By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published May 27, 2010
The baby is slinging mashed bananas at the wall, the cat is coughing up a hairball—and your spouse has just mentioned layoffs. Welcome to marriage.
In a world that urges us to seek the perfect mate and the ideal job, many married folks at one time or another wonder: Where the heck did we go wrong?
The best answer is you didn’t. After all, you vowed that you would stick with your beloved “in sickness and in health; for richer, for poorer; for better, for worse.”
When it comes to the “better” part, newlyweds are the ones heading to trendy restaurants and sleeping late on weekends. Tune in to most marriages 10 years later, and you get a glimpse of the “worse.”
The formerly svelte bride is counting calories, while the grumbling groom mows a lawn that grows two feet overnight. As for sleeping late, it’s a thing of the past, thanks to Baby who marches to the beat of her very own drummer.
Every marriage has potholes and pitfalls, and when the road gets particularly bumpy, you may be tempted to head to divorce court. Maybe you envisioned a beach house with beautifully behaved children selecting shells on the shore.
Instead, the family’s hunkered down in a crowded condo with the kids arguing about who broke which toy. And instead of tripping the light fantastic, Mom and Dad are stumbling over Lego blocks.
In my parents’ time, divorce was seen as a huge scandal, while many TV shows today treat divorce as a normal stage in life’s journey. Still, the bottom line for Catholic couples is this: We definitely don’t live in TV-land.
In TV-land, women wear a size two, men drive luxury sports cars—and it’s rare to see anyone praying or going to Mass. In TV-land, people bounce back quickly after divorce, while in the real world the effects can be long-lasting, especially on kids.
When I was growing up, my parents had their arguments behind closed doors. Every so often, though, things boiled over, and my mother’s reaction was to pack her bags, get in the car and leave. Fortunately, she never headed to divorce court; she just drove around the block a few times and returned.
To this day, whenever my husband and I have a heated disagreement, I’m tempted to pack a bag and walk out. I overcome this impulse by reminding myself that Jesus is at the heart of our marriage.
You see, Catholics and our Eastern Orthodox brethren are unique among Christians in revering marriage as a sacrament, which means marriage doesn’t just involve man and wife, but also Jesus Christ.
And when couples truly acknowledge Jesus’ presence in their marriage, they will arrive at an obvious conclusion: If they’re having serious marital problems, they owe it to themselves, their children—and most of all to God—to seek advice that is Christ-centered.
In a wonderful book “Sacred Marriage,” Gary Thomas gives excellent advice while posing an intriguing question: What if God designed marriage to make us holy rather than happy?
As he puts it, romantic love, coming at the first blush of a relationship, can never be stretched—“It simply shatters”—while mature love can survive the pitfalls every marriage encounters.
The initial feeling of being “in love” can’t last, says Thomas, but a deeper, more mature love can develop over time: “The romantic roller coaster of courtship eventually evens out to the terrain of a Midwest interstate—long, flat stretches with an occasional overpass.”
Unlike TV-land marriages, real-life unions call for sacrifices as couples scramble to deal with fizzling finances, irritating in-laws and troublesome teens. As they do so, couples are given endless opportunities to become holy by practicing mercy and forgiveness, and by mirroring Christ’s unconditional love.
Fortunately, in real life, Christ is the invisible partner in marriage. By his grace, a marriage that seems maddening on Monday can become felicitous by Friday. And as couples turn to Christ to help them navigate the long, flat stretches together, something wonderful happens.
The cat may still have hairballs, the boss may still mention layoffs—and the twosome may see wrinkles when they peer into the mirror. But nothing can dampen the joy of a couple whose marriage rests in hands greater than their own.
Lorraine Murray’s latest books are “The Abbess of Andalusia: Flannery O’Connor’s Spiritual Journey” and “Death in the Choir,” a mystery set in Decatur. The Murrays are parishioners at St. Thomas More in Decatur. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.