There is a book called “Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy.” I haven’t read the book, but the title really struck me. I hope someday I’ll have time to read it. First, I have to get through the ten on my nightstand. I tend to collect books. As a marriage prep instructor couple we often get engaged couples who answer the question ‘List five things you expect from marriage’ with ideas like this: I expect to be happy, I expect my spouse will make me happy, I expect to make my spouse happy, I expect to have lifelong happiness, etc. Spoiler alert: No one can “make” someone else happy. That is a choice we each make in our approach to life. This happily ever after idea is a Disney fairy tale ending and does not exist in real life. At least, not in the Hollywood way. Sorry if I just ruined it for you. In the “God” way it is so much better, more fulfilling, and leads to greater joy! But it is also much more work, much more painful, and much, much more messy! Peter Kreeft, one of my very favorite authors, says this:
Marriage is a school of saint-making. If you are married, you probably applied that last sentence to yourself (you are learning to be saintly by sacrificing and putting up with your spouse’s faults) rather than to your spouse (he or she is learning to be saintly by having to deal with your faults and by sacrificing for you). Your spontaneous reaction tells you why you need to go to saint-making school. Catholic Christianity pg353.
There is a similar idea in the very first chapter of Stormie O’Martian’s book The Power of a Praying Wife. She talks about all the times she prayed like this, “Lord, our marriage would be perfect if you would just fix this one thing in him!” We can all get in this rut. We can all adopt this mindset from time to time. Our spouses have bad habits. They have bad days. We have struggles. Life is unpredictable and marriage is hard. It’s too late to say, “Well, I just won’t get married.” We are here and, frankly, we like being married. We were designed for communion. We seek it. We desire it. It is built right into our bodies as male and female. So…what’s a woman to do?
Well, we can go right back to Genesis and see that Eve did not fulfill the missions God gave her bringing sin and suffering into the world and thus into marriage. Then, we need to ask ourselves if we are fulfilling our missions. The very first mission of Eve is to be is a “helpmate” to Adam. This does not mean she is below him. She was created from his side precisely because she is his equal. We might say that as the Church is a ‘helpmate’ to Christ so a wife is to her husband. Does the church make decisions without Christ or try to bully him into one choice or another? No. The Church is designed to live life in communion with Christ. To receive life from Him and live it in the world- bringing His love and grace to all. It is a togetherness beyond description. He is for her and she is for Him. We know it because we live it. We experience this giving and receiving in each mass at the Eucharistic altar. Likewise, husband and wife should be striving for the good of the other: the greatest good being holiness. No, our husbands aren’t Christ, but our love reflects the life of the Trinity in our most perfect loving. Pouring ourselves out for each other and receiving each other: completely, in love, without condition.
Now I can hear you saying, “But my husband doesn’t act like Christ and if He did we wouldn’t have any more problems.” Well, if you acted more like Christ you wouldn’t have any more problems either. You are both imperfect. (Make regular use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation to stay humble and you will be able to forgive him more readily.) Read Ephesians 5 and DO YOUR OWN VERSE! It doesn’t say, ‘Be subordinate to your husband IF he loves you like Christ loves the Church.’ It says, be subordinate. Paul indicated that this subordination is mutual, but it is named specifically for the woman because it is our tendency to forget. The man is told to love as Christ loved the Church because he needs to be reminded that love is sacrificial. (By the way, it is not our job to tell our husbands that.) That is mutual subordination.
Being subordinate does not mean being a doormat. It means giving your husband the respect he needs and deserves. Respect in decision making, respect in how you talk to him, in how you talk about him to others, in support for his work, and in every other aspect of life. Eve did not respect the partnership God had created and made the decision to eat the apple on her own without consulting her husband. She “wore the pants” in the family. I’ve heard many women say, “I want my husband to be the Spiritual head of the house” or “to love me like Christ loves the Church” and they imply I want him to do it like this. It’s that last part that is our insubordination. If you pray the first two and add, “I will accept whatever that looks like from your hand Lord.” Your heart will be in the right place to receive even more graces than you can imagine.
How often do you gather with women and hear a long litany of the faults of their husbands? Like it is some kind of contest of who has the husband with the most annoying habit. Or how someone “got their husband to do this or that”? Do we ever have a conversation that leads us to discover what we do that might be driving our husbands crazy? Are we examining what we can do to grow our marriage in holiness? That starts in your own heart not his. When I am struggling and I talk with my faithful prayer sister, Diana, she always asks me, “What work is God doing in you? Ask Him to reveal it to you.” Now I just think it when I’m struggling as she has truly engrained it in me, not only with my husband, but also with the children.
But what about faith differences? Being ‘unequally yoked’? I have to bring you back to 1Corinthians. In chapter 7 verses 1-15 Paul address this. Does it make it easy? No. Again, life is messy and marriage is hard. Many times Craig and I equate life to a roller coaster with highs and lows: thrills and terror and climbing and dips. When we marry we get higher highs and lower lows. Add in kids and it gets still higher and still lower. I can say that in the times when we are loving each other more perfectly I have never experienced such joy or contentment. Is it painful at times? Yes. Really painful? Yes. I can also honestly say I’ve had moments of real despair. But in my life the happiest moments and the moments filled with the most complete joy have come through marriage. Moreover, I understand struggle, sacrifice, and that real love is a choice I make daily not a feeling of butterflies in my stomach. I understand the sacrifice of Christ better, I can love more deeply, forgive more readily, and I am holier because of marriage.
Has marriage made you holier? Happier? Strive to be holy! Choose to be happy! As Stormie says in the end of Chapter One, pray to the Lord, “Give my husband a new wife, and let it be me.”
Called to be Holy: Called to be Married contributed by Kirsten Simonsgaard.