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Category Archives for "Spirituality"

Believe

By Dustin | Spirituality

As I reflect back on the past week, I realize just how lucky we are to be able to celebrate Christmas with our three kids at the ages of one, four and almost seven years old.

I don’t know how many more years we’ll have while they still believe in the magic of Santa Claus, our Elf on the Shelf and that clever NORAD tracking system on Christmas Eve night.  We are certainly enjoying it while it lasts.

I know that their belief in these things will eventually get spoiled by someone at school, something on television – some message that they’ll pick up from a common interaction with our society.  It’s inevitable, but it’s also okay.

This got me to thinking about all of the counter-cultural beliefs I hold dear, and how Bethany and I will have to do everything we can (starting now) to help our children continue to believe in what matters – even as they are bombarded with messages that will tell them otherwise:

  • I believe in God and his son Jesus.
  • I believe in Marriage.
  • I believe in Family.
  • I believe in Life.
  • I believe in Personal Responsibility.

What do you continue to believe in, even when the world tells you you’re wrong?

 

 

Love is Sacrificial

By Dustin | Spirituality

This guest post is written by my friend Lori D. Lowe, marriage blogger at MarriageGems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, out Dec. 8, 2011.

After interviewing happily married couples across the U.S. who have overcome adversity and been strengthened by it, one of the twelve overarching lessons that emerged from the stories is that love is sacrificial, and that we need to create a virtuous cycle of giving.

This shouldn’t be a big surprise to the many Catholic and other Christian readers at Engaged Marriage who try to model their lives after Christ’s. After all, He never promised an easy road, and he modeled a life of sacrifice until the end.

Despite this spiritual understanding, most of us enter married life with a completely different view of what marriage will entail. We are in love with our sweethearts and envision a carefree life full of happiness and satisfaction and empty of pain, frustration or difficulties.

The reality is that marriage taught most of us (me, at least) how to grow up and learn to live in harmony with another human being who depends on us.

One of the couples I feature in the book is a couple married 50 years. They explained the way they live out the concept of the Paradox of Giving. The more they give—both inside and outside the marriage—the more their cups are filled in return.

Both became more focused on pleasing their partner as their marriage went on. That didn’t mean they never had disputes, but they genuinely focus daily on things that will please their spouse. And more globally, they look out for each other and make sure their partner is feeling fulfilled and successful in their life’s roles.

Sometimes that means they give in on something they wanted. Sometimes it means they sacrifice their own time or interests. However, instead of feeling put out or inconvenienced, they say after decades of this behavior, they feel more rewarded, more fulfilled than they ever hoped. They share a strong faith life and support each other spiritually as well.

Financially, giving for them has meant both tithing and charitable giving. They made a conscious decision not to accumulate too much, and not to increase their lifestyle each time their incomes increased.

They participated with their children in mission trips, providing medical and educational services as well as other forms of support. When they give time or money outside their family and community, again they feel more rewarded. Because of the relatively simple life they chose, they have no financial conflict, which we know negatively affects a large number of marriages.

In today’s world, we often view “freedom” and “happiness” as the most important ideals. Sacrifice is certainly not something our society celebrates, except perhaps in thanking the military for their sacrifice. Making a sacrifice doesn’t mean we will be unhappy, though, as we are often rewarded for working hard.

Shifting focus in our marriage from ensuring our own happiness to being sacrificial about seeking our spouse’s happiness is a major adjustment. In marriages where two people are committed to one another, giving in a sacrificial way creates a virtuous cycle of giving. You give, and your spouse appreciates you and in time gives a bit back, which makes you feel fulfilled and rewarded, so you give a bit more, and on it goes.

Instead of keeping score, focus on keeping the cycle going. Be willing to go first, and don’t act because you are hoping to get something in return. Just love.

The interesting thing I’ve learned is that couples who love sacrificially often end up the happiest  decades down the line, while those who are focused on personal happiness end up leaving because all their needs are not always met.

One of the other lessons in the book is that adversity is not a killer—it can be a strengthener. This was true for many of the featured couples who experienced adversity in the form of losing a child, stranger rape, addiction, financial crises, brain injury, cancer, raising special-needs children, and much more. Their stories and their lessons can teach us that happiness isn’t dependent upon ideal circumstances, and that marriage can thrive even amidst difficulty.

Do you find it hard to give in? (I do.) Is it difficult to focus on someone else’s needs and fulfillment, or do you and your spouse feel you do this naturally? Does the word “sacrifice” have a negative connotation in your mind? Can sacrificial loving be positive?

Lori Lowe is a journalist, GenXer and marriage researcher. She has been married to her college sweetheart since 1995. They have two children together, one crazy cat, and two aquatic frogs. Lori is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It will be available Dec. 8.

For details or to connect with Lori, go to www.LoriDLowe.com. You can also connect on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss. Read Lori’s most popular blog post at We all Married the Wrong Person.

Hope

By Dustin | Spirituality

“How many of you remember spiritually adopting a baby last October?”

Our Mass had ended, it was hot and our kids were crabby, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to another talk after a long evening in church.

However, when the director of our parish Life Teen program asked this question of the small group of teenagers gathered in the front pews, it got my attention.

And it really impressed me to see so many enthusiastic hands go up from a group that would usually be stereotyped as completely apathetic.

This was a story worth tuning in for, and I think you’ll agree that it’s a God-given thing of absolute beauty.  So, I’m sharing it with you with the hopes that it will touch you the way it has impacted me.

The Story of Hope

In October of last year, the teenagers in the Life Teen program at our church decided to spiritually adopt a baby.  In effect, they would pray faithfully that a young woman who was recently or about to become pregnant would choose life for her baby.

Naturally, they had no way of knowing if there would be any fruit from their prayers and discussions.  And so the “adoption” continued on faith alone through the winter.

In February, the Life Teen group decided to spend an afternoon outside of a local abortion clinic.  This clinic is (grossly) called the Hope Clinic, and according to their website they’ve proudly performed over 100,000 abortions since opening their doors in 1974.

On this afternoon, the Life Teen director had a talk with a young woman who was planning to enter the clinic.  She encouraged her to simply keep her mind and heart open, and the young lady agreed to have an ultrasound to “see” the baby she was carrying in her womb.

As an active member of the Knights of Columbus, I’m proud to say that our local council helps to fund the portable ultrasound machine that is made available as often as possible outside of the Hope Clinic.  The ultrasound van was there that day, and after viewing the image of her baby and hearing the heart beating, the young lady decided to postpone her decision for another day.

The Life Teen group remained in contact with her as her pregnancy progressed and offered their assistance and their continued prayers.

Only a few days before our Mass, and approximately 9 1/2 months after their spiritual adoption, a baby girl was born by the name of Legacie Hope.  The Life Teen director held up her photo for all to see, and our congregation cheered.

It was truly remarkable to see the power of prayer, getting involved and standing up for life in a culture where it is all too often dismissed.  It touched my heart to see a small group of teenagers who had literally changed the world through their faith in action and made Hope a name to be proud of once again in our community.

God is good, and He works best when we are willing to give our assistance.  Can you save a life?

Family Economics 101 – How Broken Families Are Killing Our Economy

By Dustin | Spirituality

Note: This guest editorial by Rob Marco really resonated with me.  Whether you agree or disagree, let’s chat about it in the comments.

Broken FamilyWith all the talks about our debt ceiling, government spending, and the floundering economy, the fiscal state of our nation is on everyone’s mind.

How did things get so messed up?

Well, aside from the sub-prime mortgage debacle, I think there is another issue that is undermining our financial well-being as Americans: the breakdown of the traditional family.

Less than half of children in America today live in in-tact families – that is, with parents in their first marriage. And yet research has proven that financial well-being is vastly improved when people stay married.

According to Patrick Fagan of The Heritage Foundation, divorced households typically see a forty percent drop in income – larger than the drop in income the national economy experienced during the Great Depression. For single parent households, the median income is even less. 92 percent of children on welfare today come from broken homes.

Is it possible our financial instability as a nation is due, in some part, to the breakdown of the traditional family?

What blows my mind is that this breakdown in the American family is a relatively recent occurrence, when you compare it to the whole of history. Up until the 1960’s, two parent households were the norm, the idea of marriage being between a man and a woman was common sense, and the idea that sex inevitably led to babies and should be confined to married partners was understood. What changed?

I have gained a lot of insight reading folks like Steven Greydanus and Jennifer Fulwiler at the National Catholic Register write about marriage as the Church sees it, and how the introduction and embrace of artificial contraception was the beginning of the end for our culture.

I’m not going to rattle off more statistics, but after the use of artificial contraception became commonplace, we saw a marked increase in promiscuity and teen pregnancy, as well as abortions and children being born out of wedlock. No fault divorce seemed to come about around the same time. None of it was taboo or discouraged anymore.

At first, I thought these were all right-wing “issues” that I wanted nothing to do with. I always considered myself a left-of-center moderate in my religious beliefs, and was generally apolitical. I considered people who spoke about these things to be up on their high horse.

But now that I’m married and will be, God willing, a father this Fall, I think more about the world my child will grow up in, and I don’t like the direction we’re going.

What can be done? Should I be more politically active, vote for family-friendly politicians? Is it simply a matter of witnessing with my own family? I don’t think there are any easy answers, but until we start re-investing in strong, healthy families, we will surely see our poverty increase.

(photo source)

Catholic Leaders Are Proactively Supporting Marriage, Are You?

By Dustin | Spirituality

This is a guest post from Lori Lowe at Life Gems.  I hope you find it as encouraging as I did in the battle for stronger marriages. It’s up to us to support and defend the institution of marriage.

“What have you done for your marriage today?”

That’s the question posed by Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory on downtown Atlanta billboards. In fact, the question is a key message of the U.S. Catholic Bishop’s National Pastoral Initiative for Marriage.

TV, radio and billboard ads are broadcasting PSAs from the Catholic Church, and a web site offers ideas and tips for strong marriages. The media push is part of a larger public service campaign—aimed not just at Catholics but at the larger community—to encourage couples to remember the little things—the everyday expressions of affection, respect and love.

Archbishop Gregory was recently featured on his local news advocating for “healthy, loving, giving, life-giving marriages” and offering support for couples undergoing rocky times. It is encouraging to see the Church stand up publicly for strong marriages.

We as lay people also have important roles in promoting lifelong sacramental marriages. After all, when our Church families are fractured (and almost half of them are), our Church is fractured. If our children don’t experience successful marriages and families, why would they choose that path?

Here are some ways you can be a marriage-builder right where you are—in your home, church and community:

  • Model a genuinely loving marriage and family to those around you. Generation X grew up during a doubling of the divorce rate. Many in that generation and younger have not had many positive marriage role models.
  • Work to improve your marriage skills. Marriages, just like cars, need regular maintenance. The site www.foryourmarriage.org offers tips on managing finances, careers, prayer and more (sponsored by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops).
  • Help teach children and adolescents about the value of marital sex and lifelong marriage. Explain why this is God’s plan and how it leads to joy.
  • Be a positive voice for marriage in our culture.
  • Pray for marriages and for families in jeopardy, and offer support to those you know.
  • Provide support and mentoring for young married couples, three-fourths of whom leave the Church until they are expecting their first child.
  • Set aside prayer time with your spouse. Praying as a couple has been shown in research to improve relationships.
  • Be aware of resources to help local marriage ministries, such as the Association of Marriage and Family Ministries.

So, what will you do to help build marriages within your sphere of influence?

________________________________

Lori Lowe is an author and marriage advocate who writes research-based marriage tips at www.lifegems4marriage.com. She and her husband, Ming, and their two children live in Indianapolis.