When love is not enough to make a marriage work

A response to concerns that my marriage and my self-worth are in danger.

Your points are not unfounded when it comes to come hurtful things you’ve witnessed and I don’t intent to offer excuses or cover up imperfections. I’m so sorry that you have seen warning signs that are troubling- I consider it a very serious wake up call. We certainly have lots to work on individually and together, but I’d like to offer my opinion on the subject, as there seems to be a mixture of misunderstandings and assumptions that make our marriage reminiscent of a mid-century man and housewife. Luckily, it’s not at all that you fear for two reasons:

First – My self-worth comes from God alone. Not my husband, not my career, not any created thing. I am totally secure in who I am, who God is, and who He says I am. My husband could be the most perfect being and still he would be insufficient to “save me”. But it wasn’t always this way and I want to share some of our background.

About 7-8 years ago I did think he was going to save me. I was in a depressed and confused season of my life when he showed how much love and stability was possible in a relationship. I had never seen that before and I wanted to rely on it. But after dating about 9 months he decided to call it off after much deliberation (as he always does – he never makes rash decisions) He told me that he wasn’t comfortable being responsible for my happiness. “I don’t want to be on your pedestal,” he said. I was, of course devastated at the time and it took me time to understand that breaking up was the wisest decision for us. Dependency like the kind I had on him, is NOT a foundation for a lasting relationship – friendship or otherwise. I could cling to him all I wanted, but I was going to find out eventually that he wasn’t perfect. And what a disaster it would be if I built my fragile and precious self-worth on anything less than perfect.

This is precisely why I believe most marriages don’t last long. We build our hopes on each other instead of something stable. In our culture we labor under the idea that “things” make you happy – and that happiness is the goal of all things. But I do not subscribe to epicurean-ism or any of the world’s philosophies.

Of course that wasn’t the end of our story – several months later we reconnected but this time with a solid understanding of our goals and commitments to each other. We started again with a clean slate of forgiveness. Neither of us felt like wasting our time if this wasn’t leading somewhere. Ever since we began to discuss the possibility of getting married we have both agreed on one vital point – that the goal of marriage is holiness. He and I are on our own paths to be like Jesus but we travel together.

I realized that much of your worry is that you might not fully understand or agree with what we believe. You know so much intellectually about the “game” of religion, but I venture to guess that you have not spent much time in the company of people who genuinely seek to live it out. Not that anyone does perfectly all the time, but we want to. It defines who we are, what we are doing here, and what truly matters to us. The hypocrisy and sin of others who call themselves Christian is just a symptom of the brokenness, but it doesn’t deter us from seeking to do it right. If I do one thing right as a Christian, I hope it’s to live so that others cannot deny the presence and wisdom of God.

The second reason I do not want you to worry is that we do handle conflict on a regular basis even if it’s not in the public eye all the time. Only being married four years we know that there is a long way to do but we aren’t deterred. We live by a simple unspoken rule, and that is to “heal the relationship, even if the problem is not resolved”. Meaning that a problem (circumstance) is not larger than our mutual commitment to love and protect one another.

One of my favorite things about my marriage is the fact that neither of us are able to ignore or rest in discord. As you know, it’s unspeakably awful to live intimately with someone where agape love is not a given. If something is ruining our peace, it is not welcome in our home and we can’t help but isolate and destroy it. Easier said than done. That process is painful because pride is powerful and addictive. It takes serious humility and patience to come to a point where we can move on. In this way, nothing festers.

But it’s not just that. In order to even get that far, both of us must continually make the decision to work toward resolution. For example, choosing reasonableness instead of insisting on our own way, or changing my tone of voice, or choosing to hold back a really good (hurtful) comeback. Whatever it takes to just have the conversation, is worth the trouble because neither one of us really wants to live with distance between us.

Of course we can’t always get into it right away. This process might be delayed if we are in public. We still strive to heal the relationship first, and then talk when its appropriate to talk. Unfortunately, when you see it happen on the surface, it might look like “shoving everything down and proceeding as though everything’s fine” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. If I’m hurt, I’m just never going to exact revenge on him to punish or try to make myself feel better by making him feel bad. (And don’t think for a second that I can’t deal a good blow myself!) We have to deal with it though, and soon, because as I said, we can’t handle discord; our hearts are made for peace.

Now with the baby coming, there is about to be a shift as we figure out how to be a family. I am not so naive as to think it will be easy or pain free. But I’m so excited for this challenge and I can’t bring myself to worry like I would have a decade ago. I tried, but couldn’t because we never thought marriage was for happiness in the first place. So when things don’t go our way, when we hurt each other from time to time, it’s all about the choices we make individually and as a team that decide how we will conquer them.

All that being said, there is always the danger of regressing back to “worshiping the creature”. I still have to remind myself when I’m hurt or angry that he will never give me what I need, fully. My comfort in those times is knowing that God sees me, hears me, and that he does respond. I know this because he’s done it before. The peace we have through faith is supernatural. It makes it easier to forgive later even if I don’t think he deserves it. I remember I don’t really deserve it either.

To the point of Paul’s verse you mentioned, I think you’ll be relieved to know that the context of that verse has to do with corporate worship – not marriage. It’s saying that women should not lead or teach in church – another difficult idea for sure. But not enough to throw away my faith.

I know it’s tough to swallow an idea like biblical submission, especially if you don’t fully agree or want to understand why it is worth the work. At first glance, submission is a four letter word. It conjures images of abuse and inequality. It goes against every natural logic we have. But to a Christian it is the only way we can live in peace together. Ephesians 5:21-30 is about marriage. Paul exhorts us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and he’s talking to both husband and wife. You no doubt know the idea of marriage reflecting the relationship between Christ and the Church. Submission means “strength under control”. Done right, submission gives so much more than it takes.

To us, submission is both of us putting our respective strengths under control and bending our wills for the good of one another. So yes, I do most of the shopping and cooking, I make sure his clothes are clean and ironed for special events, I am usually the one to make his lunches and I love to do it. Just like I serve God out of gratitude and freedom, nothing I do for husband is ever under the weight of duty. Doing things out of obligation or duty means paying back someone’s kindness; it means conditional love. Agape is the opposite of conditional love. And if my freedom ever changes to duty, that will be a sign that something has gone wrong and that my priorities are out of order. For now I do everything I can for him – simply because I’m in love with him and what helps him succeed makes me glad. After all, everything that happens to him happens to me too. And that’s to say nothing of all the ways he lays his life and comfort down for me – something I regret that you don’t always get to see.

Just as the world is imperfect and full of sin, men have taken this out of context throughout history, as moral justification to “enslave” their wives – there’s no denying that. But just because some people have perverted the original intent of God’s design, does not make it any less true or worthy.  I don’t mean to say we always apply it perfectly, but when done correctly it works – I know now even from the tiny taste of experience I’ve had so far.

So you see, we are not a typical couple. We take our faith seriously. Our life is built on a foundation that isn’t swayed by human imperfection. That’s why I think some of the little things bother you a lot more and longer than they do for me. All this being said, I want you to know (and I’d tell you if it wasn’t true) that I AM completely secure and totally loved.

What Jesus was talking about

It both inspires and saddens me to see that this is such big news. And the reason, of course is that the world does not normally associate Christianity with true agape love. I pray that we as Christians continue to out the command to love one another as ourselves, and to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, and all our minds.

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Opinion by the Rev. James MartinSpecial to CNN 

(CNN) I could barely look at the photos, but I knew that I must.

Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis met, embraced and kissed a man suffering from a rare disease called neurofibromatosis, a painful and disfiguring skin condition.

Photos of the Pope hugging a man whose face was blanketed with tumors struck a deep chord in people across the world. When I posted them to my public Facebook page, I received almost 300 comments in the space of a day.

Why do these photos speak to so many people so profoundly? Let me suggest three reasons.

For the Christian, the image of the Pope’s embrace calls up memories of the man whose name Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose after his election as Pope: St. Francis of Assisi.

As a young man, riding his horse one day outside of Assisi, Francis came upon a leper, a person suffering from one of the many skin diseases common in the early 13th century.

From childhood Francis had had a horror of lepers. Yet because of an earlier dream in which God had asked Francis to change his life, the formerly dissolute youth saw that something new was being asked of him. He dismounted his horse, pressed a coin into the leper’s hand and kissed him.

When he jumped back on his horse and turned to wave farewell, Francis saw that the leper had disappeared  legend has it that it was Christ.

It was a turning point in the life of Francis of Assisi; from then on he would devote himself to the poor and marginalized. He had embraced, to use Mother Teresa’s famous expression, “Christ in distressing disguise.”

The Pope has done the same; Christians recognize this on a deep level.

More broadly, the Pope’s embrace recalls images of Jesus’ healing of lepers, again a blanket term for a variety of skin diseases common in first-century Judea and Galilee.

In a frequent theme of the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth not only heals but touches people considered “unclean,” dangerous to be around and unworthy of inclusion in society.

In the Gospel of Mark, a leper begs Jesus for healing, by saying, “If you choose, you can make me clean.” Mark’s Gospel tells what happened next: “Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean.’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was made clean.”

But the English translation of this powerful story is weak indeed.

The original Greek word for “moved with pity” is the Greek “splagchnistheis.”

This means that Jesus felt compassion in his bowels, the place where the ancients believed that the emotions resided. In other words, Jesus felt it in his guts. This is the kind of compassion we are called to have and to express. This is the kind of compassion we see in the photo of the Pope’s embrace.

Even more broadly, for believers, the Pope’s kiss reminds us of God. This is the way God loves us. God loves us in all our pain, in all our struggles, in all our humanity.

Few of us suffer from such a terrible disease as does the man in the photo; not many of us are physically disfigured. But many of us feel internally disfigured – unworthy of unconditional love. Yet God wants nothing more than to embrace us as tightly as the Pope’s embrace.

In this photo, on a level deeper than we might even be able to recognize, we see an image of God.

In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus’ tale of a father’s reconciliation with a son, there is a wonderful line. When the wayward son returns home, after squandering his inheritance on a life of debauchery, Jesus says that the father, seeing his son from afar, rushes out to greet him. The original Greek then describes the father doing something wonderful.

The English translation of Luke’s Gospel says that the father “ran and put his arms around him and kissed him.” Again, a literal translation from the original Greek is more beautiful, and will resonate with anyone who sees the photos. “Kai dramōn epepesen epi ton trachēlon autou kai katephilēsen auton” can be translated as “And running, he fell upon his neck and fervently kissed him.”

Do you ever wonder what God’s love is like? Look at Jesus. Look at St. Francis of Assisi. And look at the Pope.

The Rev. James Martin is a Jesuit priest and editor at large of America magazine, and author of “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.” His book “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” will be released in March. 

 Taken from CNN.com:

http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/11/07/pope-francis-a-severely-disfigured-man-and-an-embrace-that-went-viral/