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!