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The most overlooked characteristic of the person you want to marry

Few people consider sickness and suffering when picking a mate.
Few people consider sickness and suffering when picking a mate.
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Editor's note: This article by Kevin A. Thompson originally appeared on his blog, kevinathompson.com. It has been reprinted here with the author's permission.

“In sickness and in health.”

On two occasions I have said those words with the full confidence that the couple repeating those words actually knew what they meant.

The first occurrence brought a smile to my face. She had endured, and marriage was her reward on the other side of illness. Together they had journeyed through the struggles of a serious disease as boyfriend and girlfriend. Now they would be husband and wife. They knew what “in sickness and in health” meant. (See "A Map for Navigating Life’s Disappointments.")

The second occurrence brought a tear to my eye. She had weeks to live. The vow renewal was his gift to her. I almost cut the words, fearing they might be too painful. But with a crowd gathered, I included them as a testimony to all who would hear them say, “in sickness and in health.” They meant it, and everyone knew it.

Few people consider sickness and suffering when picking a mate.

They consider how the other person might look in the morning or what bad habits her or she might have.

They consider what offspring he or she could produce or what extended family that person might bring to the reunion.

Yet few people ever consider what is a vital question: Can I suffer with this person?

It sounds like the beginning of another marriage joke, but it’s not.

It’s a real question and one which should be explored by every dating couple.

Suffering is a part of life. (See "Recognize Your Child’s Pain.")

And the older a person gets, the more we realize that suffering is not a rare occurrence, but it is a common aspect of our lives.

Sorrow comes in many forms, yet it is guaranteed to come.

Beware: Not everyone suffers well.

Some live in denial, unable to confront the deep realities of life.

Some live in despair, unable to recognize the convergence of laughter and tears.

Few have the grace to suffer well.

Those who do suffer well are a wellspring of life and faith.

  • Who do you want holding your hand when the test says “cancer”?
  • On whose shoulder do you want to lean when the doctor says, “We’ve done all we can”?
  • Who do you want to lie beside when you don’t know where your child is or if he will ever come home?
  • When your world turns upside down, in whose eyes do you want to look?

Find someone who suffers well. I know it doesn’t seem important when life is perfect.

A beautiful smile is far more attractive than quiet determination.

A common interest is far more appealing than internal strength.

Yet when life falls apart, you want someone you can run to, not someone you want to run from.

  • You want someone who believes in you.
  • You want someone who instills faith, not causes doubt.
  • You want someone who hopes no matter the circumstances.

In the Bible, Job’s wife responded to his suffering by saying, “Curse God and die.” Had he not suffered enough?

Was life not difficult enough?

Enduring hardship was enough, yet Job was also forced to rebuke his wife during his time of struggle.

Life is hard enough; there is no need to make it harder.

Choosing a spouse who does not suffer well makes life harder.

It makes every grief stronger.

It makes every sorrow more painful.

It makes every hurt deeper.

Yet when our spouse knows how to suffer,

when they have don’t live in denial but confront the sorrows of life,

when they don’t live in despair but know how to laugh and cry at the same time,

when they offer support and hope in all of life’s challenges,

when they can see the big picture of life,

then

every grief is wedded to hope

every sorrow is matched with love

and every hurt is paired with healing.

One of the guarantees of life is that every person, every couple, will suffer. When choosing a mate, choose someone who suffers well, and you will never be sorry. (See "Five Moments a Pastor Looks for at a Wedding.")

Kevin A. Thompson is lead pastor of Community Bible Church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. He runs a blog dedicated to leadership, marriage and parenting (specifically parenting a child with special needs). Along with his wife, Kevin is co-owner of JThompsonMMC, a full-service media and marketing company based in Fort Smith. He is a graduate of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and Oklahoma Baptist University.