the end of my strength.
I do not speak for others. Not everyone has the same circumstances. Many things make a difference: financial reserves, emotional capital, and the availability of family and friends. And as age exacts its toll on the more lucid partner, energies and optimism diminish, and his or her ability to cope with change and unexpected demands may falter.
Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s is exhausting in the best of circumstances. I certainly would not wish to lay a guilt trip upon those who are led of God to meet the demands of life and the duties and privileges of love in a different way.
Yet I know what God would have me to do, should he lead Ruth and me down a path like that of Robertson and Muriel. For others whose love for spouse and duty to God are equally strong, I cannot say. I believe God could lead them to quite a different decision. Yet in a day when marriages are entered into lightly and jettisoned with what seems to be only momentary regret, we can unite in thanking God for Robertson and Muriel—and for the example of their love, one that is buttressed with bands of steel.
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