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 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!

Day 1: Let’s Get Started!

40 day challenge 20th

Happy Ash Wednesday! Welcome to this new edition of the 40 Day Challenge: 20th Anniversary Edition. You don’t have to be married 20 years to do the challenge — this is something you can do at any stage of your marriage! But I wanted to dedicate this year’s challenge to those whose marriage has been through all kinds of seasons, and invite you to share your wisdom here as you are able. (You can always PM me if you don’t want to go public!)

On this first day of Lent, perhaps you made a visit to the church to get your annual “love smudge,” to declare to all the world your “yes” to God. Yes, you want to follow Jesus even when it means taking up those little crosses (and sometimes some big ones).

What are the crosses you’ve faced this year? For me, it was starting a second year of taking care of my elderly mother in our home. I can’t think of a richer, more meaningful expression of love than when my husband agreed to take Mom in to live with us. It represented a huge change to our family, but he wanted to be sure that when I looked back after Mom is gone, I had no regrets. Even if it meant I can’t work full-time. Even if it means he has to pick up the slack around the house, and watch for the signs that I am burning out (again).

What are your signs? Do you get short with your husband and kids? (I do!) Do you seek comfort in junk food or mindless television? (Yep!) Do you find yourself complaining to whomever will listen about your lot in life? (Guilty.)

So what if, for this Lent, we tried to be more intentional about choosing the good, the beautiful, and the true? Affirming the generous impulses in those we love. Seeing the beauty all around us, and sharing it with others? Pushing aside the temptation to gripe, and finding the little truths that are hidden in the crevices of daily life?

What is the truth God is whispering to your heart today? What is he asking you to take up for these next forty days? Don’t be afraid! We can do this together!

As with the other years, this Challenge is centered around the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Charles de Foucauld. The first time I heard this prayer, it terrified me. Especially since the priest who gave it to us said that not only should we pray this prayer every day to God, but that we should consider reciting it to our spouses as well, if we wanted to really rejuvenate our relationship.

“Yeah, right,” was my immediate response.  It was one thing to offer this prayer of surrender to the Almighty, perfect in every way. Quite another thing to say it to … well, almost anyone else. Including the man I love. That’s a lot of power to give someone.

But as we start this 40 Day Challenge, let us begin this day and every day with this prayer in our hearts.  Let’s trust God to work a miracle in our hearts, to help us to surrender even the hard stuff with love and trust.

For the next 40 days, we will begin with this prayer. You may want to write it down and tape it to your bathroom mirror or over the sink, as a reminder of your intention.

Father,

I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you:

I am ready for all, I accept all.

Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.

I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;

I offer it to you

with all the love of my heart,

for I love you, Lord,

and so need to give myself,

to surrender myself into your hands,

without reserve,

and with boundless confidence,

for you are my Father.

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. If you would like an autographed copy, send me a check for $15 and I’ll send one to you. My address: 10350 Royal Oak Ct., Osceola IN 46561. Thank you!

Day 40: What Now?

40day-yellowOkay, for the final time . . . begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Holy Saturday has special significance for me:  It is the day I was welcomed into the Church after nearly a year of studying and pondering whether I should become Catholic. On that Easter Vigil afternoon in 1994, dressed in a beautiful white gown and red sash, I lit my candle and walked steadily into the sanctuary. Five years later, I stood beside my fiancé as he entered the Church himself, just months before our wedding.

In the weeks leading up to that moment, I’d had spiritual “cold feet.” It would have been much easier to simply walk away — and if I had done so, I was confident that my friends and family would have considered it an answer to their prayers.

But in the end, I knew what I had to do. And so I took a deep breath, and followed. Twenty-odd years later, I look back and honestly cannot remember why I’d had such misgivings. And I cannot imagine what my life would be like today, had I not made that leap of faith.

Perhaps as you look back over your life, you cannot remember a time when your husband did not occupy a corner of your heart. And perhaps that is a good and reassuring thing . . . or maybe at this particular moment it seems more like a life sentence. Either way, you can rest in two important certainties:

  • Feelings are not facts.  Your present feelings can — and likely will – change many times over the course of your marriage. Some days you will look across the breakfast table and feel butterflies. Other days, the sensation will be much less pleasant (particularly if you spent a sleepless night). Enjoy the first. Endure the second. Either way, it will pass.
  • Love is not a feeling.  Love is something you wake up every morning and choose. “Today, just for today, I am going to love.”  On good days, warm-and-fuzzy feelings are the icing on the cake. But seriously, who wants a plate of nothing but frosting? The cake is the whole point.  The frosting makes the day sweeter — but it cannot provide real sustenance.  Feelings can give you quite a rush . . . but a marriage is based on a daily choice to love.

I’d like to thank those of you who have already taken the time to write to me.  Some of you are asking God to work a miracle in your home, and especially in the heart of your husband.  Others found a particular challenge especially timely.  As we place ourselves firmly in the hand of God, abandoning ourselves to His will, amazing things can happen!

One last thing as we end this challenge:  What did you find especially helpful? Are there some themes you wished that I’d included here, but didn’t — or that you would like to see me revise for next year’s Challenge? I’d love to hear from you!  You can comment here, if you want to . . . or if you would like to contact me privately, you can drop me a line at heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com.

And while you are writing, I offer one final challenge:  Create a love letter for your husband, telling him about your Challenge experience. If you have never done something like this before, and find yourself at a loss for words, don’t let that stop you. Just set aside your pen for a moment and offer up this little prayer …

“Let nothing trouble you, let nothing frighten you. All things pass away, but God never changes. Patience obtains all things. She who possesses God will never want for anything. God alone suffices.” (Teresa of Avila)

And then . . . begin again.

God bless you!

Saint Teresa of Calcutta, pray for us!

Holy Family, pray for us!

Day 39: Zzzz…

40day-yellowBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

“Why do they call it ‘Good Friday’?” nine-year-old Sarah wanted to know.  It was a fair question. Why should we commemorate the day of the Lord’s death, calling it “good”? Many other adjectives spring to mind: “merciful” … “sad” … “dark” … “deadly.”

And yet, the Church does call it “good.” Without Good Friday, there is no Easter. Without the heartache of the Cross, we would never experience the victory of Resurrection.

On today, the next-to-last day of the Challenge, we come to the last letter of the alphabet, “Zzzzz.”  It recalls the rest that is such an essential part of every life, from beginning to the end. “In peace will I lay down and rest, for Thou, O Lord, makest me to dwell in safety” (Psalm 4:8).

In marriage, too, we have times of rest — sometimes peaceful, other times fitful. When my husband’s burden becomes too heavy and he grows restless, as his wife I’m in a unique position: I can’t tell him what to do and expect instant obedience, as a parent would. Nor am I a casual acquaintence, who has the luxury of shrugging it all away. As his life’s partner, I have the serious responsibility to walk alongside him, to help him where I can and pray when I cannot.

As wives we must each walk our own “Via Dolorosa,” experiencing vicariously the pain of our beloved. Just as Mary followed her Son in his suffering, so we must endure with courage when those we love suffer. And so, for this final “Challenge,” I’d like to take up the Stations of the Cross that Pope John Paul II first celebrated on Good Friday, 1991.

At each station, offer up the following prayer:  “We adore you, Christ, and we bless you. For by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

Station One:  Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus, just as you prayed until you sweated drops of blood, so may I persevere  faithfully in my vocation, even when I feel alone and afraid, until the darkness of Gethsemane gives way to Eden’s dawn.

Station Two:  Jesus is Betrayed by Judas.  Jesus, as you looked into the eyes of that wayward apostle, you did not hate him for his weakness and unfaithfulness. Rather you embraced with renewed certainty the way of the Cross.  Create in me such a heart of love, that no betrayal or infidelity or weakness of any kind can possibly extinguish it.

Station Three: Jesus is Condemned by Sanhedrin.  Jesus, you did not turn on your accusers, men whose religious sensibilities blinded them to the reality before their very eyes.  When I am tempted to shield myself from truth behind a wall of false piety, draw me into the light of your Sacred Heart.

Station Four: Jesus is Denied by Peter. Jesus, you understood the hearts of your apostles, their weaknesses and strengths.  In Peter you saw both the man who would deny you . . . and the man who, filled by the Spirit, would one day lead your Church. Fill me with your Spirit, that in strength as well as weakness, my life will be a testiment of faithful service to my family . . . and to you.

Station Five: Jesus is Judged by Pilate.  Jesus, as you stood before Pilate, you did not defend yourself even though you saw that the man was more concerned about pleasing the people than administering justice. When I am unfairly judged, give me the courage to trust in the providence of God, who “makes all things work together for good.”

Station Six: Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns. Jesus, in your moment of vulnerability you could have called the hosts of heaven to your defense. Instead you bore it all for love for us. When the one I love is suffering, give me strength to offer up his pain as I do my own, that nothing will be wasted in self-pity or bitterness.

Station Seven: Jesus Bears the Cross. Jesus did not push away the instrument of his own death, but put one foot after another, willing to face whatever was ahead out of love for God. When I am surrounded by doubt and uncertainty, dear Jesus, send your angels to walk alongside me, taking each moment as it comes.

Station Eight: Jesus is Helped by Simon the Cyrene to Carry His Cross. Jesus, in your moment of fear and desperation you were not too proud to refuse the assistance of those who came to your aid. When I am tempted to keep my burdens to myself with unseemly self-reliance, give me the humility to accept the help that comes to me.

Station Nine: Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem.  Jesus, even in your great pain and torment you had compassion on the crowds pressing all around you, speaking the truth to them in love. Help me, Lord, not to get so caught up in my own drama that I neglect to see the needs around me, and to minister to them as you give me strength to do so.

Station Ten: Jesus is Crucified.  Jesus, you did not shy away from the most painful moment of your divine call.  Give me the strength to persevere in mine, even when the rest of the world does not understand why I would choose this path.

Station Eleven: Jesus Promises His Kingdom to the Good Thief.  Jesus, you recognize the goodness in the heart of one that the world had judged as evil. Forgive me, Lord, when I am so persuaded by the “hopelessness” of a particular human soul, that I refuse to pray for him. Help me to love him, rather, as you love him.

Station Twelve:  Jesus Speaks to His Mother and Disciple.  Jesus, in your agony you did not forget to attend to the welfare of those closest to you, creating spiritual bonds of love that would transcend all time and space. Enlarge my heart, Lord Jesus, for my brothers and sisters all over the world, that their concerns and needs would become my own.

Station Thirteen: Jesus Dies.  “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” This was your cry, Lord Jesus, as you drew your final breath. Make this my most heartfelt cry, as well. “Lord Jesus, I trust in You!”

Station Fourteen: Jesus is Placed in the Tomb.  Lord Jesus, as the hands of those who loved you placed you in the tomb, they must have believed that they would never see you again. When the world seems hopeless, Lord Jesus, give me grace to keep my eyes on you, and to trust you to breathe your divine life that restores my soul. For nothing is impossible with God!

Is someone you know struggling in their marriage?  Offer these stations on their behalf, and pray for the miracle of new life into that “hopeless” situation.

 

Day 38: Yes!

40day-yellowStart with the Prayer of Abandonment

On March 25 each year we celebrate the Annunciation, when the    Blessed Virgin Mary gave her assent to God’s plan, by which she was to become the Theotokos . . . the God Bearer.  Her “yes” set a series of events in motion that would change the whole human story, making us not just friends but children of God.

Today. Holy Thursday, we celebrate a “yes” of a very different kind:  The moment when the Son of God gave his yes — freely and without equivocation — to God’s redemptive plan. It was the ultimate gesture of love, offered for the benefit of a group of people who had demonstrated time and again unprecedented disregard for such unmerited divine favor.

abraham isaacNow, the question comes back to us:  What are we willing to sacrifice?  When we are called to take up our cross and follow, exactly what form will it take? Are we willing, like Abraham was willing to give up his son Isaac, to give up the most precious thing in our lives out of love for God, trusting him even to the point of death?

Do you know this kind of uncompromising love, the kind reflected the words of Amy Carmichael in her spiritual classic “Calvary Love” (an excerpt of this book may be found here):

If I hold on to choices of any kind, just because they are my choice, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into self-pity and self-sympathy; If I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I myself dominate myself, if my thoughts revolve round myself, if I am so occupied with myself I rarely have “a span at leisure from itself,” then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If, the moment I am conscious of the shadow of self crossing my threshold, I do not shut the door, and keep that door shut, then I know nothing of Calvary love. …

If the ultimate, the hardest, cannot be asked of me; if my fellows hesitate to ask it and turn to someone else, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

If I covet any place on earth but the dust at the foot of the Cross, then I know nothing of Calvary love.

That which I know not, teach Thou me, O Lord, my God.”

Talk about it: Today churches all over the world prepare for the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual, imitating the Lord’s actions towards his disciples. How does this rite apply to your marriage? How does it give you another opportunity to say “Yes” to God?