Movies can be tremendous entertainment, taking us out of our ordinary lives into an extraordinary world of storytelling. But sometimes, movies strike so close to home that they set off a cascade of thoughts, feelings, and questions.
I recently say “The Theory of Everything,” the based-on-a-true-story movie about Stephen Hawking and his wife, Jane. I suppose people who do not have a serious chronic illness might react differently to the movie, but those who do have challenging health problems probably will see a deep, and perhaps too-true, parallel with their own lives and how they relate to their loved ones.
Stephen and Jane meet, fall in love, wed, and have a family. But throughout this journey, Stephen’s physical health deteriorates drastically because of ALS, “Lou Gehrig’s disease,” a neuromuscular condition. As Stephen’s condition gets worse, Jane’s love is tested as she juggles three children and her husband, making her own goal of a PhD seem out of reach, at least for a time.
I won’t give away the whole story. (Of course, those who know who Stephen Hawking is probably can guess or already know some or most of it.) But I will say that the tale of a couple challenged by illness, challenged to the very brink of breaking, is not an unfamiliar one to many of us who struggle with life-altering illness and pain. And, when it’s put up on the “big screen,” it can be very, very difficult to watch.
The movie stirred up lively discussion. How long would you, could you stay with a loved one whose health is so bad that it consumes your life, as well as your loved one’s? Are marriage vows, in the face of catastrophic health, breakable? Does God intend for someone to devote his- or herself entirely and “til death” to their sick spouse, or are they “allowed” to leave the relationship when the going gets tough?
When is a promise a promise, when does it become something obsolete, and when is a commitment a cross we are meant to bear? After all, we who live with pain and illness do not have the luxury of tossing it aside when it becomes too inconvenient or painful, when our journey hits the really bad spots and death or greater longevity with more complications loom.
As our society becomes more self-centered (as if it isn’t enough already!), and life at all stages of development or existence seems be become more disposible, the questions stirred up by “The Theory of Everything” will only become more strident, the answers to them only more telling of what we as a society have become and what we as Christians are challenged to do and be.
In my life with lupus, I have seen so very many relationships break apart because of the illness of one partner. I’ve experienced rifts and ruptures, too. But I also have been blessed with tremendous, loving friends and family. And I praise God for that! I praise Him, too, for the blessings found in the midst of suffering, especially that of God’s eternal, abiding presence. And I pray that those who love people with illness and pain will find meaning and blessings in their lives of hard work, commitment, and exhausting love.
To be continued next week
Joy and Peace,