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The “In Sickness” Part of Marriage Really Sucks

By Dustin | Spirituality

In Sickness and In Health and MarriageIn Sickness and In Health.

If you’re married, there’s a good chance that you said these words (or something very similar) on your wedding day.  I know that I did, and I’ve grown to realize that this is one of the most important and most difficult commitments we make when we enter into the covenant of marriage.

I’ve witnessed the “in sickness” part of marriage numerous times in the past few years with terminally ill older family members.  Each time that I have shared in weeks of pain and suffering by those experiencing the “sickness,” I have been left in total admiration of those that remained at the bedside in a remarkable demonstration of support, perseverance and faith.

These experiences have literally changed me and my appreciation for marriage.

The Sickness Hits Even Closer to Home

Unfortunately, I’ve really been faced with this bitter-sweet reality lately.  Even though over 18 months have elapsed since his open heart surgery, my Dad has simply never recovered.  He’s a lot older than my Mom, and he’s led a very hard life. The past two weeks have seen a progressive weakening of his heart and his abilities.

My Mom signed up for this gig not once, but twice.  It’s a story for another day, but suffice it to say that she willingly committed her life to this man on two different occasions.  She made those vows to be there in bad times, for poorer and of course in sickness.  She’s experienced each for sure, but now it appears that the “Till Death Do Us Part” portion of her intentions may be come to pass sooner than any of us would like.

It Just Sucks

My Mom knew this was a likely reality when she married an older man.  My Dad had to realize that his heart would cause him trouble after years of abusing his body and neglecting his health.  Unfortunately, prolonged terminal illness is all too often part of life.  But it still sucks.

And it must be especially grueling when you are the primary caregiver to your ailing spouse, and you know that you are sharing your last days, weeks or months with the love of your life.  It’s times like this when life simply doesn’t seem fair, and we must rely on our faith to persevere.

Thank God for Marriage

As difficult as it is to witness these trying times, it really helps reinforce the importance of marriage as a true covenant (rather than a simple legal contract).  Our spouse is not only our dedicated partner through any difficulty, they are truly part of us and share in our suffering as part of a single flesh (the two shall become one).

Of course, I will never fully understand the role of suffering and pain in our lives, but with each new experience I am better able to understand the importance and sacredness of marriage.  The holiness required to serve our spouse selflessly in the face of such difficulty is truly inspiring.

I know the pain of sharing the end of our spouse’s life must be excruciating.  But wouldn’t it be worse to never love anyone enough to feel deep pain when they are gone?

I have witnessed the pain that can accompany the commitment of marriage.  And I am more thankful than ever for the privilege to be married to my wife and share such a powerful covenant with God.

Photo by DerrickT

Are You a Marriage Builder?

By Dustin | Spirituality

Marriage BuilderEditor’s Note: This is a guest post from Lori Lowe at Life Gems.  I am excited to bring it to you, as this is a subject that is near and dear to the hearts of my wife and I.

The Association of Marriage and Family Ministries (AMFM) serves churches of all denominations across the country by training, equipping and encouraging church leaders to build and repair marriages and families. I spoke with co-founder Eric Garcia recently, and he provided strong insights into how and why faithful people can be supporting and building marriages.

“We believe at the heartbeat of the transformation of faith is the marriage and family,” says Garcia. “If we are going to be successful in bringing people to Christ, we better be able to keep our own homes intact. How can you proclaim an eternal message of faith, but yet that faith is not strong enough to keep you connected in your own home? We can’t expect kids to want to marry today without modeling successful families.”

Garcia says the Church should influence the culture, and not the other way around, which is so prevalent today.

How Do We Influence the Culture?

“Every family should be a marriage-building family,” he says. “Parents and married couples need to impart those relationship skills into their kids. Model and teach them at home. If that happens, every church can be a marriage-building church. Every community can be a marriage-building community.”

How are you building marriage in your own home and community? What are you teaching your kids about Christian marriage? How are you modeling successful relationship skills? Are you seeking to learn and to improve? Are you modeling the priority of your relationship with God, then marriage, then family?

Why are Christians shy to talk about marriage and their biblical view of marriage in their own homes and in their own communities?

How Great is the Need?

Garcia says if faithful people don’t share their values, then the culture provides the predominant influence on our children and neighbors.

With 90 percent of Americans choosing to marry at some point, the relational needs of church communities are “off the charts,” says Garcia. Read How Should Churches Support Marriages & Families? to find out how AMFM serves churches across the country, including the Catholic Church, African-American and Hispanic churches, and evangelical and Protestant Christian churches of every denomination.

Garcia says improving marriage skills, such as communication, can be important. After all, he cites conflicts about money, sexual intimacy and communication are the top reasons for divorce. However, he says, “Without a heart change, the skills have no stickability.” What creates that long-term heart change, he says, is a relationship with Christ.

“Marriage and family is the backbone of the local church, and if we help people get relationships right, we will see the church grow,” says Garcia.

AMFM provides online ministries as well as physical ministries in cities around the country. Technology has enabled the organization to reach a key demographic of those married less than eight years. Garcia says a whopping 75% of just-marrieds leave the church until they are expecting their first child. Therefore, more needs to be done to reach out and support these couples in their early years of marriage.

Many churches and faithful people are doing a better job of helping couples prepare for marriage, but are we encouraging couples once they are married, or are we keeping a safe distance and never discussing anything too personal?

Generation X grew up during a doubling of the divorce rate, which means many of us lack role models for positive marriage who were once common in families. Seek out positive role models within your church or community, and consider mentoring or encouraging other couples, particularly as you gain experience and wisdom.

What Are Your Thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

Do you feel like your marriage is supported by society and, in particular, your own institutions of faith?

What could churches do better to address this great need?

What are YOU doing to be a marriage-building family?

Photo by Bill Ward’s Brickpile

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Lori Lowe provides marriage tips and research at LifeGems4Marriage.com.  She is writing a narrative non-fiction book profiling couples who have improved their marriages through adversity.  She lives in Indianapolis with her husband and two children.

Don’t Take the Little Things in Life for Granted

By Dustin | Spirituality

The Simple ThingsDo you ever take the time to reflect on all of the blessings in your life?

I think many of us would say that we probably do, at least from time-to-time.  Whenever I think about my own blessings and even take the opportunity to thank God for them through prayer, my focus is pretty predictable.

I have been blessed with a strong faith, an incredible wife, great kids, good health, a productive career, close friends and a fulfilling ministry of sorts here at Engaged Marriage.

These are all very important and valuable blessings, and I certainly have much to be thankful for.  However, only recently did I realize that the items on this list have something in common: it’s the Big Stuff of life.

What About the Little Things?

I have often observed that kids really enjoy and appreciate the little things in life.  After his nightly prayers, my son will often add-on something he wants to thank God for giving him.  A few evenings back he said, “And thank you for Daddy hitting me in the head with a stuffed animal when I was hiding under my covers.”  He has actually thanked God for that moment numerous times since then.  He hasn’t lost his appreciation of the little things.

This idea really hit home during a recent homily at Church.  Our priest (a huge Colts fan) was telling us that his sad week following the Super Bowl was turned around by an incredible blessing that made it one of his favorite weeks in recent memory.  Wow, I thought, this is going to be big news!

He went on to share that he had recently been invited to dinner at a parishioner’s home, but the real magic came after the meal.  When the family’s young daughter was getting ready for bed, she had approached him and asked if he would read her a bedtime story.  And he did.

And THIS was the huge blessing that had turned his week around!  He explained that this was first time in his 41 years of life that he had been asked to read a bedtime story.  It was obvious that this meant a great deal to him, and he thought it was just so cool that he had been given the opportunity to share a book with that little girl.

His homily went on to talk about some deeper issues related to the beatitudes and our choices to feel woe vs. blessings when we encounter things in our lives.  However, I had taken away the message I needed to hear with that simple introductory story.

Think of All We Take for Granted

The story shared by the priest could have just as easily come from an infertile couple or a mother who had lost their child.  Or even an empty-nest couple reflecting on how much they miss having their children at home.

I have the opportunity to read to my own kids most nights before they go to bed.  I don’t give it a second thought.  In fact, I sometimes get annoyed when they want an extra story and I think of all I need to do after we get them to bed.  Talk about taking them and their youth for granted!

When it’s put in this context, I can think of so many “little things” that I take for granted every day.  In my marriage alone, there are  many daily “minor” moments that I would miss deeply if they were taken from me, yet I have become complacent in my appreciation for them:

  • Kissing my wife when we head to work each morning
  • Saying and hearing “I love you” at the end of our phone conversations
  • An email from her wishing me good luck before a big meeting
  • Little “brush by” touches when we squeeze by each other in our small kitchen
  • Exchanging a smile when one of the kids does something sweet
  • Snuggling up in bed on a cold evening

And of course this list could go on and on.  It’s truly the little things that make our relationships and our lives so special!

So, what “little things” do you take for granted every day?  Have you had any experiences that raised your appreciation of these moments?

Photo by meddygarnet

How Marriage Helped Make Me a Christian

By Dustin | Spirituality

Marriage and Christianity

It has been a very busy and fulfilling last few weeks for my wife Bethany and I.  After many late nights of preparation, we were blessed with the opportunity to be a presenting couple at a marriage retreat last weekend.  As we presented our material and discussed it with some of the couples making the retreat, I realized that some of our words should be shared here at Engaged Marriage as well.

I chose this retreat topic as the first of several that I’ll share here because it gives some insight into why I care so darn much about marriage.  In a very real way, it was the love I witnessed in Marriage that fueled my call to become a Christian and join the Catholic Church in my college years.

And now, as I look back, it is clear that this was the start of a powerful call that God has put on my life to help others achieve something very special in their own relationships.

Not Such a Fan of Marriage in My Early Years

I am truly grateful for the positive impact that the Church has had on my life and our marriage.  And this is really saying something coming from me and my past.  To say that I was not raised with any religious background would be quite an understatement!

During my childhood, it’s fair to say that I did not have a healthy model for marriage or relationships in general.  I witnessed a great deal of brokenness and abuse in an environment that lacked any sense of respect and peace.  I spent my younger years wondering why my Mom would stay with such an abusive bastard as my Dad.

In a way, I think I resented marriage because it seemed to leave her beholden to his abuse.  They eventually divorced and remarried under much different circumstances, but that’s a story for another day. 🙂

Finding Christ Through My In-Laws?

I was so blessed to have witnessed the power of the Sacrament of Marriage through the example of Bethany’s parents.  When Bethany and I started dating back in high school, I was warmly welcomed into her home, and I could immediately feel the impact of her parent’s strong, God-centered marriage in their household.  Peace, Hope, Love and Joy were evident in their relationship, and their sacramental love was the lifeblood of their family.

From my background, this was particularly profound and life changing.  In hindsight, I can see that their example helped bring me to the Church and follow the call to Jesus in my own life.  It was their positive interactions and family life that helped me form my new-found respect for the positive impact that Christianity could have in our world.  Their marriage was a powerful symbol of Christ’s love to me, even if I didn’t understand it fully at that time.

I Follow the Call

As we continued dating, it was Bethany who first introduced me to the Catholic Church in high school.  In our college years, and before we were married, Bethany was my sponsor in RCIA, which is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults through which adults enter the Church through a long process of study and preparation.  At the end of that process, she shared Holy Saturday with me when I was baptized, confirmed and received the Holy Eucharist for the first time.

We later confirmed our vocation and got married in the Church.  In the past several years, we’ve raised our children there and shared in the Sacrament of Baptism with each of them.

Through our involvement with the Church, the Holy Spirit has blessed and enhanced our own marriage in ways we that couldn’t have understood or imagined only a few years ago.  The Church is a steady reminder of Christ’s example, and being part of the Church community makes us aware that others look to us to reveal and make manifest Christ’s love.   This realization has made us less selfish and more forgiving to each other and all of those in our lives.

Bringing the Good News to Others

Our work with the Church in recent years has greatly deepened the meaning and passion that we share in our marriage. For the past four years, Bethany and I have been presenters in the Pre-Cana program helping engaged couples prepare for marriage.  When we take the time to prepare our talks, we are inevitably reminded of our own vows and the very real role that Jesus plays in our lives.  And the opportunity to spend a day hearing other married couples give their witness to the enthusiastic young couples in attendance is renewing and energizing to our own marriage.

And as we share our story with those making a marriage retreat in an effort to take their relationship from “good to great”, we know that God is sending His spirit to help us be a sign of His love.  It seems the more we help others better understand and enjoy the Sacrament of Matrimony, the more we appreciate its impact on our own lives.

To give truly is to receive.

Photo by Gnist’d

You Need Alone Time: Jesus Said So!

By Dustin | Spirituality

You Need Alone Time: Jesus Said So!

Attention to the secular and/or non-Christians among us: This post starts with some Jesus-stuff and even quotes the Bible.  However, the message goes beyond that, so I encourage you to stick with us on this one.

I had the pleasure of attending a Church Mission night last week, and it was truly inspiring in many ways.  A particular highlight was the reading of the Gospel and our priest’s personal take on its meaning in his life.

It turns out that Jesus not only gave us examples of how to be a united community and to love our families.  He also showed us why we all need some alone time to truly serve our spouses, our children and our community in the best way possible.

And when he had taken leave of them, he went off to the mountain to pray.

When it was evening, the boat was far out on the sea and he was alone on shore.

Then he saw that they were tossed about while rowing, for the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them walking on the sea.

Mark 6:46-48 NAB

If you know much about the Bible, you’ve probably heard of the two miracles that happen just before and within this passage.  Jesus is resting alone on the mountain after He fed around 5,000 people with fives loaves of bread and two fish.  And as the last line mentions, He shows off His walking on water trick to His disciples after He sees them struggling in a storm out in the sea.  It was a big day for Jesus!

Be Alone & Change Your Focus

I have heard this reading several times in the past, but I never really paid any attention to what Jesus was doing in between His two miracles that day.  It turns out that He told His disciples to go out to sea for a while, and He spent time alone resting and praying up on a nearby mountain.  It was only after He got this “me time” that He came down to the shoreline and returned His focus to the disciples.

Our priest did a wonderful job of putting this Gospel into a context that I could really relate to.  He talked about the reasons he has become an avid hiker and spends much of his time away from the Church taking hikes.  He expressed the refreshment and sense of peace he feels when he completes a solo hike.  He said he prays throughout the day, but his favorite time for prayer is atop a mountaintop (or a large hill as we have here in southern Illinois).

But here is the real power behind this Gospel: his alone time changes his focus.  When he doesn’t get any alone time to hike and relax, he can feel overwhelmed and become self-centered with thoughts of all that he sacrifices dominating his mind.  However, after a good hike, he returns to our parish with a renewed enthusiasm and a keen focus on those that he serves.

Go Climb a Mountain, Sit in a Tree or Walk Around the Block

I can totally relate to this.  We all need some time to “recharge” our minds and bodies.  More than that, we need time to refocus through prayer, meditation or simply relaxation.  With the busyness of life, I need time to hear my own thoughts, sit for ideas and allow God to remind me of my true priorities.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity so spend some quiet time in reflection during my favorite time of the year over the holidays.  I entered the New Year with a renewed enthusiasm for all areas of my life as well as a commitment to improve my actions to better reflect my priorities.  You may have noticed the contemplative nature of some of the posts around this time, such as “Do You Practice What You Preach?

I recognize now that I really need this alone time in smaller, more frequent doses.  Right now, I get it through morning workouts and late-night writings here at Engaged Marriage.  In the spring and summer, I will be recharged while cycling our area bike trails and the fall will bring another season of bowhunting. Occasionally, my family will join me, but for the most part these will be solo pursuits.

These are not selfish activities.  In fact, they are vitally important for the well-being of my marriage and my family.  I think Jesus would totally agree.

I’d love to hear from you on this topic.  What do you do to refocus on your true priorities in life?

Photo by peasap