“…stay in the boat in which our Lord has placed you, and let the storm come. You will not perish. It appears to you that Jesus is sleeping, but let it be so. Don’t you know that if He sleeps, His heart vigilantly watches over you?” – St. Pio of Pietrelcina
I read and hear a lot of people talk about what “you deserve” in a relationship. When these things are said, it is implied that if your spouse is not doing these things for you currently, it must not be real or the relationship should be questioned and possibly ended. I disagree.
You deserve to be treated with all the respect, dignity, love, and care in the world. Absolutely. Each person on this earth has immense dignity and worth because that comes from God. We were all created in His image.
You deserve flowers for no reason, thoughtful gestures, kisses just because, and things to make you smile. Some days. Some days you could probably do more to love your spouse.
You deserve for your spouse to always make you happy? Well that’s just an impossible request.
You deserve a lot and are worth more than you can imagine.
But when did marriage become about what you deserve? When did marriage become so selfish? When did we start believing that if you aren’t treated the way you feel you deserve to be treated that the marriage has failed?
On the days you feel like you aren’t treated how you should be, how often do you look in the mirror and honestly ask yourself if you are treating your spouse in the way they deserve to be treated?
What a humbling question. If answered honestly I have always found there was more I could do. My husband is also a child of God who was worth God giving his only son to die for him. My husband is so loved by God that God forgives him every time he fails. My husband is worth Jesus leaving 99 sheep to go out and find him. My husband is worth so much and means everything to God.
Do I really treat him in that way? Do I really let my husbands great worth sink into my soul? And do my thoughts, actions, and words reflect and remind him of his worth?
I find that in the moments when I am upset because I felt like I wasn’t treated the way I deserved, I could equally find ways I failed to treat my spouse as he deserves. So many of those times if I am honest with myself, I can see how selfish of a response that is. Although I deserve the world, although my God died for my salvation, although I am worth everything to Christ, I must look to God for my worth and be patient with my spouse. I must be willing to humbly accept that we will never be able to love each other with the same perfection that God loves us but we can and always should strive to love each other as selflessly as possible, to breathe life into each other, and to keep each other’s worth and dignity in God’s eyes at the forefront of our minds. And that is what the marriage is – a journey together to explore God’s love by learning how to see and love your spouse as God does.
Marriage is not the journey toward being treated how you feel you deserve – it is the journey toward learning how to love your spouse in the way God says they deserve to be loved, which is unconditionally.
A Loyalty Tested
Loyalty is deeply tested in marriage like Peter’s loyalty to Jesus in the Passion. Not only our loyalty to God but our loyalty to our spouse. During the marriage vows, we promise to be true to our spouse in good times and bad, in sickness and health. What happens when that promised loyalty is tested? Peter stood before Christ and said he would never deny him; but Jesus knew that Peter would deny him because the spirit is willing but the flesh is week. Like Peter, during the vows we stand before Christ and vow to never deny our spouse, to be true to them, no matter what comes later in life. How easy is it to say those words yet how hard at times to live them out, to deny the temptations of the flesh and uphold the calling of the spirit.
How often do we try to fight for our flesh’s desires, our “happiness,” or what we feel we deserve? How often does our flesh pull us away from our spouse, from our vow to be loyal and true? It can happen through small glances at others, jealousy, affairs, disengagement, avoidance, or so much more. It can happen in small ways but each time that loyalty is tested in marriage and the weakness of the flesh falls into the traps and temptations Satan sets, the divide and distance between spouses grows larger.
Like Peter, we mean with all our hearts that we will be loyal to our spouse through good and bad times, but when the trials come, when we are forced to choose in difficult situations, the flesh puts up a good fight in the battle.
It is easy to look at Peter in the story of the Passion and think “how could he deny Jesus, his best friend and his teacher?” We all hope that if we were put to that same test we would have the strength, courage, and faith to proudly remain loyal and faithful to Jesus. I think in our marriages we have that test given to us daily. We are to love our spouse as Christ modeled love. When we deny our spouse, even in the smallest of ways, when our loyalty is tested and we fall to the flesh, we not only deny our spouse, we deny Christ in them. For Christ said whatever you do to the least of these you do to me. Does that not also apply to how we treat our spouse? When we deny or spouse or fail to remain loyal, are we not in that moment denying Christ just as Peter did? Are we not succumbing to the weakness of the flesh despite the fact that like Peter we said before God that we would not deny him?
As we go into this Holy Week, we have an opportunity to examine our lives and where we can relate to Peter in the story of the Passion. I think as married people, we can so easily relate to him in how we choose to either deny or remain loyal and faithful to our spouse, our vows to them, and Christ in them in each moment of every day.
Happy or holy marriage
Nobody was created just to have a happy marriage. Men and women were created to win the happiness of heaven
Fr. Donald Miller
How often do we look to our marriage, to our spouse, to make us happy? How often do we feel like our marriage has failed if we are not happy in that moment? When those moments come it brings up the question – what is the purpose of marriage?
I have heard so many people tell me that if their marriage isn’t making them happy then maybe it wasn’t meant to be and they should search for happiness elsewhere and find someone else who makes them feel happy.
If marriage is to be the thing to make me happy it is destined for frustrations. No person, no thing, can make us happy all the time. That is a crazy expectation to put on your spouse and one that no person could ever live up to or achieve. At the altar the promise is “for better or for worse” recognizing that there will be hard times and trials in every marriage. So if we know that all marriages won’t bring happiness all the time, what is their purpose?
The purpose is your path to holiness and heaven where you will be eternally happy. It is to help your spouse grow in holiness and be in heaven with God some day. It is standing by your spouse through the triumphs but also through the trials. It is praying for your spouse and gently encouraging and supporting them in their faith.
If we look at marriage in this way and with this purpose, it can never fail. We are never done in our faith journey. There are always opportunities to pray for your spouse and to support them in growing closer to God. When marriage is viewed as your path to holiness for you and your spouse, it may be tried and it can never fail, never be broken, and there is no reason to try to find your path to salvation in someone else because your journey with your spouse to holiness never ends.
What an honor to be called as married persons to not only grow closer in individual holiness but also to play a huge role in the holiness and salvation of your spouse.
The Foot of the Cross – The Source of Love
“Come with me” he says. “Come follow me.” “Come deeper with me.” “Trust me.” He tells me this constantly. He comes to me in my moments of despair, in my moments of weakness, and in my moments of great joy and tells me to come with him. To go with him to that place on Calvary where he died, because he has more to show me.
Then he takes me there. I am walking through the desert with him by my side. We walk up the hill of Calvary. At the top of the hill he points to the cross. There he is. He is on the cross. He is suffering. He is in so much pain and so much hurt. He is weak and wounded. The air is filled with a deep somber sense as if the entire world has been paused.
We walk up to the foot of the cross. I am standing right at the foot of the cross. His blood is pouring down on me. I can hear him, hear him struggling for breath, crying out. I see him looking up to heaven, to his father, wishing for relief, wishing all the pain he was experiencing would be taken away and healed. But although he hopes so dearly for the pain to go away, he courageously accepts the knowledge that God’s will and God’s plan is greater than his own human desire to never experience pain. He has perfect trust in God his Father and the plan that God has for him. He embraces his cross with a strength so unknown to this world.
Then He looks at me. He looks right at me. When I dare to look back up, directly into his eyes I feel as though I can see straight into his soul and he into mine. His eyes are full of pain. I can see every part of his body is in intense pain. I have never seen so much pain in my life. But although he is in great pain, there is something else in his eyes that overtakes the pain. There is love. There is love, great love in his eyes. It is a piercing love like I have never experienced before. A love so deep and so pure. It is a love for me. A love for my husband. A love for our children. A love for each and every person who has ever existed and who ever will exist in this world. This love in His eyes is the calm in the storm.
He doesn’t say anything to me while our eyes are locked but it is as if his gaze speaks directly to my soul. I can hear his soul speaking to mine and he says “I love you. You are a daughter of God and you are so deeply loved. You have so much immense worth. I have so much planned for you and it is greater than you could ever imagine. I forgive you for all that you have done and all that you will do. There is nothing you can do that will change my love for you. There is nothing you can do to make me stop loving you. I love you. I love you exactly where you are, who you are, and no matter what you do. I will love you at every moment of every day for eternity. I want you to accept my love, to let me love you. But I want you to choose my love. I freely give my love to you at all times and through all things. I will love you if you accept my love, if you reject it, deny it, run from it, ignore it, or embrace it, because my love for you isn’t based on what you do, it is my conscious choice to love you no matter what. I love you with all that I have. I suffer for you. I rejoice for you and in you. I delight in you.”
When I feel his immense love for me I am paralyzed. I can’t move. I fall down. Fall straight on my knees with my face on the ground and my hands raised to heaven. I am overcome. Overcome with this love that I cannot understand. This love that is greater than any sin or anything in this world. This unconditional love like I have never experienced. This love that he pours down on me overtakes me. It overtakes every part of my being and fills my soul. It fills my soul with everything I could ever want and everything I could ever need. For the first time in my life I feel complete – I feel full – I feel alive – I feel like I am who I am meant to be, who I was made to be. I am so full of His love that all I want to do is give this love to others.
Then Jesus takes me up on the cross with him. He unites my suffering to his on the cross. And while I am up there I see everyone who has ever hurt me. I see them standing at the foot of the cross and I am looking down at them. Sometimes it is many people, sometimes just one person, and sometimes it is myself. Then he says to me “see them as I do. Look at them through my eyes.” He shows me how although I may be hurting, they are hurting too. He shows me how I have played a part in their suffering, pain, joy, and triumphs. It’s so humbling. He opens my eyes to see those in my life in the most incredible ways, to see how he sees them as His children who are so incredible, special, and important to the world in their own individual ways. For each one of us is a part of His body and as a part of His body has an integral role to play in the salvation of this world. But as He lets me see each person through His eyes, He also shows me how broken and hurt each one of them is. He always has me focus on my spouse in a particular way since He especially calls me to love my spouse as He loves.
He reminds me that He loves me for where I am in each moment. He shows me that although I have failed Him and hurt Him, He has never left my side. He gently reminds me that for all the times I have betrayed and hurt Him, He has forgiven me. He loves me in my imperfection and He wants me to love others in that same way. He wants me to meet those in my life where they are, for who they are, and embrace and encourage them to grow into who they were created to be because that is what He does for me. He sees who I should be, who I was created to be, and yet loves me when I fall short.
To help me love those who have hurt me, He fills me with the same love that He has them. He says to me that I am to forgive for any wrong or hurt that I have felt. And while I am up on the cross with him, all I want to do is forgive. All I want to do is pour out my love to them. All I want to do is offer up my suffering, my pain, and my love to God for their healing, their forgiveness, and their peace. All I want is to continue to pour out my love for them with all that I have forever and ever. All I want is to show them, to tell them how much I love them and to pick them up, embrace, and comfort them in their woundedness. All I want is show them how amazing they are, to show them how inspiring they are, to show them how loved they are. All I want is to take away all of their hurt, all of their pain, all of their suffering, all of their loneliness, all of their frustration, all of their confusion, all that is hurting them and all that is holding them back and replace it with love. All I want is for them to know their immense worth in the eyes of God. All I want to do is tell them how sorry I am for all the ways I have wronged them. It’s amazing how much we all fall short and wrong those in our lives. While I am up on the cross looking down at them through His eyes, all I have is compassion, forgiveness, and love for them.
And while I am on the cross looking down with the same love for them in my heart that Christ has for me and my suffering united to his for the greater glory of God, He urges me to say these words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Forgiving those who aren’t sorry
Perhaps one of the hardest challenges we face is forgiving someone who has not apologized. What do you do when you have been hurt by another but they aren’t sorry and haven’t asked for your forgiveness?
I think the story of the prodigal son shows us how to respond. While the son left and squandered his father’s wealth, his father didn’t go out after him to tell him he was wrong. He didn’t seek out his son and expect his son to apologize. He didn’t angrily lash out and hold on to the bitterness he probably felt.
He stayed home.
He stayed home and prepared himself for the possibility that his son would return. During that time his son was away he must have been humbling himself, forgiving his son, and softening his heart so that when his son returned he could honestly hold out his arms, embrace his son, and rejoice in his return. He spent the time in between being wronged by his son and his son’s apology practicing forgiveness and getting his heart ready to be able to forgive his son if or when he returned home.
How often do we spend that time in between being wronged and receiving an apology allowing ourselves to soak in the bitter feelings, replaying the hurt we feel, and holding on to anger? How often do we refuse to forgive someone because they have not yet asked for our forgiveness? How often do we allow ourselves to be held prisoner by our feelings of hurt and anger instead of allowing our hearts to be softened by forgiving? How often do we seek out the person who has wronged us, tell them about how they wronged us, and want them to apologize? How often do we continually remind those who have wronged us of the things they have done to make them feel bad and remind them of their past mistakes?
How precious is it to spend time humbling yourself in forgiving another? What a greater gift can you give to another than being ready to honestly extend your forgiveness when they ask for it because you have already forgiven them in your heart? What spiritual effect might it have on a person to already be forgiven by you even if they don’t know it yet?
It is such a great act of humility to be wronged by someone and, before they have a chance to apologize to you, look at the cross and allow the reality of the cross to sink in. To look to the cross and realize that God knew all the times you would wrong him and yet he continually forgives you. It is in knowing that God forgives us that we can ask him to give us the grace to forgive, even to forgive those who are not sorry.
Our forgiveness changes lives. It changes our lives by making us humble and replacing hurt, anger, and bitterness with love and mercy. It changes others’ lives by extending grace and mercy.
You may never receive an apology, but in preparing yourself for the chance that it may come, you have freed both yourself and that person. Through your forgiveness you can then respond to them in the future out of love.
When that moment comes – when your forgiveness is asked for – will you have already forgiven them and will you be able to look them in the eye and say with all your heart “I forgive you”?
“To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you” (C.S. Lewis)
Forgiveness defies logic. It ignores our natural instincts. It is a priceless gift. It requires us to look outside ourselves and look to the cross. We must look at Christ who loves us no matter what.
In the moments when it feels impossible to forgive I have to look at the cross and allow myself to be humbled. I sit at his feet and look up in his eyes and see that his eyes see every sin I will ever commit. He knows every time I will ever deny him, abandon him, and hurt him, and yet all I see in his eyes is love. Love for me.
How incredible is it that he knew every time I would wrong him and yet loved me anyway?
How is it that I can receive that kind of love from him yet hold on to bitter feelings and hurt others have caused me?
When I see him on the cross I am reminded that I am called to forgive every wrong against me. I am to love without abandon – love unconditionally. Leave the justice up to God and forgive with a joyful heart.
After all – am I really opening myself to receive his great love if I don’t share that same love and forgiveness with those he has placed in my life?
The Cinderella Moment
We look for it, long for it, and dream of it – the cinderella moment. The moment he comes into our lives and sweeps us off our feet. We look for the big romantic gestures, the butterflies, and the smiles. But what if the cinderella moment is more than that?
My cinderella moment came years ago when we spontaneously danced in the rain under the stars at night. It was magical. I was swept off my feet and felt like I was flying. The big grand moment had came – and it passed.
Life continued and with it came rough times and in those difficult times the cinderella moment wasn’t there in the same way. Through the difficult times, I learned that the cinderella moments that I treasure the most aren’t the big gestures, although I do love those. The times when I have been completely swept off my feet have actually been tiny gestures that have meant more than dancing in the rain ever could.
My most precious cinderella moments are when he wipes my tears, when he says “it’s going to be ok”, when he comes home from a long day and says thank you for making dinner. It’s in seeing that I need a minute to myself and making sure it happens. It’s in seeing a look in my eyes and giving me a hug because he knows I need it. It’s in bringing home ice cream for me when I’ve had a long day. It’s in a quick glance back at me to see how I’m feeling and let me know I wasn’t forgotten. My favorite cinderella moments are when I know he is going through a tough time yet he still cares enough to ask me how I am doing.
We look for the big moments, but sometimes we are so focused on them that we miss the little cinderella moments that happen every day. In our culture we are taught that love is how you feel, it’s about feeling like you are in a cinderella moment all the time. That isn’t reality and no one could ever live up to that expectation. But we can have cinderella moments even amidst great struggles. They may be small, one word, or a quick glance, but those little cinderella moments mean the world.
When I think of the ways I am swept off my feet, it isn’t just through a big cinderella moment, it is through little acts of love and kindness. Those daily things we do for each other that may seem insignificant but are so important. Those little acts of love sustain us. The cinderella moment is really more than one big grand moment – it is all the acts of love, no matter how small, that make up the happily ever after story.
Metanioa – Transforming Love
I have been transformed by love and as a result my love has been transformed.
I heard a new word the other day: metanioa. It means a transformation, a change, in your way of life as a result of penitence or spiritual conversion. It originated from the Greek word metanoein which means to change one’s mind. As I look back at the last year of my life where I have studied, prayed, and contemplated what it means to love – to truly love – the way God calls us to love as Christians I have seen my thoughts, my actions, my whole life be transformed. I am changed and I can never go back to who I once was. This year I realized one thing that changed me forever – love is not about me.
I always knew love was selfless. I had heard and read 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 so many times. I knew the words – “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Although I knew the words, I didn’t live them fully.
Love is not about me. How easy is it to look at your spouse and silently as yourself the question – what do they do for me? How do they make me feel? Do they treat me the way I deserve? But love, selfless love, is not about what your spouse does for you – it is about what you do for them. It is about how you lay yourself down for the other. It is about how you give yourself, all that you are, as a gift to your spouse. This love is about the gift of yourself and your love.
As I sat contemplating the cross in a moment of darkness a year ago I saw love in Christ in a way I had never seen it before. Love so perfect because it is freely given without asking for anything in return. Jesus suffered and died for me and in doing so gave himself as the perfect gift for me out of love. He knew I would reject him. He knew I would fail him. He knew every sin and every mistake I would make but yet chose to give himself, all of himself, up for me as a gift. How humbling.
So often we see the picture of love as roses, laughter, joy, and happiness. The world tells us to look for a fairy tale version of love – a happily ever after – as if love is easy or comes without challenges. Where in our culture do we see the picture of a love like that on the cross? A suffering love. Is a suffering love really any less love than one filled with joy? I would argue not.
It is in a suffering love like that of the cross, that love is perfected. It is in this kind of love that the illusions are torn away. When love is suffering, it is like a stone in the ocean. The currents of pain and suffering roll over the stone taking away the rough edges and creating a smooth stone. It is moved, it is changed. Love through suffering does the same. It takes all our sinfulness, our pride, and our misconceptions and removes them from the core, leaving only love. When you learn to love through the suffering and your misconceptions of love are taken away, you are able to see love for what it truly is – a sacrifice, a gift, an outpouring of grace and mercy.
A suffering love is joyful because it rejoices in the gift it gives without looking for anything in return. A suffering love finds its peace in the quiet, constant stream of love it extends. Love requires sacrifice. It requires laying down your life. Too often we hear that laying down your life is sad – it is not. When you willingly choose to lay yourself down for another, there is no greater joy in the world because this laying down of yourself for another is the same kind of love that Jesus modeled for us on the cross – His perfect example of love.
As the circumstances of my life and my love have changed with time and I have experienced times of suffering love, I have been transformed. I have come to a new understanding of what it means to love and seen a new side of love I never knew existed before. The trials and challenges of life change us – metanioa.
Do you love me?
The unspoken question we all ask in most of our daily interactions – do you love me?
We long for love, search for it, and pursue it. We wish to be reassured of how we are loved. We subconsciously know we need it. After all we were created with a void in our hearts that only God’s love can fill.
Christ patiently waits for us to love him. He continuously and endlessly pours out all his love for us. We can accept it or reject it, but it is always there. We can only experience it when we choose to accept it because God does not force his love on us.
Christ not only gives us his love, but he asks a challenging question of each of us – do you love me?
Christ is in each of us and is continually asking in every moment and every interaction that we have with others – do you love me? He asks us if we see him in everyone we meet. He asks us to treat others the way we would treat him because he is in them.
Jesus is radical – he tells us to love our enemies. How is this possible? Only by the grace of god and in seeing christ in our enemies.
Jesus asks his disciples – did you feed me when I was hungry, clothe me when I was naked ….. He asks those same questions of us and they all boil down to one simple question – for you love me?
If you look in others eyes you can constantly see Christ asking:
Do you love me to forgive those who wronged you?
Do you love me to go out of your way to make my day and be kind to me when you feel I don’t deserve it?
Do you love me to put aside your to do list and just be there for me?
Do you love me to help me with a project when you are tired?
Do you love me to give me a hug after a long day?
Do you love me to take care of me when I am sick?
Do you love me to stay by my side no matter what and care for me?
Do you love me to take some of my burdens?
Do you love me?
When I have been deeply hurt by someone it can be hard, but I always remind myself that God is in that person. I look I to their eyes and imagine that they are the eyes of Christ. How could I say, “no I do not love you” to Christ? How could I not do everything I can to show my love?
When I see a stranger who is clearly having a rough time do I see Christ in them and take a moment out of my busy day to ask what I can do and let them know I am there – they are not alone.
When there is a rift between me and my loved ones do I work to repair it and show my love?
Do I treat each moment and each interaction as an opportunity to answer Christ’s question – do you love me?
By answering that question and showing my love, I not only further the kingdom of heaven but I also become Christ’s agent to help fill that void that only Christ’s love can fill in each of us. I become his hands and his feet and have the grace to be Christ to that person, remind them how much Christ lives them, and be Christ’s love. What an incredible honor to be called to be God’s love, our deepest longing, to all those I see each day.