31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 20: Practice Patience

shadowOne of the fun surprises of middle age, I’ve discovered, is the body’s newfound ability to wake up in the middle of the night, mind whirring like a video on fast-forward, alert and ready to … well, in most cases, ready to pee. But then alert and ready to start the day. At 4:00. Dang.

Months ago, I thought the nighttime insomnia was because of all the stress in my life, caused by the ordeal my family was going through (plus the on-the-job stress I was feeling at the time). Now, I realize it’s just part of the journey, so I’ve learned … to practice patience, and take advantage of it. So I’m typing instead of staring up at the ceiling, silently cursing the Sandman. Practicing patience. (Nice segue, Heidi.)

This morning I woke up with a line from the “shepherd’s psalm” (Psalm 23) spinning through my head: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil…”

Have you ever noticed that the psalmist didn’t RUN through that valley? Not even a quick-step. He walked. So often when we find ourselves in crisis, the temptation is to get through it as quickly as possible, which (truth be told) can greatly add to the stress.

Some experiences are more of a marathon than a sprint. When we find ourselves having to transom some dark valley, pushing ourselves to get through it quickly is likely to backfire, whether that particular valley is cancer, divorce, or … yes, even grief. But if we take the time to look around and to tend gently to the needs of those we love (including ourselves), it will take less out of us in the long run. No matter how much we need to practice patience with other people, the most important person to be patient with … is ourselves.

Have you had to “walk” a valley recently? How did you “practice patience” with yourself and those closest to you?

 

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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.

The Five Loves of Marriage and Family Life

This week I’ve been reading Love, Marriage and Children by Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen. Although the book was first published in 1954 (I got this copy from the seminary library), the dear man’s words struck me as fresh and insightful. Honestly, the realities of marriage and family life haven’t changed all that much in fifty years. We still have to work at giving ourselves 100% to those we love, and to practice the virtue of self-donation, which is at the heart of every authentic expression of love.

Fifty years ago, Archbishop Sheen was one of the most widely recognized religious figures in the media; today he is still much beloved though perhaps not as widely read.  In this book of his, I was struck by his assessment of married love. (This is counterintuitive for some — what would a celibate know about married love? Then again, first-hand experience is not necessarily the most reliable or objectively constructive means of obtaining wisdom.)

The first passage that captured my attention was his description of the Five Loves. I was familiar with the Four Loves of C.S. Lewis, but Sheen takes a slightly different approach that I found every bit as intriguing: while Lewis addresses the four expressions of authentic love, Sheen identifies four types of love that are poor cousins — some would say even “counterfeits” — of authentic Christian love.

  1. Utilitarian “love”:  for those who are useful to us. Once the usefulness passes, so does the affection.
  2. Romantic “love”:  for those who give us pleasure. “One of the reasons why many modern marriages do not endure is because people do not marry a person: they marry an experience.”
  3. Democratic “love”:  is by nature reciprocal.  “The reason for contributing to the good of others is the expectation of a return good.”
  4. Humanitarian “love”:  for humanity in the abstract, which cannot be sustained in the particular. “Love at a distance, rather than in immediate service.”
  5. Christian love — true “agape”– is different, characterized by the words of Christ:  “A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  A command, indicating it is centered in the will. Modeled in the self-giving love of Christ.

It is this kind of self-giving (or self-donating) love that sustains a marriage over the course of years. According to Archbishop Sheen, married love reaches its fullest expression only after it has endured great suffering. Sheen observes (p. 63):

The moment of crisis is one in which a true and lasting love is within easy reach, if one but dies to egotism and selfishness. The aridity that one feels is not the defeat of love, but a challenge.  …  There are two kinds of dryness: the dryness that rots and the dryness that ripens. The dryness that rots is that which cannot be assimilated; the dryness that ripens is that which is taken in by the fruit or the wheat in order to perfect itself. The hour is struck when the couple must realize that the taking of love’s stronghold is dependent on the siege of self; too often it is at this moment that the cowards leave and sink back into mediocrity. …

[And yet, when] love instead of being a circle that closes in on its own egotism, becomes a spiral by which one mounts to a new understanding of the other person, who now begins to be irreplaceable. Sex is replaceable, but love is not – no one can take the place of a mother or a life’s partner. The joy that is now found [in the third moment] is not the same as the joy that is lost; it is deeper and more real. In the first moment, one said, “I love you for myself.” In the second moment, one says, “I love you for God’s sake.” The other person is seen as the mask of God and always a gift, never forgetting that sometimes God’s gifts may be bitter as well as sweet.

Laying My Burden Down…

Today in cyberspace I came across this post that talked about how we all walk through life carrying a burden like some oversized suitcase. For some, it’s divorce. For others, it’s infertility or some dark moment(s) from the past.

Our children each have a suitcase, too.

One of the things that struck me about this post is the idea that each of us have to learn how to take out and lay down the heaviest junk in our suitcase, so we can carry it. This doesn’t come naturally … and in point of fact, it’s something that in an ideal world parents teach their children.

When I encounter people struggling with divorce, I often refer them to Lisa Dudley’s website and her excellent book, “Divorced. Catholic. Now What?” For teenaged burden-bearers, I also like to give Lynn Kapucinski’s “Now What Do I Do?”  I just gave a copy to one of the girls in my religious education class, and her mother immediately wrote to thank me for giving her a resource to help them talk more openly and constructively about what the girl was going thorugh.

Is your child struggling with some burden or grief?  Don’t forget you are the one who is best able to help him or her process what she is going through. Get professional help if needed … but do talk about it.

My friend Judy Miller sent me this link about an upcoming adoption workshop she is offering, a six-week e-mail course that covers a variety of aspects of adoptive parenting.  If you’re feeling in need of a little extra support, this may be a good resource for you!

Weekend Ponderings: Pope says children of divorce and cohabitation “the new orphans”

In this recent interview on CNS, Pope Benedict is quoted during a meeting with Brazilian bishops.

He said as divorces increase and cohabitation is on the rise, the children in these situations are “deprived of their parents’ support and become victims of malaise and abandonment, thus spreading social disorder.”

Children need concrete fixed points of reference such as having one set of parents who will always be united as a family, the pope said.

He said divorce is sabotaging the traditional sense of an extended family by creating too many “parents,” such as stepmothers and stepfathers.

I can’t help but wonder whether this “too many parents” problem could extend to adoptive families in which birth parents are involved early on in the child’s life. Only time will tell whether the “open adoption” trend will have the same effect as the presence of step-parents in families in which the parents are divorced (as opposed to widowed).