My mind will not work well enough to allow me to calculate when I was first introduced to Julian of Norwich. The only thing I can work out is that it was not nearly as long ago as it feels that I finally read the Showings fully one January.
I absorbed as completely as I ever absorb anything that All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
But somehow on a personal level there remains a difference between knowing with confidence that I am well, and that I will certainly be well, and that my world will be well, and knowing that anything in particular is okay.
This May, Josh and I went on a marriage retreat. We had intended to go ever since we went to a similar one while engaged. But somehow we either could not afford it, or could not get the time to go.
Then I was injured and could not run the marathon for which I had been training since January. So we signed up for the weekend we were told was for “improving good marriages.”
Within the first hours of the retreat we realized that other people have very different definitions of “good.” There were perhaps two other young couples there. We overheard an older couple talk to one of the other young couples asking them how long they had been married. When the answer was a year, the older woman laughed and told them that they should come back after they had been married for seven years and had real issues.
Josh is balding, and I dress like a middle-aged woman, so we were spared the direct questioning of our presence, but it was clear that even the presenting couples generally expected that the first few years of marriage would be happy, then things would fall apart, then there was the chance for this retreat to keep couples from divorce.
I am still a bit baffled by the assumption that the first years of marriage will always be easy. Am I the only one who knows couples who have managed to divorce after only a year or two?
It was clear that this retreat was designed for couples who either skimped on marriage prep (which is something like 99.8% of couples, I’d guess) or else had been married long enough to completely forget who the other person was.
Yet we went through the weekend. I don’t think that it occurred to either of us to leave. We listened attentively to the presenting couples’ stories. Despite being equally tired, we managed to dutifully work through each issue with greater attention than we had five years ago for our incredibly beneficial engagement retreat.
It was emotionally draining without being particularly helpful for our relationship.
On Sunday morning I thought about the marathon I was missing. I was thankful that my cycle had aligned to make it so that I could not have run even if I had been uninjured, otherwise I might have been just a tad bitter.
I took more painkiller before breakfast and mused that this must be what it is like for normal women who have painful periods. Sure, it hurts, it slows you down, but you can totally live through it. I’ll take it.
And then it was time to take an hour and write Josh a long letter about life and death and love.
I thanked God that it was my chance to be in the room to write (as opposed to staying in the meeting room with the other women) because it meant that I could use the restroom, take painkiller, and sit scrunched up in the chair with my thighs pressing the heating pad into my pelvis.
So tired. Maybe just a little numb. But perhaps too tired to remember what does or does not count as numb.
It did not matter what I did not feel. I wrote.
I know how to make myself write, as long as it does not matter what I say. When Josh and I were dating and I was upset I bought a journal and wrote out everything I could think in the form of a very long letter to Josh. I know how to fill pages.
And so I wrote until I got to the point where I realized that I had never planned for this. We had never planned for the possibility that this could be our entire life. We never planned for me never getting better.
Of course we considered infertility before we got married, but we never considered not having children at all. We never talked about what would happen if I got worse instead of better.
We thought that it was just a matter of time before we would have the resources to have a solution. I would have surgery with an endometriosis specialist. I would try NaPro. We would take life one step at a time, and it would be fine.
It did not occur to us that I was already fighting far too hard to maintain a half-normal level of activity, and that this would eventually cause me to break more completely.
We did not plan for a reality in which I could do only one thing at a time–poorly.
We did not plan for a life where Josh was so worn out from supporting me that he would not be able to write.
We did not plan to spend our entire lives just getting through the days. We did not plan to spend our lives doing nothing that we consider to be valuable.
And somehow it took almost four years of marriage for me to realize that this may indeed be our entire marriage–our entire life. Could that be okay?
I cried for the first time in a long time because I was so tired, and I had somehow never thought of this obvious question.
But I did not struggle with it, or with the answer.
I don’t really need to have a life. I’m not sure why Josh and I are married, but we are, and that is far more than I need. Somehow, I am not deprived.
Josh and I discerned the hell out of marriage.
And marriage is what we have.
We did not get married for the purpose of having sex. We did not get married for the purpose of having children. We did not get married for the purpose of giving some great gift to the world.
We got married because we had a personal call to love each other in a particular way.
It is not for us to decide whether this happens to involve loving each other through the stresses of over-abundance, or the desolation of emptiness. Either way, we are married. That is what we decided. That is what we planned for.
Whatever happens–even the most mundane of daily dreary suffering–is okay.
Some days have been very bad. Some days I have had to talk myself into believing that what I needed was merely what I wanted. But most days are, at their very essence, good.
And so I finished the letter knowing that I could be okay, we could be okay.
- Falling in Love on All Hallows’ Eve
- Tell the Truth. Especially to Yourself.
Painful, poignant, beautiful.
I spent almost 3 hours today giving 2 different presentations about self-sacrificing love. I could have just hit “print” and shared this.
Someday, you and Josh will be the old couple walking down the street holding hands that gives all of the young couples hope. I just know it. I know it because I know your road is not easy and may never be easy, but you give me hope. Hope for the world; hope for marriage.
PS I think a marriage retreat for good marriages would involve only amazing food, adoration, confession, mass, and nothing but lots of free time with comfy chairs, cozy blankets and delicious snacks. And maybe some wine.
This was beautiful.
I wish there were more outlets for young married couples to come together to celebrate and work on their marriages. We shouldn’t have to be near divorce to do that.
This reminded me of a thing we did at work. We did a vocations panel for young people to ask questions. And the married guy said he had a vocation to love his wife, and it wasn’t about having children. Mostly when young people say they don’t want to pursue a religious life, its because they want to have children, but being married doesn’t always result in children. And the Bishop followed that up saying that wanting children is a normal part of being human and he probably wouldn’t want a young man with no desire to have children to enter the priesthood. He says he filled the desire of wanting children by nurturing the people in his parish.
I love this entry because of the way it highlights the way marriage is truly meant to be.
Reading through this, I thought now that is marriage. Being in it together, though it is not what you planned or what you thought would be best. Thank you for sharing this!
This was really moving. You and Josh are an example of love and it really inspires me.
This is so beautiful. I’ll risk saying something trite like God bless you for your witness.
So profound, to look at what is hard and accept that it may not be passing and choose to live out together. Thank you for sharing this!
This is such an honest reminder of what is essential to mediate and what is an optional consequence of marriage. It doesn’t mean its not painful, but when it all boils down…those things don’t make a marriage. Your pain was palpable in this post. But it will be OKAY.
And you are so right about young marriages falling early on. I’ve heard turfiest year of marriage called the “wet cement” year, so perhaps its even more important to get intervention. And isn’t it great when people think they’ve suffered more than you based on a number? I think different people “dive in” differently. You guys seemed to have dove all in, s I hope
Dove all in. Period. Sorry messed up the end of that.
What a spot-on post. I agree with Rebecca- this is the definition of self-sacrificing love. This is such a raw and authentic post. Thank you for sharing. God bless.
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Thanks for sharing your retreat thoughts. As always, you give some of the best examples of what marriage really means. The last bit about why you got married is my favorite.