Tell me if this is you. You spend a lot of time devoted to getting things accomplished. There’s always time to do just one more thing before you can relax. You start conversations that have a natural end to balancing a budget or ordering spare parts for a home improvement project.
Do you always seem to be doing something?
I know that’s me a good deal of the time. My idea of a vacation is one where we’re in a major city with different activities to do, perhaps a lot of people to see and hang out with and not a lot of downtime.
My wife thinks I need a vacation from my vacation.
Her idea of vacation is a nice bucolic place where one can sit and read books all day as the water whooshes by the condo window with the nice breeze blowing in the salty air.
Kill me now.
It seems to me that our marriages have a lot to learn from the spiritual life. I know I have a hard time sitting and meditating. It was the hardest part of the 19th Annotation Retreat with the Jesuits this year for me. But still, I valued that time to merely sit and be with God. Listening and struggling with that silence was good for me and it helped me be intentional about what kind of minister and husband I’d like to be.
Dr. Christine Whelen, last lent wrote something similar on BustedHalo.
I have tried to devote more time to prayer. I’m not going to lie — I haven’t been entirely successful. An extra Mass? Sure, I can do that. But quiet time in meditation? Lord, save me. I’ve also tried to devote more time to relaxing and just hanging out with Peter. A dinner-date? Sure, that’s easy and fun, but another hour on the couch watching The Office and 30 Rock… while there’s work to be done? Heaven help me.
See, the problem is I think that I’m right. My work and productivity has to be a good thing and I want to be rewarded for it, not told to stop. But then I think about that beautiful reading about Jesus’ visit to Martha and Mary (Luke 10: 38-42). Martha welcomes Jesus, cooks dinner and does all the work, while Mary sits at His feet and listens to him. At the end of the evening, Martha complains to Jesus, saying, C’mon, I’ve been doing all the work, and Mary isn’t doing anything. But Jesus congratulates Mary for her attention and reprimands Martha for distracting herself with too many mundane things. The moral of the story, as we usually read it, is that it was more important to sit and be with Him than to mess around with dinner.
And that’s something that I don’t always get. Sometimes life just needs to stop. I know in the cold winter months, I can notice easily in Buffalo when those times are. When it snows so much that I can’t get my car out of my driveway, I know it’s time for me to take a break. But waiting for a snowstorm isn’t quite healthy (especially in summer). We all need to take a marriage sabbath day…a time where we together are simply being with one another. I know that those late evening hours are prime for this, but one of us, either my wife or I will fall asleep without question.
And so, as I approach vacation, I wonder how much I can offer my wife to simply be with her and not do things while she’s near me? Can I appreciate just being in her presence? We’ve taken the dog on a family walk and not really said all that much to each other, but rather just spent time walking and enjoying the summer weather. We’ve spent meals simply talking about hopes and dreams, rather than having a “financial planning meeting” (one of my least favorite things to do) or even simply watching a show. We’re getting ready to throw cable out in favor of a Roku Box because we discovered that we watch about 7 shows that we can get on Hulu. The result is that we save $500 and we get to spend more time with each other and less time in front of the television.
We’ve rediscovered this year, how much we enjoy each other’s company. We’ve laughed and giggled and found that we can overcome obstacles if we simply put our minds and hearts to it. We’ve had more time for others and had deeper conversations with people because of it. Last night we talked with two former Catholic volunteers well into the evening.
Staying married indeed means that we need to balance our doing with our being. That takes work, especially if it doesn’t come naturally. I find a family pet helps, especially a lazy one that just wants to be petted and sit with you on the couch like my dog, Haze does. Simply put, we all want that kind of peacefulness, where there is nothing to do and no place to be but there.
Thomas Merton wrote:
“The Desert Fathers believed that the wilderness had been created as supremely valuable in the eyes of God precisely because it had no value to men. The wasteland was the land that could never be wasted because it offered them nothing…..God’s plan was that they should learn to love HIm in the widlerness and should always look back on the time spent in the desert as the idyllic time of their life with Him alone.”
It’s important for us to have time without each other as well and also to be in meaningful silence on our own. I know I need some down time on my own.
So on this vacation can we take a deep breath from the Disneylands and the Big Cities at some point and simply give one another a day off to simply be.
We might discover that being is one of the more wonderful parts of marriage: There is no place to be but here, with you.
With one another.