How Do I Love Thee? Can I Count the Ways?

It’s been a beautiful summer, a great time for outdoor weddings. Sunshine, flowers, lakes, and parks have surrounded me, as I stood with young couples anxious to pledge their love for one another. With determination, they repeated the precious words of commitment, confident that their love could survive whatever the future holds. Now that summer is over and children are heading back to school, those vows are ringing in my ears.

Traditional wedding vows include the phrase “in sickness and in health”. What does it mean to promise before God to love your spouse in sickness?  During my life as an ordained minister, I have heard many variations on the following plea:

“I need help. It’s such a struggle. His disease is making it more and more difficult for him to breathe even with the oxygen. He wants me with him 24/7, sitting at that table, the television blaring. He needs my attention so I can’t even read. I love him. I want to care for him but when am I going to do. I need to get groceries. I need some peace. I love him.”

The plight of these couples is a long way from the sunny summer day, years ago, when their wedding vows were spoken. The initial blast of emotion and hormones has long since passed.  “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Was the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning thinking about the love we need when illness becomes all encompassing? Severe illness calls us to a depth of love that lies beyond our understanding, a love that pulls us beyond ourselves to a strength that only God can give.

God’s love for each one of us, whether we believe or not, is just that deep and strong. God’s love holds us in our darkest hours, empowering us to love as we have been loved. Jesus promised, “Lo I will be with you always, even unto the end of the age.” We can live secure in that promise.

(For more reflections by Janet Stobie go to

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