The School of Marriage
If you had told me what my first few years of marriage would be like, I probably would have laughed in your face in disbelief. I knew it would be tough, but I knew it would bring me real joy and happiness if I lived my vocation as God wills me to. Christopher West says that “Marital love is a reflection of how God loves. It is free, total, faithful and fruitful.” Since it is a reflection of how God loves, it also will include suffering, and death to our will, in the service of our family. But, more importantly, just as Christ’s death resulted ultimately in the joy of the Resurrection, our sanctification through marriage will bring us great joy in this life and in the next. Realizing that my three year wedding anniversary is fast approaching in August, I was reflecting on and realizing the many things that God has taught me, so far, through marriage. Though I am far from the woman that God has created me to be, I can see that God has and is sanctifying me in so many ways. I am not where I was, but not where I want to be yet, but I am so grateful that God has brought Chris and I here to where we are today.
Here are some great lessons that I am learning, in no particular order.
1. What love really looks like – Marriages thrive and grow when we exhaust ourselves in loving our spouse and children. Mine surely has. Love one day at a time, and love as much as you can. When you are exhausted at the end of the day, and your patience is thin, give it a sprint. You won’t regret it.
2. Marriage acts like a magnifying glass on all your faults, and the only way to remedy them is through mental prayer – One of the most beautiful things about marriage is that spouses are meant to help each other get to heaven. Chris has been such a rock for me, and has humbled me when I have needed it most. He has shown me patience, when I have been impatient. He has loved me when it has been hard to love me. I have seen through the love that he shows to me, how I need to grow. That internal conversion is only possible through grace, prayer, and the Sacraments.
As said by Chris in his post from last week, “Vital Lehodey, in his book, “The Ways of Mental Prayer” says that mental prayer is the “grave of concupiscence.” It is there that vice goes to die. There is no saint who did not practice mental prayer, and it is precisely mental prayer and its fruits which make Saints.” Mary is also extremely necessary for the success of growth in the marriage. If you will belong to her, and subsequently to her Son, she will help you if you actively surrender all to Jesus through her on a daily basis.
3. Spontaneity – There really is nothing better that being spontaneous (though for me it is tough). From late night Subway 2-for-1 runs, to singing funny, made-up-on-the-spot songs to one another, to Chris grabbing my hand for a two second dance while we pass one another in the hallway, or going on spur of the moment trips or dates. It is this kind of stuff that keeps the romance between Chris and I alive. Growing in spontaneity also helps us to be ready for anything that may come our way. It is important to be able to live like this in the small things so that we are prepared to live like this when more challenging circumstances require our immediate attention, difficult or otherwise.
4. Never let the sun go down on your anger. – In his wisdom, Pope Francis recently gave the following advice to married couples:
“It’s true that in married life there are many difficulties; with work, with not having enough money, problems with the children. Many difficulties, and often the husband and wife get irritated and they fight with each other; they argue. There are always fights in a marriage, right?
Sometimes even plates fly; you’re laughing, but it’s the truth. We shouldn’t be sad about this; this is human nature.
The secret is that love is stronger than an argument. And therefore, I always advise married couples: don’t end your day without making peace. Always (make peace). It’s not necessary to call the United Nations and have them come to your house to broke the peace. A little gesture will do, a caress, “good night, see you tomorrow”. And tomorrow you start over. This is life, carry on! Go forward with the courage to want to live together. This is great, it’s beautiful.”
5. The importance of picking somewhere to eat – I cannot count the number of times Chris and I have gone back and forth on this question. I have come to realize, however, the importance of being decisive and intentional. Decisiveness and intentionality is important for the sake of your spouse and children. The Blessed Mother was extremely decisive and intentional. When asked to be the Mother of God, her response was a wholehearted yes! Let us be like her, decisive in our decisions and not double minded. Where are you going for supper tonight?
6. Don’t ever stop romancing one another – Don’t stop the woo after the “I do”. I still love being pursued by Chris, and and Chris still loves me pursuing him. Whenever he does things to romance me, it makes me know that he still chooses me. This is so valuable and vital in a marriage. Make date nights a staple in your marriage.
7. Wives, be obedient! Husbands, serve! St. Paul encourages the Ephesians to do this, and it rings true especially today. This seriously does create a perfect harmony in marriage and when not followed, it really does create discord. Archbishop Fulton J Sheen says that “Love is a mutual self-giving which ends in self-recovery.” In obedience and in service, we are self-giving, and we are thereby tending to each other’s souls.
8. Advice from other solid, Catholic married couples is priceless – All of these lessons are things I have heard here and there from others, and I have tried my best to implement in my life. We should look to other great examples of married Catholics to model our own after. It is such a great gift, and it inspires me to live my marriage more and more like God intended it.
9. Take a step back – regularly. It is important to examine where you have been and where you are going. Hindsight is 20/20, or close to it, at least. Self examination is key in order to be able to love your spouse wholeheartedly, and the same goes for loving God.
10. The Importance of time together, and time alone. – We are joined at the heart, but not at the hip. I can give my best to Chris when I know who I am, but it takes time alone to do this, in reflection, but also pursuing personal hobbies or other interests. This is something I am working on daily, but many people can attest that Chris and I just like to hang out together. Sometimes we just have to say, “lets do other things”. Balance in marriage is key.
11. God will grow you and your family in His time. Though it can be hard to let our wills go in favor of God’s divine will for us, we must do everything we can to focus on our growth and our spouses growth in holiness – marriage was created for this purpose. I have found that the more I have done this, with God’s help, the happier I have become. We are ultimately the happiest when we are seeking and doing God’s will, even when it entails suffering to get there sometimes.
12. Marriage is to reflect Christ and His Church. Everything should be done for God’s glory, and to reflect Him and His love in the unity of the Holy Trinity. I highly admire seeing a mother, father, and child interact with one another in the way that really shows love. There is an indescribable beauty when marriage is lived out as God intended it. I have seen my marriage become more like this as time has passed, and I cannot wait to see how God will continue to transform it. I pray that my marriage is a small reflection to others of Christ and His Church.
13. Marriage is a life-long time of re-discovering each other. Re-discover your spouse and what they like, as much as you can. Heck, sit back to back and do one of those online surveys. You might be surprise at what you might learn, or what may have changed about one another.
I know that God has much in store for Chris and I in this life. I know that with seeking and cooperating with God’s will, we will also become the people we were meant to become. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said once said that “It takes three to make love, not two: you, your spouse, and God. Without God people only succeed in bringing out the worst in one another. Lovers who have nothing else to do but love each other soon find there is nothing else. Without a central loyalty life is unfinished.” Chris and I got married on August 6, 2011, and the Feast of the Transfiguration falls on that same day, every year. I hope that we and all married couples would continually be transfigured by Christ throughout our lives together, leading us ultimately to the Marriage Feast of Heaven.