Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that my husband and I entered upon our journey toward a sacramental union on a very dark day for us…a day when a small plastic stick told us that we, unwed, immature, spiritually adrift and incredibly self-centered, had made a human being.
Looking back, it’s sometimes hard for me to see that day as the bleak and terrifying one it was to us, then. So much grace was given to us with those two blue lines. A whole new future opened up before us, and we had only to set our feet upon the path.
Or did we? It wasn’t really the setting our feet upon the path that was the hard part, actually. It was hard, don’t get me wrong; but in those early days we were literally cocooned in prayers and compassion and help. We were surrounded on all sides by family, friends, priests and professors telling us that we could do it, that they had faith in us. And so we gathered together enough faith in ourselves to put one foot in front of the other, day after day.
But there were later days, days when our daughter was newly born and we were trying to figure out how to be a family, and what it meant to be a husband and a wife, when help seemed to give out. The novelty of our crisis had worn off. We were a married couple now, with a baby daughter, and it seemed to everyone, including us, that we had done the hard work of creating a new life for ourselves, and all that was left for us was to live it.
But it was the living it that was the hard part.
In Pre-Cena, we were told that marriage was hard work. But there was no practical application. How could there be? How could we know that one night, when I had shattered a wine glass against a wall in a fury, when the Ogre had tossed the car keys at me and said that I should leave if I was that miserable, when I had set my rings on the mantle and walked out the door, how could we have known what I would need to hear?
My mother knew. I called her and sobbed that I was coming home, and she said, “No, you’re not. You’re married. This isn’t your home anymore. Work it out.”
I had no place to go. It was right then, in that moment, when I realized that marriage was forever.
Our marriage has been a tempestuous one. That night repeated itself often, and I often found myself sitting in the car, keys in the ignition, head on the steering wheel, screaming to the heavens how unfair it was that this was my life, that I had no recourse, no way out. And then, minutes or maybe hours later I gave up and walked back through the door.
Sometimes I apologized. Sometimes the Ogre apologized. Sometimes neither of us apologized, but the next day our daughter would do something funny and we would laugh together, and all the fury would melt away.
The Ogre and I have talked about how we can understand the custom of arranged marriages, how we think that sometimes it even makes more sense than marrying for love. After all, if your marriage is arranged, you know you’ll have to learn to love the other person. You’ll know, right from the beginning, that marriage is work.
When you marry for love, that first fight can be confusing and terrifying. That moment when you look at your spouse and feel not love, not even like, but something akin to fury can yank the solid ground from beneath your feet and leave you reeling, wondering if you’ve made a mistake, wondering exactly how much wiggle room there is in that whole “till death do us part” thing.
But that’s where the sacramental part of marriage comes in. Those are the moments when you’ll find the most grace. Those are the moments when you dig deep and find a humility you didn’t know you had. You swallow your pride, take the keys out of the ignition, go inside and say, “I’m sorry.” Maybe even “I was wrong.” And always, always, “I love you.”
Because marriage and love do have to go together, but true, sacramental love is a learned behavior. It’s born out of the habit of dying to yourself, every single day, so that your marriage can live. It is the hardest thing you will ever do.
And yet, when the storm is over and you’re lying in the arms of your beloved, you’ll also find that it’s the easiest.