Give your marriage a 'faith-lift' with the 40-Day Challenge
Ash Wednesday — the first day of the Lenten season — is next Wednesday. If Lent is part of your faith tradition, you may have been thinking about what to "give up" for the 40 days before Easter.
Chocolate? Alcohol? Social networking? Or perhaps you're planning to add a good habit, such as volunteering at a soup kitchen or praying a nightly rosary with your family.
This week I was inspired by Fulton Sheen's "Love, Marriage and Children" to take a different approach. The good archbishop, whose popular radio and television programs drew 30 million people each week between 1951-1968, observed that all marriages go through three "moments," or stages. The first moment is the honeymoon stage, characterized by the sheer joy and ecstatic happiness of early marriage.
This idyllic time of mutual joy, however, is often relatively short-lived. Reality sets in, which Sheen describes as the second moment, “crisis.” Although this stage may take the form of a sudden trauma or challenge — a lost job, an illness or an affair — it may simply come in a series of gradual realizations that your partner is not quite the man (or woman) of your dreams...
You might even begin to question whether you can live with the reality. At this point, many people "fall out of love." They begin to let distance themelves emotionally and even physically. Over time, the relationship simply implodes.
The good news is that, with a little prayerful effort, this "moment of crisis" can lead to an even more satisfying stage of marriage, in which each person is loved and accepted for who they are.
“As the food of the first moment consisted of gifts and flowers, so now the food of the third moment is the utilization of the trials, the ennui, the quarrels, and the petty worries of life to create a state of love which is always there, but which comes to consciousness only when certain occasions present themselves. .. . Love, instead of being a circle that closes in on its own egotism, becomes a spiral by which one mounts to a new understanding of the other person, who now begins to be irreplaceable” (Love, Marriage and Children, pp. 62-63).
The great medieval mystic, Bernard of Clairvaux, taught that there are four levels of love: love of self, for self's sake; love of God (and others), for self's sake; love of God (and others) for their own sake; and love of self for God's sake.
Within the vocation of marriage, we can learn to love with greater perfection, replacing selfish habits with more truly loving impulses. This kind of love — loving another person for their own sake rather than what we get out of it — can sustain a marriage for a lifetime.
Maybe you’ve been feeling lonely in your marriage. Or maybe you just want to make a good thing even better. Either way, I invite you to join me in the “40-Day Challenge.”
Starting Wednesday, let’s pray daily that God would give us a more perfect love for our life’s partner and look for little ways to demonstrate that “true love.”
Each day during Lent, I will post a brief reflection and action step on the "40-Day Challenge" page of my blog — or you can get the a "40-Day Challenge" feed through Facebook. Each Sunday I will post an update here — and I’d love to hear from you as well!
The Book of Sirach (26:16) observes: “Like the sun rising in the Lord’s heavens, the beauty of a virtuous wife is the radiance of her home.” The prayers of a loving wife can be a powerful influence in any home. Why not take the Challenge and see what God will do?
Heidi Hess Saxton is a contributing writer to the “Faith” and “Parenting” channels of AnnArbor.com. When she’s not working on her master’s thesis she writes for parents of adopted, foster, and special-needs children at Extraordinary Moms Network, and you can reach her at Heidi.firstname.lastname@example.org.