The 14th of February this year brought me a confluence of events. It was my wife’s and my 32nd wedding anniversary, it was Valentine’s Day – and it was Ash Wednesday. Beginning a period of fasting, penance and reflection on this day is a little weird in many ways, but other folks also share this day on their own days when those dates cycle through the calendar.
Lent is a period of separation, a place of waiting, a time that reflects a withdrawal into the desert of solitude and prayer. The place of celebration and of joy comes at the end of Lent, at Easter in the Christian scene. Lent is meant to represent Jesus’s time in the wilderness being tempted by the evil one and his resistance to that.
I guess that the tempter could be seen by married couples as all those forces that strive to dislocate marriages: anger, jealousy, money, fear, betrayal, suspicion, lying, concealment, resentment, boredom and so on and so on.
Marriage is a serious job that requires serious self-inquiry and willingness to open and honest communication.
I think that marriage takes all of our powers to make it work. It takes humility to admit one’s own ineffectiveness, it takes courage to broach the subject of our own failings and it takes a sense of humor, too. It is not declaring failure to admit that we don’t have all the answers. There are methods to help restore marriages to effectiveness and happiness.
One of the most useful groups, in my opinion, that exists in the Christian world is called “Retrouvaille” — a French term that means rediscovery and that is (a) God centered and (b) while being founded in the Catholic tradition also works with couples of other faiths and even none. The organization is made up of a peer network of other couples who have gone through their own travails and have gained some deep knowledge. I can speak for the effectiveness and helpfulness of Retrouvaille’s work personally.
Similarly there is Marriage Encounter, also a couples based organization and a faith-based organization that will provide resource weekends to allow couples to explore strategies of cooperation and communication that have been found to work by other couples.
Marriage is hard work and requires heavy lifting. Couples who think that a marriage will bring them a relief from complexity — and a partner who can pay half their bills — are going to be disappointed. Marriage is ordained by the divine for a stronger, more loving and less selfish world of adventure that is capable of bearing the shocks of life and of sadness, when it comes, and also of rejoicing in the great pleasure of having a set of eyes to look into that you can love, and that will love you back, and possibly of sharing the delight of children with whom to build a greater world for God’s promise to be fulfilled.
So this Lenten season, for those married couples who wish to work together in Lent, find a way in which to work together to resist the temptation to anger and move apart, but seek to find ways in which to enrich the life and joy of your partner while sharing with them the joy and love of God.
Don’t keep your worship a secret, rejoice so that your partner may rejoice also.
Colin Brown is the former pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boardman.
Hearts and ashes