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?

 

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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?

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Family Fun Day!

kissesOkay, if you followed the instructions from yesterday’s reflection (and I hope you did!), you might be a little slow getting started this morning. That’s okay. When you have a chance, offer the Prayer of Abandonment.

How about for the Family Fun Day you expand the circle of love a little? Come home from church, get everyone back in their jammies, make some grilled cheese and soup (or whatever says “comfort food” to your clan), and play some games or watch a movie? Alternatively, take everybody on a vigorous hike … then come back for a well-deserved afternoon nap. (Who knows? Maybe a little more “Night”?)

It’s Sunday. A little Easter. Revel in it.

 

Day 22: Night

Date night

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Today’s theme is “night.” The day is over. You and your beloved power off your devices and go to check on the other creatures in your home one last time. Then it’s time for your nightly ritual: the washing and brushing, slipping out of the daily armor into something softer and more comforting. Maybe a cup of tea (or a glass of wine), or a nibble of something salty or sweet. There, in your private little corner of the world, you unload, unwind, reconnect.

How often are you tempted to bring the outside back in that sacred space? The teacher’s note, the unpaid bill, the forgotten item on the “to-do” list. Do yourself a favor: Just for tonight, forget about it. Just for tonight, let the world go away. Pour yourself a bath, maybe big enough for two. Find some nice lotion or massage oil, and rub your beloved’s feet. Dig out that silky nightie you know he loves, and dab on a little scent. Each Sunday is a little Easter. Let yours begin right now. And watch with delight love’s light rekindle in his eyes.

What are you still doing, reading this? Go … get ready for the night!

Happy Lent!

Day 21: Mystery

CNMC09 006Start with the Prayer of Abandonment

Today’s word is mystery. When I first started exploring Catholicism, I learned to make friends with this word. At 30, my world was far more complex than what it seemed to be when I was younger, when I believed I had all the answers. The beauty of embracing the mystery is that it really takes a lot of the pressure off with a great cosmic shrug. To believe in mystery is to believe that, at the end of the day, God is really much smarter, bigger, and in control than we could ever be. And to be grateful for that fact.

In a certain sense, the virtue of modesty allows us to experience the mystery of God in the context of marriage. “Choicest of blessings is a modest wife, priceless her chaste person” (Sirach 26:15). While there is a time and a place to be “naked and not ashamed,” a certain amount of mystery (especially when it comes to grooming and hygiene) is a good thing. Even in marriage (or perhaps “especially in marriage”) there is such a thing as TMI.

The Catechism teaches us that modesty “protects the mystery of persons and their love. It encourages patience and moderation in loving relationships; it requires that the conditions for the definitive giving and commitment of man and woman to one another be fulfilled. Modesty is decency. It inspires one’s choice of clothing. It keeps silence or reserve where there is evident risk of unhealthy curiosity. It is discreet” (CCC #2522).

How are you going to add a little mystery to your relationship with modesty this week?

Day 20: Mercy

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Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

In a papal bull of 2015, Pope Francis proclaimed 2016 a “Year of Mercy,” declaring that “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”  While many of us saw this as an opportunity to practice the corporal and spiritual works of mercy with greater intentionality … in retrospect, it was also a wonderful opportunity to shine the light of Christ into our own marriages as well. If you’d like practical tips on how to do that, I recommend Teresa Tomeo’s book (with her husband, Deacon Dominic Pastore) Intimate Graces.

We are now exactly halfway through our “love lift.” Have you noticed any changes in the way you relate to each other? Are you growing in patience, or forgiveness, or trust?  What areas would you most like to explore in the second half of this marriage builder? (If you have any words I should consider for the next challenge, drop me a note!)

Last year we spent a great deal of time thinking about mercy, and in particular the mercy of God towards us. In his March 17, 2013 homily, Pope Francis observed:

It is not easy to entrust oneself to God’s mercy, because it is an abyss beyond our comprehension. But we must! … “Oh, I am a great sinner!” “All the better! Go to Jesus: He likes you to tell him these things!” He forgets, He has a very special capacity for forgetting. He forgets, He kisses you, He embraces you and He simply says to you: “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more” (Jn 8:11).

Mercy takes many forms in married life: In swallowing pride long enough to sincerely apologize for messing up (or in withholding anger at the spouse brave enough to make such an apology). In seeing a need the other person is too afraid/ashamed/exhausted (or too ____) to ask us to meet, and taking care of it without expectation of reciprocation. In refusing to reveal those outside love’s circle the sacred secrets of the other person’s heart, even in a moment of frustration. This is love in its most perfect human form.

In marriage, as within no other relationship, do we get to experience the exhilaration of mercy, of extending (or receiving) forgiveness not just for the slights of the moment, but the truly awful stuff that could derail a relationship. And we extend it, knowing that in so doing we are imitating the infinitely greater love of God, whose mercy knows no end.

Are you willing to imitate Jesus, not just in forgiving . . . but in forgetting as well?