"Life's Hard Get A Helmet"

Wisdom from the first weeks of marriage     

“Nothing is stronger, higher, wider, deeper, truer, happier, fuller, sweeter than Love.” So reads the front of the wedding card my wife and I received from her godfather. Most would agree love is such a sublime experience. But bring up marriage and the conversation turns into a cautionary tale. Even perfectly secure couples, in love with their spouse will often warn of the “difficulties of marriage.” 

Both my wife and I tired of hearing particular refrains from well­ meaning loved ones on our wedding day. The one I was repeatedly asked in the church vestibule as I prepared to take my place was “Are you nervous?!” I give my loved ones the benefit of the doubt that this was an example of the kind of small talk we file away for such occasions where “good luck!” and “knock em’ dead” seem a bit awkward. Part of the reason this particular question got to me was that I was not nervous, quite the opposite. All the preparations for the wedding day were over, centerpieces were at the venue, the flowers we set up, the musicians set, everyone was all dressed up and even if they weren’t or if something wasn’t perfect there was absolutely nothing I could do as I arrived at the church and took my place. 

There was another reason I wasn’t nervous. My bride and I had spent years preparing for this moment, growing in friendship, dating, enjoying discovering shared interests and exciting differences, growing in love, discerning our shared vocation, getting engaged, preparing for marriage and opening our hearts to each other. I have taken a few risks in my life with varied degrees of success but never have I been more confident of anything. I had such a deep peace in that moment. I like to think I already knew, on some level, what my wife’s godfather told us on the inside of that card:

“They say marriage is ‘hard’ and you’ll go through ‘tough times’ but that isn’t true. Life is ‘hard’ and has ‘tough times’ but the Sacrament of Marriage isn’t.”

Your gut reaction may be to recall difficulties in your own marriage or the troubled marriages of someone you know and think, “of course marriage is difficult!” But you would be missing the point, that though there may be difficulties in situations surrounding married life, the essence of Marriage is grace. The couple’s exchange of grace as they perform the sacrament and in their conjugal love, God’s gift of grace to each of them to help the other on their journey to heaven and the amazing image of grace encountered as a couple welcomes new life into the world. 

No doubt there can be discord as two people learn to live together, conflict as they deal with daily tasks and accumulating responsibilities, but it is the grace of marriage that transforms these hardships, petty or profound, into opportunities to grow in virtue, to both see God and reflect the image of God to your spouse. Maybe the great philosopher and devoted husband, Dietrich Von Hildebrand can put it better,

“What sublime value is inherent in this touching, luminous, chaste conjugal love which makes both spouses feel, so to speak, in one and the same pulsation of their souls, but one sorrow, one pain, one joy, and one love of Jesus! What beauty is possessed by this task which is an image of our eternal end ­ the union of the soul with God!” [1]

How does this poetry translate to everyday life you ask? The Sacramental grace of marriage surely finds the smallest interactions, a loving glance, a stressful evening conversation and penetrates the deepest of tragedies, financial crisis, loss of a loved one, even a child. For our own part, my wife and I have seen our relationship already transformed since our recent nuptials. It has become easier to say “sorry,” or to put aside our own needs or pride to comfort or assure the other. 

Just the other night we were hashing out our budget for the coming weeks, always a stressful conversation, and things got a little tense. Both of us had become frustrated as we each tried to express how we have managed money in the past or what financial goals we have and how to achieve them, conflicting on most of these topics. Then suddenly, we both stopped, looked at each other, exhausted physically and emotionally and one of us said to the other “this is just life” and “life is ‘hard’ and has ‘tough times’ but the sacrament of marriage isn’t.” We each said, “I love you,” and were able to peacefully work out the problem before us. Ever since then, that adage has become a mantra of sorts for us. 

Married life does have within it circumstances that can test your patience, your humility and selflessness but so does any life. The married person faces these struggles, be they more or less significant, with a partner who is both a practical support and channel of grace. 

Maybe the most dangerous “struggle” that meets us in the married life is that with the temptation to scapegoat.  Even Jesus fell victim to this crime as he laid the foundation of sacrifice for His Church. But it seems all too easy to find ourselves searching for another to blame for our troubles, and often the nearest target is our spouse. It can't be entirely unnatural for us to look for the culprit of especially the most random and senseless encounters with pain and suffering.  “Traffic is so bad, why couldn't you be ready to leave earlier?!” “I feel like I'm doing more chores, why can't you do more?!” It's no surprise if couples locked in these battles say, “marriage is hard.” To cooperate with that sacramental grace we must admit to ourselves that life is hard, and sometimes it’s no one’s fault; that the person in front of us is not a scapegoat but an ally who can empathize with our pain and offer us God’s love. 

There is a similar notion that the Christian life is ‘hard’ and “not for the weak,” but the Christian person faces the same anxieties and tragedies of any person. The Christian life brings us into a struggle not so much with the world as with ourselves. The unique character of Christianity is the quest for virtue and overcoming of our own shortfalls in the pursuit of union with God in heaven. However, the Catholic person also receives sacramental graces which easily surmount any hurdle put before us. When we hesitate to forgive we are given Divine Mercy in the confessional. When we have nothing left to offer Jesus calls us to “receive” Him, our infinite Lord, in such a humble meal.  And just when we think the veil of the world is too dark to see God, he gives us a window to his love in our spouse. 

The truth is, life is hard and there will be really tough times but if we can stop and remember the grace of marriage and the Sacramental life we will retain our spouse as an ally and never tire of the quest for virtue. 

1. Hildebrand, Dietrich Von. Marriage: The Mystery of Faithful Love. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute, 1984. Print.
 

Anthony Esser is recently married and lives in Southern Maryland with his wife, Casey. He serves as Assistant Manager to the Bookstore at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception where he has worked for over two years. He considers himself an artist, a wannabe chef and a sometimes stand­ up comic. This is his first contribution to The Holy Ruckus

 

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