40 Day Challenge, Day 35: Wealth

Begin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

“A man’s wealth is measured by what he doesn’t need.” Henry David Thoreau

NOTE: This is a “reprised” post from one I wrote five years ago. Five years later, we are still enjoying the same house — but now we have our eyes set on selling it in a few years as Craig looks toward retirement.

As I write this, Craig and I are making arrangements to close on the first house we have owned in nearly five years. Five years of rentals, of moving at least once each year and three of those across state lines. Yes, it’s as exhausting as it sounds. And so you can imagine my delight and relief when we walked into this particular house, the house that had everything we’d asked for on our checklist, and knew . . . knew we were home at last.

Everything came together in a most delightful happenstance: a generous bonus for Craig, a tax refund we’d been awaiting for months, a generous gift from a family member . . . within a year we’d gone from living from paycheck to paycheck to having a down payment on the house of our dreams. Truly we could not Hand Putting Deposit Into Piggy Bankmore amazed and humbled knowing that many people — including some close to us — continue to struggle. It may be our turn again soon enough . . . But for now, we choose simply to be thankful for Divine Providence.

Money — both the possession of it, and the lack thereof — can change relationships, even within families. Sadly, having it can cause even more difficulties than not having it. Some of the most generous and genuinely kindhearted people I’ve ever met were desperately poor.  On the other hand, money can also create unnecessary barriers between people, leading to a poverty of spirit that Blessed Mother Teresa said is the worst kind of poverty.

Jesus once observed that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven (Mt 19:24). Once the rich man arrives at the Pearly Gates, of course, the playing fields are leveled … the streets are paved with gold, and resplendant mansions have been prepared for each of us. Everyone who makes it, wins the proverbial lottery.

The whole point of what we do here, then, is to learn what it means to be content with our present circumstances, whatever they might be. Like almost every other facet of human experience, our financial well-being can change in the blink of an eye; what must never change is our trust in Divine Providence.

Day 29: Talk!

dilbertBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

In her lovely book on marriage, By Love Refined (p. 187), Dr. Alice von Hildebrand observes with characteristic candor:

“In too many marriages, the husband is so absorbed in his career that he pays less and less attention to his wife . . . . In such marriages, one unfortunate consequence is that the only time the husbands look at their wives is in the bedroom. They view physical intimacy as a relaxation which enables them to work better the next day. Finally, the relationship between such spouses is reduced to watching TV and sleeping together. What a tragic impoverishment of human life and a maiming of marriage! . . . Tenderness, loving interest, and profound spiritual concern must characterize all your relations.”

I confess her observation struck closer to home than I would have liked.  He spent so much time either actually working or talking about work, it was hard not to resent his preoccupation. Of course, you can imagine how this attitude worked against me — why should he come home and engage me, when the dog greeted him at the door with more enthusiasm than his wife?

Does it seem like your husband doesn’t know how to leave his work at the door?  You can’t expect your home to be an entirely “work free” zone — your husband needs you to provide a sounding board when he hits a rough patch. But then, he may also need you to “turn the tables” a bit, to redirect the conversation and help him transition back to the comforts of home.

I like to clip “Dilbert” cartoons and keep them handy for the days he needs a chuckle. On the days I know he has a rough patch ahead of him, I drop him an e-mail in the middle of the day, with a little joke or lighthearted quip, letting him know how much I’m looking forward to seeing him at night.

What is your favorite way to get your husband talking?

As Lent Begins … Don’t let your past smack you in the face.

Pio I had been cleaning out a bookshelf and came across some old journals from my twenties in California, and started reading them. It was a real eye-opener, seeing my twenty-something self make choices that, had my daughter made similar ones, I would have moved heaven and earth to “fix.” Trying to decide what to do with these incriminating scribbles, I told Craig about what I had found. He sat very quietly for a minute (did not ask to read the journals, thankfully), and said … “But if you hadn’t gone through all that, we never would have met.”

Truth. Right between the eyes.

My first impulse was to apply this to the reality in parenting: that we can never fully protect our children from bearing the consequences of their choices. And while this is true, it is also true that, as adults, we do sometimes weigh ourselves down with the baggage of the past in ways we don’t always admit or even understand. For example, my husband has watched no more than 2-3 sports events a year in part because of one unfortunate chapter in my dating history, when I was involved with a gambling addict. And so, when Craig and I got engaged, we made a deal: he would limit his sports consumption to a few games a year, and I would make it worth his while (culinarily speaking) on the days he DID watch. Twenty years later, it honestly wouldn’t bother me if he watched more often — his love healed over that particular sore spot. But he doesn’t. I guess he must really like those crab stuffed mushrooms … and he really loves me.

Last year I created a “20 year edition” of my 40 Day Marriage Challenge. Yes, it’s that time of year again! If you are feeling the need for a marriage refresher, why not head on over to take the challenge (perhaps take your spouse with you this time). Let this be the beginning of a happily ever after for you both.

Remember the good news: God measures our stories not in days, but in decades. So go love your spouse … all the way to Easter!

Why Lent?

This quote from Romano Guardini seems like a good explanation… don’t you think?

As I write this, thousands of people across the Midwest are without power and water from one of the greatest storm fronts (if not the greatest) ever to hit their neck of the woods. Thousands more are in hospitals, fighting the COVID-19 virus up close and personal. All of us, in some way, have been walking the way of Lent for more than a year. So … why Lent? Why this year, after so many have been through so much already?

When I recently came across this quote by Romano Guardini (who lived in the 19th century, when Catholics really knew “how to Lent,” it stirred something in me: The idea that at times we can choose to relinquish not just sins and toxic habits, but even our little human indulgences, in order to make room for something better. And so, Lent.

A few weeks ago at Fr. Ubald’s funeral, I touched my rosary to his cold, still hands and asked God to let Fr. Ubald pray for my daughter, so that she might be healed. These past few weeks have been pretty tough on all of us, and I really don’t know how to help her. So this year during Lent we are going to do a nightly rosary for this intention. I would be grateful if you would be willing to join your prayers with ours.

Fr. Ubald, pray for us.

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!