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Anti-Harried Wife Syndrome , Part IV--Advice from St. Paul

alec vanderboom

Today's Mass Reading:

Titus 2: 3-5

"Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in their behavior, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink: they are to teach what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be self-controlled, chaste, and good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited."

This unfamiliar reading of Titus is starting to become so beautiful to me. I'm still a feminist, so the phrase "submissive to their husband" feels totally unfamiliar and vaguely wrong. But I recognize the "Truth" behind my own fears.

The definition of "submission" means "a tending towards, or inclination of humility." Can you believe that? I love humility. I'd like to get a little more of elusive virtue in my life and in my marriage. A tending towards humility doesn't mean turning into a slavish "yes" man to my husband. It's not an unthinking servility where I'd just blindly follow my husband off the cliffs of mortal sin. It's tilting my heart to follow his good advice, to trust in his love for myself and my children, and to assume the best intentions behind his actions, instead of automatically always imagining the worse.

St. Paul informs me that there is a specific reason to struggle for change in the naturally "stony" inclinations of my heart, "so that the word of God may not be discredited." Ladies, we have a crisis in marriage in America! This Sunday, I want you to do an experiment after Mass. Hopefully, your parish has some sort of "milling around period" we Protestants used to call "Time for Fellowship" after the Mass. It might happen over coffee in the parish hall, or it might happen in the parking lot. A little time for visiting with new and old friends from the parish family.

On one Sunday, act as a hidden anthropologist. Take note of the following: Are husbands and wives standing together? Are they smiling as they pass a tired infant back and forth or are they snarling at each other? Do they check in with their eyes across the room, or do they seem disconnected? Does someone offer to get their spouse an extra cup of coffee?

My unofficial thesis is that a) the vast majority of men under age 40 will be holding a feisty infant with no wife in sight, b) the young Mothers are either running towards the car frustrated that their prayer time was interrupted yet again or c) are standing together in a slanderous knot complaining about their overwhelming lives, their insensitive husbands, and their stressful children.

I used to be one of these young women! I'd go to Mass, feel totally frustrated that my kids behavior was out of control, feel pinpricks of scorn from others, get frustrated that my husband wasn't doing more to help me, and leave Mass feeling so much more depleted than when I came into the door.

Here is one simple change that made a lifetime of difference. I sit next to my husband now during the Mass. I sit next to my husband--and its a fight not to let a kid sit between us--I hold a toddler, he holds the baby, and then our other kids "fan" out along side us. The squirmy son sits next to his Dad. I have the nine year old who loves to pray beside me. The five year old and toddler flip from side to side.

It is an incredible change to sit next to my husband, instead of hemming in all the kids on either side of the pew. I love sitting next to him. Whenever there is a deeply meaningful reading or song lyric, I get to just press his arm in recognition. We're being fed together the Word of God.  As a side effect, I'm so much more peaceful, the kids are better behaved.

If one of them needs to go out of Mass (at this point that is most likely the newborn or the toddler) we just have an unspoken agreement that I'm the one who takes the kid out of Mass. That sort of happened by default because I'm the only one who can nurse a colicky Baby Abigail, but once we added "Tess too" to that equation, life is so much easier. We don't have that tense debate during the homily--"Does she need to leave? Who is taking her, you or me?" If Tess is screaming, I'm the one who does the walk of shame to the back of the church, while my husband stays still and holds the line. (My only son is way more likely to listen to his Dad and stay in the pew rather than fighting to leave also). God is so kind to me, that almost always I run into a favorite friend in the back of the church during my exit. Their smiles usually help me overcome my wounded pride.

We Catholic Wives have so much to teach the world. There are so many insights from our prayer life and beauty to share with others. But when we're irritable with our husbands after Mass (usually because they aren't doing enough to help with our high maintenance children) we discredit the Word of God. We discredit the Eucharist. God is here! We are his! Lets not let a little rumble in our family routine discredit all the beautiful graces that is ours in the Sacrament of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony!