Father Mark, Reflections

For better or worse? I didn’t know it could be so difficult!

Subtitle:  Marriage under COVID

Listening around town (from a distance), I’ve heard a few things here and there about how frustrating (for lack of a better word) it’s getting for families—marriages in particular during the COVID lock-down.  I have felt some challenges, sometimes feeling like I am living in an invisible bubble that restricts my freedom from the life I would prefer to live.   Being unable to celebrate the Eucharist for our congregation has been agonizing for me, especially on Sundays as Communion has always been a part of my “(Christ’s) life blood” since I was 12.  Many have shared the same pain with me.

Gibran’s words return to my memory from long ago (allow me to pick out a few phrases): Let there be spaces in your togetherness….  Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone….  Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.  For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.  And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart.

Here’s to the clay feet that each of us possess but rarely show.  I will show you mine, hoping to offer some installation of hope and cohesiveness, two of Yalom’s curative factors of a healthy community.

Kathy (my wife) and I are both introverts albeit she is more so.  She requires lots of personal space as I do but she seems to need much more especially since we’ve been locked up in a nice home that feels sometimes like the narrows of a sardine can now since the invisible wall of COVID came to roost.   

One of the challenges of married life is self-awareness.  Self-awareness is not self-centeredness.  Unless we as individuals are aware of ourselves: our thoughts, moods, tender spots in our ego, the quality of our equanimity of spirit and how the environment affects us, we are more likely to inflict the things that bother us on those around us.  Self-awareness also helps when it comes to being aware of what our mate is dealing with.   Else we react by thinking “what’s got into her?” while she wonders why we’re such “dullards” who are not aware of what is around us and her state of being.   I have to be aware of “my world” so that I am able to be present enough to try to hear her world at the least and and comprehend her at best.   This is a point at which we never completely arrive because another hour or two offers multiple experiences, memories and so on that change our environment, memories, and affect our inner equilibrium.   The spiritual life is anything but static.

All this goes to say that during times like these, even though we might not be aware of it, both persons in the relationship are affected, sometimes hurting.  Changes around us affect us within and the field we walk on inside the home is constantly changing, even though it can seem like nothing is happening at all.   Again, I know that I have been affected by the changes around me, in people, situations, and at home with Kathy as well.   Crises, whether minor or major, affects each of us in unique ways, and if we’re not paying attention to ourselves we can affect others in negative ways, much less be aware of what is happening within the other. 

Stress affects our prayer life as well.  It can be more difficult to pray or even feel like anything is happening at all when what’s around us, dulls or agitates our mind, spirit and body.  I have noticed that others have become more prone to mistakes, thought blocking and forgetting things just to name a few.  But so have I.   None of us escapes this unscathed.   What this does call from us is a more of an effort in our prayer life when the effort doesn’t seem to “be there” at times, reaching out more when it becomes easier to seclude and to attend to feelings that I’ve had going on inside that I haven’t felt for decades revolving around the changes in my environment that affect me internally.  Don’t be afraid to say, “I’m sorry,” a lot.  And then be willing to say it some more. Humility is like gold. You can’t have enough of it.

Check out how your “other half” is doing.  If he or she is telling you or acting in a way that you cannot comfortably hear, there’s a good chance that what’s going on in her/him, is going on in some similar way within you and you’re just not aware of it.   We block out in others what we cannot hear in ourselves.  After a few weeks, the dullard inside of me finally was awakened and I initiated a conversation about what kind of space Kathy needs now in these different circumstances.  Things have improved since I’ve done this.  What is important is not to get hooked (take it personally) by an emotional reaction when the other asks for space.  It’s not that the other doesn’t love you, it’s just that life has become more “close” lately since our normal lives have been restricted.   In our culture, “love” has been misconstrued as instant, consistent, consuming togetherness. It’s not.

God’s wisdom is to show mercy to one another, remembering that unless I allow God’s merciful love to touch me when and wherever I hurt, I will sure not be able to hear Kathy’s.  All this is to say that our spiritual lives involve effort on our part to learn how to love the self, as God loves us, so that we are able to love the other.  If we aren’t aware of ourselves enough to love the difficult and uncomfortable parts of ourselves this will impinge our ability to hear the stories of the other and respond with compassion.

Remember the Creation Stories in Genesis:  God is about the business of creating order out of chaos.  God is still about the business of creating order out of the chaos we have created. Remember to reach out and talk to someone who can hear you.  This includes God.  

Peace in the midst of chaos,

Fr. Mark