Alternatively titled, “The Sorrowful Road of Marriage.”
Everyday during nap time, I try to spend some quiet time in prayer. Ever since the turn of the new year, I’ve been trying to put my energy and focus into my family where service and prayer are concerned, which has, oddly enough, been way easier said than done. It’s like the whole world turned against us when I made that decision, and whether it’s general business, major obligations, work snafus (can I type that on a blog?) or family disasters, time has evaporated and the job of both prayer AND vocational service seems almost impossible. Is it the devil? Maybe. Is it life? Certainly. But even when everything feels like a big failure (like right now), I’m still trying to keep prayer at the center of it all. It seems to be the only thing that actually helps maintain peace in this chaotic life.
I prefer to pray a rosary during naptime, because it’s manageable right now, allows me to spend some time prior to praying it to think about the needs of our life, and then allows me to let my mind raise up on the mysteries for meditation. I even bought a little seventy-five cent rosary ring at the store the other day so that I can sneak-use it while rocking the toddler! Today is Tuesday. The day we typically pray the Sorrowful mysteries (does that change during the Easter season? Catholic convert here, I’m not sure!) and it’s a major coincidence that Tuesdays happen to be the day in our family that seems the least holy… Little time, always a crisis, tons of “snapping” and zero patience. It’s like our family’s Monday or something… In any case, Tuesday will roll around, and I always find myself in that rocking chair with a way too big toddler in my arms, asking for patience in my marriage, holiness to increase within our family, and forgiveness to abound. I’m not even kidding. EVERY Tuesday… Maybe I should make it a theme: Tuesdays, the day of Marital Prayer. Well, as I was praying through the Sorrowful mysteries today, I realized that those mysteries, which are essentially the road to the cross, are exactly what marriage should look like in a Christian union.
1. The Agony in the Garden
The most memorable moment from this mystery has always been “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42) Most of marriage is hard work. And when you get married, you may know that you will need to endure hardship within it, but you may not understand it truly, until you are right before it. When I stand before a problem in my marital union, typically a battle of wills, and a feeling of despair, I don’t want to deal with it. I want to be anywhere but there. Even if I’m in another room, knowing I need to “fix it,” I want to escape. Even if it’s not my fault. Even if it’s not just for me to fix it, it’s still my responsibility. It’s still what I’ve been asked to do. Just as it was not fair for Jesus to be asked to drink the cup that he drank, my marriage will not always be fair, and that’s what I’ve been asked to partake in. A lack of fairness. A cup of sacrifice. Standing before the mirror and looking into eyes that show hurt, feeling alone, feeling like the sacrifice is too much to give, that’s my moment of agony on this road. That’s my spouse’s moment of agony on this road. That is our time in the garden when we beg that God take the task away from us. It is also the moment of clarity, and the time of acceptance. It is the moment when we join our sufferings to Christ and allow His grace to flow through our very limbs, willing us to march our body to the task at hand, and be the great sacrifice. It is the moment we say, “Thy will be done.”
2. The Scourging at the pillar
He was falsely accused. He was abused. He was insulted through the preference of Barabbas. He was beaten. “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5) He endured a mortification of his senses. This was the beginning of His great sacrifice, and it hurt. Enduring the painful suffering for the purification of our souls. Being blameless… Nothing I could endure in my marriage could come close to that. But we are invited to meditate on this mystery, and join our own tiny mortification of the flesh to His. The part of this mystery that stands out to me in parallel would honestly be how ridiculous it was that Barabbas was chosen to be freed instead of Him. What were they thinking? What were WE thinking? “Let’s just free this horrible robber even though we know he should not be freed. We’ve all agreed on how rotten this person is, and how deserving he is to be in jail, and any other day of the week, we’d celebrate that the justice of his imprisonment has been accomplished! But today, we prefer him to this innocent, blameless, righteous man. We want Jesus to know how much we hate Him and how much we wish He were the dead one.” Isn’t that how marriage goes sometimes? Our rational brain disintegrates sometimes and we become animals who crave blood. We want to hurt the other one. We want them to know that our worst enemy is more trustworthy than our best friend. We want pain in the place of justice. We know just how to get it too–we may not drag our spouse before Pilot, but we know all the little tricks and triggers that inflict excruciating pain upon our spouse. We know the weak points, and we know the places where we can mortify our spouse. We become the judge and executioner within our marriage instead of choosing to extend mercy and freedom. This is the moment where we have the opportunity to take the punishment, the moment we have to extend kindness. This is the moment we are given to practice mercy, forgiveness, and understanding, and to stop beating our spouse into the emotional ground. We are given this moment to stop choosing anything else, and to choose our spouse over and over again—to practice our vows. “I do take you in sickness and health, in good times and bad, forever and ever. I will not cast you aside.”
3. The Crowning of Thorns
“And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands.” (John 19:2-3) The mockery. The insult. The injury. How many times have I allowed the sarcasm out of my mouth. How many times have I mocked my spouse with my tone. How many times have I belittled, disrespected, and cut down my spouse with my words? I’ve been a viper at times. I’ve been toxic. I’ve been poisonous. Oh, the mockery. I’ve placed my own painful, disgusting, thorny, and brutal crown of words upon my husband’s head and forced him to wear it. This part of the road is the easiest for me to identify within MY marriage. Even as I try to escape this acknowledgement, I force him to wear it, by making a mockery of his pain. This realization affords us the opportunity to grow in humility, just as Christ endured humiliation so that we might gain mercy. Maybe this is the hardest one for me because I’m so prideful. Maybe this is the hardest one because I NEVER want to admit my faults, and I absolutely don’t want to take a heaping tablespoon of humility down the throat. Isn’t that why we hurt people with our words? Why we won’t say we are sorry? Because we have too much pride, and we throw our own sin upon another with our mockery. We are given many moments in our marriage to grow in humility, none more recognizable than the moment when we want to be sarcastic, disrespectful, and prideful. The thing about humility is…we don’t always want it. We know it’s a good thing, but it’s a difficult thing. And we don’t like difficult things. In this difficult moment, this is where our sanctification can start. We can experience the humility that Jesus experienced when his brow bled from the thorns we forced him to wear. In this moment, we can let go of our pride and be vulnerable instead, and we can stop inflicting pain. We can offer love instead. TRUE, UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. This is the moment of our great, sacrificial, life giving love.
4. The Carrying of the Cross
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matthew 16:24) That’s the thing, isn’t it. No one promised us an easy marriage. And when we get married, sometimes our marriage can be our cross, because it is this difficult task that we’ve been called to, to love another with the kind of sacrificial love that Jesus has for us. Not that every moment is a battle. Not that every part of marriage is hard. But there’s a reason that completely non-spiritual people will even say, “marriage makes you grow up.” That’s a ridiculous way to say that marriage is not designed to just make us feel good and fill us up with happiness. We do get to experience those emotions within a marriage, but it isn’t the point or the end all. Marriage is designed to bring us to sanctification. It is designed to make us holy. To purify us of our greed, selfishness, and pride. Marriage is a way that Jesus gives us to “come after him,” and become one of his disciples! What a higher calling than just “I love that guy because he makes me happy.” Specifically, marriage can be a way that we can grow in patience, because sometimes, we endure trials within our marriage! Jesus also had to bear the trial of carrying the burden of the cross with patience. What a heavy cross it must have been, and he had to persevere in patience to get to the place of His death. He had to be patient to be able to sacrifice himself. So much of that resonates with me about marriage. Sometimes we have to be patient in the midst of an argument of injustice just to be able to put our own will aside, or our own needs aside.
5. The Crucifixion
So much could be said about this mystery and marriage. It’s just so fitting that marriage should look like the cross. Not even an empty cross, but a crucifix. We’ve seen how we need to accept our role and calling. We’ve seen how we need to extend forgiveness and choose our spouse. We’ve seen how we need to unconditionally love our spouse, and quit hurting them. We’ve seen how we need to be patient and commit to our marriage. And now, in this great passion, we see how we need to sacrifice. We need to sacrifice our wills, our needs, our desires, and our lives. The whole road leads to this. The whole of marriage comes down to sacrificial love. As a little realization on the side, it seems really fitting to me how many couples keep a crucifix over their bed, as a constant reminder that marriage is supposed to be just like that.
I’m so grateful to my husband that I can do this big, great, difficult, task with him, and that he bears with me with grace, mercy, and love, learning right alongside me.