Divorcing Rituals

I was reading in the NY Times today about people suggesting that there should be a ritual for divorce. Something like this:

In October, the former couple stood before a roaring fire at a lodge in Lakewood, Colo., with views of the Red Rocks Amphitheater and the Continental Divide. Nick Meima, an officiant from the Celebrant Foundation who led the event, had sent out a questionnaire in advance, asking the couple to describe what they were letting go of and what they would miss about each other. At the ceremony, he handed them a rope made of two different colored strands. The couple took turns expressing what they were leaving behind while cutting the cord. “When it was all over, they each had half of the rope,” Mr. Meima said. “And then I extended it, and I said, ‘Now you are literally at loose ends, and it’s up to you to choose how to weave these things together in your new life.’ ”

Ms. Shores said, “The ceremony provided a way to acknowledge the good things we had together, and provided a continued path for forgiveness and moving on.,” She added: “Emotionally, it was more draining than I thought it would be. At the same time, it was very releasing.”

Another couple did a 90 day hike from separate ends of the Great Wall of China, they met in the middle, embraced and then left each other.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is ridiculous.

The issue at hand I believe for many is not that they need a ceremony (which this really is–not a ritual) to emancipate themselves from their marriage. Rather, what they really needed was to take the ritual that is marriage seriously.

Any many don’t. For many, marriage is a next step in a friendship with benefits. Something that you can dissolve if the going gets tough and worrying about it not working out doesn’t even enter their mind because they have an escape hatch in the back of their mind. My firm opinion is that if you enter marriage with the attitude of “well if it doesn’t work out, we’ll just divorce” then you almost surely are halfway there already.

Now, I want to also admit that some marriages need to be dissolved. There are couples with irreparable issues that even with God’s help, they have a hard time healing from. The truth is that even in these marriages at least one partner doesn’t take the vows seriously enough. Some don’t plan to be true to the other, or to place the needs of the marriage ahead of individualism. Some don’t come freely or without obligation—they are trapped in their own addictions–perhaps even of romance or sex. Others feel obliged to be married at a certain age or at least at a certain time in their lives and they’ve committed to that-but not to the partner.

What people often don’t realize is that marriage is not always a carnival. Sometimes people get annoyed with one another. Sometimes people don’t live up to expectations. Sometimes people aren’t exactly who you think that they are. Sometimes people are just downright crappy to each other and sometimes bad things just happen that people will have to work through and support one another through.

Life is unfortunately never perfect. And marriages are never perfect either.

Marriage is centered on commitment. The marriage ritual is centered on celebrating the commitment that two people take so seriously that they are willing to stand before their family, friends and God and vow to stay together through thick and thin. There are no games, there are no deals.

That takes a lot to be able to say. And getting into marriage means that you realize that the person you are marrying is far from perfect and that you will also disappoint your husband or wife continually throughout this marital relationship.

Woo-hoo, sounds like a party, huh?

The truth is that every bit of it is not wonderful, unless you can look back and see that this kind of commitment led you into a greater sense of love for one another–despite your own pig-headedness, despite the cards that the fates handed you. Living the ritual and not divorcing one’s self from it is a calling that clearly isn’t for everyone. Perhaps it’s not even for most–because nearly half of the marriages end in divorce.

But to ritualize the fact that you didn’t take your vows seriously in the first place is not necessarily helpful.

In fact, it’s kind of silly.

How to Not Be Al and Tipper Gore

Therese Borchard, whose blog on depression and mental illness is quickly becoming a must stop for me during the workday, offers this piece that asks why Al and Tipper called it quits after 40 years.

“We’ve simply grown apart” is the reason the Gores give. And, even if something else did happen that the media hasn’t yet uncovered, that reason is one of the most common listed by divorcing couples among some others: money, infidelity, poor communication, change in priorities, lack of commitment to the marriage, addictions, and physical, emotional, or sexual abuse.
Let’s face it, even with two well-adjusted adults who care about each other, marriage involves a ton of hard work, sacrifice, generosity, selflessness, and other virtues that don’t come naturally to most of us. If we don’t diligently work on our relationship, it will decay. Quickly.

Bingo. Marriage is work. Relationship is work. Love is actually difficult. Or better stated CHOOSING to love and to REMAIN in relationship takes a strong commitment. It doesn’t just happen. Some days we indeed need to temper our expectations because what we expect life to throw us and what we expect our partner to act like doesn’t always meet with our hopes of an ideal scenario.

And it’s all too easy to quit. Perhaps the Gores worked at it, but just couldn’t do it. Let’s remember that Al was out of the house for years campaigning and being in Washington. Perhaps this couple led separate lives and when they came back together indeed they didn’t recognize one another. In essence, they literally “grew apart.”

My wife is great about the reconnecting elements of our marriage. While apart most of the day she will make several attempts at reconnecting throughout the day. If I’m honest, I’ll admit to being annoyed at a call at an inopportune time. Or when I’m on the road, she might wonder why I haven’t taken the time to call her. Two wonderful women in my life, put me wise to looking at this a new way.

Sue Donovan, who was the head of Paulist Media Works (which no longer exists) saw my frustration when Marion was angry once when I didn’t call while I was at a conference. I think her reaction was something like “WELL OF COURSE, SHE’S ANGRY! (big sigh) Mike, you have to make some time for her when you’re away, even if it’s just a quick call.”

The second, Sr. Christine Wilcox, OP, a wonderful friend who I’ve done much work with over the years, said it simply.

“You’re a lucky man. She could not call you at all. She could not care if you’re home or not.”

And since Christine said those words to me, I smile almost every time my phone says that it’s my wife calling.

I said almost…

Because marriage is indeed challenging. When I’m writing and need quiet, or with students on spring break, or when a conference comes and it’s our anniversary, I have to choose between reconnecting my marriage or tending to other matters. The good news is that most of the time we both can give each other the space to be ourselves with a promise to reconnect later and we stick to that. I’m probably the one who fails at this more often but I’m getting better.

It’s only taken me 8 years to learn. 10 if you count the pre-marital dating.

Reminding one another of what it is that we love about each other and what our evolving passions are is actually a moment of seeing God working in our marriage. God shows us new glimpses of one another as we each grow passionate about our commitments and desires. God also stays with us as we struggle at times with sickness, finances, situations and reminds us that we are all together and this unity of God and couple is what provides us with strength for the journey.

Perhaps this is why they make us take vows? And these reconnections, made by my wife and I, remind us both of those vows throughout the day.

Last week, Marion and I were asked to be a “support couple” for the Catholic Charities Volunteer Service Corps. This reminds me of how great Marion has been for my ministry and how we are better together than apart. I bring her on retreats, to mass, to events and she’s always helpful and giving. Another person might not have that commitment to MY ministry. But somehow Marion has made it part of her life and our marriage.

Talk about a blessing.

There’s a great line at the end of The Prince of Tides which says:

It is in the presence of my wife
and children…
… that I acknowledge my life,
my destiny.

I am a teacher…
… a coach…
… and a well-loved man.
And it is more than enough.

So when the dog acts out, or a relative needs help, or when a grumpy morning gets the best of me…

When I forget that this woman simply loves me, or that I’m annoyed by something she’s done or she’s rightly mad at my own inadequacies…

I pray that God reminds me that my wife is so much more than I could have ever dreamed. And as we grow older, may we not just grow without noticing the ways that we are growing, but rather celebrate those new ways that we each grow and celebrate our response to each other in those new areas of growth.

And may we commit to be happy not just for one another, but rather to a happiness that brings us together in choosing to love one another.

For in that choosing, we find God.

And who could ask for anything more?

Read more from Beyond Blue: http://blog.beliefnet.com/beyondblue/2010/08/tipper-and-al-gore-why-divorce.html#ixzz0veQ3ineW

Advent: All About Commitment

I recently did an evening on discernment at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee which about 40 young adult attended. I mentioned briefly that fidelity was a virtue that we can use to give ourselves a self-check on our desires. That when we think we’ve landed on the thing that we are called to be we might want to ask ourselves if this is “all about us” and what present commitments we might have to maintain before we head off to take on this new venture, or even if we should.

A young person in the audience asked a great question: “What if you’re married and you’ve discovered that you want to head career wise in a new direction but your partner doesn’t support your decision? “

Wow! It gave me pause to just think about that possibility and also provided me with my moment of grace for the day. When I decided to start to pursue some new options my wife, Marion was so supportive. She was afraid to be sure because BustedHalo® and the Paulists were so generous to us over the past 9 years, that indeed that made any decisions very difficult. But Marion knew that I was called to minister to young people. She would watch me come alive on retreat or when I’d be through with a spiritual directee or when I’d preach a reconciliation service. She knew that this was what made me feel most alive and that “most alive” person was the man she fell in love with.

Talk about someone who knows about what it means to be committed to someone else. Fortunately for me, Marion was also able to re-capture some of her desires in her new job teaching deaf children again after years of teaching special ed.

But what if you are not in the same boat? What if your partner thinks that you are not called to your vocation or to an avocation? I think there are two schools of thought here:

1) Perhaps you are not called to what you think and this person who knows you intimately can see that better than you can? Perhaps they are providing a wake up call and that this calling is only about your selfish needs? Maybe you failed to take into account how your actions would impact your partner? All this is good fodder for reflection.

Or 2) Maybe your spouse doesn’t have your best interest at heart? Maybe they never did! Maybe they don’t understand what it means to be committed to someone else and they have only their interests at heart? Maybe they don’t want someone who is fully alive because it makes them look bad or “less than”. Perhaps they don’t want to share the spotlight?

Regardless, in both cases an examination of commitment comes into play and advent is the perfect time to re-examine our commitments. God re-commits to humanity at Christmas by giving us Jesus. God indeed chooses to give His very self to us in the person of Jesus, who in turn, experiences all of our humanity, including death. But many times we forget about what a great commitment that is. We get caught up with our own feelings of how cute the Christ child is in the manger but we often forget that the wood of the manger also comes along with the wood of the cross.

What evidence has my partner giving me that they are indeed committed to who I am becoming? Do they want what’s best not just for me, but for US as a couple? What do i have to compromise to maintain a healthier marriage relationship and yet retain an individual identity as well?

To not make that commitment, or to not take it seriously is to not understand the sacrament of marriage and may even be grounds for Annulment, depending on the case.

For those of us who do understand marriage and who live it, each day….

May this Advent be a time where you rejoice not only in your commitment to one another but also in God’s commitment to all of us.

Ruth and Naomi

Today’s First Reading was the reading that my wife and I chose to be the first reading at our wedding because it is all about the commitment that many times can change a dreadful situation into one of joy. It is always commitment that leads us into happiness even though the initially may be tough times ahead. Looking back, we always can note growth and maturity. We see where we have gotten closer with someone else and what we were called to share with one another.

I often picture myself imaginatively in this reading as one of the characters who really isn’t in the story as a principle player. I picture myself first as being one of the dead husbands, now long gone from earth but watching over his family, still concerned and somewhat helpless at their plight. I often think that I would run to God and beg him to do something for my family. And when I do, God lends his sympathetic ear and reminds me that we do not need such miracles. That the real miracle always comes with committing one’s self to the cause of another. Imagine my surprise as a I watch my daughter-in-law, Ruth, be that miracle for Naomi! Tears stream down my heavenly face as I watch the care and gingerly way that this Moabite woman, a woman not of my own blood, but who assuredly is family, take my wife into her care when neither I nor my sons can any longer. Heaven was even no relief for this suffering of concern that Ruth has lifted from me.

Jesus later calls us to hear the two great commandments. When asked which of the commandments is the greatest, Jesus takes one from Deuteronomy 6:5 as someone who knows scripture well. But this is a commandment that most people knew very well and adhered too and there would be much agreement about this being the greatest.

However, Jesus as is his way turns it all upside down by quoting a lesser-known passage in Leviticus 19:18. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

We need this vertical relationship between us and God but we also need the horizontal relationship with others too. We can picture these relationships as two beams of the cross and we know that when we are in right relationship with God and one another that it also means that we will experience some suffering. Like Ruth who was in misery, we often find ourselves strapped down and alone. It is often another’s love, someone who loves us more than we ever imagined we could be loved that sustains us. They love us as they wish to be loved and more importantly they love as God loves.

Today may I be grateful for all the Ruth-like people in my life. The people who have cared for those that I have been unable to care for myself for reasons often beyond my control. But also, let me see the challenge in being Ruth too. Let me be unafraid to go to that place where I know discomfort will be, at least for awhile and let me stay committed to those with whom I am in relationship. To love my neighbor, as I love myself.