*CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH*
Those are the sounds of my lovely wife of 6 years eating chips on the couch while watching TV. Now, for those of you who don’t know, crunching and eating noises are my pet peeve (that might be an understatement). My family and friends have diagnosed me with misophonia, a diagnosis for people who are easily annoyed by little sounds. As she continues to eat on the couch, I fight the urge to say something. Then I hear *GULP GULP GULP* Finally, I can’t take it anymore, I can feel my frustration bubbling up and I blurt out “Are you drowning??!!” With that, my wife begins to laugh and says, “I was waiting for it.” And that my friends, is love!
February is often referred to as the “month of love.” We are inundated with pictures of cupid, hearts, flowers, candy, and the world seems to turn pink and red. February 2016 offers an extraordinary opportunity to dig deeper into the true meaning of “love.” Valentine ’s Day falls 4 days after Ash Wednesday, the start of the liturgical season of Lent. Lent is a season of preparation, prayer, penance, fasting, and renewal. It is a season where we are called to reflect on the ultimate expression of love: the Paschal Mystery. We are reminded that love is more than puppy dogs and rainbows, it requires sacrifice and it requires constant perseverance, examination and re-commitment. This reminder is enlightened with particular significance this year because of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. Jubilee years are opportunities to come back into right relationship with God and right relationship with one another. In the sacrament of marriage, spouses give themselves totally to one another in freedom and fidelity. They are called to be beacons of Christ’s love to one another, the love that comes from the Holy Trinity. Married love is a love that gives, endures, and bears all things (1Corinthians 13:7). It’s a love offered in the form of forgiveness and mercy.
During this Jubilee of Mercy, we are called to reflect in a particular way on the Corporal and Spiritual works of mercy. Two spiritual works of mercy seem to be most important for ensuring a lasting and loving marriage: forgiving offenses willingly and bearing wrongs patiently. As a clinical social worker, I have seen countless marriages destroyed by spouses unwilling to perform these works due to pains, pride, and resentment. Dr. John Gottman, a world renowned expert in marital stability and divorce, has conducted research for over 30 years on what makes for a lasting marriage. Gottman has revolutionized the field of couple’s counseling and has identified some powerful tools for couples to maintain a loving and lasting marriage. Yet, arguably his biggest contribution is his research. In his research, Gottman found that the ratio of positive interactions to negative interactions for what he calls “master couples,” or couples in a strong and stable marriage, is 20 to 1 when happy and 5 to 1, when they are conflicted. More important, soon-to-divorce couples have a positive to negative interaction ratio of around 1 to 1. For lasting relationships, even when conflicted, they are interacting positively five times as frequently as they are negatively. In other words, master couples are able to forgive and bear wrongs patiently between one another, even during conflict.
Married couples and families are mercy machines! They are schooled, by their very lives, to be instruments of mercy. Relationships provide opportunity to practice mercy, to grow in virtue, and shine forth the sacrificial and unconditional love of God. They are able to laugh when their spouse flips out over chewing and drinking noises. Yes, they are able bear wrongs patiently and forgive willingly. This lent, I am challenging all married couples to do more than just give up chocolate or soft drinks. Instead, dive-in to mercy. Choose concrete ways to grow in mercy by practicing the two already mentioned spiritual works of mercy. Below are some practical ways couples to bear wrongs a little more patiently and forgive a little more willingly.
- Participate in a technology fast. This could be a simple fast from technology while eating together or giving up Facebook one day a week. I challenge you to push yourselves. Can you give up texting and emailing with one another throughout Lent, forcing the two of you to talk only in person or by phone? Can you set aside 20 minutes or more where all technology (computers, phones, tablets, TV, etc) are turned off? Be creative!
- Identify one pet peeve this lent that you will “offer up” as a penance and not mention about your spouse for the entirety of Lent.
- Make a habit of going to the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation with your spouse (and bring your children if you have them) that you start during Lent. Perhaps you start small by going together during Lent one time. If you are already doing that, step it up a notch and go monthly, biweekly, or weekly.
- Take this Lent to learn each other’s Love Languages (Check out Gary Chapman’s work if you aren’t familiar). Oh, you already know them? Step up your intentionality by making sure you speak it daily.
- Have you done something that hurt your spouse/loved one? Well if you haven’t already, take this Lent to apologize to your spouse or loved one. Ask him/her one way you can begin the process of reconciliation in your relationship.
These are just a few! If you don’t like any of these, come up with your own. Join the conversation below and add your own ideas for growing in virtue and mercy. Together, let’s make this Lent a true season of mercy!