Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
~ GK Chesterton

Monday, August 10, 2015

Marriage and Self-Sacrifice

There's a link that was showing up in my travels around the Internet at the end of July.  Tolkien Speaks: The Secret to a Happy Marriage.  I read it and bookmarked it, intending to share it on this blog, on the date of my anniversary.  But that happy event was last week; obviously, I didn't get to the blog in time.

The article speaks to men, as it was shared on "The Catholic Gentlemen" website.  But the subject of "self-sacrifice" applies equally to husband and wife.

And very fitting for my marriage!  The theme of the homily at our wedding was "dying to self."  Father spoke about the Cross; he shared how marriage is meant to be continual "dying to self" for the other.  I thought I knew what it meant at the time, but I didn't fully comprehend death to self.  In my inexperience, I thought it was akin to "compromise."  As I took my vows that day (21 years ago), I knew there would be times in my marriage where I'd have to give in on something important to me, out of love for my husband.

Funny thing.  Marriage demands more than just "giving in" on movie or menu choices.  It demands more than "giving in" on where to take a vacation or how the walls should be painted.  "Dying to self" is more than give-and-take; it can mean giving more than you feel capable of giving, when the both of you are at the end of your tether.  For me, one way of "dying to self" has meant learning to conquer the need to be right all the time.  I'm still working on that. Ask my husband!

The amazing thing? Learning "dying to self" in the context of marriage has spilled over into every other facet of life.  I hope it has made me a better wife over the years, but I know it has made me a more patient mother, as time goes on.  My friendships are better because I don't take offense easily, as I did when I was younger.  I think I'm a more pleasant customer to deal with when things go wrong in the retail world.  Finally, dying to the need to be right all the time has helped heal wounds that I'd been licking from childhood on.

It sounds funny, but from the very beginning of our relationship, I would say that my husband and I were perfect for each other and we deserved each other.  If I could write a sappy love poem, I would concentrate on the compatible parts, showing that we rode off into the sunset together, to live happily ever after.  Interestingly enough, though, certain aspects of our alikeness have caused the most conflict.  (I don't want to tell his story here, only mine.  But, here's a hint: we both like to be right.)  Yes, we were made for each other . . . but not just for the more pleasant parts of our personalities.

All this makes me see God's hand in our lives together.  Because the ultimate goal of "dying to self" isn't just so I'll be a better person for my husband.  Rather, it's so that I will live a life of not myself, but Christ living in me.  (Galatians 2:20)  During the hard times, when I'm called to a very radical self-denial, it helps to remember that there is something larger at work: whatever I've done for my husband, I've done for God.  (Matthew 25: 40)

The article ends with a message for husbands:
Men, if you want a faithful and happy marriage, you must die to yourself. You must put your wife first. You must love her through sacrifice and self-denial—the same way Christ loved his bride, the Church. This is the simple secret so many miss.

Indeed!  Would that all men approach marriage in that spirit.  But, women, too: we must love our husbands though sacrifice and self-denial, as Christ did the Church.

I love this sweet photo! (Shamelessly borrowed from the linked article.)

One more note: In the various places I've seen this article shared, I have seen comments about selfish spouses, abusive spouses, etc.  None of what I say about self-denial and self-sacrifice applies to an unhealthy relationship.  I would hope that would go without saying, but I am saying it anyway.  My concept of self-denial and dying to self is to be understood in the context of what Jesus did for the Church and for all of us.  When I write of "giving more that you thought possible" or "being at the end of my tether," I am talking about spiritual things.  For Carmelites out there: think St. John of the Cross and self-denial -- someone ought to right a book for spouses using the writings of St. John of the Cross!

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