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Posted on Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 11:04 a.m.

Give your marriage a 'faith-lift' with the 40-Day Challenge

By Heidi Hess Saxton

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?

Happy Lent!

Heidi Hess Saxton is a contributing writer to the “Faith” and “Parenting” channels of 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



Sun, Mar 6, 2011 : 12:35 p.m.

@ Heidi...sadly it is NOT difficult to resurrect what the medieval mindset is like. Just read the headlines from the Islamic middle east, or about western religious constituencies that , against right and reason, mount faith based assaults on gay fellow citizens, science itself etc.. My main gripe is less against folks like ol' saint Bernard--- or rush limbaugh, sara palin , osama bin laden etc.--- since i'd jump at a prestigious well-paid gig where my thoughts/"visions" could motivate the masses who viewed tham as if from "on high". (but all i've got is, and my prior academic post!!) It's more with with their credulous followers. But yes.. i agree about the genesis of the crusades and also agree that faith ---as long as its personal and non aggressive ( and proselytizing is a form of aggression!) can indeed have a positive role in peoples lives. And i've personally spent much of my adult life on the fringes of such activities /beliefs as a professional observer and casual seeker for what i've not yet found, beyond a profound non-organized -religious fulfillment in family and well-loved (and occasionally well paying) avocations.

Heidi Hess Saxton

Sat, Mar 5, 2011 : 11:57 p.m.

For those of you who are interested in learning more about Bernard of Clairvaux, you can read his actual letter urging Christians to participate in the second Crusade . <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> According to this editor, Bernard's influence is actually credited with sparing the lives of many Jews (in comparison to the first Crusade). It is also helpful to remember the original purpose of the Crusades: to take back the Christian lands that had been captured by the Moslems, including parts of the Holy Land as well as parts of southern Europe. We are so far removed from those times, it is difficulty to appreciate (much less condone) the circumstances that led to these holy wars. People routinely lived and died for religion ... something that in present-day America is difficult to imagine. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Bernard of Clairvaux -- whatever his faults, and he did indeed have them -- and his writings continue to speak to those who want to deepen their prayer life and grow closer to God. The 12th-14th centuries produced a wealth of mystical literature, which greatly helped to keep the Church &quot;on track&quot; when excesses and abuses cropped up among the clergy of that day. They have also greatly benefitted Christians through the centuries up to the present day. That these men had &quot;clay feet&quot; is hardly remarkable (show me one who does not!). The fact that the Church has survived, Christ had promised, despite these dark times seems like something of a miracle. Concerning Bernard's ability to speak on the subject of authentic love despite being a celibate, there are many expressions of love besides the sexual expression reserved for marriage. There are infinitely higher forms of love, which are centered in the soul. The mystics can be a tremendous source of inspiration and guidance for those who seek this kind of enlightenment. Thanks to those who have expressed interest in the 40-Day Challenge!

Erich Jensen

Sat, Mar 5, 2011 : 6:33 p.m.

Thanks, Heidi foroffering an encouraging a way to strengthen a (long term) marriage or any loving partnership. I am always surprised by individuals who hide behind pseudonyms/anonymous names and eagerly criticize/distract/attack a faith-based viewpoint with odd comparisons/details as Jen pointed out. Kudos to Jen for monitoring the thread.


Sat, Mar 5, 2011 : 10:44 p.m.

nothing 'odd' about pointing out ---accurately---the feet of clay of those who wrongly claim to speak for the almighty. They have a pretty shady track record in history. as to screen's allowed, and often a prudent practice when rebutting religious and other fanatics who may feel moved to act on 'god's command' against the 'infidel&quot;. but i do not remotely put the writer of this article, who seems like a nice person, in that category ,although there are such locally and certainly internationally..


Sat, Mar 5, 2011 : 12:30 a.m.

Bedrog Thanks for the reply to my (and now your) deleted post. I was quite interested to learn of your studies in comparative religion. Perhaps this conversation could go further, but on another location. Posting here is hazardous.


Sat, Mar 5, 2011 : 2 a.m.

Sure...anytime .You and i have agreed on a number of issues in the past, although not all... the moderators are hereby authorized to give you my contact info ,if you wish it.


Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 9:10 p.m.

Actually, I can't figure out why bedrog or Mr Briegel even bother responding to the faith articles. They know even before reading it that they will most certainly find fault, disagree, or generally just complain about it. If you don't like faith subjects, just refrain yourself. And, I very much enjoy these article. Thanks


Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 10:26 p.m.

sbbuilder...i have no problem whatsoever with faith per se , can see it's value in many contexts...and have made my living in large measure studying / teaching comparative religion ( among related matters). But as a citizen of a troubled world,...where faith is often behind some pretty bad behavior.. I admit to gripes with faiths that either demean other faiths, are at flagrant variance with objective reality ( e.g creationists, overpopulation deniers etc) or, more usually, involve practitioners / advocates who are ignorant of their own faith and its history. That's actually a pretty reasonable position and i wish more would follow it.

Jen Eyer

Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 7:57 p.m.

@Bedrog and others: You've made your point about Bernard of Clairvaux, but it's threatening to take this thread off-topic. Any more discussion in that regard will be removed. If you'd like to start your own thread about this historical figure, you may do so on the Community Wall. Thanks!

Macabre Sunset

Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 7:42 p.m.

Did you know the divorce rate for people raised with religion is much higher than the divorce rate for those without?

Top Cat

Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 5:52 p.m.

If I was nice to my wife for 40 days straight, she would only wonder what I was up to. She has seen enough episodes of The Honeymooners to know better.

David Briegel

Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 7:47 p.m.

The Devil made us do it!


Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 4:55 p.m.

In addition to being a great marriage counsellor ( a great feat given his presumed celibacy!) Bernard of Clairvaux was a main instigator of the second crusade, and laid the theological groundwork for later crusades against fellow christians ( like the cathars) with whom he disagreed. Does the writer not know this?? anyway, he seems a man for our times ( assuming you're into taliban-type times)


Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 7:55 p.m.

Bernard was known---even in the middle ages--as an anti intellectual whose 'mysticism', praised here, meant passion over reason....and he was evidently charismatic and 'rock star-y'. His call to the 2nd crusade at Vezelay in 1146 sparked enthusiastic response across Europe, including practice massacres of jews ( which sort of to his credit Bernard didnt personally explicitly advocate or lead ). Hardly a guy to go to for advice on familial love, since his seems a bit closer to the fred phelps family hate cult type than , say, bill cosby's or ozzie and harriet's..

David Briegel

Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 7:49 p.m.

Denial, a noble tradition! Or a river in Egypt?


Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 7:02 p.m.

ahh the selective history of christianity. I'm always amazed at what they choose to forget.

Sarah Rigg

Fri, Mar 4, 2011 : 3:20 p.m.

Sounds like a great challenge, regardless of your faith tradition (or lack thereof). I'm looking forward to your updates!