By Carissa Douglas
Awhile ago I had written on my dream proposal and the realization that I had over romanticized the idea of what that should entail. I admit, I had also done this with marriage. Before I was married, I thought I was a very patient, thoughtful, wise and selfless person - humble too. Obviously.
I thought I'd be bringing a lot of good stuff to a marriage and hoped that whomever I married would too. I didn't realize that the role of marriage was so much more about sanctification and self-sacrifice. The first years of marriage shook me up in a very good way. The calm, serene waters of my existence as a single person were stirred with the daily challenges of living a life so connected to someone else and this released things that had been buried deep in a bed of sand, lying dormant for so many years. Bubbles containing my desire to serve myself, to comfort myself, to indulge myself, and to seek myself first were so well hidden, but marriage caused them to surface and I now had to deal with facing those ugly aspects of myself that were previously out of sight. It was a beautiful, necessary call to holiness. Patrick seemed to welcome marriage as a means of refinement much more readily. He filled our days with little acts of selflessness. If we only had a little cream left, he'd put it in my coffee, even though he hated substituting milk for cream in his own. If I seemed tired, but had said I would do the dishes that evening, he would jump up and start on them before I had the chance. If I said something that could be taken as an insult, he'd receive it in the very best way. Overall, he assumed I always had the best intentions. His example made it easier for me to begin the practice of self-denial, and I discovered very quickly how wondrously fulfilling it was to give myself so entirely to someone else. Living for the good and betterment of the other.
I tried to make little offerings for him, telling him to choose the show we'd be watching that night, cooking meals that I knew he'd prefer, and with his desire to give back, we experienced the beauty of mutual self-giving that marriage is meant to exemplify. Marriage is intended to be a sign of heaven on earth. You would never think it, being that it is often referenced as a death sentence or a ball and chain. It really allowed me to become a better person and eventually I felt I had dealt with many of those little bubbles that had surfaced... then I became a mom which put my world into a blender and shot a round of bubbles to the surface with machine gun intensity. But that's a whole other blog on a Vocation that further sanctifies. Back to marriage.
A priest once told me that there were two types of marriages that he had come across. The first he referred to as "Sandpaper Marriages". He said that in those marriages, the refinement of the couple was to come from extreme friction in the relationship between spouses. Each spouse grinding their rough surface against the other, until slowly, over the years, both of their surfaces become smoother, more ready to soften to the needs of the other. I've met a lot of couples who fall into this category and though their journey has been difficult, by God's grace, their marriage has been a means of growth and transformation.
The other type of marriage, the priest encountered was one where the couple stood in unison quite early on. They didn't experience the tension, the friction and conflict quite as intensely and in their case, the refinement was to come from the world around them and the trials life would present.
I could see that our marriage best fit the latter. I gave birth to our first exactly nine months after our wedding night, had our second twelve months and a day later, our third baby fourteen months later and was pregnant with our fourth, when our world was shaken (beyond the challenges presented when having a slew of kids close together) . I was changing my then two year old's diaper and noticed a large amount of blood. A trip to the emergency and an ultrasound later revealed a cancerous tumor on his kidney. I remember approaching my husband to tell him what we had seen on the ultrasound. I told him, "You know, we could lose him." He hugged me and said, "He was never ours to begin with." His words resonated with trust in God's will and joyful surrender. After surgery and six months of chemo, our son was thriving and it has become a joyful memory of when together we were brought to the foot of the cross and stood united in purpose and faith. It was a gift to go through it all with Patrick and it strengthened our marriage.
In spite of our culture presenting marriage as simply a means of finding personal happiness, God's design is so much more profound. True happiness in marriage can only happen when we understand the gift of sanctification it offers - the saint-making potential and we embrace it, bubbles and all.