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Marriage is Healing, Part II

alec vanderboom

(Make sure you read part one first.)

(Special note: everything contained in this series of posts are pre-approved by my husband. It's hard to find the narrow way when speaking about your marriage on the internet. I didn't want to come across as a glib "we're perfect and have no problems, isn't God great?", but I didn't want to disrespect my husband's and my real need for privacy either. I tried to find the middle way. God's healing mercy is real. My prayer is to give Hope)

John Eldredge's book, Fathered by God:Learning What Your Dad Could Never Teach You, was a game charger for me.

This man is a Carmelite. I know that he's a Protestant Pastor who's probably never read St. John of the Cross--but Christ is Christ, and this man found his way into the deepest secrets of the Carmelite spirituality without having once tasted the Eucharist. A good prayer life is the gateway to Truth.

Here is my favorite part: God As Lover

"John Wesley was thirty-five when he experience the now famous "warming" of his heart--not his mind--towards Christ...."the difficulty as John Julian said "is the term Lover as applied to our Lord." Revisions now in hymnbooks now read, Jesus, Savoir of my soul, or Jesus, Refuge of my soul," which are touching but nothing close to what Wesley meant. He meant Lover."

Men who have fallen in love with God are often referred to in the church as 'mystics' a term that gives a sort of honor while at the same time effecting a dismissal. Mystic, meaning 'inexplicable,' which devolves into 'unreasonable.' Mystic, meaning also "exceptional: , as opposed to perfectly normal. (Large print edition, page 192)

This book is written specifically to men--but the whole thing is amazing, and as a woman who was poorly Fathered by a Man, and who is In Love with a Man, and who is the Mother  of a young man, this book was an amazing read.

The chapter that helped my marriage this past summer is Chapter Six, called "the Lover." Elderedge's theory is that the journey of men is a journey of "initiation." We've lost a sense of Fatherhood in our modern culture--so it means that guys get stuck in stages.

There is a natural progression Beloved Son-to Cowboy--to Warrior--to Lover--to King--to Sage. Modern day guys often get "stuck" in one stage--or skip over whole stages completely and that causes spiritual trouble--distance from God.

As a wife, I was totally shocked to discover that my husband was having trouble with stages of his masculinity. I know that sounds stupid. I'd totally accepted that my grating, annoyingly prim feminist upbringing and hurtful experiences at a radical college were serious obstacles to fully embracing my vocation as a wife and mother. I witnessed how God was slowly using my day to day experiences as a stay-at-home mother to heal serious cracks in my soul.

Yet, somehow, I just assumed from the outside that my husband had it easier.

My husband was doing everything "right."

He'd stepped up to become the sole provider of our family.
He changed diapers.
He joyfully welcomed new babies into his life with all of their joyful messiness and sleeplessness.
He said he loved me.
He drove me to church and sat in the pew with me.
He made love to me often.

Somehow, my husband, the artist, the Carmelite, the mountain climber--wasn't a Lover. He had gotten stuck in the "warrior for Christ" stage and was having trouble moving into Holy, Song of Songs type love for God and for me.

He said he couldn't  let Beauty saturate him.

We would sit together in Mass, a new church dripping with beautiful stain glass windows and the Holy Mysteries of the Rosary, and He wouldn't FEEL God kissing his soul.

And I was sitting next to him, feeling those personal soul kisses, and I didn't realize that he wasn't experience that intense, personal, Romantic love from God also.

So when I blithely told him, "I need more Romance from you...."
He told me "I can't do that. I don't even feel that way about God.... this is a bigger problem than you..."

That was scary. For him. For me.

I know this seems selfish, but I walked around a lot this summer crying about this. I cried during our new Pastor's installation Mass. I cried while my whole family went happily fishing. I felt like that lonely scene during Marie Antoinette, when she just feels so helpless about her marriage and she says "I can't believe that a pretty girl like me is having these kind of problems..."

Then my husband told me "Don't you think this is bigger than you? Don't you think God is even more sad than you..."

And so that became my prayer. "Jesus, this hurts you even more than it hurts me. Go fix it!"

It didn't help that we both had baggage from previous sexual partners before our union. Yet somehow, in my imperfect theology, I'd let that fact rob us from truly relaxing and "delighting" in our sex life. It was like "Oh, I once was a whore, I once used an aborficent, I once had good sex with this man before we were lawfully married... so I better button down and muddle through the sexual part of our marriage at year eleven--um, especially now that we're trying to make out with a colicky baby screaming in a cradle in our dining room--what else can I expect at this stage of my life..."

Not talking to my husband about our sex life was the unnecessary hair shirt I wore in my marriage. I was how I paid for all of my sexual sins before we became knowledgeable, faithful Catholics.

(I can't talk about sex with him because its too scary. I can't talk about it because I'd be too vulnerable. He's so tired from working a hard job, just for me, how can I tell him I'm anything but totally happy? What else can I expect as a Mother of a newborn, anyway?)

And it got really depressing really fast. Because as an Open to Life Catholic, I couldn't just tell myself "oh just wait six months until the baby stops having colic, then your sexual union with Jon will really take off..."

Because, as far as I knew, we could have ANOTHER colicky baby in nine months.... at age 37, I could potentially have four or five new Baby Abigails in my life...we sort of needed to find a way to become Lovers in the middle of colic.

This debate I was having in my soul was so hidden--I didn't even know it was going on, until I read a passage from Fathered by God "Even now, at the stage they ought to act like kings, many men are frightened by their wives because she feels like the verdict on them...It brings a terrible ambiguity into the heart of the lover. So does early sexual experimentation. For years I was a cautious lover towards [my wife], and it hurt her. Even on our wedding night she wondered, "why doesn't he want me passionately?" (page 202)

It hurt me to read my unexpressed pain in black and white words inside a strangers book. I actually ran upstairs into my sleeping children's bedroom and cried on their bedroom floor. It felt so painful. It felt like frost bite must feel when the blood starts recirculating back into a numb limb. I didn't even know I wanted "passionate pursuit."

I just knew that the polite democratic discussions about starting sex during the throws of colic--"So do you sort of want to.." "Okay, well maybe we can try a little bit..." "Whoops, better skip ahead before the toddler wakes up..." those types of discussions were crushing me. I wanted to be pursued. I wanted to pursue him.

(Much later, we were visiting my Dad's college and I noticed the anti-rape signs all over campus. It was like "I wasn't sure how she was feeling, so I asked!" Rape is everywhere in College, so we train men --always Ask before Sex, because otherwise You Are A Rapist. But the reality is that Sex is NEVER good for girls outside of marriage. Emotionally it is not safe, so physically for us, it is not going to feel good. So the truth that those posters should have said on this Methodist College Campus is "Don't sleep with someone who isn't wearing your wedding ring on their finger.")

Once you get married, however, it's hard to turn off that line of thinking. Our culture is so messed up about sex, it's hard to suddenly flip and say Okay, now Sex is fine. For me it was "Am I a slut for wanting my husband when he's tired?" and I think for him it it was "Am I allowed to kiss her passionately while she's standing there fuming about the unwashed laundry with circles under her eyes and a fresh c-section scar from bearing the last fruit of our marriage on her stomach?"

The answers to both questions, and I think Mr Jesus and our Catholic Church would agree, is YES, desire for your spouse is always a beautiful holy thing.

Truly, I need to know that I'm sexy right after having a fifth c-section.
God thinks I'm Beautiful after Childbirth--so why would it be so strange to my husband to think that he can love me at those exact moments that God finds me so loveable?

So thank you Mr. Eldredge! We might never meet for a personal thank you until Heaven, but thanks to your bravely honest book, I now have a heck of a better shot at getting there!