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?

Teresa-21

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.

Married or Not, Please Read This (The Love Project, Day 6)

11891-Two-Entwined-Golden-Wedding-Rings-Clipart-PictureIs your marriage struggling, or just not as golden as it once was? Today’s contribution may speak to you.
“When I got home that night as my wife served dinner, I held her hand and said, I’ve got something to tell you. She sat down and ate quietly. Again I observed the hurt in her eyes. Suddenly I didn’t know how to open my mouth. But I had to let her know what I was thinking.
I want a divorce. I raised the topic calmly. She didn’t seem to be annoyed by my words, instead she asked me softly, why? I avoided her question. This made her angry. She threw away the chopsticks and shouted at me, you are not a man!
That night, we didn’t talk to each other. She was weeping. I knew she wanted to find out what had happened to our marriage. But I could hardly give her a satisfactory answer; she had lost my heart to Jane. I didn’t love her anymore. I just pitied her!
With a deep sense of guilt, I drafted a divorce agreement which stated that she could own our house, our car, and 30% stake of my company. She glanced at it and then tore it into pieces. The woman who had spent ten years of her life with me had become a stranger. I felt sorry for her wasted time, resources and energy but I could not take back what I had said, for I loved Jane so dearly.
Finally she cried loudly in front of me, which was what I had expected to see. To me her cry was actually a kind of release. The idea of divorce which had obsessed me for several weeks seemed to be firmer and clearer now.
The next day, I came back home very late and found her writing something at the table. I didn’t have supper but went straight to sleep and fell asleep very fast because I was tired after an eventful day with Jane. When I woke up, she was still there at the table writing. I just did not care so I turned over and was asleep again.
In the morning she presented her divorce conditions: she didn’t want anything from me, but needed a month’s notice before the divorce. She requested that in that one month we both struggle to live as normal a life as possible. Her reasons were simple: our son had his exams in a month’s time and she didn’t want to disrupt him with our broken marriage.
This was agreeable to me. But she had something more, she asked me to recall how I had carried her into out bridal room on our wedding day. She requested that every day for the month’s duration I carry her out of our bedroom to the front door every morning.
I thought she was going crazy.
Just to make our last days together bearable I accepted her odd request. I told Jane about my wife’s divorce conditions. . She laughed loudly and thought it was absurd. No matter what tricks she applies, she has to face the divorce, she said scornfully.
My wife and I hadn’t had any body contact since my divorce intention was explicitly expressed. So when I carried her out on the first day, we both appeared clumsy. Our son clapped behind us, “Daddy is holding mommy in his arms.” His words brought me a sense of pain. From the bedroom to the sitting room, then to the door, I walked over ten meters with her in my arms. She closed her eyes and said softly; don’t tell our son about the divorce. I nodded, feeling somewhat upset. I put her down outside the door. She went to wait for the bus to work. I drove alone to the office.
On the second day, both of us acted much more easily. She leaned on my chest. I could smell the fragrance of her blouse. I realized that I hadn’t looked at this woman carefully for a long time. I realized she was not young any more. There were fine wrinkles on her face, her hair was graying! Our marriage had taken its toll on her. For a minute I wondered what I had done to her.
On the fourth day, when I lifted her up, I felt a sense of intimacy returning. This was the woman who had given ten years of her life to me. On the fifth and sixth day, I realized that our sense of intimacy was growing again. I didn’t tell Jane about this. It became easier to carry her as the month slipped by. Perhaps the everyday workout made me stronger. She was choosing what to wear one morning. She tried on quite a few dresses but could not find a suitable one. Then she sighed, all my dresses have grown bigger. I suddenly realized that she had grown so thin, that was the reason why I could carry her more easily. Suddenly it hit me… she had buried so much pain and bitterness in her heart. Subconsciously I reached out and touched her head. Our son came in at the moment and said, “Dad, it’s time to carry mom out.” To him, seeing his father carrying his mother out had become an essential part of his life. My wife gestured to our son to come closer and hugged him tightly. I turned my face away because I was afraid I might change my mind at this last minute. I then held her in my arms, walking from the bedroom, through the sitting room, to the hallway. Her hand surrounded my neck softly and naturally. I held her body tightly; it was just like our wedding day. But her much lighter weight made me sad.
On the last day, when I held her in my arms I could hardly move a step. Our son had gone to school. I held her tightly and said, I hadn’t noticed that our life lacked intimacy. I drove to office…. jumped out of the car swiftly without locking the door. I was afraid any delay would make me change my mind…I walked upstairs. Jane opened the door and I said to her, Sorry, Jane, I do not want the divorce anymore. She looked at me, astonished, and then touched my forehead. “Do you have a fever?”
I moved her hand off my head. Sorry, Jane, I said, I won’t divorce. My marriage life was boring probably because she and I didn’t value the details of our lives, not because we didn’t love each other anymore. Now I realize that since I carried her into my home on our wedding day I am supposed to hold her until death do us apart.
Jane seemed to suddenly wake up. She gave me a loud slap and then slammed the door and burst into tears. I walked downstairs and drove away.
At the floral shop on the way, I ordered a bouquet of flowers for my wife. The salesgirl asked me what to write on the card. I smiled and wrote, I’ll carry you out every morning until death do us apart. That evening I arrived home, flowers in my hands, a smile on my face, I run up stairs, only to find my wife in the bed -dead. My wife had been fighting CANCER for months and I was so busy with Jane to even notice.
She knew that she would die soon and she wanted to save me from the whatever negative reaction from our son, in case we push through with the divorce.— At least, in the eyes of our son—- I’m a loving husband….
The small details of your lives are what really matter in a relationship. It is not the mansion, the car, property, the money in the bank. These create an environment conducive for happiness but cannot give happiness in themselves. So find time to be your spouse’s friend and do those little things for each other that build intimacy. If you are not in a relationship now, remember this for the second (or third) time around. It’s never too late. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up. ♥
Today’s Love in Action. Are you thinking about getting a divorce? Before you do, consider taking the 40-Day Challenge . . . Or, if your spouse will join you, consider Retrouvaille.

What Says “Love” to You? (The Love Project, Day 4)

a-severe-mercy-book-cover“Whatever one of us asked the other to do – it was assumed the asker would weigh all the consequences – the other would do. Thus one might wake the other in the night and ask for a cup of water; and the other would peacefully (and sleepily) fetch it. We, in fact, defined courtesy as ‘a cup of water in the night’. And we considered it a very great courtesy to ask for the cup as well as to fetch it.”

Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy

In this Christian classic, a contemporary of C.S. Lewis reflects on the love-of-a-lifetime that was his, albeit briefly, in a way that inspired countless Christian young women to elevate their own expectations of romance. The idea that it is possible to find a ‘soul mate’ would would not only bring you a glass of water in the middle of the night, but eagerly consume every book, every album, and every movie you had ever seen or heard, simply to be able to have a shared lexicon of love — it was bewitching to consider that such a man might actually exist.

What is your sign, your “cup of cold water” equivalent? Is it his taking the dog out each night before turning in, without fanfare or reminder? The way he turns on the coffee machine a few minutes before your feet hit the floor? What is it that says “love” most eloquently to you?

Today’s love in action: Surprise your spouse by bring that “cup of cold water in the night,” something that you know your spouse appreciates. It might be cooking a certain dish, watching a certain program, or some other way to say “I love you’ without words.