How to Stay Married: In the Economic Downturn

My wife and I aren’t exactly rolling in dough, but the truth of the matter is that neither one of us married for money. And when economic times are hard, as this past year has been for so many, it allows us to consider how much we really do love one another. So this snip from NPR caught my attention. The sociology tells us interesting things that people may want to divorce but not be able to afford it. In those incidences the level of domestic violence increases.

During the Great Depression, the divorce rate went down and domestic violence went up. In the 1970s, when states began to permit no-fault divorces, it had an immediate effect on domestic violence.

In the first five years after the adoption of no-fault divorce, divorce rates did indeed rise, but the domestic violence rates fell by about 20 to 30 percent, and wives’ suicide rate fell by 8 to 13 percent. So we know that divorce actually provides a safety valve.
– Stephanie Coontz, professor of history and women’s studies, The Evergreen State College
“In the first five years after the adoption of no-fault divorce, divorce rates did indeed rise, but domestic violence rates fell by about 20 to 30 percent, and wives’ suicide rate fell by 8 to 13 percent,” Coontz says.

“So we know that divorce actually provides a safety valve.”

And women were not the only beneficiaries: “It’s also reduced the rate at which husbands are murdered by their wives,” Coontz says, “so it’s been a lifesaver for some men as well.”

Coontz predicts that when the current downturn ends, we will see exactly what happened after the Great Depression: “Couples that have postponed this or even one individual in a couple who has postponed seeking a divorce because of the financial recession is going to feel much more enabled to get that divorce afterwards,” she says.

I’d further this point with a secondary one that they didn’t measure or didn’t report. I wonder how many couples who stayed together reported that their marriage was strengthened by working through these economic issues? My guess is that the couples who were considering divorce had many other problems as well and that the economy just accentuated them. That said, disagreements about money is the number one reason that many couples call it quits so I don’t take the report lightly either.

Marion and I see couples during marriage prep to go over their FACET indicator—a tool used to highlight disagreements between a couple before marriage takes place. It gives them a head start into seeing where they don’t immediately see eye-to-eye and the issues that they’ll have to compromise on or work out. It’s an amazing tool. All of the marriage mentors, including us, took it as well so we would know what the couples we’d be mentoring would be going through. While Marion and I scored very high on agreement on most matters the one we scored lowest on was budget/finances. When we were married ten years ago, that was the area on a similar survey like this that we also scored lowest on. So, it seems as if these are life-long struggles for people. We work out our differences but some of our more heated exchanges that I can remember were indeed over money.

And yet, we love each other and believe that even though we sometimes disagree, we’re committed to one another–that we and our marriage are worth (no pun intended) working these things out.

We both came from meager stock. Me, a bit more so, than my lovely wife. And while we’re clearly not destitute, money is not exactly flowing freely. I know I’ve been hurt by others because of my background and I can’t imagine what people who are a whole lot poorer than we were have faced. Class is indeed, a huge matter in the United States that is often overlooked.

Sometimes marriages can’t be saved. And there’s a variety of reasons for that. In the NPR story we hear of a woman who fears for her safety and that of her children, but can’t afford to leave her husband. Money sometimes is a case of life and death. I can see someone staying in an unhappy marriage to hold onto health care for their kids as well.

But I also think that marriage is work. And learning about our differences early is really key. I know it helped my marriage much. And it actually makes me love my wife more because she has an opinion on these things and is willing to work it out with me.

Today I pray that other couples can find common ground on their issues and that they can remind themselves of why they love each other. It probably should be a daily exercise for married couples.

So to my loving wife, who I will be spending a first Christmas in Buffalo with…know that you will always be someone that I can have disagreements with and still remain married to you. You are worth working things out with and despite our differences at times, I will always love you.

And there’s no amount of money in the world (or lack of it) that will ever make me leave.

Marriage a Minority? Or is it Intimacy?

The Washington Post tells us that Marriage is becoming a minority status and that more folks are simply choosing to be single.

Rose Kreider, a Census Bureau demographer who specializes in household statistics, noted last year that 7.5 million couples were living together without being married, a 13 percent jump in just one year. Many had a partner who had lost a job, or they could not afford to maintain two homes.

Most college graduates will marry, eventually. Nearly two in three college graduates are married now, compared with less than half who have a high school education.

It’s interesting to see that the more educated one is the more likely they are to be married. What does that tell us?

For one, I think it tells us that maturity is a significant factor in choosing marriage–and probably making marriage last. They don’t tell us how many of these people have tried marriage and failed.

I was 32 when I got married and I don’t think I could have married younger. I was always interested in being married, but don’t think I was ready in the first two serious relationships that I was in. There was always something missing. One, simply didn’t want to be married and the other simply thought I wasn’t ambitious enough for her. When I met my Marion things progressed nicely. We both knew we wanted to be married. We both knew what we didn’t want in a partner and both knew that family, faith and dedication to relationships (both each other and those we interact with) were the most important things to us.

But is our opinion of that kind of relationship a minority now? I’m not sure. But I do think that there are many who denigrate marriage and that people often use language to say that marriage is some kind of curse.

Check this out from Gawker:

Joke’s on you married people!!! You figured everyone would be doing it sooner or later, so why not get ahead of the curve, right? Well while you were spending all your time with one person, your single peers were sleeping around with a veritable who’s who of attractive members of the opposite sex in the prime of their sexuality, experimenting with a diverse menu of sexual techniques that your spouse just “isn’t into!” Or at least playing lots of new XBox games, alone. Either way, the message is clear: I don’t even want to get married, Julie, so I hope you’re really happy with that other dude you married after you dumped me. I really hope so, ha! I’ll be having sex with someone extremely drunk this weekend Julie—someone whose hair is much shinier and fuller than yours! Have fun watching Todd resurface the cabinets or whatever! Really happy for you, sure!

See what I mean.

Let me just say that marriage isn’t easy…nor is any relationship that one dedicates themselves to. I know I’m not always the easiest person to get along with, but I also know that Marion isn’t about to run away because of it. That’s what marriage is–that type of commitment. Co-workers can get new jobs, friendships sometimes fade or move into distant relations, even family members sometimes choose to remove themselves from the relationship. And yes, sometimes people get divorced. Many try to make it work but something in the dedication that one has for the other is failing. Usually one person has reservations about openness or is afraid to be hurt and therefore doesn’t share their whole selves relegating parts of themselves off-limits.

Perhaps that’s the issue at play and why many people choose singleness. It’s easier. While some choose the single life for legitimate reasons, (Catholic Author Beth Knobbe comes to mind here) others simply don’t want to commit to another person, giving up some freedom, or taking on responsibility for others.

And some others just want to have sex without strings. Still others, are involuntarily single, but perhaps that too is a form of protecting one’s self. I know many single people who act a bit desperate and scare others away and others who act cold and withdrawn in relationship and send signals that they don’t want to go any farther.

The truth is that while nobody wants to be lonely, everyone craves intimacy. The problem is that we often settle for cheap versions of it, refusing to share ourselves openly, afraid to fail or to show vulnerability to another and an unwillingness to open our hearts just a bit farther.

These stats reveal some about marriage but a whole lot more about how selfish we’ve become as a society. I’d venture to say that similar numbers of people give to charity but don’t get involved in the people behind them.

Last year in Cleveland, one of the best exercises for me was being a guest at a local house of hospitality. Eating with the homeless as “one of them” gave me an intimate experience of those whom I often serve. They are not much different than we are. We even have some shared experiences.

Perhaps we put up similar walls in our relationships, married, dating or otherwise?

What fears might we have about intimacy? What would happen if we sought true intimacy with those around us? If we really loved with abandon for ourselves?

I think that just might be called The Kingdom of God.

Santa Comes Early for Our Family

So my wife’s side of the family always has a huge honking full-on family Christmas celebration on the second weekend of December. So we travelled down to Long Island this year and had some good food and better conversation with people that we don’t get to see all that often–especially since we made the move to Western New York.

One of the traditions I love is the appearance of Santa Claus with a sack full of toys for the children of the family (or as we call them the great-grandchildren–in reference to my wife’s grandmother who was the big matriarch of the family–Nana Big as the great-grandchildren called her).

Santa this year had delivered all his toys and then he shouted out one last name…Victoria.

Strange request—since Victoria is 26.

As she approached Santa he fumbled with his bag a bit and walked past Vicki. She then turned and found this sight just to her left:

That’s Joe, her boyfriend. And she said yes. So we have an engagement to celebrate. It took a lot of guts for Joe to ask Victoria to be his wife in front of literally her entire family sans a few absentees.

The family needed a bit of good news. There’s been Vicki’s mom, Angela, who overcame breast cancer recently and has become a huge supporter of other survivors. Victoria’s grandfather, Angelo, had been ill and has come back to good heath this past year.

Well, now that I look more deeply at this, I suppose that these things are all good news. After all, every situation has worked out despite the fact that they were met with bad situations initially. Sometimes good news can cause us to look back on the events of the past and find that they are better than we had thought. We stand a bit stronger now despite our struggles. And Joe and Victoria’s marriage will be able to stand on much firmer ground knowing that they can get through much more than they ever thought they could. My wife’s Uncle Andy was looking at pictures of his mother at her wake. His sister, who we call Aunt Roe remarked “Pictures of happy times.”

And Andy quipped back: “Well there were no other times.”

Perhaps that’s the lesson for us all. Even in times of struggle we can find grace and consolation. Most of all we find hope. That sure and certain hope that God lies just on the other side of our deepest fears and is there to meet us and comfort us in our darkest times.

God will always be with us, even when we think all is lost. Even when life deals us a lousy hand or huge tragedies befall us. Somehow God can make a way out of no way.

That’s not a bad thing to consider for those about to enter into married life. For you see, life is going to be difficult at times and things won’t always go the way we’d like or expect. We’ll be overcome by sadness and grief often enough that it just might be tempting to chuck our faith and our commitments to the side. Our spouses will irritate us at times and together married people will deal with all kinds of problems that seem all too difficult to get through.

But our hearts can stretch much farther if we stay open enough with each other to see each other through the darkness. Evil wants us to quit and say that it’s too hard to stay committed and that it’s not worth all the stress. But the truth is that finding God in the mess that our lives often are is where we often find that grace abounds. We find a God who has suffered with us, who shivers in the cold and who humbles himself to share in our humanity when God doesn’t need to.

God cannot bear to keep separate from us. Perhaps the same is an example for us for married love? Can husbands not bear to be without their wives and vice-versa? Isn’t that why we get married in the first place?

For Victoria and Joe, blessings on your engagement. Know that the road ahead will not always be easy, but that together you can overcome any obstacle simply by loving one another a bit more. Loving one another when it’s hard, when it challenges us is what God calls all of us to do.

You’ve already given so much of that love for your family in their times of hardship. Remember that and see God’s grace because of it in your marriage. That’s the secret of staying married.

May that secret bless your marriage forever.

How to Stay Married: The Halloween Version

So on this day when we mask ourselves from others and pretend to be someone else for day, I thought it might be a good moment of reflection for married couples to think more deeply about the one to whom they are most “unmasked.”

What am I driving at? Our wives and husbands know us pretty well. We are literally naked at times in their presence and even more times are emotionally naked as well. Indeed our spouses know us best in most cases. They hopefully also accept who we are and not who they’d like us to become.

I’ve heard many women use the term “I’ve got him trained” and it bugs me to no end as a man. It’s not because we don’t have our faults or things to learn or might even not have a clue as to why you’re mad. Rather, it’s part of the “I can have it all” mentality. I’m sure husbands are equally at fault here and maybe even more so. We certainly want what we want when we want it and come with expectations of a wife that probably is proscribed more by traditional gender roles. Dinner? We hope that it’s made and on the table most nights and not by us. An unfair expectation to be sure.

Perhaps our impatience with our spouses stems from our expectations of an always customized living situation. Our homes, our computer desktops, our phones are all “arranged.” We want these things the way we want them. Do we treat our spouse the same way? And when they don’t meet those expectations how quickly do we want to get rid of them for a “different model?”

Sheryl Paul discusses this aptly in her recent Marriage column in the Huffington Post:

They start to look around at their friends’ relationships and wonder at what appears to be unilateral ease and bliss and passion. They reminisce about past boyfriends and long for the trait that he or she possessed that’s missing in the current husband or wife to be. In short, they become obsessed by the grass is always greener syndrome where everyone else’s relationship and their own past lovers are elevated to the status of perfection. And in so doing, they miss the wonderful man or woman that is standing before them, ready and available and wanting to forge a shared life. They’ve moved from appreciation and gratitude to negativity and criticism.

“Having it all” is a fantasy and the grass is always greener syndrome of comparison is a futile place to live. There is simply no such thing as the perfect partner. By extensive, there’s no such thing as the perfect job, the perfect place to live, or the perfect house. When I hear that a client is falling prey to the grass is always greener syndrome, I ask if they’ve found themselves in a similar place of obsessive comparisons regarding other aspects of their lives. They almost always respond affirmatively. One client recently said to me, “Not only do I compare my fiancé to other men, I’m always thinking about other places we could live and other jobs I could have. The truth is that I’m with a great guy and live in an adorable town and have a stable, good-paying job, and I’m missing it all.”

We live in a “you can have it all culture”, and no where is this message more pronounced than around the wedding and one’s choice of marriage partner. We’re indoctrinated to believe that we can and should have it all, and that anything less than perfection in a mate is settling. When I ask my clients to tell me about their partners, they almost invariably reply with some version of this: “He (or she) is kind, caring, responsible, loyal, honest, hard-working. We enjoy each other’s company and are attracted to each other. He’s my best friend and the person I want to be around most.” When I ask about any potential red-flag issues — abuse, addiction, betrayal, irreconcilable differences regarding core values or religion – the clients laughs and says, “Oh, no, nothing like that!” Do your parents and friends think you’re a good match? Yes. Is he or she someone who would make a good lifetime partner? Definitely. Hmmm… sounds like a far cry from settling to me. It sounds more like a bad case of the grass is always greener syndrome.

For some, nothing can ever be good enough and everyone and everything fails to satisfy. She’s too fat, or too bossy. He’s not ambitious enough nor does he make enough money. She can’t cook and he’s too messy. What if I find someone better?

The truth is that we can easily miss out on the beauty that our partners possess all too easily. We can concentrate on the negative instead of the positive, what annoys instead of what endears. Not to say, that people shouldn’t try to clean up their nasty habits when necessary, or their lazy behaviors when they annoy their spouse. Certainly some things will need to change and compromise will be key. But there’s also an opportunity for acceptance and to realize that our spouses are not meant for our customization. They are meant to be loved, unmasked before us in all their beauty…

and with their faults as well.

Early in my marriage, my wife would frequently call me when she’d have a break during the day. Interruptions often annoy me, no matter who they come from. But I’ve come to realize that my wife calls because there’s nobody else she’d rather call. And for that matter, she could NOT call at all! Now with each call comes a smile (and sometimes some sarcasm–“I’ve been gone for less than 30 seconds. Couldn’t stand to be that far apart from me ALREADY?”)

So celebrate the good in your partner and overlook some of the bad. Value honesty and openness and unmask those things that you both need to work on, just don’t harp on them. Instead value the giving of freedom—the choice to let people be themselves and not who we’d like them to be.

In short, doing the opposite allows us to see and love the person we married as they really are and allows us to be loved by others for who we are as well.

So while it is Halloween, unmask yourself for your partner today and rejoice in the people that God has made you to be.

Til Death Do They Part

Deacon Greg pointed me to this amazing story today of a couple who had been married 72 years and who tragically died from injuries in a car crash.

The amazing part is that Gordon and Norma Yeager died in the ICU holding hands.

Dennis Yeager said the couple left home last Wednesday to go into town, but they didn’t make it.

At the intersection of Highway 30 and Jessup Avenue just west of Marshalltown, state troopers said Gordon pulled in front of an oncoming car. The Iowa State Patrol crash report said the other driver attempted to avoid the crash but was unable to stop in time.

“I rushed from Des Moines where I was working and saw them in the hospital,” said Dennis Yeager.

In the intensive care unit of Marshalltown’s hospital, nurses knew not to separate Gordon and Norma.

“They brought them in the same room in intensive care and put them together — and they were holding hands in ICU. They were not really responsive,” said Dennis Yeager.

Gordon died at 3:38 p.m. holding hands with his wife as the family they built surrounded them.

“It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going,” said Dennis Yeager. “But we were like, he isn’t breathing. How does he still have a heart beat? The nurse checked and said that’s because they were holding hands and it’s going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up.”

“They were still getting her heartbeat through him,” said Donna Sheets.

At 4:38 p.m., exactly one hour after Gordon died, Norma passed too.

This reminded me of two stories not quite as profound but nonetheless ones that would be reflective for married couples.

The first comes from a Deacon friend of mine from graduate school who was widowed. When asked what was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of his life he didn’t hesitate, “Being with my wife when she died.”

He went on to say that the moment was only shared with each other and was filled with love. While he was sad to lose his wife to death, he was also quite moved at how intimate the moments shared between them were.

The second comes from my own family. About three years ago my father’s heart rate soared and he nearly passed out. My mother thought he was having a heart attack. My father spoke only a few words during this time.

“Evelyn, don’t leave me, just stay here with me.” He held her hand tightly and didn’t want to let go. He was willing to die right there as long as his wife of more than 60 years was by his side.

My mother sensing his devotion also knew that she had to call an ambulance. She quietly whispered, “Mike, you’re hurting my hand.” And when he released it she bolted for the phone called 911 and returned to his side until the paramedics arrived. Turns out that some kind of airborne virus pushed his heart rate up. Once eradicated, he was back to his old self.

Meaning he went right back to holding my mother’s hand.

Today, hold the hand of the one you love. You won’t get to hold it forever, as none of us will escape death. Yet, we have each other in this present moment and that is more than enough to keep love alive forever.

St. Francis and My Dog

Happy Feast Day to all my Franciscan friends. We held a rainy blessing of the animals day here on Sunday, so my pictures were awful and Haze, my dog, doesn’t really like other dogs so he wouldn’t really cooperate with us.

Regardless, I don’t need an excuse to write about my dog, but St. Francis gives me a good excuse to. Dan Horan, OFM, has a great post about Francis’ Transitus–the passing from this life to the next one which Franciscans celebrated last night. At the heart of his post is Francis’ request as he lay dying was that the Gospel reading for Holy Thursday be read. Many use this reading to preach on discipleship–and rightly so–but from where I sit, I always think this reading lies at the heart of Jesus’ boundless forgiveness for each one of us.

A snip from the 13th Chapter of the Gospel of John:

When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you as example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Washing one’s feet is more than a service. Let’s not forget that the disciples wore sandals and that the marketplace was often filled with livestock. So feet became quite a messy matter. Even some servants would refuse to wash another’s feet.

In the same way, what do we refuse to do for others in our lives? Quite often we refuse to let our resentments go. We find it quite hard to forgive even petty things and then the deeper hurts make it even harder for us to stretch ourselves towards forgiveness.

Perhaps Francis knew this as well as Jesus did when he gathered his servants together before he died and asked them to hear these words. The reminder to be servants always starts with the reminder to wash feet. And our feet, like our faults, symbolize the ways that we fail over and over again. Don’t I always offend my wife in the same ways, over and over? Don’t I have the same weaknesses throughout my life? In confession don’t I always find myself confessing similar, if not the same sins? Evil traits linger. And it’s up to others to be patient with us, or to cast us to the wind.

And God is strong in that infinite patience that he has with each one of us. Can we model that kind of patience with our co-workers, our families, close friends? Marriage has taught me that kind of patience–to seek forgiveness as often as I am called upon to forgive.

So where does my pet come into this story?

Well, when I need a reminder of how often I need to forgive, I just have to look to my dog, Haze. Dogs have essentially no short term memory which makes them boundlessly forgiving of their best friends. I once clipped Haze’s skin in his harness and really hurt him. He yipped at an ear piercing level and wouldn’t let me near him to try and remove the harness. Mercifully, I was finally able to pry it loose from his body. I felt awful! I hurt the dog–an innocent docile animal. But two minutes later, Haze was jumping into my lap and licking the tears out of my eyes, licking my face lovingly and even licking my bald head–a now, nightly occurrence.

If I’m honest, I often take my dog for granted. I leave him alone in an empty house while I go off for my own fun. I’ve forgotten to feed him or to buy his favorite treats. I’ve made him wait too long to go out and then when he seeks “relief” I get angry at him for going in the house somewhere.

And yet at the click of my key in the door he is there, bounding towards the door unconditionally greeting me. Is there anyone that I dare to greet the same way when they come to see ME?

I think I can be neglectful. Do I take care of my parents well enough? Do I give enough time to my marriage? Am I patient with my students? Supportive enough of co-workers?

Guess what? None of us are perfect at any of this. And we will often need to be forgiven for our failures. More importantly, others are not going to live up to our expectations. Will we be as forgiving of others when they don’t meet the standard either?

Francis seemed to understand that the future friars would need to be people who would wash feet. They would need to be people who could look at the dirtiest parts of each of their brothers and then tenderly wash that griminess down the drain. Perhaps he learned that from his love of all creation?

So today, as we celebrate Francis’ legacy, might we be bold enough to be naked in the town square–to seek forgiveness of those we neglect, to place our forgiveness and our need for forgiveness at the heart of our service to others. Francis was deeply in touch with his faults, shedding his own clothes to be in solidarity with the poor and sharing in the indignity that goes along with that–somethat that all of so-called dignified society inflicts on those that the world often leaves behind.

May we, who follow in Francis’ footsteps, bring much healing, dignity and boundless forgiveness to the world. And in so doing, may we be a channel of God’s peace.

This 61 Has No *

In this age of sports where baseball’s home run record is now seriously debatable, I’ve come to appreciate the efforts of Yankee Roger Maris’ 61 Home Runs in 1961. It was a then record total for a single season but the commissioner of baseball placed an asterisk next to the record because Maris reached the mark in 162 games while the former record holder Babe Ruth had hit 60 in a 154 game schedule. Today Maris’ record has been surpassed by men who clearly were on performance enhancing drugs leaving all of us to question the integrity of the record which I still maintain belongs to Maris.

Baseball aside, longevity is something we honor as a society, perhaps not often enough or perhaps because it is so rare. Nobody works for 30 years and a gold watch anymore. At WOR a man in the traffic department had worked for the station for I believe 47 years, longer than most employees had even been alive.

So I’m particularly honored to talk about a 61 that has no asterisk today. My parents were married in 1950,61 years ago. They are in their early 80s and have lived a challenging life together. My mom has been sick most of my life, going in and out of hospitals and my dad has been more than a faithful companion for her. He’s been a committed partner for better or for worse, in sickness and health, living those vows for more than 60 years now.

My parents never travelled very far (“Who would want to do all that?” My mother would say!) and they worked hard to get me to college, something they never were able to do (both didn’t graduate high school). As children of the depression (especially my mom) they learned to save money and stretch a dollar, living simply and still finding the random $5 to give to charity now and again. If you were a good cause you always got something.

I was a gift for their 20th anniversary a bit early in February of 1970. They didn’t need to have another child after having a daughter 16 years earlier and miscarrying two children after that. But I came along at the right time for them. A late in life surprise when they had hoped for so long.

So today their son is grateful for these two, who started a family from such humble beginnings and gave so much to so many. From Waterford, Ireland where my father was born and raised to my mother’s hometown of Yonkers where we’ll celebrate today with a simple lunch…

There will be much rejoicing and not a question about their love for one another. Not many people stay married anymore, dispensing with vows when things get hard. Sometimes that’s avoidable and sometimes things need to be dissolved for horrendous abuses of those same vows.

But for my parents, It’s 61 for them…and nobody would think about putting an asterisk next to this marriage.

Congratulations to the happily married couple..still.

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How to Stay Married: Say I Do, But Mean I’ll Be

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.

Why I Hate The Royal Wedding

As William and Catherine get set to take the plunge, I’m ready to wretch for the umpteenth time. Why? The Royal Wedding emphasizes everything that’s wrong about marriage.

Now before you get your knickers all in a bunch and have the Queen Mum send me a strongly worded letter, I’d like to say that I hold no disdain for Prince William and his bride-to-be personally. I wish them well in their marriage. I believe that they are truly in love and that they are attempting to brush off much of the pomp and circumstance in favor of a more personal and less ceremonial wedding.

Unfortunately, the public and the Brits themselves ain’t buying it.

My wife just uttered as I type, “I can’t wait to see what her dress looks like!” OK, I’ll admit a but of curiosity here too, but my friend Hope is getting married in the fall and I’m far more interested in seeing what her dress looks like. Why does this couple attract so much attention? It’s all because of the dangerous myth that marriage solves all the problems of a young girl. It’s the fairy tale of the “commoner” finding her prince. And isn’t she lucky to have married so “well”?

Horse feathers.

When Charles and Diana married we heard the same old story and let’s not forget how that fairy tale ended. I’m praying that William is more dedicated to his wife than his father was to his mother. But back to the fairy tale notions.

Marriage is not something that solves all your problems. In fact, oftentimes marriage gives you twice as many problems than you had before. You inherit your spouses problems along with your own. What’s beautiful about marriage is that you have two people who commit their lives to overcoming those problems together. That commitment and that commitment alone leads to happiness that is centered in love.

Catherine Middleton will certainly have many advantages in marrying Prince William. The photographer Mario Testino who photographed Princess Di on numerous occasions has taken Cate under his wing already, as she wishes to become a professional photographer. How many would-be shutterbugs would long for that position. Testino doesn’t even know if she has any promise, I would gather. But again, it’s not what you know, but rather WHO you know.

And so we’re back to square one where the media only cares about the elite and perpetuates the myth that this is the marriage that all women should long for.

Folks, let me tell you one thing. Marriage is more than a froofy dress and Buckingham Place. Young William has already stepped out on Ms. Middleton once and she promptly dumped his royal behind for doing so. I hope his commitment lasts this time long after the TV crews, cameras and Elton John goes away.

We care about the Royals because we cling to the myth that this is a better life instead of making the best we have of our own. Are all marriages inferior to this spectacle?

So married, engaged and couples of today:

In my best snooty British Accent:

I implore you, to boycott watching the Royal Wedding and instead spend that time with the one you love, reveling in who you are and not who everyone thinks you should want to be. Furthermore, may your love be a greater sign of God’s love for each one of us, not in some kind of fairy tale way, but in a way that expresses God’s love for all of us. After all, love is deeper than money or class, it goes beyond riches or poverty and instead calls to each one of us to be committed to those we care about. It is that commitment that leads us to know God more deeply as the one who remains committed to us always. And so I humbly declare that this day may be one of great rejoicing for all committed couples and I ask that you recommit yourselves to each other again today.

I’m off to plan a nice breakfast for my wife. But most likely she’ll want to watch the damn wedding.

I leave you with this bit that Time Magazine writes “is all you need to know about the Monarchy.”

Love this. I just might watch this instead of the wedding.