Day 40: Twenty Years Later

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If you have made it this far in the “40 Day Challenge: 20th Anniversary Edition,” you discovered that I made it only a little over half-way before the previous edition kicked in.

There’s a reason for that. Though I didn’t originally intend to drop the ball, at a certain point I realized that I had to choose between getting the series done by Easter … and or take one for the team and admit that I didn’t have the bandwidth to do both this and everything else.

While perseverance is an important part of marital success, I’ve also found that finishing something just to say that you’ve finished it is not always a good thing. Whether it’s a trashy novel or a frost-bitten half-pint of Ben and Jerry’s, there are times when it’s really, truly okay NOT to persevere.

In twenty years of marriage, I’ve discovered that our capacities — whether physical, mental, or financial — change, and often shrink. At sixty-four, my husband’s energy stores quickly become depleted when he attempts to work several twenty-hour days in succession. I’ve found my sense of humor grows equally in short supply when attempting to be everywhere and do everything at once.

For both of us, when we try to be and do too much, one of the first things that suffers is our relationship. He becomes loquacious, I become irritable. We retreat to opposite ends of the house, instead of meeting in the middle (after the kids and my mother turn in) for a cuddle. And don’t even get me started on what this does to the sex life.

Middle age is a time of transition, a time to dig deep in the storehouse of wisdom that we’ve acquired over time and with experience. So, in closing, I’d like to offer this one last “Prayer of Abandonment: Twenty-Year Edition.”

My darling,

Let us continue to abandon ourselves, come what may,

not knowing what the future holds, but confident in the One who does.

Let us be ready for inevitable change, and lingering struggles.

Let us say “I do” to each other, over and over and over again.

I offer you all that I am, and all that I have,

to claim or ignore or appropriate, as needed.

Let the love that we have continue to grow,

and to reflect in some small way the Perfection

to which we try to surrender ourselves, body and soul,

until at last we see the Glory.

 St. Charles de Foucauld, pray for us.

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Day 28: Sacrifice

beautiful womanBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment

While Lent is a penitential season, the Christian life is an ongoing cycle of feasting and fasting, of letting loose and offering up. And so, we imitate most perfectly the love of God when the sacrifices we make willingly and joyfully, not reluctantly or resentfully. Even when the other person isn’t the least bit grateful, the little rat. Perhaps especially when he doesn’t even notice.

Does this sound unrealistic, even inhuman? Isn’t it only natural to want to be appreciated and thanked for the things we do? What about those times when your spouse sidles up to you after a L-O-N-G day of wrangling children, chores, and chow, and hints that he’s up for an extra helping of dessert? How does love respond?

Yes, you could ask HIM to make the sacrifice. There are two of you in the marriage, and you both need to make sacrifices for each other. Yes, you need your rest. Yes, his pitching in more would help the “frisk” level go up, perhaps.

Then again, you’re the one who signed up for the challenge, to “abandon yourself to love.” So . . . what about tonight? (If for some reason sex is off the table, what other little sacrificial gesture could you make to let him know how much you love him?)

Just be sure he knows it’s not an “April Fools.”

 

 

Day 27: Respect

Start with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Thought for the day:  One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”  Bryant McGill

R.E.S.P.E.C.T. … some would say it’s the currency of family life, shaping the daily encounters between parent and child, and between spouses and siblings.

Some days the “love banks” can get a bit depleted. My husband and I are raising two teenagers with emotional special needs, and it can be hard not to react strongly and forcefully when one of the kids express a point of view that, on the face of it, seems rude or disrespectful.

The thing is, I’ve noticed that I tend to be most reactive when my own inner resources are running dry due to insomnia or hunger or stress. Like the person onboard an airplane needs to put their own oxygen mask on first before assisting others, maintaining respect within the family often involves tending to our own needs as diligently as we care for the rest of the family unit.

Although the Scriptures tell us to submit to God (James 4:7) and to honor each other within the family order (1 Peter 3:1-7), the respect we offer a spouse not only honors the other person, but elevates our own dignity as well. Like Mother Teresa, when we feel least loving we can look into the eyes of our life’s partner and see “Jesus in distressing disguise.” Each time we do this, we shine with “imperishable beauty of a gentle and calm disposition, which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:4).

“Oh, Jesus, you know how hard it is to hear the hard words of those we love. Help me, just for today, to practice gentleness, kindness, and respect. Help me to meet today’s challenges with grace. Jesus, help me to see you in the eyes of my family today.”

Day 26: Quiet

sleeping-dogsBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment

Having grown up in a home without television, it isn’t difficult for me to imagine the benefits of a home without incessant media exposure. As a child I read all the time, and my grades were top-notch. On the other hand, it was harder for me to connect with my peers — and as an adult I watch far more television than is good for me. And so, I’m a fan of moderation. Perhaps especially within marriage.

Do you get enough quiet in your day? (“Enough” being the amount that leaves you able to hear yourself think, or to have uninterrupted conversations each day.) How do you like to spend that quiet time?

Just for today, turn off the television. Read a book together. Pull out a board game. Find something to keep you entertained (ahem) that doesn’t require electricity. Have fun!

Day 25: Prayer

teresa_avila_berniniBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

When was the last time you prayed with your spouse?

Not just a haphazard family grace, or a panicked rosary over an unexpected emergency. (These are good to do, by the way … I’m just talking about something else.) When was the last time you spent an extended period of time in God’s presence, listening for his voice and speaking to him as you would address a friend?

In Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, in today’s reflection I write about the “call within a call” Mother Teresa received from the Lord in 1946, which caused her to leave her teaching order in order to become “Mother” to the poorest of the poor in the gutters of Calcutta. It was not an act of Catholic guilt or sentimentality — it was a response to the Lord’s message to her that he “thirsts” for souls. She wrote:

Jesus wants me to tell you again … how much is the love He has for each one of you — beyond all what you can imagine…. Not only he loves you, even more — He longs for you. He misses you when you don’t come close. He thirsts for you. He loves you always, even when you don’t feel worthy (p.96).

When we allow ourselves to get close to Jesus in prayer, he fills our “love banks” so that we can love even the most unlovable. Together or separately, when we ask God to give us the same longing for each other that he has for us, we take the first step in the love adventure of a lifetime.

“Take the hard places of my heart, Lord Jesus. Heal them and make them new. Help me to love you — and to love the one you have given me — as perfectly as you do. Help us, together, to take one step closer to heaven.”

Is this a prayer you are willing to pray today?

 

Day 24: Pride

Teresa-21Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

In today’s meditation in Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, I share about a time when God used the prayers of a deacon and his wife to heal me … and what that experience taught me about being open to the miraculous (the kissing cousin of mystery). None of this would have happened, of course, had I been unwilling to surrender myself to the possibility that God might want to heal me — and that he had decided to use this couple to bring about that transformation.

Pride can be one of the greatest obstacles to receiving the small miracles God wants to give us, whether that transformation needs to take place in us or in another person. One of the most common is praying over and over again that God would change the other person, without ever stopping to consider whether it is we ourselves who need to relent, to bend, or … to ask forgiveness.

It is a particularly onerous form of pride, I think, to pass over the legitimate needs and vulnerabilities of a spouse in favor of our own agendas and preferences. While of course marriage is a never-ending dance of give-and-take, pride can quickly tip the balance in ugly and damaging ways. It scapegoats a spouse over something for which they were not entirely at fault. Makes jokes at their expense to entertain at a family gathering. Delegates distasteful tasks.

What form does pride take at your house? And what will you do to drive it from your marriage?

 

Day 23: Objectivity

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

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Today’s theme is ‘Objectivity.’

Most of us bring a certain amount of “baggage” into marriage, and the older you are when you get married the larger the pile is likely to be. It’s important that each of us own our own “pile.” That means not making your spouse pay for someone else’s mistakes … and to recognize that there are some relationships (not all of them healthy ones) that are going to continue even after you are married.

Now, to be honest I went into marriage with certain ideas about what a good marriage looks like. It looked remarkably like my parent’s marriage, where Mom kept the perfect house and Dad walked in the door at 6:15 each day to have dinner with the family, and spent a good chunk of each weekend either working outside or down in his workshop, tinkering.

And in the early stages of our relationship, I took it upon myself to communicate these expectations with unequivocal clarity to my sweetheart . . . who seemed to agree with me. Of course, we didn’t have dinner together every night, even after we were engaged, because work was taking up so much of his time right then. And he spent an inordinate amounts of each weekend at work as well — never enough to miss seeing me altogether, but enough that I should have known what was ahead.

Before we married, I might have taken an objective look at this and realized that our ideas about work were very different. I would then have been free to marry him, or not, according to how important those ideals were to me. (The other day I came across this wonderful essay by a woman who handled this issue with far more grace than I did … Hope it helps!)

After we married, my options became much more limited. Basically, there were two:  accept that he was always going to be a workhorse, and find ways to keep myself busy until he came up for air. Or make us both unhappy by continuing to point out all the ways he was failing to meet my expectations regarding family life.

The man was pushing fifty, and had been a bachelor all his life. There was only so much he was going to change, even for me. So . . . I had to step back and take an objective look at all the reasons I was glad I’d married him, and what a happy marriage was going to look like for us. Not dinner together every night — but dinner together on weekends, and a nightly cup of tea. Not weekends in which we’d catch up on projects around the house, but weekends when he worked from home, one eye on the laptop, the other eye on his family.

Your situation is likely very different, the conflicts you’ve encountered again and again are likely about something else altogether. The question is: Have you taken time to stand back and see if (or how) you are contributing to the conflict, and if there is something you can do about it? Some of those long-cherished ideas about what constitutes a “happy marriage” may have to be set aside. What makes the two of YOU happy?