Neither do walls or rich furniture make a home. Millionaires in magnificent mansions may never know a home. But where there are good relationships, where love binds the family together and to God, there happiness is always to be found. For good relationships are heaven anywhere.
St. Seraphim of Sarov
Shirley Collier, my mother-in-law, suffered a traumatic brain injury last year during a surgical procedure intended to prevent an aneurysm. It was the surgery itself that had her leaving the hospital in much poorer condition than she arrived. Despite the efforts of doctors and family members, Shirley’s condition continued to worsen over the months following the surgery. Her husband, John, asleep in the same room, recalls waking up in the middle of their last night with the distinct feeling that Shirley’s parents, both having gone to be with the Lord years before, had joined them in the room. John described the joyful and welcoming presence as unmistakable. When he rose to check on his wife (of nearly half a century), he found that she had quietly passed away in the night.
A horrible and dark day began for John and all of the extended Collier family. Looking back, though, my father-in-law would rather focus upon what happened late that following night. Waking from an uneasy sleep, John recognized the presence of his wife with him. He recalls neck-long hair touching his shoulder as she bent down to whisper something in his deaf ear. “In the grand scheme of things, it was time for me to go.” While the hair was longer than hers had been, and the voice spoke more sweetly, there was no doubt who the visitor was.
Marriage is for life, and it seems that its power can even reach beyond our world. I’m by no means an expert when it comes to relationships, but my wife and I are approaching our twenty-fifth anniversary. These days, that can seem like quite an accomplishment. It sparked some reflection and thought that ultimately led to the writing of this article. If you’re engaged or perhaps recently married, I hope this essay might offer you a bit of guidance in your marriage walk. What follows, then, are eight principles to bear in mind as a married couple—tailored a bit more perhaps for the husband.
The first principle, when applied correctly, makes one feel like a fish swimming upstream within our current culture of self. You see, in marriage it’s not about you; it’s about your partner. The world’s marriage advice is to give 50/50, but the true goal should be 100/100. The husband shouldn’t hold back an ounce of strength or energy in working through the hard times. Like Bono sings in U2’s With or Without You, “You give yourself away.” It’s indeed true. This means that one may need to set aside activities or pastimes that don’t contribute value to the relationship. As we are reminded in 1Timothy 5:8, the first priority for the husband is to support and safeguard his family. Nearly all other priorities fall beneath this threshold.
The second principle is all about discretion and respect. Discretion is to modesty what words are to dress. Any words uttered can be repeated, and this doesn’t exclude an individual’s own words or thoughts expressed alone or established and strengthened in patterns of thought. Some years ago, we had close friends whose relationship was suffering the harmful effects of infidelity. The wife was so angry, so hurt at her husband’s past betrayal that she used almost any excuse to attack him—whether he was there, or not. This kind of talk creates a betrayal upon betrayal. You can’t heal an injury with a second wound.
The third principle is an outgrowth of the second: fighting fair, which brings us to a related point. I’ve noticed that some people seem to think that all arguing or disagreement among married people is cause for serious concern, but that’s not a fair conclusion. Perhaps it’s on account of us having fewer married role models on which to base our opinions or judgments. Whatever the reason for this, there’s nothing wrong with disagreeing or the occasional argument for a couple. What is wrong, though, is bringing up things intentionally to cut and hurt our partner. Read, for instance, Isaiah 43:25 and the tenth chapter of Hebrews. Once forgiven, our sins are also forgotten. Shouldn’t we endeavor to do the same with regards to our wife or husband? Shouldn’t we also seek to forgive them? (This is also something reflected within my last novel, The Blood Cries Out, and I’ve included an excerpt after the article.)
The fourth principle targets our culture head-on, and it’s an issue I take up frequently: marriage does not a roommate make. There should be little similarity between living with someone and true marriage. You don’t usually hold a lifelong commitment with a roommate, therefore the dynamics are completely different. One’s behaviors in the contexts of roommate or husband are as different as night is from day. The roommates’ relationship is all about the creation of boundaries; the spouses’ relationship is about breaking boundaries and divisions. The roommates’ relationship is all about creating space; the spouses’ relationship is all about giving closeness and bridging distances.
The fifth principle I offer is to maintain the correct perspective on time. What, for example, are you likely to remember in a decade or two? Time at the office seems to float away into forgetfulness, but it’s our life at home that matters the most. Our family relationships mean infinitely—or should mean infinitely--more to us than what we do from 9-5 or what kind of car we happen to be driving. As they say, when you’re on your deathbed it’s unlikely you will regret not spending more time at the office. This also intersects with another related matter: the stay-at-home mom. I usually am in agreement with the writings of C.S. Lewis, and the following quote from one of his 1956 letters is no exception.
Homemaking is surely in reality the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, and governments, etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes? We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.
C. S. Lewis
Why do I raise the question of a stay-at-home mom within a section of an essay devoted to the matter of time? I do so, because the question one must always ask is whether, or not, a particular sacrifice is worth the cost in the long run. Money is critically important, of course. Sometimes, though, that desire to own good things in the present outweighs our commitments to our loved ones—and the future. Take our particular case, for instance. Years ago, my wife was intending to return to full-time work. Before she accepted a particular job, we decided to do a little cost/benefit analysis between the new income and the new expenses. We were shocked. The new job would have required many seemingly small expenses on a regular basis. In the end, we determined that, after subtracting out the new projected expenses—such as childcare and transportation—her actual hourly earnings would fall to below minimum wage. This cursory analysis also doesn’t even touch upon the tax implications, which can be huge. To make a long story short, my wife did not pursue that particular job, and our children were the better for it. If you ever find yourself questioning the worth of a stay-at-home mom, it’s time to re-read the 31st chapter of Proverbs.
The sixth principle is all about embracing life. There are many personal accounts I’d love to share here, but one short example will suffice. Shortly after crossing the Tiber a decade ago, an old Catholic friend’s first words of welcome were to caution us against taking everything the Church declared too seriously. For whatever reason, I took his statement at the time to really refer to birth control and/or abortion. It was a disappointing greeting to receive from a Catholic friend from whom I expected something a little more meaningful and true to the faith. After all, we’d attended Catholic schools together for years. It came as another shock, about a year later, to learn that my friend and his wife could not have children. It was devastating news to them, and it underscored the sense in which embracing life—from conception to natural death—should infuse our lives as a married couple. It’s all too easy to take the gift of life for granted. It’s a gift, however, we must remain open to receiving. Of course, sometimes mistakes are made, which cannot be easily undone. That’s the beauty and wonder of forgiveness. At those times, we must not forget to also forgive ourselves.
The seventh principle emphasizes growing nearer together, as we move closer in our relationship with Jesus Christ. This idea really hit home when Kimberly (my future wife) and I spoke with our Free Methodist pastor, Rick Alf, before getting married. (I think this way of looking at the marriage relationship was also influenced by James Dobson’s Focus on the Family.) It’s a logical way of understanding the dynamics of the spiritual relationship of a committed husband and wife, but it helps to have a visual illustration. If you imagine a triangle as representing the married couple, Christ and His Church are at the top point. The closer you move towards Christ, then, the closer you move together. Prayer, devotions, Bible reading, and attending Mass as a family will help the committed couple to weather whatever storms may strike.
The eighth principle is only slightly less critical than the preceding seven: embrace personal growth. It’s so easy within a strong marriage to sit back and relax at times, letting life wash over you rather than working for something good and valuable. Both intellectual and physical activity as a couple will strengthen the marriage relationship. To share a short personal example, I was having a challenging time at the office a year, or so, ago. Work was hard and personally draining to the point that it was making me ill. Once God helped me repair the office situation, I felt like such a weight had been lifted from my shoulders that the time might be right to undertake a new challenge. I suddenly had more energy and more hope in my future. To that end, I decided to finish what I began in the late 1980s; I enrolled at Marylhurst University to finish my degree in English Literature. Education and self-improvement aren’t just for young people. If you embrace this truth within your life, your marriage will be richer and deeper for it.
Like the example of the loving relationship of John and Shirley Collier with which this essay began, it is in that imperfect love between a husband and wife in which we catch a reflection of the perfect love of Christ for His Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, however, puts it better than I.
2205 The Christian family is a communion of persons, a sign and image of the communion of the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. In the procreation and education of children it reflects the Father’s work of creation. It is called to partake of the prayer and sacrifice of Christ. Daily prayer and the reading of the Word of God strengthen it in charity. The Christian family has an evangelizing and missionary task.
Except from The Blood Cries Out (See Third Principle Paragraph):
David strode angrily to the kitchen. Banging a fist down on the dark brown granite countertop, he yelled, “Be quiet! I’ve had it, Michelle. We can talk later. I’m going to bed. I’m very tired.”
“You weren’t like this when you were on patrol. Maybe you should demote back to patrol, if you can’t maintain some semblance of home life as a detective. I’m sick of it, David. I’m sick of what it’s doing to us.”
“What do you mean doing to us? Are you talking about doing your doctor friend again? Your the one who opened the door to infidelity, and a lot of shit has been coming through that door ever since.”
Michelle’s mouth fell open in a kind of terrified shock, and she stumbled back a few paces. David regretted the words, but they couldn’t be unsaid. The salted wound was opened again.
“Michelle, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to--” “D--n you, David! You are one son of a b---h! I don’t know why I even still love you. Your partner--Dustin, is it?--is apparently more of a spouse to you than I’ll ever be.”
Michelle spun around, long hair twirling behind, heading for their bedroom. “I’m going home.”
“You are home,” David answered tiredly, laying his head on the kitchen counter a moment to try to organize his thinking. “You can’t drive all the way to Bellingham tonight, Michelle,” he continued, rising and following her to their first floor bedroom. “It’s not safe. Go to bed, Michelle. I’ll take the sofa. I’m sorry.”
Erickson, Karl Bjorn (2014-07-16). The Blood Cries Out (Kindle Locations 379-391). Light Switch Press. Kindle Edition.