Looking Back to Move Forward

lookingback

As the famous line from the movie tune says, “The past is in the past”. How then, can looking back help us move forward?

When I first met my husband, many years ago in our parish youth group we were asked to look up and share our favourite Bible passage. He found a passage on marriage and shared how he believed that during tough times in marriage couples should look back at what brought them together instead of looking at what is tearing them apart in the present moment.

At the time I didn’t appreciate the wisdom in his statement. Looking back to move forward is actually a great first step in working out those tough marital issues that will inevitably come up.

I don’t think I am sharing any earth shattering wisdom here. It’s pretty simple really. Every marriage goes through a dry patch or a few dry patches. We get caught up the in busyness of everyday life and our relationship with our spouse takes a back seat. For some marriages this is a minor and temporary occurrence, yet for others this time can be harmful to the married couple. Neglecting our spouse leads to feelings of loneliness and temptation to seek fulfillment in other things or other people. This opens the door to anything from addiction to infidelity.

Regardless of the type of damage or hurts we are dealing with in marriage, a good starting point in re-committing to working through those issues is to look back and rekindle the euphoric love shared during the early days of dating and marriage.

Here are 5 ways to look back:

  1. Talk to each other or to others about how you first met. Ask another couple how they met. They will most likely ask you to share your story, as well. Share this story in front of your spouse and make sure to make eye contact. You may be surprised to find that old familiar spark in his eye as those memories come to mind.
  2. Dust off your wedding photo album or play your wedding video if you have one. Leave the wedding photo album accessible. Let him find you looking through the pictures. Invite him to look at them with you. Show them to your children or guests who come to visit and share memorable stories you recall of some specific photos.
  3. Play your wedding song or other meaningful music from the time you were dating or first married. Play these songs in his presence. If you are so inclined sing or dance along together.
  4. Did you keep old cards, letters or love notes he wrote you? Make them accessible, read them, reminisce and share this with him.
  5. Recreate your first date or engage in the activities you did together in your first months or years together. You may have to refresh your memory by talking to him about how you used to pass the time together at the beginning of your relationship, which is also helpful.

Looking back will rekindle those old familiar feelings, helping us to see our spouse differently. Through the same positive lens we used during the euphoric days of our relationship. This along with the grace of God will help us to take the next step. These are only 5 ways, I am sure there are more ways to be nostalgic together. Share them in the comments. I look forward to reading them.

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Emptying the Marriage Fridge

marriagefridge

 

The other day, while cleaning the inside of my fridge, I deliberately chose to stay focussed on one thing. I turned it into a prayer. “Lord, show me how cleaning out my fridge could actually be a metaphor for a life lesson.”

Now my fridge isn’t all that dirty. I usually keep it clean, wiping it down now and then, especially after spill, doing a monthly purge of expired items. As I emptied the freezer, to my surprise I realized I didn’t purge it often enough, there were items in the back of the freezer I had completely forgotten about. I worked my way through the fridge, emptying shelf by shelf, removing the glass shelves to give them a good wipe. I realized there was some spillage I had missed in my routine wipe downs. This clean up took a lot more time than I had anticipated, a little more elbow grease and more hot water to get all the pieces looking shiny and clean again.

Life Lesson

Having been married for 18 years to a devoted, faithful man, I can easily take him for granted. Over the years we have made our efforts to stay connected as a couple. We arrange care for our children and schedule in some couple time. We work in ministry together and we are a prayerful couple. Once in a while we butt heads and have a disagreement, but they don’t usually last long. On the surface this marriage appears to be healthy and stable.

There comes a time in every marriage, when some purging is necessary. As Christians we understand that we are called to actively pursue God in our daily lives. To respond to his call to grow in relationship with him, this growth is constant and it’s flowing. At some point, to move closer to God we need to detach ourselves from certain habits or baggage. Matthew Kelly, a Catholic evangelist once said, “Every journey towards something is a journey away from something else.”

A marriage, certainly a Christian marriage that looks secure on the surface may have some underlying problems that need to be dealt with before this couple can move forward in their relationship with God and with each other.

Emptying the Marriage Fridge

Sometimes the couple will not be aware of what is impeding their growth. They have become so comfortable and accustomed to the stain, they don’t see it anymore. A praying couple will hopefully allow room for the Holy Spirit to inspire them to start emptying their shelves. Giving them the grace to discard what needs to go and give what remains a good cleaning. It doesn’t mean this couple is living a façade, by putting on a show for others. In many cases they believe they have a firm marriage. A faithful couple could be oblivious, believing their monthly date night and making up quickly after a disagreement means they are doing well. Perhaps this is so. Maintenance is a big part of building a strong marriage, but is it enough?

 

Supernatural Grace

Cleaning out my fridge is done within an hour or so. The type of work required to complete the purging cycle in a marriage is likely to be much harder. I am not talking about the bad habit he has of forgetting to put the lid back on the toothpaste, or the toilet seat down. Obviously there are deeper issues directly affecting the physical and emotional intimacy, trust and communication within the couple.

To look deeply within ourselves, through the eyes of faith, and to do it together with our spouse, requires a great amount of humility. It also requires a huge dose of supernatural grace. Supernatural strength is necessary to take the time, to be sincere with ourselves, with God and with our spouse. To put in the consistent and constant effort to work at what needs to be worked at, to forgive the failings we see in our spouse and to seek forgiveness for the failings we see in ourselves. None of this is easy, but it is necessary. Routine maintenance is not enough, because it doesn’t allow for growth.

Blessings Abound

When I finished cleaning the fridge, my shelves were shiny and the fridge did look a little empty, but it had all the essentials. The expired items wouldn’t be missed, and stains were gone. Now this could also have been a lesson on how we waste too much. This is the usual thought I have in mind when I clean out my fridge, freezer, pantry, etc., since we obviously spent money on items we didn’t have much use for. However, God used this time to show me how blessed I am. That even after discarding, cleaning and scrubbing, I have a good working fridge that still has the essentials I need to feed my family.

When we are willing to do the work, God blesses us in abundance. He doesn’t just give what we need, he provides in abundance. Couples get a new, clean, fresh start, with enough grace, love, forgiveness, empowerment, protection, prayer, and intimacy to keep moving forward. Certainly, the opportunity for a major clean will come again at different stages in their married life. The pain will be different, the habits will vary each time, or maybe some old habit will have managed to creep in again.

Sometimes the couples need help from their community to get over some major stumbling blocks. A spiritual leader or a marriage counsellor who can see the situation objectively, this is not a sign of a bad marriage or of weakness. It takes great strength and humility to admit you need help from a third-party. It is precisely in our weakest, most humbling moments that God’s grace and blessing abounds.

Today I pray for all married couples, that they may seek the courage to clean out their marriage fridge and benefit from the supernatural grace and blessing that comes with the opportunity for a fresh start.

 

Building A Strong Marriage: EMPOWERMENT

Empowerment

The next word in our acronym, PEPP is Empowerment. In today’s fast paced world, it is easy for a day to go by where couples barely spend more than a few minutes talking to each other.  How can we continue to Empower our relationship?

In the early stages of Sophie and Larry’s marriage, doing kind actions for each other came easy. They worked on most of the chores together. They enjoyed quiet and calm conversations over dinner, where they caught up on their day. They might even take in a show or a movie on some evenings. On Monday nights, when Larry wanted to watch football, Sophie would give him this time. Doing the dinner clean up on her own and even make him a healthy snack he could enjoy while watching the game.

A few years later, after 3 children, dinners are no longer a quiet affair. Evenings are packed with homework, extracurricular activities and bedtime routines. By the time the kids are in bed, Sophie is exhausted. The dinner dishes are piled up in the sink and she still has to pack everyone’s lunches for tomorrow. Larry usually has some unfinished work he has brought home. There is no longer sanctioned couple time. Sophie is well aware of this and is saddened by it. As she recalls how things used to be, she is determined to make a change. One night, she places a note in Larry’s lunch bag that reads: I love you Larry and I respect your decision to bring work home, instead of staying late at the office and missing out on family dinner and the children’s activities.

Larry is moved by this little note and responds by calling their neighborhood florist and having flowers delivered to her work. There is no special occasion, just an opportunity to remind Sophie that he loves and appreciates all the work she does for him and the children. From that day on, he resolves to call her during his lunch hour so they can reconnect. During their lunch break conversations they plan a monthly date night. Sophie schedules it in and arranges for childcare. Larry arranges the evening, making reservations or buying tickets to a movie or show, as needed.

Marriage is sacred, and there are many things that can work against those of us who are trying to remain faithful and committed to our vows. We learned in primacy that we have to focus on our unity as a couple.

When we give this talk to engaged couples we ask them to create a short list of everyday things couples can do to Empower their relationship. Here are the top 10 suggestions we usually receive:

  1.       Fifteen minutes before turning in for the night, share the events of your day.
  2.       Send a text, e-mail or call your spouse just to say “I love you” or “I am thinking of you”
  3.       Wake up at the same time, and go to bed together, even if you don’t have to wake up as early as your spouse.
  4.       Always kiss each before leaving or as soon as you return from work or other outings.
  5.      Do something fun or try something new together.
  6.      Plan a dream vacation, even if you never actually make it a reality. Share your hopes and dreams with each other.
  7.      Write love notes to each other. Find creative ways to hide them, in lunch bag or wallet.
  8.      Meet your spouse at work and take them out for lunch.
  9.     Attend Mass together, and if you have children, try to sit next to each other.
  10.     Pray together.

What do you and your spouse do every day to empower your relationship? Share your ideas in the comments.

Next topic in our acronym is Protection.

Building a Strong Marriage

PEPP

Working in the Marriage Preparation Ministry for the last seven years has proven to be enlightening and sometimes challenging. It enables my husband and me to check some important aspects of our own marriage. While helping the engaged couples discern their readiness for marriage we are strengthened in our own commitment to continue building a stronger marriage.

My favorite presentation is the PEPP talk we give them early in the course. PEPP is an acronym to help us remember the four key elements to building a strong marriage. The acronym stands for: Primacy, Empowerment, Protection and Prayer. We explain to the couples that much of what we share is counter cultural. Building a strong marriage involves going against the current culture. Since it is a Catholic course we include elements of our faith and what we believe is God’s plan for married couples.

I am going to share this information with you over a four-part series on my blog. When speaking on this topic we usually cover a lot of information in a short time. In Primacy, we cover the importance of making the bond between you and your spouse your first priority. Empowerment involves practical tips on how to strengthen marriage in little ways which can make a huge impact on the marriage bond. Protection is one of the most extensive and important aspects of building a strong marriage. What are we protecting our marriages from? It can be summed up in a three-letter word. Sin. This leads us to the final letter in our acronym, Prayer. We need Prayer and the Sacraments to Build a Strong Marriage. Here I will share a bit of our own spiritual journey as a couple, and how prayer made a difference for us.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on Primacy.

The Truth about Marriage – Written By: Fr. Paul Hrynczszyn

This post was actually a homily written by a good friend of ours, Fr. Paul.  It is being shared on my blog with his permission. He explains the truth about marriage in a compassionate and loving way. A way I could not have explained better myself. I hope you enjoy this read. I was waiting for the right to post it here, in light of the recent attention our Holy Father has received when his comments seem to have been misunderstood, I hope this post provides some clarity.

In Christ,

Tima

In Acts 5:27-32, 40b-41we see that Peter and the other Apostles were ordered to stop preaching about the Risen Christ by the Jewish authorities. They were ordered to stop preaching the Truth. And how do Peter and the Apostles respond? They respond with these very powerful words: We must obey God rather than men”.

The early Christians often faced ridicule and even at times persecution from regular citizens to leaders in society. And yet, because they had met the risen Lord, they were convinced that they could not remain idle, that to be a follower of Jesus meant that you were not ashamed of your faith. You were not ashamed of standing up for God and God’s truth, and you were not afraid to stand up in the face of moral evil, even when everyone was against you. The early Christians took this teaching to heart: We will obey God rather than men.

Our challenges in being Christian and Catholic in today’s secular society are a bit different from early Christianity. The early Christians did not have to face some of the challenges we have today. But we too are called to be bold and proclaim God’s unchanging truth to a world that thinks God’s laws written on the human heart can change with the times. One of the sacred things we have to protect today as Christians is the sacredness of Marriage. Marriage as is written in our human nature by God to exist between one man and one woman.

This is not an easy topic to talk about, and so many people want to silence the issue, but I think we have to have an honest discussion here about same-sex marriage. There is too much confusion about this subject and too many people, instead of trying to open their hearts to the truth, sentimentalized this whole issue. We are all somehow afraid of this topic, and maybe some people are afraid to talk about it because we don’t want to sound hateful or intolerant. But that’s not what it’s about. I want to first say that the Church LOVES all people who are homosexual. If any of you here are homosexual, I want you to know that the Church loves you, God loves you. If we discriminate mock those who have same-sex attractions, than shame on us. Any form of hate is wrong and sinful.

But, and there is always a but…I want you to know that the Church is like a good parent who loves her children, but will not remain silent if her children’s behavior is wrong and even sinful.

We have to understand one thing. Saying that something is wrong does not mean we discriminate against anyone. The Church always calls out the things that are morally unacceptable, without judging the person. You see, the distinction I want to make here at the beginning is between the sexual activity between people of the same-sex, and the homosexual person. We love the person, but we can judge an action. Sexual relationships between people of the same-sex are sinful and wrong because they distort God’s plan and design for sex and marriage.  This is in reference to the sexual relationships between people of the same-sex, and not men and women who have same-sex attractions.

You see, we as human beings have inherited original sin, which means we come into existence into a wounded world, and that means our human nature has been wounded as well and we all come into existence with a tendency to overindulge our sexual appetites, we lust.  Many people today are taught to think that any sexual encounter with whomever I want is okay. Our sexuality has been wounded by this original sin and our sexual desires are often disordered, that is, they miss the mark, they don’t live up to God’s original intention and plan for our human sexuality. That’s right, God has a blueprint for our human sexuality, and we don’t make it up on our own. The question we have to ask if we want to find the truth is: what is God’s original plan for human sexuality?

Well, it’s stamped right in our bodies as being created male and female to live in a communion of life and love. God’s original intention and blueprint for human sexuality is that Man and Woman in their bodies are created for each other. God created sex for marriage.  Of course our world separates the two. Sex speaks the language of wedding vows, that is, Indissolubility, fidelity, and openness to children. Sex is meant to mirror God’s inner life within the Trinity of God’s total, faithful and fruitful love. This is the necessary ingredient for marriage stamped in our bodies as male and female, and we cannot tamper with it.

So now we turn to the question of homosexual unions. Why is the Church against this type of sexual relationship? If two people of the same-sex really love each other, why can’t they get married?  Isn’t love the only ingredient for a valid marriage?

Well, no, it’s not, because remember, even what we call LOVE can be disordered, that is, not in keeping with God’s plan. If you are married and fall in love with another man or woman, does that give you the right to “follow you heart?” Of course it doesn’t. There are some relationships that are not okay. The Church, by reflecting on human nature along with the revealed word of God in the scriptures, says that if the sexual act is meant to image the very life of God, “then we can only image God sexually by expressing the “I do” of wedding vows: the free commitment of indissolubility, fidelity, and openness to children. It’s simply impossible for two people of the same-sex to express this commitment to each other,”[i] because they are missing one very important ingredient, the ability to be open to children. According to God’s designs, when a husband and wife make love to each other, they are saying their wedding vows with their bodies. They are saying: I promise to be faithful to you, to love you until death, and to be open to accepting children lovingly from God. All of these characteristics are necessary and we cannot change these essential traits of marriage and sex. They are part of the blueprint of marriage, a blueprint written by God himself.

Imagine if a couple wanted to get married, and they promised to be open to the possibility of children, but refused to promise to be faithful to each other. This kind of relationship would not be a marriage. Likewise, if a couple promised to be faithful to each other and to be with one another until death, but were incapable of having the kind of sexual relations designed to give life, they too would be incapable of marriage, and the reason is because their bodies cannot express the vows of a married couple.[ii]

This would be a very long post if we were to go deeper into this subject. It’s a tough issue to discuss, but I hope you can see that this topic has nothing to do with the Church discriminating against people with same-sex attractions, but it calls for everyone to treat people with dignity and respect, no matter what their race, religion or sexual orientation may be. At the same time, the Church teaches that we cannot tamper with the natural moral law given to us by God.

I want you to know that even though some of you reading this may be or may know someone who is homosexual that does not mean they are called or you are called to a loveless life. Too often we equate sex with love. We are all called to love, the heterosexual and the homosexual. I as a celibate priest am called to love. But some people are called to love in a sexual relationship in marriage, and some are called to intimacy on a different level, and even homosexuals can have deep intimate relationships with the same-sex person, without them being genital or sexual . In the end, that itself is a cross some have to bear, but with God’s grace, all this is possible.

I want you to see that our very bodies tell us that man and woman are called to make a gift of themselves sexually. A sexual union can only be properly expressed within the context of marriage, because that’s how God designed it. He created sex in marriage to be a complete joining of male and female. God wanted this joining of the two to be the foundation for a family,  the arena through which He would bring new life into the world.[iii] And marriage is ultimately about Children, and every child deserves not only love, but the complementarity of a father and a mother to experience the fullness of human life.

This is a hard truth for our world to understand, but Jesus calls us to be bold and proclaim the truth in and out of season. Let us take the example of the Apostles who were fearless in proclaiming God’s truth, because in the end, we must obey God, rather than men. Amen.

 


[i] West, Christopher. Good News about Sex and Marriage. (Cincinnati, Ohio: Servant Books, 2000) 148.

[ii] Evert, Jason. If you really loved me. (San   Diego: Catholic Answers, 2008) 131.

[iii] Bonacci, Mary Beth. Real Love. 127