Day 40: Twenty(ish) Years Later


If you have made it this far in the 20th anniversary edition of the “40 Day Challenge,” you discovered that I made it only a little over half-way before a 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 … 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. (While that doesn’t apply to marriage in general, it does provide food for thought about the millions of little decisions we make within that holy huddle.)

In twenty years of marriage, I’ve discovered that our capacities — physical, mental, and financial — change, and often shrink. Now 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.

Bl. Charles de Foucauld: A 40 Day Marriage Adventure (coming soon!)

I recently hired someone to redesign my website in preparation for the launch of my new book with Ave, The Ave Prayer Book for Catholic Mothers (October 2021). It’s all very exciting and believe me, you will be hearing more about it … but today I want to tell you about a different book. (More of a booklet, really.)

The 40 Day Marriage Adventure will be made available in the next few weeks — I created the booklet from a series of Lenten posts from 2012 — as a daily prayer exercise you can do on your own or with your spouse to give your marriage a “faith lift”. Each day begins with the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Bl. Charles de Foucauld, which was gifted to me by one of my seminary professors who told me, “If you want to transform yourself, pray this every day. If you want to transform your marriage, say it to your HUSBAND.”

He was right about the first part. This prayer has been a tremendous blessing to me, especially during those times when life became overly stressful and I caught myself resorting to the kind of controlling behavior that tends to backfire in a big way. So … if you’re interested in getting the download, hang in there. It should be available soon.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Blessed Charles (who I understand is on the fast track to being declared a saint, fingers crossed), you can also check out a beautiful website on this desert saint by Fr. Lenny Tighe, a retired priest from Boston who has been promoting the life and message of Brother Charles in the U.S. for many years. He has prayer cards in English and Spanish available. He writes,

“I have been promoting the life and message of Charles de Foucauld in the US for many years. I am humbly called ‘all things Charles de Foucauld,’ and I have given out thousands of prayer cards of the Abandonment Prayer.” He also has a Facebook group on this saint.

Day 3: Acceptance

40 day challenge 20th

Welcome to the third day of the challenge!

Did you remember to start the day with the Prayer of Abandonment”? If not, go ahead . . . I’ll wait.

Starting today, we will take up the “heart” of the challenge by focusing each day on a quality or charism that is essential to a happy marriage. You’ll find that (more or less) I’ve arranged them in alphabetical order. (If you think I’ve missed any, go ahead and shout it out in the comments!)

Today’s theme is “acceptance.”  (We got a bit of a head start yesterday, but it’s such an important part of marriage I don’t think a little review will hurt!)

Watching my mother decline — particularly mentally, as her dementia intensifies — I’ve often made the mistake that many caregivers struggle with, arguing with her when her version of reality doesn’t align with mine. This is particularly hard when her version causes her great anguish or fear. But as I’ve turned to others who have been where we are now, they all say the same thing: When you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. This means being gentle and empathetic as you guide them to whatever it is you need them to do.

We all need to be understood, to feel as though someone really “gets” what we are going through. This, too, is a form of acceptance. Even when we hate the choices our loved one makes, and are forced to bear the consequences as well, being able to put ourselves in the shoes of that other person can make all the difference in our ability to love.

Think about your husband, and all he is and does for you. What can you do to practice the gift of acceptance?


Are you enjoying this Lenten series? Please support the effort if possible by picking up a copy of Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta. Thank you!

St. Benedict’s Rule of Love: 12 Degrees of Humility

kissesOne of the great blessings of living in South Bend, Indiana is the terrific group of women I’ve met at the St. Joseph Parish, through their once-a-month “Prayer on the Porch.” Most of these women have young children at home AND a full-time job, and so I look forward to these Thursday evening meetings every month. Bonding over a glass of wine and some form of chocolate, I feel like I’ve found my “tribe.” We don’t always get together between meetings, but it feels good to connect.

At our meeting last night, our leader was telling us about Seven Principles for Marking Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman, who talks about the “love maps” that each of us needs to create and continually update as we explore the intimately connected relationship of marriage. No matter where you are in your relationship, or how you experience conflict (as bashing heads or stoic stonewalling or something in between), the key to conflict resolution really does boil down to cultivating one of the key virtues of Christian living: humility, the perfect antidote to pride, the “prince” of all vices.

Although he was writing to his brothers, rather than married couples, St. Benedict’s teaching on the “twelve degrees of humility,” of the steps that lead to the conversion of the human heart, is applicable whether that turning is toward God . . . or toward another human being. They include:

  • Possessing the fear of God, as a means to living intentionally, with priorities straight.
  • Seeking God’s will above all. How many conflicts would dissolve instantly with five simple words: “Let’s try it your way”?
  • Embracing the liberating gift of obedience, rooting out small compromises and practicing restraint.
  • Accepting hardships, seeing each sacrifice as an opportunity to die a little more to vanity each day.
  • Actively seek reconciliation, to forgive and be forgiven.
  • Practice contentment. Exercise patient endurance, suspend judgment and wait for clarity.
  • Model openness. Use some of the energy reserved to protect ourselves to reach out.
  • Refrain from insisting on one’s own way. Stubbornness is pride’s ugly sister.
  • Refrain from giving unsolicited advice. Take up instead the quest for self-knowledge, stripping away our personal illusions in pursuit of the real.
  • Do not be driven by passions. Feelings are fleeting. Truth is not.
  • Practice gentle living. The refusal to compete in a way that makes our self-worth depend on someone else’s failure.
  • Be genuine in your dealings with God and others. Seek God through the pursuit of stillness, stripping away the constant and meaningless noise around us. In this way we gain a useful perspective of who we are, and how we fit in God’s plan.

Which of these presents the greatest challenge to you?

Movie Night: “What Dreams May Come”

what dreams may comeOne of my favorite “Hollywood” treatments of the afterlife is What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding. Williams plays a doctor, his wife an artist. When their two children are killed in a car accident, he and his wife are barely able to come to terms with their death before another tragedy occurs that separates the two of them. The rest of the movie, reminiscent of Ghost, is about love that transcends even death.

Years ago, I had an author friend Charlie Shedd. I would sit on the glider on the back porch with him and he would regale me with stories of his Martha, how even after she died he would catch a memory of her that was so strong, it was like she was still there, coming out of the bathroom in her favorite robe, or sitting on the glider in her natty yellow sweater. I never knew Martha, but somehow when he described her to me, it was as if I’d known her all my life.

Today on Facebook, I came across countless wedding pictures of couples celebrating their anniversaries — ten years, fifteen, twenty or more. Each looks so young and vibrant, so hopeful. Each a moment frozen in time, before “real life” sets in — for better or worse.

And as I looked at those pictures, and again as I watch this movie, I am reminded of one of the greatest gifts of marriage; how in the boat of family life, one is the anchor, the other the sails. And when that boat is rocked by waves of uncertainty, they provide for each other that safe haven.

This is the self-gift of marriage; not simply the unbridled joy, but the unbridled pain as well.

The Confession (The Love Project, Day 34)

confessionalToday I was editing an essay by Father Mike Schmitz about what it’s like to hear confession. He observed that hearing confessions is one of his favorite parts of being a priest because he gets to witness people returning to God, to receive and respond to his love for them.

He has a point. Not long before I was married, I remember driving out to an old country parish. The church had seen better days. The floorboards were noticeably lighter than the pews, from so much foot traffic. A wisened old priest slowly made his way into the middle compartment of the ancient old confessional.

There was no one else in the sanctuary, which was just fine with me. I figured I was going to in there for a while. I was fairly inexperienced as confessions went, and I figured that — since I was getting married — this would be the time when I “cleared the slate” on some old business. A good deal of it wasn’t, technically speaking, sinful. More like “baggage” – the accumulated baggage of close to two decades of single adulthood. Heartache. Brokenness. Regret. Anxiety. I’m not sure how long I was there, getting it all off my chest. But when i stopped speaking . . . there was silence on the other side of the screen. Nervously I waited. Had I shocked the elderly priest? Or had he falled asleep?

As it turns out, neither. “Oh, my daughter,” he began. With a voice full of gentle compassion, he reminded me of the Father who had never left me alone, who had seen my struggle and wept with me in my pain.

Then he blessed me, and sent me off to begin my new life with Craig. There were still plenty of bags to unpack, but the messiest ones were in the hands of God.

Today’s Love in Action: Do you have any relational regrets that you cannot seem to let go of? A clean slate is only a confession away!

A Husband’s Love (The Love Project, Day 27)

“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, yet they seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her.”

Genesis 29:20

This week I’ve been reflecting on “love” passages in Scripture. In this Old Testament love story, two sisters vie for the affections of an ambitious young suitor. One, Leah, has “dull eyes” — is not as physically attractive as her younger sister, Rachel, whose bright eyes drew Jacob like fireflies to a porchlight. And yet, by the end of the story it is Leah who produces one son after another. There was more to her than met the eye.

Jacob labored fourteen years to get his heart’s desire . . . And in time, his heart expanded to include the woman who remained faithful, no matter what.

Today’s Love in Action: rachelleahDo you ever feel your husband’s affections are divided? Not with another person, perhaps — maybe it’s his work, his family, his church obligations. Have his eyes “dulled” over the years? What does Leah’s story say to you?

Kiss Me! (The Love Project, Day 26)

kisses“Let him kiss me with kisses of his mouth,

for your love is better than wine,”

Song of Songs 1:2

This weekend Craig and I are taking a few days to play and unwind. Like many couples, we have a tendency to get caught up in the “stuff” of life and forget to focus on each other. But for the next few days, it’s time to hang up our “Mom and Dad” hats, turn off the dueling computers, turn off the cell phones, and simply … be.

Today’s Love in Action: When was the last time you attacked your husband in a way that put a smile on his face? Do it now, before Valentine’s Day … you’ll be glad you did!

“Marriage is like an amplifier…” from “Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious” (The Love Project, Day 16)

gohnToday I was reading Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious by Pat Gohn (Ave Maria Press), and was struck by the following passage about marriage. Can you relate?

Everything I liked or disliked about my man before I married increased in volume after marriage. I ran headlong into a wall of my selfishness and struggles for power, not to mention my own anger issues that erupted from my quick temper…. Putting others’ needs ahead of my own was harder than I had thought. I bristled when I could not control things.

Motherhood intensified my struggles, often reducing me to tears. I was profoundly disappointed with the shortcomings of my loe — my lack of achievement! I was trying to achieve in my marriage and achieve in my mothering the way I succeeded at school and at work, as if there were a performance scorecard attached to my efforts. “No greater love” required something more than the tyranny of perfectionism; it needed my attentiveness, my surrender, my sacrifice.

I don’t know if this is an experience common to all (or even most) women … but I could relate. The greatest challenges, I felt, was not in accepting the weaknesses and flaws of my family, but coming face to face — each and every day — with my own foibles and shortcomings.

I finally turned a corner when I came across this quote by St. Francis de Sales:

Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering your own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.

Today’s Love in Action: What’s the one bad habit or character flaw you hate most about yourself? Got it? Good … now, what virtue do you need to put into practice that serves as the “antidote” to that particular bad habit? How will you start . . . today?

Consequences of an Affair (The Love Project, Day 10)

time suitcaseNot long ago, I ran across a column by advice columnist Carolyn Hax that touches upon a topic that, for most couples, is simply unthinkable: infidelity. This particular column caught my attention because it is written from the perspective of … the one who cheated, and lived to regret it. Even more remarkable . . . it was the wife who did the cheating. It reads in part:

Ask yourself, when you get ready to send the next email, or make the next call, or set the next clandestine meeting: “Is my family worth it?” — and not just the big overarching question. Picture living in a separate apartment — away from your kids. Picture him telling your in-laws what you’ve done. Picture having to tell your parents. Picture having to divvy up the next Christmas between morning and evening. And when your kids are old enough to really get it, picture the judgment of you they’ll always have. You’ll be the one who did this.

The idea that there is one person in this world who alone can guarantee your lifelong happiness — and that finding this one person is justification enough to do whatever is necessary to BE with that person — is the salted caramel on the poison apple of self-delusion. Marriage is meant to endure not because it is the path of never-ending bliss, but because it is the foundation of both family and society. That path involves real sacrifice at times, crosses that under our own power would be utterly unbearable. And yet, the sacrament of marriage is replete with graces that will fortify us if we choose to avail outselves of that healing and fortifying balm.

It is one thing to separate from an abusive or addicted spouse, for the sake of your sanity or safety. But in the words of a recent Facebook meme: “If he doesn’t care about your soul, he’s not your soulmate.”

Today’s Love in Action: Do you ever find yourself lingering wistfully over thoughts of a bygone romance, or wondering what your life would be like now “if only . . .”? Recognize the temptation, and close your mind firmly against it — take it to confession, if necessary. Instead, invest those energies in more constructive ways. Give yourself a little pick-me-up, if you’ve let your self-care go by the wayside. Then make a list of 5-10 things you love about your spouse . . . and read it to him after the kids are in bed.