When a wannabe ‘superhero’ gets married

It’s easy to get excited when somebody talks about love as “self-gift.” We all want to give ourselves, holding nothing back for the one we love.
The desire to heroically lay down our lives for another is written into our very being. It’s why sports and romantic movies will always make billions of dollars. “Self-gift” is an idea we’re intrinsically drawn to, and even the most brilliant thinkers, like St. John Paul II, can’t say enough about it.
For the moment, let’s call this truth we’re made for “light.”
When I was engaged, as well as early on in marriage, I really think I could have exploded with excitement over the potential for self-gift that I was about to experience. I had, of course, dreamed of being a unique, unrepeatable superhero since I was young and had spent the past few years intensely studying the church’s teachings on love and marriage.
Now I had direction, a particular person for whom I could pour myself out in sacrifice, holding nothing back like the martyrs of old … or like Spiderman. It was like dreaming about playing for my favorite team, and now I was dressed out and the coach had called my name to get in the game. Clearly, I was going to make a game-winning catch in the end zone as time expired.
However, reality was much more like getting the wind knocked out of me and needing a water break after just a few plays, without much to show for it. Let’s call the reality we experience “life.”
I could never have expected just how much real sacrifice “laying my life down” was going to take. One major surprise was just how different my wife and I were. I realized that I kind of expected that our intense love for each other, combined with the grace of the sacrament, would give us mind-melding powers.
I was sorely mistaken. As a matter of fact, we felt more like strangers in another country where we don’t speak the language and we don’t know the culture. If you’ve ever been in a foreign country, you know that after just a few days, it wears on you big time. You feel exhausted, and you wish you could just spend a few minutes with someone who understands you. And, you often begin to resent the people, the language and the culture because it takes so much energy to operate within that context day in and day out. Marriage is very, very much like this at times.
Learning the “language” and “culture” of our spouses certainly helps, but it’s amazing how, despite all of our efforts and patience, we can never fully enter into what it means to be the other. It’s as if God made us male and female so we’d never really be able to understand each other.
Interestingly, it may help to remember that the meaning of the word “mystery,” particularly when used by the church, is different than we often think. Usually we hear the word “mystery” and assume it refers to something we can’t know, so we shouldn’t waste our time trying to figure it out. Instead, it actually refers to something we can dive into, surrendering everything, because we’ll never reach the bottom of the beauty, dignity and awesomeness of it.
Our spouses are truly a “mystery” in the latter sense, though we often put them in the category of “unknowable.” The “light” of this truth is dazzling! However, the possibility of “diving into” the mystery of our spouses isn’t always so attractive in the reality of “life.”
Despite my deep desire to go all out, the “other-ness” of my spouse and the fatigue of the journey get to me. In addition, the demands of life don’t stop, despite my efforts to ignore them. And, naturally, when I’m tired, I tend toward self-preservation and avoid anything that demands my energy.
If it were one thing at a time, one need at a time, I might be able to respond better. Unfortunately, I don’t have the capacity to love with God’s love, holding nothing back regardless of the circumstances, perfectly timed and perfectly fruitful.
When I’m faced with my own limitations, impatience, immaturity, laziness and raw selfishness, it can get quite discouraging. However, I’ve been given a promise, and I’m getting better at depending on it rather than beating myself up over my insufficiencies.
The promise is this: “I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. I will remove the heart of stone from your body and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you so that you walk in my statutes, observe my ordinances, and keep them” (Ez 36:26-27).
The truth is, I am not alone in my efforts to truly love my wife. God loves her more than I ever could, and he wants my love for her to reflect his even more than I do, so I can depend on his promise to help make that “light” truly become “life” for us!
David Dawson Jr. is director of the Archdiocese of New Orleans Family Life Apostolate. He can be reached at ddawson@arch-no.org.

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