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Commentaries and observations about the conflicting moral beliefs and psychological issues facing our culture.
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"AWAY WITH WORDS"
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8 December 2023
The Woman Who Shared My Life
In everyday usage, we customarily refer to “friends” as people who share common interests with us -- perhaps a frequent game of golf, enjoyment in gardening or fervid interest in football scores. But the fact is that the word “friend” is much overused. Quick example: “Un-friending” strangers has become an internet cliché denoting snobbish snubbing in fits of passing pique. We may share common interests (or even painful losses) with “friends,” but most “friendships” do not involve a life-commitment.
Most “friends” are actually likeable acquaintances who come-and-go. They have their own interests and agendas. In time, most “friends” naturally move on.
Many folks do not refer to their spouse in terms of “friendship.” But, as a solid marriage grows and deepens, our spouse becomes (ideally) our truest “friend” – and much more. Indeed, our spouse – husband or wife – is meant to become our loyal, totally committed partner in the unique, costly but eminently desirable relationship of marriage.
A Personal Remembrance
Happily, in God’s good time, I was blessed with just such a spouse, a loving, humorous, passionately dedicated woman named Nancy. Her birthday is upcoming, so - in her memory - I share this brief remembrance.
Nancy and I were together for nearly 40 years; we grew older - and wiser - side by side. A little more than five years ago, God called Nancy to Himself, and she died with family and priest by her side.
Nancy’s goodness and influence live in heart and memory to this moment. She is dearly missed beyond the telling, but loss is intertwined with much gratitude for those decades we shared.
Over those sacred years, our growing friendship inspired us to become far more thoughtful of one another. It became evident to us both that our marriage was a matter of giving oneself to the other in ways no other relationship would ever require … or allow.
- It meant giving oneself willingly, gladly for the benefit of the other, even when the other was unaware.
- It meant giving up habits whose only purpose was to protect and glorify one’s ego.
- It meant ridding oneself of the arsenal of defenses which buffered one from the truth about oneself.
- It meant giving up the plethora of petty impulses and selfish instincts which shrink the heart’s freedom to love and to be loved.
In short, we learned that trusting each other was essential, that mutual vulnerability with each other was crucial, that willingness to change for the benefit of our relationship was the foundation for all our married hopes and goals.
And we became friends, vulnerable and trusting, one with the other.
If you wish to read about true friendship as a soul-experience, here is a valuable reference: The essence of friendship — poet and philosopher John O'Donohue on the beautiful ancient Celtic notion of "soul-friend" (mailchi.mp)
Learning Requires Change
As years passed, we learned the difficult lessons which marriage holds out: that loving one another is best accomplished by giving, not taking; that a solid marriage involves levels of intimate trust which exist nowhere else; that our marriage would ask much of us both, but the rewards of loving and being loved would be more than we could hope.
We soon learned (as I have written elsewhere) that marital love is not the violin-tainted experience our culture simplistically portrays. The ephemeral glamour and sweeping avalanche of early emotions, the rhapsodic allure of physicality and promise of easy bliss, the gossamer images of romantic trysts, the sweet agony of parting ‘til the morrow, the passionate scenarios and a shared cinematic cigarette – all of these, we soon learned, were insufficient for the demanding long haul when it’s time to do the laundry and clean the bathroom and try ever so hard to get along with the in-laws; when, in other words, marriage and egos seek gracefully, if edgily, to meld.
We also recognized the spiritual dimension which existed within our lives together, informed by the Christian command to love even people we disliked. And, we realized that loving one’s spouse with fidelity in a Christian marriage involves restraining our selfish impulses and taming flippant egos, striving for mutual vulnerability and sometimes conquering the desire to hurt back.
This ideal was possible only through the bolstering grace of hope and the gritty process of trust-beyond-affection, for no one can love another person - authentically, deeply, for a lifetime - who does not first earn our trust.
This sounds idealistic, I realize. But in the real world, the Christian ideal does propose that sacrifice and mutual effort are daily renewed, with eyes open to opportunities for generosity of spirit.
Christian marriage builds on the belief that God grants each spouse a life-partner – a friend in the truest sense – who shares our struggle to be more than we could otherwise be. God gives us a spouse to share our task in ways which define the word “sharing.”
In this sense, the gift of freedom to choose goodness and self-giving in marriage is one of the most Christian experiences in life.
Such a marriage offers both spouses a hint of heaven and a path to goodness ... and countless moments of gratitude for the ready sharing of minds and hearts.
Slowly, we recognized that our mutual salvation was part of our life together, and that our redemption was every day at hand. Our marriage became our mutual search in which we discovered one another time after time, together in spirit and in prayer, in strife and in renewed friendship, always as two-yet-one in our striving for unity and kindness, sometimes in grumpy moods or painful moments, sometimes in laughter and wickedly private humor, but ever closer, in forgiving and sustaining ways.
Over those years, life’s meaning and purpose unfolded, as our egos became less rigid, less stiff-necked, less demanding … as we became humbled before one another --- and this, by choice.
Thus, we came to understand and rely on one another, to trust one another so that our “weaknesses” were loveable and we were safe together. Nancy and I persevered, knowing there was always more to give and more to learn. Our marriage was defined by our faith, enlightened by our hope, brightened by our love and our gratitude.
Finally . . .
It is clear to me that the way we live and the kind of person we become in this life are deeply personal choices which we all make for ourselves. These choices are best made with persons who share our faith and our values and our hopes and our ideals; true friends who challenge us by their goodness and their example.
Christian marriage is a most personal choice where, hopefully, kindred souls assure one another that their mutual struggle to love and to be loved nurtures that Divine part of their souls to which we are all heir.
The Book of Proverbs speaks of the Wife of Noble Character with these words:
A wife of noble character is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and, with her, he lacks nothing of value. She brings him good, not harm, all the days of her life. Her children arise and call her blessed as does her husband when praises her and says: “Many women do noble things but you surpass them all.”
One is indeed blessed to find in this life someone who possesses such graces and faith in God. I was indeed so blessed.