Category: Thoughts on Marriage


Have you ever put much thought into the passage in Genesis, “God created man in his image, in the divine image He created him, male and female he created them”?

I recently gave a talk to the women and teens of our youth ministry program about this very passage.  As I discerned about the direction God desired me to take, I concluded that it was important to let the women know about the great value and dignity that our Lord and his Church, have for women.  As females created in the divine image we have a critical role to play in family life, society, and the world.  Additionally, I felt it was of critical importance to affirm the role of marriage in God’s plan and the great blessing that children truly are to a marriage.

In preparation for my talk I reacquainted myself with books on Theology of the Body, Scripture passages, and some of what St. Pope John Paul II had to say on the subject.  What I found over and over was, contrary to what many people think and say, the Catholic Church holds women in very high regard.

Over the course of these five articles I hope to explore some of his work including the 1988 Apostolic Letter, The Dignity and Vocation of Women, rendered in Latin as Mulieris Dignitatem (here after referenced as MD), and The Theology of the Body.  In addition, I will be referencing several well-known authors and their work on the subject.

The women and teens I was addressing were varied in age and knowledge about Church teaching on women. Rather than prematurely delve into an Apostolic Letter, I felt it was more important to lay a foundation starting with Genesis and move forward.  Thus, I thought it best to begin, in the beginning.

In the book of Genesis we read about two accounts of creation. Chapter one offers a chronological account of creation, told over seven days with the high point being the creation of Adam on the sixth day. When God created everything he finished by saying it “was good,” but after he created Adam he says, “Behold, it is very good,” (Gen 1:31).

Chapter two is referred to as the second account of creation and is “the most ancient description and record of man’s self-knowledge” writes JP II. In this account, we also read that God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” thus God in all his wisdom and providence makes a suitable partner for him. Enter the W-O-M-A-N! And history has never been the same since.

I have always been taught that through Scripture God speaks to us. In the story of Adam and Eve, God is helping his children throughout all time to realize something about who God is and also something about who we are created to be.

Let’s start with the statement God makes to Adam, “It is not good for the man to be alone…” (Gen 2:18). One might question how Adam could have possibly felt so alone with all the animals and living creatures, which fluttered, swam, and galloped around him. Wasn’t his trusty best friend the hippo, enough for him?  Didn’t he find consolation in gazing at the gazelle, and peace fishing all day at Paradise Creek?  What was still missing that he felt so “alone?”

When are the times in our own life when we feel most alone?  Life surrounds us. Humanity buzzes just outside of our doors and at times we can still feel utterly alone.  What is missing? What was missing for Adam? If we finish reading the passage, God gives us the solution by simply stating “…I will make a suitable partner for him.”

God’s design for us is to be in relationship with one another.  The Trinity is a relationship of eternal love, giving and receiving throughout all of time.  We are made for one another, and it is there we find comfort and wholeness.  God created, “man for woman, and woman for man.”  This is never more apparent and obvious than when we look at our bodies.

”In the ‘unity of the two’, man and woman are called from the beginning not only to exist ‘side by side’ or ‘together’, but they are also called to exist mutually ‘one for the other’… the woman must ‘help’ the man – and in his turn he must help her – first of all by the very fact of their “being human persons” (MD 7).

From the side of Adam the perfect helpmate is found.  Further, we learn that through this encounter with Eve, Adam realizes that finally there is someone like him, someone that complements and completes him. Eve is different from all the animals that Adam has seen and named, so we are told. God takes this opportunity to institute the Sacrament of Marriage in Genesis 2:24, “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.”

“The fact that man ‘created as man and woman’ is in the image of God means that each of them individually is like God, as a rational and free being. It also means that man and woman, created as a ‘unity of the two’ in their common humanity, are called to live in a communion of love, and in this way to mirror in the world the communion of love that is in God, through which the Three Persons love each other in the intimate mystery of the one divine life.” (MD 7)

In other words, how we love one another here on earth as male and female, is supposed to be a sign that mirrors the Trinity and their self-giving love to all of humanity. So how do you think we are doing so far?

I am blessed to share with you that I have been married for thirty-nine years now.  We know that through prayer God helped us find each other and sift through all the “others” who were out there.  My husband complements me in a way that no other human being does. There have been times however, when I am in a particularly creepy mood, that even I, “wouldn’t want to be married to me.”  Yet this man sees and experiences in me a person that complements, lifts, and challenges him to be all that he is meant to be.  Through all of my faults and failings (and his as well), God has placed us together to be a sign that somehow mirrors (in a small and imperfect way) the great love and indissolubility of Himself as Triune God. Christopher West writes in his book, The Good News About Sex and Marriage, “To diminish in any way the permanence of married love is to diminish the permanence of God’s love.”

This is why the Catholic Church will never change its stance on marriage. It is not ours to change. Christopher West continues, “Marriage isn’t whatever two people want it to be. For a relationship to be truly marital, it must conform to God’s plan for marriage as he created it to be.” He goes on to write that; “Marriage is the closest and most intimate of human friendships…marriage calls for mutual self-surrender so intimate and complete that the two spouses become one yet, without loosing their uniqueness as persons.”

What an absolutely beautiful description of marriage, “the closest and most intimate of human friendships…” It must begin with a friendship and continue being one, especially after the vows have been spoken and consummated. Any married person will verify the critical importance of the “mutual self-surrender” component of marriage.  To exist so exclusively with another on a daily basis, to share a home, children, and a life of love, demands dying to self on a daily basis. In my work as a marriage minister, I once heard the difference between love and lust described in this way;  “Love is selfless, it can’t wait to give. Lust is selfish, it can’t wait to take.” When you are selfless, it is easier to surrender yourself to another without measuring.

As we work our way forward in this discussion, it seems prudent to point out the obvious complementary aspects of how God created the female and male body. I’ll begin with the females.

The feminine body has been designed by God to receive life. All of our reproductive organs are internal. “Only women are created with an empty space within…we are created to be receptive, to be life givers. We make a gift of self so that others can receive the gift of self, their very life.” Our bodies can “bring into being something that never existed before,” writes Katrina Zeno in her book, Every Woman’s Journey.

Have you ever taken the time to ponder the beauty and design of the female body? When we begin to consider our bodies in this way we can see God’s awesome plan emerging. Imagining that in a very real sense, a woman (and a man), have the capacity to “bring into being something that never existed before.” This should cause us not only pause in awe but to tremble for that unparalleled privilege the Creator allows us to share.  We aren’t just mass producers of cookie-cutter human beings. We are gifted to co-create a “unique and unrepeatable” life that will never again grace the world with its presence.

Have you ever thought about the generosity of our God who allows us to share in this great mystery? “In this openness, in conceiving and giving birth to a child, the woman ‘discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.’” (MD 18)

“From the dawn of creation, the openness of women to others has been recognized as an essential element-and gift-of her nature,” writes Jason Evert in his book, Theology of Her Body. Think about that for a moment. Not only are we open physically, to hold another life within us- we are created to also be “open” to others in many other ways. Mary our Mother is the prime example for us. Her openness as a very young woman to the will of God, to become pregnant and bear His Son to the world, is a tremendous example of the capacity women have to be open and receive what God wants to give.

The previous paragraphs have focused on the gift of motherhood and receptivity to new life. It is my intention however, to devote these articles to the discussion of females and males as God created us.  What about the women among us who are unmarried or unable to conceive children? Is our only gift to humanity the gift of childbearing?

In God’s grand plan and design for all women, he would not be so small-minded as to limit our usefulness and gift to exclusively bearing children.  We are all called to be a gift to humanity even beyond the role of physical motherhood. I am referring to what is called spiritual motherhood.

In the articles to follow, we will delve deeper into what spiritual motherhood entails and the great gift it is to humanity.  We will also explore many other aspects of the feminine genius, the gift of manhood, and the complementary way we have been created and designed.

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My work predominately involves the preparation of men and women for marriage in the Catholic Church, as well as listening to those who are struggling within their marriage. This gives me a particular perspective on some of the common communication struggles that can plague a couple and eat away at their good intentions. My husband and I have the personal experience of thirty-nine years of marriage. That certainly doesn’t mean we have it all figured out, but, together we are striving to do the good work of learning the selfless nature of love, and the art of better communication.

With all this as a backdrop, I simply propose to share in this article, ways that might help men understand where women are coming from, and how they may obtain insight into our way of thinking and acting. I do the same in a subsequent article entitled, “What Husbands Want Their Wives to Know.”

I hear the same issues over and over and while mostly common to women, there are times when the roles are reversed, so the suggestions can apply as well.

1. Hear what I am not saying.

I realize this is rather ambiguous since women can seem to say rather a lot. While it feels like we speak of many things unrelated or unconnected to the matter, we often tend not to say what the real issue is immediately. Why? Sometimes we don’t know how and we need you to try harder to help us, because sometimes, we don’t “get us” either. Your desire to want to know us deeper is tremendously important. We don’t always want to have to give you hints, or the outright answers. While this would be easiest and less hassle, when you make an effort to crack the code and help us communicate more effectively,  it feels like we are a team working towards the same end.

It takes work, patience, love, and persistence to simply begin to scratch the surface of who we are as a woman. Maybe this analogy will help. It’s like the end of a ball game when only ten minutes are left on the clock, which really translates into an hour, as the painstakingly hard work of yard by yard results eventually yields a goal. Expend that effort on us and you too will gain points and yardage.

We are complex by design. An ever changing emotional roller coaster ride that God has put you on for a reason. So, buckle up and hang on, the ride is worth the effort!

Because we are wired differently than you are, we require much more. The effort you make will be worth it to us and to the marriage. God made us to complement you in a way that both brings out the best in each of us, as well as the worst at times.

Then there are the moments when we say very little and expect you to deduce where we are failing to be direct. Which leads to number two.

2. We don’t want to have to tell you what’s wrong, or what we want you to do.

Quite frankly, we think you should already know. What seems utterly obvious to us, can be as clear as mud to you. I have finally learned that after decades of marriage, if I start a sentence with these eight little words, “you would think after _____ years of marriage…” this immediately shuts down the channels of communication and he is closed for business.

What this potentially volatile statement does is assume our spouse is a clueless Neanderthal who hasn’t put two and two together for decades. It puts him on the defense, disrespects him, and worse closes the door to healthy communication. I am not entirely sure why simply stating what we want or need, is something we women are so reticent to do. It saves a lot of hurt feelings and disagreements if we just spit it out in a loving and honest way.

But instead…

3. We expect you to read our minds.

While I am no more able to read his mind than he is to read mine, we tend to do this all the time. When I state that we are not “wired” the same, it means we do not communicate in the same manner either. Which takes us back to number two in needing to articulate clearly, patiently, and lovingly so that our man can understand us, like no one else on the planet can.

Instead…

4. We state that, “nothing is wrong” when in fact, something is very wrong.

We want you to read our body language and not assume that the words coming out of our mouths echo the sentiments of our hearts or minds. If we are not shutting down out of sheer frustration and exasperation, we may walk, stomp, or run away, crying or fuming if you fail to read all the signs to the contrary, and instead dismiss us out of frustration.

Please help us to say what is really on our minds and to have integrity between what we say and what we mean. We really do need your help, and actually want your help, even if we say we don’t. Thus, the vicious cycle continues.

We fail to give you adequate information and it becomes nearly impossible…

5. For you to connect all the dots.

Remember that little activity we did as kids, drawing a line from number to number in a methodical way eventually yielding something identifiable? When you take the time to ask clarifying questions, in a patient and gentle way, you will be rewarded by connecting the dots which will help you understand with clarity what our issue is.

We want you to connect the dots because that is what will bring you closer to not only the heart of the matter, but our heart. This is the place of vulnerability and intimacy, and we will protect it at all costs. Think intimacy, “into-me-see,” which by the way is not another word for sex.  It is here that we will allow you to come to know us in a way that very few know or understand us. The bigger the history of our hearts being abused, the more difficult it is to get there. It is however, a place reserved only for you, if you will take the time to get there.

Bottom line, we are partners in this life-long endeavor called marriage. We are teammates who should lift each other up, step up to serve one another, and step out to have a good time now and then. We need to be assured that we are safe with you, as you lead us in love. Our prayer time together is critical to protect our union and the family we build, fortify, and shove out the door at the proper time so that way we can have you all to ourselves again.

Finally, don’t forget the efforts you made back when we were dating. Don’t let that fire die. Surprise us, be romantic, show us how special we are to you. It really is the little things, done with regularity that make the biggest difference. Make time for us and put us above everything else but God. Give us the best of you, not what is left after everything else. We promise to try and do the same, because each of us deserves it.

When we allow everything and everyone to come before our spouse, our marriage suffers. When that happens, the whole family suffers. It starts and ends with us. Happy wife, happy life as they say. Be a man of prayer and let the Source of all love flow through you to me.

It’s that easy, and that hard. But together with God, we can do it well. “What Husbands Want Their Wives to Know” will follows Fair is fair, after all.

What is it about we humans wherein we want diamonds, but we settle for broken glass? We see this in many areas of our life; jobs, exercise, and relationships to name a few. We want good things for ourselves, meaningful work, a sleek rock-hard body, a learned mind, a happy fulfilling marriage- all of which are attainable goals.

I do not write as someone who has figured it all out. My journals are still packed with years of wanting to “eat healthy and lose weight… blah, blah, blah.” At this point in my journey I am seriously running out of time on Earth. It’s now or never.

What is it that motivates some people to go after what they want with all the gusto of a hurricane, while others sit on the sidelines just wishing it were them? Did the Lord bless them with a double dose of virtue or what?

Let’s look at the area of relationships since I’m in the marriage business and have a ringside seat.

When it comes to marriage, some well-meaning couples naively try to fit a square peg into a heart-shaped hole.

We all know people who try with all their might to force a long-term relationship to happen. Maybe they’ve been together for years, perhaps even live together, and are sexually active, (duh!). They both have spoken and unspoken expectations of each other, and are hopeful the other will eventually deliver. Each hopes the other will change over time or perhaps after they are married (if they ever get that far). There may even be serious disparity on the things that matter. What the other person is willing to deliver, and the expectation, may be as wide as the canyon; yet they stick it out. A necessary attribute critical to marriage, but ill-advised in cohabitation. They aren’t particularly fulfilled personally or with the other, but they don’t want to give up or leave because they’ve “invested too much” already. The second-rate fantasy they settle for, is better than being alone.

Or is it?

We were meant for greatness, and for happiness beyond our wildest imagination. Why do we remain in relationships that are less than we deserve? Believe it or not, settling is so far beneath our dignity. The question before us then is do you think happy, faithful, fun, life-long marriages are attainable or a fairy tale?

Am I advocating giving up on your spouse if you are currently in an unfulfilling marriage? NO! Start here for suggestions on how to begin the good work of a happy marriage. I am specifically addressing unmarried relationships which we don’t end of out of fear of loneliness, what other’s might think, or the loss of deposits.

Questions that are worthy of pondering honestly and deeply in your heart are these;

  • Does the person I love, love me more than they love themselves?
  • If some unforeseen illness or accident should befall me, would this person stick around for the long haul to take care of me?
  • Am I first in their life? Before work, friends, extended family, pets, or even ice cream? Yes, ice cream. (Notice I didn’t say chocolate, LOL)
  • Does he or she challenge me to be a better person?
  • Would I brag about all aspects of this person’s character, interests, or what they do behind closed doors, or is there embarrassment or shame?
  • Are there any addictions or harmful behaviors that I am ignoring and hoping will go away?
  • Would I want this person to be the parent of my child? (As they are now, not what I hope they will become?)

If you are not deliriously happy with pretty much every attribute of this person, then I ask you to consider seeking what is best for both of you. Using each other is nothing, compared to loving each other? They are diametrically opposed. Love places the other above self, always. Lust places self before all else. It might just be worth the risk of being alone for awhile as you figure things out, weighing the implications of the notion that you both deserve better than what the relationship has delivered.

I’ve noticed when couples get on the “marriage train” they don’t know how to get off, even, when there is a “red flag parade” preceding them to their wedding day. It’s one thing if your wedding color is red, and quiet another if it is indicative of the status of your relationship.

God has a plan for each of us. Some for married life, others single, and still others a vocation in religious life. Living out your unique vocation only leads to great happiness.

The first place to begin is by asking God to show you what wonderful plans he has for you, and to give you the necessary courage if it means leaving a long-time relationship. It is much more painful trying to force something that isn’t right, than to surrender to new possibilities. Prayer and God’s grace will make the journey easier. Believe, and trust that God’s plan for your life will be immensely better than all the wishing you may be doing, hoping someone will be the someone, they are not.

In my work preparing engaged couples for marriage, I find myself pondering what might have been different for us, if my husband and I would have been required to take the same prep that is currently offered in the Diocese of Phoenix. While we were married in Phoenix over thirty-eight years ago, the marriage prep was minimal.

It was the seventies, (need I say more). I had met my future spouse in a disco. Yes, God does answer prayers and work within the confines of our reality at the time. Mark was a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force, still wet behind the ears from the Academy, and in pilot training. Stationed in beautiful Arizona, he was “looking for love in all the wrong places.” (wrong music genre, but appropriate for the story) I was in college and working full time at the local hospital.

I had been praying the Rosary for help in finding a good spouse. Other than that, it was work, disco, and homework. I knew my prayers were heard the night we met and began dating. Due to his flying schedule we could only see each other on weekends, but we made the most of the little time we had together.

Months later when he had graduated and received the assignment we never wanted, a remote tour to South Korea under Martial Law; he proposed.

The clock was ticking as he had orders to begin training outside of Arizona. We made a hasty appointment with the parish Priest who was also a family friend. I remember meeting with Father, I cannot recall what he said or if we took a marriage prep inventory or not.

Mark then departed after we set a date for the following November. I would see him only once more before he went overseas, and then not again until a few weeks before the wedding. No texting, emails, skype or similar communication, just letters that took weeks to arrive. We kept a steady stream of those coming back and forth across the Pacific.

You can bet we were not discussing the expectations we had for each other as husband and wife. Nor the best strategies for conflict resolution, finances, or effective communicating. We were going to have to learn on the fly in a very tense situation, while being alert to the fact that I might be immediately evacuated from country.

Would we have been receptive to a class on “Theology of the Body” or “Natural Family Planning” that my couples must take? I’d like to think so. Not unlike the couples I work with, we worked, went to school, and got the prerequisite fun in on the weekends. I couldn’t have known then what I know now about the key importance of good marriage preparation.

In hindsight, I can clearly see that what we offer the couples now would have been so helpful, saving us from years of miscommunication and misunderstandings. It would have offered opportunities for deeper and more insightful discussion on areas that were simply avoided out of ignorance or not talked about out of fear. I believe it would have better prepared us for the storms that were just over the horizon we weren’t even anticipating.

Yet, “That which doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger.” Thankfully, God was squarely in the center of our relationship. We hadn’t learned yet the vital importance of praying together daily, of sharing what was on our hearts, and for me, just asking for what I needed from him rather than assuming he could read my mind. That last one took me decades to overcome.

One of our sons sent us a clip of a comedian talking about this very thing recently and he said something most profound, “women think a statement is a command, they don’t just come right out and say what they want because they don’t want to sound bossy.”

He continued, “men want to do what women want, they just need clear commands.” Even that little segment would have been helpful so many years ago, (well actually right up until last year).

By the grace of God, our faith, (hurt feelings, unnecessary arguments, lots of tears) and persistence, we discovered in the trenches, what would have been more beneficial in boot camp.

I have experienced eight years of accompanying these couples as they prepared for their own marriages. I’m blessed to see countless “ah-ha moments,” and receive amazing positive feedback from the couples themselves about the classes. Good prep makes all the difference.

So here it is, if you want your marriage to succeed in a challenging culture that has itself been the casualty of many failed marriages, I invite you to take advantage of every possible avenue the Catholic Church offers for preparation. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed and think you can’t fit another thing in your schedule, you are the greatest benefactor of the efforts you make. Think, happily ever after!

There is also a great online, pre-cana course that you can take advantage of if the prep in your Diocese is inadequate or needs a boost, http://www.catholicmarriagepreponline.com. Don’t worry, I’m not getting any kickback here, just sharing a great resource!

May God in his abundant love and generous mercy grant you the most amazing happily ever after and help your marriage become the joyful witness this world so desperately needs.

In my work preparing couples for marriage, I have had to account for the unexpected implosion of a marriage where I was once part of the preparation. Sometimes I hear about the troubles first hand, other times when I see one of them meeting with the Nullity Minister. It saddens me every time when those couples who looked and acted so much in love, and desired to dedicate their whole lives to one another in sacramental marriage; give up and quit. I feel I have an investment in each and every couple. I connect with them, and give my whole heart in the work God has called me to.

The work of marriage however, is the couple’s work to do together for the benefit of their own souls, their family, and for society. The work they do will effect generations for good or bad and ultimately the whole world. We see this lived out in today’s culture when parents don’t take seriously their duty to raise up responsible, moral, hard-working future citizens. Those children left to their own devices, can easily become everyone’s problem. Choosing themselves and their personal happiness over working things out with a spouse, can have a devastating effect as children are left in the debris of divorce.

As in every disagreement, there is her version, his version, and the truth. I hate it when I hear cruel accusations lobbed at their spouse. Was this the same couple who cuddled on the couch in my office as we talked about marriage? What happened? What changed, or rather, what finally came to the surface and reared its ugly head? How do two people so in love that they want to be together for life, give up on each other, “fall out of love,” or cheat on their spouse?

It is easy to quit on one another- that is what the world wants and that is exactly what Satan wants! Quitting is easy, staying married is hard. One man told me “if it is this hard, then it must not be love.”
Really? Exercising is hard. What would happen if we quit on that? Just look around to see the fruit of that life style. What about our jobs? They can get pretty demanding. Should we not work? Picking produce, fermenting grapes, stocking shelves, is a real pain in the back day in and day out. No one’s talking about giving up on wine.

Love does not quit, give up, walk out, or point fingers… or lie or choose every other thing including work, children, or friends, over the beloved. Marriage is the sign that God instituted to point most to His unconditional, irrevocable, faithful, exclusive love for each of us. It reflects Christ’s love for the Church. You know Christ, the One impaled on a tree, barely clinging to life, bloody, and bruised. Perhaps there is something to learn in that icon. Love hurts. It hurts like hell sometimes. St. Teresa of Calcutta wrote, “Love to be real, it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self.”

And therein lies the problem, “ self.”

Love isn’t about you, your feelings, your happiness, or unlimited fun. Love is about other. Love is giving, and pouring out without cost, or measure, or return. The word is sacrificial, because not putting me first-hurts. It takes dying to self over and over, until it becomes natural, a habit honed over time. When husband and wife do that very thing, we see such a beautiful, attractive window into God’s marvelous love for us. We desperately need this kind of witness in our world. Married couples have the power to raise up, or warp, twist, pervert, or elevate, how humanity sees God, imitates love, and understands marriage.

Almost always the couple does not make dedicated time for each other, pray together, or practice their Catholic faith regularly through attending mass. There is critical importance in placing each other above all else, of making God, faith, and prayer, a part of your daily existence. After thirty-eight years I can assure you, without God, we would not have lasted long on our own.

I have nothing to lose by being frank in writing these things sent in love, and empowered by truth. I beg you, do whatever is necessary to remain true to the vows you both made in front of God. “For I hate divorce, says the Lord…” (Malachi 2:16). I too hate divorce with all my heart. It leaves everlasting devastation in its wake. It harms children, and grandchildren for generations. It poisons those around us, it poisons how humanity thinks about marriage and a lifelong commitment, and it poisons how people think and relate to God. I have read one hundred raw testimonials from adults whose parents divorced, and the negative consequence it had, and continues to have, on how they think, and interact with others. (Primal Loss-Miller)

With God’s help and the healing power of confession, anything is possible. We believe in the God of Miracles! There is a retreat called Retrouvaille for couples who find themselves in dire straits and who are willing to do whatever it takes to seek help. It means “rediscover”. It is Catholic, but any faith can attend. I know it saves marriages, even the most horrible and seemingly UN-savable marriages.

So if you ever really loved each other, and if you are willing to let God do what He does best, then I invite you to do this, because you both deserve it. It is not magic. Nothing will change if you both are not willing to trust, love, surrender, and do the hard work.

It’s all up to you whether you are a part of a miracle, or just another statistic.