Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Hope and the Sacrament of Matrimony

Who knew that writing about the relationship between matrimony and hope would provide such a challenge for me? It took me hours to get this written, and only the fact that I promised I would get it done today led me to continue pursuing it. But I did promise and that promise matters to me. So I am pushing through the blockage and getting this post out there.

The Seedbed of Love, Hope, and Joy

Every human heart has seeds planted in it of love, hope, and joy but those seeds must be cultivated and tended in order to flourish and thrive. Marriage is the seedbed where the seeds are provided the space to flourish and are given the tender care needed to grow healthy and strong. A loving home cultivates the seeds by showering the child with the love, instruction, and guidance in everything it takes to make their seeds grow.
The Example of Love and Fidelity

The married couple’s most important method of teaching their children about how to grow those seeds of love, hope, and joy is their love for one another and their fidelity to each other. As they walk with each other throughout the daily realities of life and handle the inevitable conflicts, sorrows, and suffering of life without losing sight of the love for one another, they teach their children that love has no conditions.

The Key to Growing More Hope

And since the key to growing more hope in the world is to grow more love, this education that they pass on to the next generation is instrumental in helping their children to understand and recognize what love really is and how to live it out so that they can take those lessons beyond the walls of their home and pass it on to others.

Where Love Flourishes, Hope Thrives

In a healthy home, where the parents are not looking to one another or their children to fulfill unmet needs, children are given permission to embrace their uniqueness free from the burdens of their parents’ expectations about what they should be when they grow up. Healthy parents know that they are not there to shape or mould their children in their image, but to help them understand and embrace the shape they were given by Love and the purpose they were designed to serve.

The Proper Expectations for Matrimony

Most people have false expectations about what they should expect from the Sacrament of Matrimony which leads to disappointment, and the disappointment leads to divorce. The expectation of Matrimony is not that the two of you will make each other happy. Nobody can make anyone else happy. Our feelings are our own responsibility. It is not that the two of you will fulfill one another. Fulfillment of our needs is our responsibility. We are responsible for figuring out why we feel the way we do and then communicating those feelings to get our needs met. The healthy expectation of Matrimony is that the two of you will act as partners together in bringing more Love into the world. You will do this by setting an example of Love in action, by creating new lives together, and by raising the next generation in Love.

More Love Is Always the Answer

When one of you is sick and in pain, Love is the answer. When one of you is weak and vulnerable, Love is the answer. When one of you is struggling and suffering, Love is the answer. When one of you is broken and in pain, Love is the answer. If the marriage stops working toward Love, it stops functioning, and it becomes toxic to the two of you. The only way to jump start the relationship back up is to pour more Love into it. That’s hard to do, but it’s the only way to heal what’s damaged.

More Love Means More Hope

Sometimes the relationship isn’t functioning the way it should. Pouring more Love into it can sound like a futile effort and a lost cause. However, pursuing Love means making room in your own life for more Hope and more Joy to come in and those things make you better, acting as insulation against the wounds that the unloving behavior of your partner is inflicting. They keep you healthy when your partner isn’t, and they give the relationship the medicine it needs to heal.

My Understanding before Marriage

Before I got married, I thought marriage was til death do you part, but that the goal of marriage was the mutual happiness of the people who became married. That expectation meant that when I got into marriage and it didn’t make me happy, I was immediately looking for a way out. Fortunately, I was too poor to be able to afford a divorce. We were stuck together; bound by our vows, our poverty, and our child.

The False Expectations

I entered into marriage with a whole host of expectations. I was broken and I expected him to love me into being whole, but when we got married I discovered he was just as broken as I was and he was looking to me to help him heal, too. I expected that the man I’d dated, who was always there for me physically when I needed him, would be there for me in partnership to provide for our needs. But he wasn’t taught how to do that by his parents and so that man I expected didn’t show up after the wedding date. I expected that he would want the same things I wanted and prioritize things the same way I did, but he didn’t see things the way I did and he didn’t think the same things mattered that I did. That led to some of the bitterest disappointments of my life.

Blaming Him for the Disappointment

I was raised in a household where love and expectations were synonyms for one another. I didn’t realize that love and expectations are completely unrelated. Expectations blind you to the reality of the person in front of you. They stop you from seeing, and receiving, the gift of who they are, where they are, exactly as they are. And the child of false expectation is disappointment. It wasn’t his fault I set these expectations for who he would be or how life would go, but I was sure blaming him for not living up to them.

Setting Boundaries and Healthy Expectations

It’s normal and healthy to communicate the way you’d like to be treated by someone else. That’s setting healthy expectations. Sharing the things that make you uncomfortable and the things that make you feel especially loved is inviting the other person to join in a relationship with you by letting them know how to have that relationship in a way that feels good for both of you.

By communicating your thoughts, needs, and desires, you are taking the fear out of having a relationship with you by letting them know what is safe and what isn’t. If they run into an area that needs to be a boundary that you weren’t aware of, neither of you blames the other, you just talk it out and re-establish the boundaries. Boundaries are your responsibility, and so is enforcing them.

The healthy expectation is that someone who loves you will respect your boundaries. Love doesn’t force its way past your gates. It asks permission before entering in and takes your expressed desires seriously. Those boundaries can be trespassed against without the person being aware of it. However, that’s the point of communicating the boundaries ahead of time.
Matrimony: the Non-Commissioned Officers

The Catholic Church can be thought of as a recruitment and training center for those engaged in the battle against selfishness and in service to Love. Those who are Confirmed in the Church have agreed to fight that battle. But they need leadership. Those who accept their call to the Sacrament of Matrimony are stepping up to be those leaders through their example of loving one another unconditionally and their generosity in giving their lives to bringing the next generation into existence and up in the ways of love.

Love in sickness, and in health

It’s hard to love someone when they’re sick. It’s hard to be the one who holds back someone else’s hair while they puke into the toilet, or wipes their behind because they’re too weak to do it themselves. It’s hard to endure day after day when someone you love is depressed and their inability to see hope for the future challenges your own, leaves you feeling like you’re carrying the burden all alone, and there’s nothing you can do to help them except stay beside them and love them anyway. It’s hard to love the person who has become so depressed that they’ve climbed into the bottle, buried their lives in a needle, or gave themselves up to the virtual world because that was less painful than the real world.

Yet it is when your spouse is sick and hurting that your love for them shines the brightest. It is in that moment of giving that your willingness to sacrifice for their sake and to continue believing in them, praying for them, and loving on them that the world finds its greatest hope that there is unconditional love out there and that unconditional love is possible for them. If this one, who is so clearly not able to reciprocate the love, can receive it, perhaps they can, too.

For rich or for poor

When everything’s comfortable and life is going your way and the little nuisances of daily life can be swept under the rug and ignored, it might seem easier to love. You can escape the relationship and get away from one another for a time, but that’s also its challenge. Divorce becomes easier when you know you can afford the lawyer. Leaving becomes easier when you know you can afford to make ends meet without your partner. Staying together through the pain that is the price of love is a much harder thing to do when the way out is as easy as spending money to get there.

It’s also a risk of allowing yourselves to drift so far apart that by the time you realize it you can’t even see one another to figure out how to build a bridge to get back to one another. The love you once had can become weak and start to die for lack of attention and care. And you can easily convince yourself that there’s no way to reignite that spark.

Can you love your spouse when your needs aren’t being fully met and all you have to rely on is Love? Can you be kind and gentle and generous to them when the world is being cruel and harsh and indifferent to your suffering? Will you let poverty draw you closer together or tear you apart? Will you draw strength from the love of one another or will you collapse into the fruitless cycle of blaming one another for where you are in life?

And, if you can love one another during the times when you were poor together, and then you suddenly get rich – can you avoid letting your money come between you? Can you avoid letting it become the excuse you use to drift apart until love begins to die for lack of care and attention? The risks are there in both directions.

The example you set in how you love one another when money is present and when you have nothing but each other gives hope to the world that Love is a treasure all its own that money can’t tarnish and the lack of it can’t extinguish. It shows others how to weather both the storms and the rainbows of life without losing your focus on Love.

Til Death Do You Part

Faithfulness and unending commitment to one another create the safe space needed for the heart to truly open up and flourish. Knowing that your partner will be there right up until the end, staying by your side no matter what, builds the trust necessary for the two of you to grow into your best. 

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