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!

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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?

Day 37: X-amine Your Marriage

40day-yellowBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Although the Challenge will continue up through Saturday, today is officially the last day before Triduum (the three-day recollection leading up to the feast of Easter) begins. And so, I thought it might be a good time to take stock. How has this Challenge gone for you?

As you “x-amine” your marriage, a word of caution may be in order. It can be a mistake to look too closely at the minutiae of your marriage in order to point out the blemishes and weaknesses in it. If every time you sit down to tea with your girlfriend, you find yourself rolling off a long litany of all the many faults and flaws of your beloved, of all the ways you are enduring with patience and long-suffering . . . the problem might be yours.

“Make something beautiful for God,” said Mother Teresa. Besides being the title of her biography, it was also her life’s calling — and ours as well. “Everything,” she wrote, “in that it is for God, becomes beautiful, whatever it may be; as does every human soul participating in this purpose, whoever he or she may be.” (LWSTC, p.140).

Mother Teresa’s words remind us that some kinds of self-examination are good and uplifting. If you are asking yourself how you could be a better wife, a better lover, a better mother, how you could give yourself just a little more . . . by all means, list away.

But the next time you find yourself writing down the pros and cons of the person God gave you to help each other to heaven, nit-picking is the quickest path I know to hell on earth. So set aside your list and make a new one: 100 Reasons I Am Thankful for You.

Can’t think of 100? Start with 10, and pray for inspiration. Start looking for more, actively seeking out the good things, the small blessings that come your way simply because you are a wife and mother.

You can do this. and when you do, you will be glad you did!

 

Day 36: Wisdom

40day-yellowBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

Today’s reflection is short and sweet. In today’s reflection in Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta, Mother Teresa reflects on the wisdom of Jesus in how he treated Judas Iscariot. Knowing that this man who had been with him so long, was about to betray him, Jesus did not denounce or even rebuke. Instead he called him … “friend.” (p.137). How does this apply to us, and our family relationships?

How can you put this wisdom into practice in your life today?

Day 35: Wealth

40day-yellowBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment.

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

Two years ago, Craig and I bought a house, an older home in a good school district. We deliberately chose a home that we could support on one salary if necessary, anticipating Craig’s retirement. But in a short time we were grateful that we’d made this choice in our sunny days, not realizing that stormy days were ahead of us. (It’s just part of life, isn’t it?)

Within a year we had faced a number of financial challenges we hadn’t counted on, including the long-term care needs of my parents and my own sudden job loss. We were glad we’d chosen conservatively, and thankful that (with us making a few adjustments) God provided everything we needed — largely through overtime pay for Craig at a job I had once deeply resented, but now had to see as part of God’s plan for us.

Hand Putting Deposit Into Piggy BankIn seventeen years of marriage, Craig and I had seen how money — both the possession of it, and the lack thereof — can change relationships, even within families.  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 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). How we spend our money can strengthen ties within our family and community — or it can build walls of suspicion and distrust.

Talk about it: How do your attitudes about money draw you closer — or divide you? What are some ways the two of you can take steps toward more prudent, loving spending?

Day 34: Welcome

40day-yellowBegin with the Prayer of Abandonment. 

Several days of this challenge have focused on intimacy at the end of the day. And yet, how we start the day is just as important … though often even more challenging.

How do you welcome the day, as a couple? How does the way you start each day build up or erode your family bond?

This can be very challenging for those with young (or otherwise needy) children. When our kids were growing up, I had an unfortunate tendency to tolerate rather than welcome the day — three of us are not sound sleepers, which meant I felt as though I were stumbling through life in a perpetual state of exhaustion. At the first shriek, I would pull the pillow over my head and make my own unique morning offering:

Please, just make it stop. I had about 5.2 seconds of REM sleep last night . . .

Most mornings I stumbled out of bed, let out the dog, and made my way to the kitchen to supervise breakfast, give the kids their medicine, and stumble back to the bedroom to uproot my husband from the sheets before getting ready for the day myself. It was my least favorite moment of the day — the kids bickered, the house was a mess, and I avoided mirrors in case I looked half as bad as I felt. It wasn’t pretty.

On the way to school, the mood in the car was tense. Kids snarled as I implored them to please not to add to my headache. Hats, gloves, and homework completely disappeared. Medicine was left on the breakfast table, necessitating another run to school to deliver whatever was left behind. It really set an edgy tone for the day.

But then I noticed something: On the rare days that I managed to get four or more hours of sleep, the short drive to school is a pleasant one. Everyone seems happy, cooperative, and ready to greet the day. In the car, I would share stories about when they were little, or put on some Keith Green or Second Chapter of Acts (“Hymns”). We would chat about cloud formations or the family of geese that has taken residence in the pond near the school. (On bad days those geese had better step lively as they crossed the road, or someone was going to lose a tail feather.)

Have you ever noticed how your family’s mood is determined in no small part by your own? Wives and mothers are the heart of the family home. We are the harbingers of beauty and grace — even with bed head and morning breath, we are the ones who either elevate the hearts of our family, or summon a dark cloud overhead.

At the end of the day, we get to do it all over again. The kitchen is Ground Zero of family life, where all the senses can feast on the aroma of dinner, the sound of music, the pretty arrangement of candles or flowers with the dishes, a nibble of something sweet or savory — this daily dose of beauty form memories that will stay with them for life. How do I know? If I close my eyes, I can still remember the feeling of coming home, the aroma of soup and bread and my father’s pipe tobacco smoke.

Is your home a place those you love feel welcome at every hour of the day? Do you greet the day with a groan, or a quick S.O.S. to welcome the Holy Spirit and invite him to renew your joy?