Category Archives: Love

Showing Your Wife You Love Her

From Catholic Exchange:


“The causes of this breakdown of marriage are many, but really, the solution is simple. We who are called to the vocation of marriage must love our wives. Let’s face it, we ultimately can’t change anyone’s marriage but our own. In the face of marital collapse on a massive scale, our Catholic marriages must be a prophetic witness of joyful life, fidelity, and love.”

The author gives 25 ways to show your wife you love her. Some samples:

  1. Listen to her and care about what she has to say
  2. Show her physical, non-sexual affection
  3. Surprise her with flowers
  4. Take her out to dinner (without the kids)
  5. Buy her a book she’s been wanting

Follow the link to read them all. I think, however, that a list like this, while a good starting point, won’t fit the bill in the long term. No checklist, can truly tell us how to love our wives. Christ did, however, through St. Paul. He said:


Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Ephesians 5:25-27

Total self-sacrifice, putting our wife’s needs before our own. It’s impossible, of course, being only human, but the more we strive for that ideal, the stronger our marriage becomes.

Science Gives Us a Little Way to Measure Holiness

Occasionally science gives us little glimpses of deeper truths that we normally wouldn’t associate with the scientfic method.

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A recent study of acts of selfless love shows that such acts – acts of self-sacrifice or charity with no expectations of reward – don’t bring us the same kind of pleasure that romantic love brings.

Romantic love tends to light up the same reward areas of the brain that are activated by cocaine. But new research shows that selfless love—a deep and genuine wish for the happiness of others—actually turns off the brain’s reward centers.

It isn’t news that the two types of love are different. We even have different words for them: agape for selfless love and eros for romantic love. We are all called to have agape for our fellow man, but we may or may not be called to eros for a spouse. And if that eros does not naturally transition to agape, we may find ourselves not feeling any kind of love for our spouse.

What is interesting here is not just that the two types of love bring about two different brain responses, but that acts of agape actually turn off the response centers that lead us to such great enjoyment of eros.

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So the holier we become, the less need we have of “the warm fuzzies” of your typical Hollywood romantic comedy. It’s almost as if the physiological response to passion, the triggering of those reward centers, is some kind of crutch, a crutch that teaches us to love in spite of ourselves. As we become more and more capable of selfless love, we use the crutch less and less until, finally, we can throw it away.

I still enjoy those puppy dog moments with my wife. Yes, we still have them. But I am even happier during those quiet moments where we sit together, not talking, just being. Those moments where we just simply fit together and everything seems right with the universe. Those are moments indeed when the Peace of the Lord is truly with us.

Marriage Is Not a Game

Baseball season will soon be upon us. We’ll have two boys in Little League, and practices are intense, three times per week to start, leveling off at twice a week once games get going. With two boys, that means we’re at the ballfield just about every day.

Little League ballgames are thrilling, sometimes too exciting for some parents. There is plenty of action – hits, stolen bases, runs – and you have the benefit of a loved one right there on the field. Even if your child isn’t one of the All Stars, there are always opportunities for parental pride to kick in as you watch your child do things he or she could not do just a few weeks before. But even when we lose, we can go home feeling good about playing the game, and the pain of the loss is short-lived.

Our culture is treating marriage as a game. Kids start living together as practice, to see if they’re “compatible”. Premarital sex is like sandlot baseball, just getting out there for the fun of it, with nobody keeping score. People jump into marriage for the wrong reasons – pressure from parents, an overeagerness to please, or because their friends are doing it – just like some kids play baseball for reasons other than a love of the game. But they don’t worry about that, because to them it is just a game, one they can walk away from if they’re not performing well.

But divorce is not the same as losing a baseball game. It’s not a matter of dealing with a little pain and then getting on with your life. Divorce is a life-long scar that doesn’t heal. It scars the couple. It scars the children. It scars extended family and friends. It scars the community. People who divorce are very unlikely to ever find a happy marriage on a second go-round. They are more likely to end up depressed, sustance-dependent, stuck in poverty, or divorced again.

Men and women treat marriage as a game even while they are in it. Even while things are going well. Even when they still feel as if they are “in love”. They hide things from each other – secret bank accounts, secret friends, secret Facebook accounts, secret web browsing. Will they get caught? Who knows, it is all a game. Arguments are games to see who will win. They play games over how to spend their money – his golf clubs or her car. They play games over where to go on vacation or whose parents to spend Christmas with. It becomes a contest over who will exert the behind-the-scenes control over the relationship. The loser of that game becomes more and more resentul, and soon they want to take their ball home, and find another game to play.

Marriage is not a game. It is a vocation. It requires the kind of single-minded focus that a prima ballerina gives to dance, that a concert violinist gives to music, that a professional baseball player gives to sport. To these people, those activities are a profession, not a game. They practice every day, in season and out of season, orienting every aspect of their life to make themselves a better dancer, violinist, or ballplayer.

Marriage, if it is to be something real, something that will last a lifetime, must be like that. It must be something we work at everyday, something we strive to excel at, something we orient every aspect of our life towards.

Men and women were not meant to use each other, or to play games with each other. They were created to become one in body and soul, and that takes work and dedication. If you give it that work, if you make that sacrifice, the rewards you get will be out of this world. Literally.

Thoughts on 20 Years of Marriage

My wife and I recently celebrated our twentieth anniversary. It was a good celebration, full of love and joy and happiness.

The sad fact is that most marriages don’t make it to twenty years. We are blessed to know people, including our own parents, whose marriages have lasted much longer. But more recent marriages often do not. It is important to reflect on the why of that, and not just to chalk it up to some half-imagined attribute that some have and some do not (good communication, for instance).

The first important thing to realize is that no marriage is easy. It is simply not true that the only marriages that work are marriages in which there are never conflicts and the couple is “made” for each other. The concept of the “soul mate” is on the top ten list of modern inventions most toxic to marriages. (Also on that list: contraception, no-fault divorce, legalized abortion, pornography, and so forth.) Every marriage has difficulties. Ours has. We have had our share of crises. We have gone through those moments where we really couldn’t stand each other, where we hurt each other in ways no one else had or could, where we desperately and seriously thought about divorce. Human beings are capable of great cruelty to each other, and we have been no exception.

So with that in mind, how did we survive? How does anybody.

Is It Faith?

Is it simply a matter of faith? Faith does help, of course. But the fact of the matter is that the divorce rate of Catholics who profess to believe the faith is really no different than the divorce rate of seculars. At the same time though, faith is essential. “The family the prays together stays together,” is not a falsity.

It all goes back to this: “Faith without Works is Dead” (Jm 2:17). A faith that remains unacted on cannot help our marriage or any part of our life. Only faith that is lived through daily actions and decisions can bring graces into lives or into our marriages. This is born out by other studies that show that couples who do not contracept or who actively pray together daily or who are active in their parishes are much less likely to have a divorce.

Committment

We all know that a marriage is a committment. But there are the normal kinds of committments – lukewarm, only kept until things get difficult – and then there are the serious kinds of committments – the kind you keep even if it means suffering and death. The latter is the kind of committment both spouses have to have if a marriage is to be strong. It is basically an attitude that divorce is not an option.

That kind of attitude – that divorce is simply not an option – brings with it the will to do the hard work needed to make the marriage successful. It makes you willing to take marriage classes, see a counselor when needed, make changes to your own behavior, keep the lines of communication open even when you don’t want to. A champioship caliber football player has the attitude that nothing is more important than winning that Super Bowl. That attitude gives him the will and perseverence necessary to lift weights all summer, to stick to a serious diet regimin, to stay on the practice field long hours and keep the nose in the playbook late into the evening. We, as married couples, have to have that same attitude.

That is it, in a nutshell. An unwillingness to even consider divorce. That committment comes from living the faith, and that committment leads us to do the hard work we have to do to make it work.

And the beauty of all that? It is the happiness and joy that arises. I would not trade the twenty years with my wife for anything. All that work we have put into our marriage has been paid back ten-fold in happiness. She has brought me places in my life I never could have reached myself, and I know I have done the same for her. I pray that all married couples can have the kind of happiness that we have found. If they live their faith and keep their committment, God’s grace can make that happen.

5 Things I Wish Every Engaged Couple Knew

This past weekend, my wife and I had the privilege of teaching a “Pre-Cana” marriage preparation class to a group of 20 engaged couples. We use a version of the Evenings for the Engaged program, which has been converted from a six evening program to one all-day session, due to the large distances our couples often must travel to attend.

I pray that we have some small influence on the future course of these marriages, helping to prepare them for all of the challenges ahead. I know that my wife and I feel closer than ever each time we present.

There is so much to know and learn about marriage, that we can barely scratch the surface in one 8 hour session, but if I had to summarize five key things every engaged couple should know, they would be:

1. Every Marriage Goes Through Hard Times
Those hard times can come from external sources (like finances) or they can be bred within (like a deterioration of communication). But I can pretty much promise you that there will be a moment where you wonder if you made a mistake, where you question whether you should go on. Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce because when those times come, couples too often give up.

2. Marriage Can Withstand the Worst
Adultery, addiction, physical or emotional abuse, the loss of a child,financial ruin. I personally know strong marriages that have withstood all of these painful experiences. Even in the wake of utmost betrayal, it is possible to rebuild a marriage. And it is very worthwhile. The more adversity you face, the sweeter the victory.

3. Nothing Strengthens a Marriage Like Faith
The statistics vary depending on the study, but the results are consistent: marriages in which both couples are dedicated to their faith are much more likely to survive the test of time, with the divorce rate dropping to as low as 98%. Couples who are serious about their faith understand that a marriage is a sacred institution created by God and not just another kind of human relationship. And as Christ said, “What God has brought together, let no man put asunder.”

4. Contraception is Poison to a Marriage
It is no coincidence that the huge rise in divorce rate, abortion, single parent homes, and pornography use has followed the broad cultural acceptance of contraception. Contraception fundamentally alters the sex act, turning it from a self-giving act that nourishes a marriage and brings it closer to God, to a selfish pleasure-seeking act that turns spouses into sexual objects. Everyone I have talked to who has stopped using contraception and kept that commitment has found that it improved their marital and spiritual lives.

5. Love is a Decision
This is a catch-phrase for many marriage-oriented organizations including, I believe, Worldwide Marriage Encounter. What this means is that the feelings you have, no matter how strong, are not love. Feelings go as quickly as they come. Instead, love is a decision you make, actions you take. When those warm and fuzzy feelings go (and they will), all you will have left is your ability to say, “I will contine to take take the actions. I need to take to keep this marriage together.” If you keep making that decision, the warm fuzzy feelings will come back.

Understanding these five simple truths isn’t a guarantee of a successful marriage, but it can save a couple from the most common pitfalls, and I do wish everyone entering into marriage could have that basic understanding.

One of the Good Guys

I am taking a musical theater class with my daughter. (I find that participating in my kids’ activities – as coach, helper, or fellow student – brings us closer in a way that’s hard to get otherwise.) My daughter’s vocal teacher, who is leading the class, picked out a song for me: One of the Good Guys from the music revue Closer Than Ever. It is a remarkable song about temptation, mid-life crisis, and the truth about marriage.

Temptation

The song is sung by a self-professed good guy, who dotes on his wife and kids. It quickly becomes a confessional:

But there was a night in Hawaii
On a business trip,
That my mind has suffused with a mystic glow.
She was someone’s friend, and she had this smile…

They become close, but in the end he resists the temptation to cheat on his wife. (Though he should never have been on that beach in the first place!)  And in his reflection it gets interesting:

…one of the good guys
Who trades a flash of heat
To build a warmer fire;
Denies himself a treat
To shoot for something higher
And that’s the part that’s sweet
That only the good guys know.

What is the “something higher”? Of course it is marriage, but it isn’t just any marriage. There are plenty of loveless and miserable marriages out there. It is a marriage that has realized something important. A marriage in which self-sacrifice is recognized as the highest virtue. A marriage built according to this guideline:


Husbands,love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.”

Ephesians 5: 25-31

This is a call to self-sacrifice, a call to the husband to give over his very life for his wife, just as Christ gave up his, a concept out of fashion in our no-fault divorce world. This sort of self-sacrifice, however, which is the definitive sign of real love, is what we were built for, what we are called to, and when we reach it, we have reached something higher. We have reached something holy.

I can honestly say, after twenty years of marriage in which we have seen our share of pain and in which we have failed to love more than I would care to admit, that what you get to after those 20 years of perseverance really is something higher, something transcendent. We have, even in a very imperfect way, attempted to imitate Christ’s love, and even imperfectly it is something wonderful.

But that’s not the end. There is more to the story.

Mid-Life

Fast forward and the singer is now 44 with everything laid out in his life as perfectly as he could ask. But…

Sometimes at night, in the stillness,
Lying wide awake
As the wife I still desire sleeps by my side,
I can feel the wash of the perfumed air
As my mind is drowning in billowing hair…

He is tormented by thoughts of what might have been, of what he gave up, and of the possibility that even now he could seize those fantasies and make them real.

Of course, he doesn’t. After all, he’s one of the good guys. And then he passes on the key piece of wisdom from the song:

It’s not which road you take,
Which life you pick to live in,
Whichever choice you make,
The longing is a given.
And that’s what brings the ache
That only the good guys know.

He has come to realize that no matter how happy you are, no matter which spouse or career or life you choose, you will feel the regret, the questions, the uncertainty, and the temptations. It is just a normal part of life. These things we find ourselves desiring – and the people – are mirages. Worse, they are lies. They promise something they can never give, which is completion. Total happiness.

But why? Why are we built that way? Why can’t we achieve that happiness we desire? St. Augustine understood:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

We have an emptiness inside us that only God can fill and that will not be filled in this life. We try to fill that need with pleasure; with sex or alcohol or excitement or food or other indulgences. We try to fill it with our spouse. But it is never enough. We always come back to that empty feeling.

Even our marriage cannot fill that God-sized hole, and if we persist in believing that it should, we may be tempted to throw it away and start over. But if we come to understand what marriage is and what its relation to God is, then we can feel that transcendence that I talked about earlier, even while tormented by the longing that never goes away.

And what is this understanding of marriage? Marriage is no less than a relationship, designed by God, to reflect both Christ’s love for his Church and the Father’s love for the son. It aspires to be the perfect and selfless love that is Christ’s love. Paradoxically, the only way to achieve total happiness is through a total outpouring of oneself for another, for in doing that, we begin fulfill our purpose, which is to be an image of God. Likewise, our marriage an family begins to fulfill its purpose, which is to be an image of the Holy Trinity, that most fundamentl and perfect of all relationships.

And that truly is the part that’s sweet, that only the good guys know.

Lost In The Fog

The fog was amazingly thick this morning on the way to work. So thick that my headlights could penetrate 30 feet at most. So thick that streetlights and oncoming cars were invisible if more than 100 yards away.

There were moments where I felt that the entire universe had been reduced to me, my car, and a thirty foot sphere of existence. I was alone in the universe, an eerie and frightening feeling that was somehow exhilarating at the same time.

It is easy to live that way, in such a fog that all I can see is my own existence. Especially (and unfortunately) as a husband and father, it is easy to ensconce myself in my own little world of responsibilities and worries. People, even loved ones, can become objects, providers of my inputs and receivers of my outputs. When they have needs (or I have needs of them), they enter my little sphere of light. When I have met their needs or they have met mine, they depart, and it is as if they are no more.

If I shine, however, with Christ’s light, the fog is dispersed, and I can truly begin to see and love those around me as they really are. No longer do I love someone for what they can do for me or how they make me feel. I love them for one simple fact: that they are images of God.

But I have to keep my guard up. That fog keeps trying to roll in.

The Hand of the Lord Feeds Us, He Answers All Our Needs – Does He Really?

The Hand of the Lord Feeds Us, He Answers All Our Needs. Is this just touchy feely religious sentiment? The cancer patient who prays for a cure; is He answering her needs? How about the expecting mother facing a miscarriage? The husband seeing his wife slip away into the mystery of Alzheimers? The martyrs that shed their blood to this day in many corners of this world?

We all suffer. We all die. We all eventually lose those we love. We all mourn and weep in this valley of tears. Is God really answering all our needs? It is easy to say no. It is easy to reject the faith on this premise alone. It is easy to be tragically wrong.

We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Somehow, some way, these sufferings are supposed to work for good, for our good. Is this just another condescending little head pat to console us when our prayers aren’t answered? Or is it the case that suffering happens and God tries somehow to make it up to us? Again, no. Such a promise cannot be so easily dismissed.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.
Collossions 1:24

So the good that our sufferings work for isn’t just some consolation prize from God, but it is something essential. Christ’s afflictions were and Sources necessary for the salvation of all of us. Since Christ is God, He cannot of course be imperfect, so the only thing missing from His afflictions must be something that He requires as our contribution, and that would be our suffering. If our suffering makes up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, then both our and His suffering must be working toward the same goal – salvation.

So our suffering is not only turned into good by God, it is in fact necessary. But why? This is not some arbitrary rule. In fact, it derives logically from the nature of our existence.

God created man not as an animal, and not as an automaton. He gave us free will. Why? Because He wanted to create a creature whom He could love and who could freely love him back. Without free will, there is no love, only coerced action.

But with free will comes the ability to say no, the ability to reject God. With free will also comes a selfishness, a base desire to guarantee my own self-preservation, to look out for my interests above those of others. To truly love someone – in a total and pure way – you have to be willing and able to put the other’s needs over your own. In perfect love, this self-sacrifice extends even unto death. I would die for my wife and my children.

So to love God perfectly, I must be willing and able to sacrifice my life for God. How many of us are sure we could do that? Adam failed at the task miserably, and we are all still paying for his failure.

The reason why our suffering – joined to that of Christ – is essential to our salvation is because it helps us to learn how to offer our lives up for God, how to be willing and able to sacrifice our very existence for Him. Once we have learned that, we have learned to love God perfectly. And once we can love God perfectly, we can become the creatures He originally intended us to be.

So yes, God does answer all our needs. And one of our needs is to suffer. We don’t need to be afraid of it.

It’s Hard to Love Your Neighbor

It’s hard to love your neighbor when he almost runs you over in the parking lot.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when she takes 20 items into the 10 items or less lane–and cuts in front of you to get there.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when she not only talks during the movie but explains to her partner exactly what is going to happen next.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when he tosses an empty beer can out of his car window.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when you have to walk through her cloud of cigarette smoke.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when he lets his dog potty in your yard and doesn’t clean it up.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when the “music” from his car drowns out the conversation in your car.

It’s hard to love your neighbor when he mocks you, spits on you, beats you, pierces your hands and feet and side, and leaves you to die in front of your weeping mother.

Well, ok. Maybe I could try harder to love my neighbor.

Happy Anniversary, To My Beloved

Today my wife and I celebrate 18 blessed years of marriage. 18 years? It seems impossible it has been that long. It seems impossible it has been that short. Our wedding day seems like yesterday, and yet I cannot imagine that I ever lived a life without her. Even those years that I know were before I met her, it is as if she had been there; as I have shared my past with her over the years, she has become a part of it.

Ephesians 5:31
For this reason a man shall leave (his) father and (his) mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

People who aren’t married – and I dare say many who are – really don’t understand the reality and truth behind this most familiar bible quote. Of course there is the physical aspect of that, and our four children are miraculous manifestations of our love. There is also a more subtle, and perhaps more profound aspect of this becoming one.

As we progress in our marriage – as we progress in our understanding of love – our marriage ceases to be a story of “how she makes me feel” or “how happy he makes me”. The “I” in our story fades, and the “we” takes its rightful place. As we give up our selfishness (a lifelong struggle, no doubt!), life ceases to be a negotiation between partners. We begin to make decisions and live our life as a unit, and that unit is family. It is so hard to describe, but it is a beautiful thing.

In the last 18 years we have seen the most exhilarating highs and the most devastating lows. There were times when we did not think our marriage would survive. Thanks to God’s grace, we were able to learn from those times what marriage and love really are about.

The greatest gift my wife ever gave me was to be a lighthouse, leading me toward God. Throughout my faith journey, she has remained my lighthouse. Even beyond that, I have a lifetime of debt owed to this beautiful woman. She has forgiven me more than any man deserves. She has walked with me through the fires. She has rejoiced with me at every success. And she has suffered to bring forth my four beautiful children.

Eighteen years have passed like a sigh. I wish I could live them again, the good and the bad. But most of all, I look forward to the years to come. Thank you Cheryl.