Give Your Love Life a “Faith Lift”

Teresa-21Try saying THAT ten times fast!

It might seem a bit counter-intuitive to be thinking of marriage enrichment during Lent — a season that, for most Catholics, is associated with scarcity and self-denial. You also might be wondering what this dear “saint of the slums” — a celibate religious — has to say about married life.

But if you are looking for a way to build up love in your life, or believe (like Mother Teresa often said) that “The best way to change the world is to go home and love your family,” I hope you’ll join me on this journey over the next forty days!

At this time of year, many people think about what to “give up” for Lent. For some it’s chocolate or alcohol – for others it means stepping up your spiritual reading. (If you’re looking for a gentle way to ease yourself into daily spiritual reading, pick up a copy of my new book Lent with Teresa of Calcutta).

A few years ago, I read a book by Archbishop Fulton Sheen that inspired a different approach. I decided to give my marriage a “love lift” with the 40 Day Challenge.

40day-yellow

In Love, Marriage and Children, Archbishop Sheen describes the three “moments” of marriage that each of us must encounter: ecstasy, crisis, and renewal.

The first moment is characterized by the sheer joy and ecstatic happiness of early marriage. This idyllic time of mutual joy, however, is often short-lived. Invariably reality sets in, which Sheen describes as the second moment,  “crisis.” Although it may indeed take the form of a sudden trauma or challenge – a lost job, an illness or moral failure – it may simply come in a series of gradual realizations that your partner is not the man (or woman) of your dreams, after all. “Suddenly there is an awakening that the marriage is something like luggage; one finds in it only what was packed. … During this hour of crisis many marriages collapse because the partners do not know the law of life and do not stay together long enough to know one another…. Sometimes the partners begin to live apart or else are alone together: ‘I take my solitude with me; you take your solitude with you.’”

Ironically, it is this “wake-up call” that, according to Sheen, is the gateway to lasting marital happiness. “If one but dies to egotism and selfishness. The aridity that one feels is not the defeat of love, but a challenge. … 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.”

On the other hand, those who persevere in love find that their love enters a third “moment,” with renew life.  “A new kind of beauty comes in this third moment. One of the elements of beauty is surprise, and with the unfolding of the years there comes the new surprises through the deepening of the mind and heart, for it is love that makes anything beautiful.”

Would you like to experience renewed beauty and love in your home? Do you believe God wants that for you and your spouse?  Consider joining me on a “40 Day Challenge.” Let’s pray together, asking God to bless our marriages and our families as we seek to live out more faithfully our own vocations.

For forty days, how many ways can we say “no” to self, and “yes” to our life’s partner – without pious subtext or martyred airs? In how many ways can we, joyfully and prayerfully, offer our love back to God, that He might infuse it with the newfound hope of resurrected love?

For the forty days of Lent (which begin this Wednesday), I will be posting here and linking to this “40 Day Challenge” Facebook Page.  Feel free to chime in as you are inspired, with your intentions or thoughts of your own on that day’s topic. If you’d like to have me post your thoughts anonymously, drop me a line at Heidi.hess.saxton@gmail.com, with “40 Day Challenge” in the subject line.)

Let’s pray for one another!

 

Advertisements

The 40-Day Marriage Challenge: Lenten Reflections for Two

40 day logoHappy Ash Wednesday!

Today is the first day of Lent, the forty days leading up to the greatest Christian holiday of the entire year: Easter, when we celebrate the Risen Christ who breaks the power of sin and death. This penitential seasons is a time to take stock, to see the areas of our lives that need not just improvement, but the transforming power of Love.

Marriage is one of the most important assessments, of all human relationships. A happy husband, I’ve learned, has the power to lift my spirits . . . just as a cheerful wife has the power to lift his. The funny thing is, this kind of cheerfulness or happiness is not dependent on what is going on in the rest of our lives. When work is taxing, kids are demanding, money is tight, the crises diminish when that central relationship is right. Within marriage, each partner has access to an island of mercy, an oasis of peace in which they can be fortified and reassured before heading back out into the storm. Whatever that storm may be.

And so, I’d like to invite you to journey with me once more, as I reprise the 40-Day Marriage Challenge that first ran on my blog a few years ago, a daily reflection on the “Prayer of Abandonment” by Blessed Charles de Foucauld. Believe it or not, I’ve learned a few things about marriage since then, and as the days progress I invite you to add your own observations. Know that as we make this journey together, others are praying for you, even as you take a few moments each day to offer this “Prayer of Abandonment” for yourselves as well as the other couples who are journeying with us.

And so    let the journey begin! Please start here by reading the introduction. Then come back here each day, to continue your journey.

Happy Lent!

St. Benedict’s Rule of Love

kissesOne of the great blessings of living in South Bend, Indiana is the terrific group of women I’ve met at the St. Joseph Parish, through their once-a-month “Prayer on the Porch.” Most of these women have young children at home AND a full-time job, and so I look forward to these Thursday evening meetings every month. Bonding over a glass of wine and some form of chocolate, I feel like I’ve found my “tribe.” We don’t always get together between meetings, but it feels good to connect.

At our meeting last night, our leader was telling us about Seven Principles for Marking Marriage Work by Dr. John Gottman, who talks about the “love maps” that each of us needs to create and continually update as we explore the intimately connected relationship of marriage. No matter where you are in your relationship, or how you experience conflict (as bashing heads or stoic stonewalling or something in between), the key to conflict resolution really does boil down to cultivating one of the key virtues of Christian living: humility, the perfect antidote to pride, the “prince” of all vices.

Although he was writing to his brothers, rather than married couples, St. Benedict’s teaching on the “twelve degrees of humility,” of the steps that lead to the conversion of the human heart, is applicable whether that turning is toward God . . . or toward another human being. They include:

  • Possessing the fear of God, as a means to living intentionally, with priorities straight.
  • Seeking God’s will above all. How many conflicts would dissolve instantly with five simple words: “Let’s try it your way”?
  • Embracing the liberating gift of obedience, rooting out small compromises and practicing restraint.
  • Accepting hardships, seeing each sacrifice as an opportunity to die a little more to vanity each day.
  • Actively seek reconciliation, to forgive and be forgiven.
  • Practice contentment. Exercise patient endurance, suspend judgment and wait for clarity.
  • Model openness. Use some of the energy reserved to protect ourselves to reach out.
  • Refrain from insisting on one’s own way. Stubbornness is pride’s ugly sister.
  • Refrain from giving unsolicited advice. Take up instead the quest for self-knowledge, stripping away our personal illusions in pursuit of the real.
  • Do not be driven by passions. Feelings are fleeting. Truth is not.
  • Practice gentle living. The refusal to compete in a way that makes our self-worth depend on someone else’s failure.
  • Be genuine in your dealings with God and others. Seek God through the pursuit of stillness, stripping away the constant and meaningless noise around us. In this way we gain a useful perspective of who we are, and how we fit in God’s plan.

Which of these presents the greatest challenge to you?

31 Days of De-Stressed Living, Day 15: Kiss Me!

ballroom image“Mom! I need my love banks filled!”

The declaration is never entirely unexpected; I can usually read the symptoms: Grumpy, Snarky, Snippy, and all the other objectionable little dwarves take up residence, and the only thing that will drive them out of my kids is a systematic foot massage with corresponding breaks for butterfly kisses, “face tracing,” back rubs, and silly songs.

The truth is, the kids aren’t the only ones with love banks in need of filling. The dwarves come to visit when the adults in our house don’t get the recommended dosage of TLC. When we first met, my husband and I belonged to the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Club. Every Sunday night he would twirl me around the dance floor in waltz, salsa, West Coast Swing, or cha-cha.

That was fifteen years ago. Swing Girl is pretty much all swung out . . . so is Swing Guy. But Flirt Girl is alive and well, and sometimes what her “love banks” need most is … “Kiss me!”

Not wining and dining. Not a chick flick marathon. Nothing strenuous. Just a cuddle and a twirl. And, yes, That Kiss.

My favorite kind of de-stressing.

#lovebanks

 

“What Dreams May Come”: when feelings are bigger than life

what dreams may comeOne of my favorite “Hollywood” treatments of the afterlife is What Dreams May Come, with Robin Williams and Cuba Gooding. Williams plays a doctor, his wife an artist. When their two children are killed in a car accident, he and his wife are barely able to come to terms with their death before another tragedy occurs that separates the two of them. The rest of the movie, reminiscent of Ghost, is about love that transcends even death.

Years ago, I had an author friend Charlie Shedd. I would sit on the glider on the back porch with him and he would regale me with stories of his Martha, how even after she died he would catch a memory of her that was so strong, it was like she was still there, coming out of the bathroom in her favorite robe, or sitting on the glider in her natty yellow sweater. I never knew Martha, but somehow when he described her to me, it was as if I’d known her all my life.

Today on Facebook, I came across countless wedding pictures of couples celebrating their anniversaries — ten years, fifteen, twenty or more. Each looks so young and vibrant, so hopeful. Each a moment frozen in time, before “real life” sets in — for better or worse.

And as I looked at those pictures, and again as I watch this movie, I am reminded of one of the greatest gifts of marriage; how in the boat of family life, one is the anchor, the other the sails. And when that boat is rocked by waves of uncertainty, they provide for each other that safe haven.

This is the self-gift of marriage; not simply the unbridled joy, but the unbridled pain as well.

The Confession (The Love Project, Day 34)

confessionalToday I was editing an essay by Father Mike Schmitz about what it’s like to hear confession. He observed that hearing confessions is one of his favorite parts of being a priest because he gets to witness people returning to God, to receive and respond to his love for them.

He has a point. Not long before I was married, I remember driving out to an old country parish. The church had seen better days. The floorboards were noticeably lighter than the pews, from so much foot traffic. A wisened old priest slowly made his way into the middle compartment of the ancient old confessional.

There was no one else in the sanctuary, which was just fine with me. I figured I was going to in there for a while. I was fairly inexperienced as confessions went, and I figured that — since I was getting married — this would be the time when I “cleared the slate” on some old business. A good deal of it wasn’t, technically speaking, sinful. More like “baggage” – the accumulated baggage of close to two decades of single adulthood. Heartache. Brokenness. Regret. Anxiety. I’m not sure how long I was there, getting it all off my chest. But when i stopped speaking . . . there was silence on the other side of the screen. Nervously I waited. Had I shocked the elderly priest? Or had he falled asleep?

As it turns out, neither. “Oh, my daughter,” he began. With a voice full of gentle compassion, he reminded me of the Father who had never left me alone, who had seen my struggle and wept with me in my pain.

Then he blessed me, and sent me off to begin my new life with Craig. There were still plenty of bags to unpack, but the messiest ones were in the hands of God.

Today’s Love in Action: Do you have any relational regrets that you cannot seem to let go of? A clean slate is only a confession away!

A Husband’s Love (The Love Project, Day 27)

“So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, yet they seemed to him like a few days because of his love for her.”

Genesis 29:20

This week I’ve been reflecting on “love” passages in Scripture. In this Old Testament love story, two sisters vie for the affections of an ambitious young suitor. One, Leah, has “dull eyes” — is not as physically attractive as her younger sister, Rachel, whose bright eyes drew Jacob like fireflies to a porchlight. And yet, by the end of the story it is Leah who produces one son after another. There was more to her than met the eye.

Jacob labored fourteen years to get his heart’s desire . . . And in time, his heart expanded to include the woman who remained faithful, no matter what.

Today’s Love in Action: rachelleahDo you ever feel your husband’s affections are divided? Not with another person, perhaps — maybe it’s his work, his family, his church obligations. Have his eyes “dulled” over the years? What does Leah’s story say to you?