I recently read about Tim Keller, a well-known author, counselor, and pastor, who was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in May 2020. I admired the attitude he manifested when he was told that he would not live through this and what he had to say about his priorities for the time he had left on this earth.
When Dr. Keller was asked, “What are the things that you want to focus on, considering how short your remaining time in this life is going to be? What comes to the top of the list for you?” he said:
My wife, Kathy, and I are fairly well known as being a team. In many ways, we are joined at the hip.
Right after the cancer was diagnosed, we realized it wasn’t right to come to the end of our lives without improving our marriage in places where it could be better.
There were some things that she felt she could not talk to me about because I didn’t respond well, and she had given up trying to do it. But now we’re finding breakthroughs in being able to talk about certain things and deal with them in a way we were never able to before.1
I was very impressed by this, because if Tim Keller, living in the shadow of cancer, can make bettering his marriage one of his most important focuses, how much more should we be able to do that in our relationships.
Another thing I was very impressed by along these lines was a story of a man who was about to go through a divorce. He and his wife had tried everything, and nothing was working, but he loved his wife and he wanted to remain with her.
So he came up with the idea that every day he would ask her what he could do for her and do his best to accomplish it. The first times he asked her, she thought he was kidding when he would say, “Honey, what can I do for you today?” and she decided to test him and gave him a big or difficult job like cleaning out the garage or doing an overhaul on the garden. She made it as hard as she could, since she didn’t think he would actually go through with doing what she asked.
But as he continued to ask her each day what he could do for her and then wholeheartedly put his strength and effort into doing those things, she started to believe that he really was determined to do whatever it took to convince her of his love. Through his willingness to perform actions that would serve as a tangible expression of his love, their marriage was saved.
When God is at the center of our marriage and He is the most important Person in our relationships, His love brings us into unity and oneness. When His love motivates us, we can know that we are pleasing Him, even if the response from our partner might not always be what we would hope for.
Giving love to others isn’t a contract designed to get what we want in exchange. It is a gift freely given without the expectation of reciprocation. Sometimes we do things for our partner, expecting them to reciprocate. We do something nice for them and we want them to do something nice for us in return. Many times, that will happen because love begets love, but we may not see that return come back to us in the way or at the time we hope for.
If we are motivated by what we expect to get back, then what we’re giving is not fully given in love. Let’s try to model Jesus’ love instead; He gave everything for us, knowing that we could never repay Him.
- Tish Harrison Warren, “How a Cancer Diagnosis Makes Jesus’ Death and Resurrection Mean More,” New York Times, April 10, 2022.