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First Comes Love, Then Comes ... Part 2
This article is the second in a two-part series from guest author Sara Dietz.
An important caveat: The dynamics we discuss below depend on a marriage founded on mutual self-gift. If you think you might be in an abusive marriage, I would encourage you to reach out to Jenny at Create Soul Space: Domestic Abuse Support and Healing, as she is doing incredible work to build up the Church’s support for survivors of domestic abuse.
In a sacramental, mutually self-giving marriage, spouses are called to point us to Christ. In so doing, they become backdrop and often the very instrument by which the Lord is able to work healing in us.
However, we live in a fallen world. There will be times when each of us fails to love the other in a way that mirrors and imitates the love between Christ and His Church, and we will inevitably wound one another in ways that require healing.
I would never try to claim that a human relationship, even one cemented and blessed by God, could perfectly fulfill and heal the human heart. But the overall trajectory of sacramental marriage is, by the grace of God, focused toward healing and wholeness, rather than away.
Then Comes Baby in a Baby Carriage
Likewise, if and when the Lord gives a couple the gift of a child, the upbringing of that child is entrusted to his parents in a special way, and the parents have a right and a responsibility to raise the child as best they can. Of course, not every single decision will bear directly on that child’s holiness (purees or baby-led weaning? cloth or disposable diapers?). But, in many ways, making decisions about how we want to raise our own children allows us a unique time and space to evaluate where we might still experience woundedness or bad habits from the ways in which we were raised.
For example, if you grew up in a home where technology was constantly distracting your parents from you and your siblings, or distracting your siblings from one another, you might choose to set strict boundaries around the use of cell phones, television, and video games in your home. Likewise, if your relationship with food was too pressured or too “healthy” or too junky or not sustaining, you will likely strive to create a food culture in your family that does not fall prey to the same vices. (The flip side, of course, is also true: if you loved family dinner or family movie night in your childhood home, you will likely strive to perpetuate that tradition for your own children.)
In so doing, not only do you set your children up to succeed in ways you did not, you also give yourself a second chance in that area.
I believe this is what many psychological methods call “reparenting yourself.” In other words, by being intentional about the home and family culture in which you want your children to grow up, you have the unique opportunity to cultivate new habits in yourself.
Children are incredibly observant and mimic everything. This has proven a powerful motivator in our home to be on guard against speaking and acting thoughtlessly.
This is yet another unique grace of the Sacrament of Marriage. The Lord gives us not only the freedom—but also the responsibility—to seek out the true, the good, and the beautiful in our daily lives.
What we find should affect the decisions we make, which will have long-lasting implications on how we raise our children—and on how we act ourselves.
Before our daughters were born, my husband and I found ourselves continuing to struggle with lifelong bad habits: depressive or addictive use of the television, picky eating beyond sensory issues, defensiveness, and more. It was hard to motivate ourselves to change when we were, so it felt, the only people harmed by these little vices or addictions. However, now that our two-year-old is in the “monkey see, monkey do” phase, where anything and everything we do or say is subject to endless repetition, we are beginning to find that, when we have reason to choose the virtuous action over and over again, doing so becomes easier over time.
Prepare the Fields for Rain
And now we come full circle: How do we go about asking for those graces of healing? How do we go about preparing the soil of our hearts to be fertile ground for the shower of grace that the Lord deeply desires to bestow on us?
First and foremost, pray. Prayer is our relationship with the Lord, and it is in and through that relationship that healing will come.
However, beyond simply rote prayer recited daily, we must practice the art of reflection: whether that’s with a nightly Examen, a practice of gratitude, journaling, or some other quiet moment of conversation with the Lord about what is weighing on our hearts.
It is not always easy to see how the Lord is moving in us—indeed, sometimes, we cannot see His work until it is accomplished, and some things we will not fully understand on this side of Heaven. But when the Lord allows it, being attentive to the habits and movements of our souls—being present with ourselves and honest with the Lord—will give us the ability to look back on challenging seasons and see, as best we can, the ways in which He was constantly moving in our lives.
If, as Socrates said, the unexamined live is not worth living, then reflective personal prayer is truly essential.
As an extension of this, we must remain close to the sacraments and encourage others to do the same.
This goes beyond a mere acknowledgment that Mass is good and Confession is important.
Rather, we need to get into the nitty gritty details of our lives, discerning when we’ll be able to attend daily Mass, which Sunday Mass might be best in different seasons based on our commitments and temperaments, and making a game plan for frequent, regular, predictable reception of Confession.
These things ought to go on the calendar before any commitments to work, school, or extracurricular—even before date night or another marriage-focused good.
These two sacraments, in particular, serve as anchor points for our personal prayer as well as for our marriages. When our habitual participation in the sacrament flounders, we often find ourselves more quick to anger, to judgment, to giving in to temptation.
In other words, our wounds deepen and multiply.
When we are regularly drawing on the graces available to us in the Eucharist and in the Confessional, it becomes easier to draw on the graces of our sacramental marriage as well.
And finally, we need to begin letting go of the need to be right, the need to justify ourselves and our behaviors. We need to rest in trust that the Lord is working all things for good (Rom. 8:28). As long as we are gripping so tightly our preferences, fears, and pride, we are creating an environment where the Lord cannot work as freely as He desires.
Healing often requires a willingness to give up things that we cannot live without—and regardless of whether or not the Lord takes those things away from us, that very detachment is itself the first step in the right direction.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away;
blessed be the Name of the Lord.”
All this to say, marriage is not specifically given to us a “sacrament of healing” in the same way that Confession and Anointing of the Sick are.
However, healing can still be a beautiful grace and fruit of a true and mutual sacramental marriage, striving for holiness. As Pope Benedict XVI said in Jesus of Nazareth, “Healing is an essential dimension of the apostolic mission and of Christian faith in general…. [It is] a religion of healing. When understood at a sufficiently deep level, this expresses the entire content of 'redemption.'” If we truly believe that our marriages are ordered to our own sanctification, the sanctification of our spouses, and the sanctification of our children, we cannot help but see—and expect—the grace of healing to be made available to us, if we only ask for it.