My husband, Michael, and I will have been married for 39 years on Sept. 1, 2017. After a difficult life, we are happy and still in love. Surprisingly, we have become one in reality, deeply in tune with each other’s spirits even though we are still opposites in personality. Our tangible joy is inexplicable through secular eyes because from all outward appearances our life together has been a tough journey through poverty, raising nine kids, facing overwhelming chores on a small family farm and dealing with long-term, clinical depression.
Accessing Power in the Sacrament of Marriage
How did our marriage survive never mind thrive? The grace available in the Sacrament of Marriage is not some esoteric theology; it is real and it is powerful. The power available in the sacrament is what kept my husband and me together through the rough years. We both understood, beyond a doubt, that God brought us together. We never questioned this basic call from God, our vocation together, even during the dark years.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church unequivocally declares the power and grace showered on couples through this sacrament:
This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children.”
Christ is the source of this grace. “Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony.” Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another’s burdens, to “be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb (CCC 1641-1642).
I have always managed to keep our difficulties in perspective through humour. One of my jokes is on the typical marriage vow about for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. I say, “Well, we’ve seen worse, poorer and sickness and we are more than ready for better, richer and healthier.” Then I dissolve into gales of laughter. I must admit Michael never fails to simply raise one eyebrow in my direction and smile apologetically at our visitors. However, the truth is humour works. It has been proven, when people laugh at their foibles and do not take themselves too seriously, their problems suddenly shrink and they in turn gain perspective. Over-dramatizing conflict is deadly. This is simply an example of cognitive therapy in action: take a step away from each conflict and looking at the big picture, through the eyes of God.
The Gift of Suffering
Surprisingly, one of the keys to the longevity of our marriage is suffering. Suffering was a gift which unified us because it stripped away false pride and forced us to our knees in prayer. Honest prayer led both of us to self-knowledge, humility, and compassion for each other. When I asked a priest what my life would have been like if I had not suffered, if I had married a well-off dentist, had 1.25 kids and lived in an efficient, modern house, he put on a phony, pious face, put his hands together in prayer, and said in a high, mocking voice, ”Oh, you would be a nice Christian lady, praising the Lord.” What he meant by that amusing bit of acting was I would be shallow, without depth and strength. Well, when I see the results of a bit of suffering in our marriage, I say bring it on.
The Role of Faith in Our Marriage
The only reason my husband and I got married and stayed married is our faith. We are a brother and a sister in Christ, fellow children of God who seek His will together. We have always been on the same page, sensing the next level of growth in our spiritual walk and changing at the same pace. This has been a pure gift from God. It was growth in maturity and in my faith which healed our marriage because when I quit demanding love from my husband, quit trying to control him, he was set free to love me in freedom and in truth, in the power of the Spirit of God. When I let go and surrendered to God, He blessed me with more than I could ever have asked for in our marriage.
Advice for People Who Are Dating
Many young people wait secretly for their knight in shining armor to whisk them off their feet so they can live happily ever after, or for a wonderful woman to lift off a sense of aimlessness. Although we laugh at such ridiculous fantasies as the stuff of naive, lovesick teenagers, we all must face the deep temptation within ourselves to seek out a future partner to fulfill all of our needs. We have been brainwashed by Hollywood’s romantic movies. The truth is, counter to what secular society would lead us to believe, only God can meet our core need for love. Countless marriages end up in divorce because people have embraced the crazy notion that the man or woman of their dreams will completely satisfy and fulfill them. This is a lie.
If you want to get married, seek the face of God, trust Him and He will drop someone in your path, because marriage is just as much a vocation and a calling as Holy Orders. My husband once asked God to find him a wife and then forgot all about it as he dedicated a year to Madonna House in Combermere, Ontario, Canada. Then he spent another year at his local parish where he lived in the residence with an ill priest and helped him run the parish. The next year, while travelling across Canada, he stopped in to see a friend who was a parish worker but a note on the door explained Steve had taken his youth group on a picnic. Michael came over to my house to wait because I lived with Steve’s fiance. As soon as Michael saw me, he knew I was the one for him. Michael still swears prayer is the best method for finding a bride.
Society does not prepare people for a Christian marriage. Couples have to actively seek out help and advice. I suggest a multitude of tools from reading insightful books, conferences, retreats, confession, prayer, spiritual direction and counselling which help couples mature and grow together as one in Christ. As a newlywed, I wish someone had explained to me that in marriage partners irritate each other by pulling out each other’s darkness, bringing their wounds to the surface. Once I understood this spiritual dynamic, I quit blaming Michael and pointing out his faults and instead centered on my own need for repentance and growth.
I spent years as a pitiful, innocent victim, crying my eyes out over my plight married to an insensitive man when all along my own sins blocked Christ’s love from flowing to both of us in our marriage. Once I focused on my own need for growth rather than on Michael’s issues, the Spirit of God could finally deal with my own sinfulness and need for healing. If I had thrown up my hands and divorced Michael, chances are the second fellow would have turned out exactly the same. My sinfulness triggered my husband’s sinfulness. Period. I had to stop blaming and pointing out Michael’s failings if I wanted a great marriage. Instead of pointing out the grain of sand in his eye, I had to allow God to show me the log of faults in my own eye. God designed us so only His love will fill the desperate desires of our hearts. Once I understood this truth, I could allow real love, respectful love, to grow between Michael and myself without making crushing demands on the poor guy to fulfill the role of God in my life.
Why We Have a Large Family
We read a homily by Pope John Paul II whose main premise was that letting go of control and trusting in God was not some abstract principle, but a day-to-day practical call that included the surrender of our fertility by not using contraception. Although we could not imagine how large our family would become, his words continued to resonate within both of us. Guilt lifted off and a sense of purpose took its place. Many small experiences kept reinforcing the truth: God calls each of our children into being with our cooperation. We stumbled blindly at times, but then a burst of clarity would shine a light on our purpose as we lived out our pro-life mission.
Looking back over 39 years of marriage. I am filled with the joy of the Lord, grateful my husband is a patient man.
St. Paul said: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church. . . . This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church” (Eph 5:25, 32).
The marriage covenant, by which a man and a woman form with each other an intimate communion of life and love, has been founded and endowed with its own special laws by the Creator. By its very nature it is ordered to the good of the couple, as well as to the generation and education of children. Christ the Lord raised marriage between the baptized to the dignity of a sacrament (CCC 1659-1660).