(I borrow the title of this post from an email I received from Ebeth, the Catholic Mom who can be found faithfully climbing the pillars here.)
Recently, I burst into tears as soon as we returned home from Mass. Instead of feeling peaceful and joyful, I felt frazzled and sad.
“I’m the only one who even wants to be there,” I said, referring to Mass.
“Don’t say that,” my husband said.
I immediately wondered what that meant. (Leave it to me to over analyze everything.) Was he meaning he wanted to be there, too? Did he really go to church because it was important to him or simply out of his unselfish love for me? Either way, did it matter? Surely, the graces we find at Mass were rubbing off on him, even if he didn’t participate fully in the Eucharist.
On that particular Sunday, Dave had spent most of the service in the vestibule with a very vocal baby and a defiant preschooler. Meanwhile, I was left in the pews beside a friend of mine, her five children (including a bun in the oven) and her husband, a Catholic convert. I couldn’t help but want what she had – four kids behaving, including a baby Rae’s age and a son a few months younger than Madeline. But I am ashamed to admit that what I really longed for at that moment was a husband who shared my faith instead of a husband who probably didn’t really feel like he was missing all that much being stuck outside of the nave with fussy children.
Most Sundays aren’t like this. Usually, my oldest is well-behaved and the baby doesn’t always express her happiness in the form of ear-splitting screams. Usually, I feel blessed that my husband is beside me and that the Holy Spirit is at work within him. And this must be said: I always feel blessed to have him as a husband.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes feel lonely (don’t we all?). There are days when I feel like I’m on this faith journey all alone, and sometimes I’m stumbling and there’s no one to catch my fall.
I wrote about the joys (and believe it or not, there are many) and the challenges of my mixed marriage a few weeks ago. I tend to think of myself as being one of the only ones in this situation since most of my Catholic friends have spouses who share their faith, but lo and behold, several people emailed me and “confessed” to being a part of a mixed marriage as well. Some had spouses who had converted; others were in a similar situation as I am. They’d married a wonderful man, hoping and praying for a conversion that hasn’t happened yet. Several women admitted to converting or reverting after they’d married and having non-Catholic husbands, who despite their commitment to marriage and to them, were a little shell shocked by this new (or renewed) zeal for the faith.
What I culled from all of these brave, faithful women as well as from my own personal experience is that while a mixed marriage may not be the ideal, like any sacramental marriage, God’s graces are pouring down on us, perfecting our love for one another and strengthening us in times of weakness and uncertainty.
Perhaps you’re in a mixed marriage as well, or maybe you know someone who is in one. Even if you’re not, I hope my words of advice may help during encounters with anyone who may not share your faith tradition. Each of the “tips” warrants its own post, so for the sake of brevity, I’ll only be including one tip today. Next week I’ll be sharing more words of wisdom. I also want to say a big thanks to all the people who shared their stories with me. If you happen to have any advice you’d like to share, please email me at kmwicker [at] gmail [dot] com.
Next week’s tip will be “Never lose faith.”
Here’s today’s pointer:
Practice “stealth evangelization.”
Maybe your spouse doesn’t mind in-your-face, confrontational discussions. Or, maybe I am “weak” or lacking in courage, but I’ve found that pointed questions or statements don’t bode well when it comes to discussing my faith with my husband. Early on, I’d ask him things like: “Why don’t you believe?” or “Why don’t you want to become Catholic?” (Read between the lines: “What’s wrong with you?”)
I still frequently talk about my faith, but I don’t ask unhelpful questions anymore. I try to follow Dave’s lead, and I try not to shove Catholicism down his throat. However, I do practice stealth, or subtle, evangelizing. For example, I might email him a link from one of my favorite blogs, Et Tu? Or, I might ask him to read an article about Catholic teaching that I particularly liked. Last Easter I bought him a copy of Rome Sweet Rome.
Ultimately, I strive to be a wife who tries to do right rather than be right. This means that I must uphold my own obligations to the Church – to preserve my faith and to pass it down to our children. I don’t have a spiritual crutch: Mom’s not telling me to go to Mass or to do anything else to nurture my faith life anymore and neither is my husband, but God is and I must listen to him always.
To put it another way, there’s a well-known tip for fiction writers that says, “Show, don’t tell.” Good writers reveal characters, plot, setting, etc. without having to spell it out. We should do the same with our lives. In other words, I aim to do what St. Francis of Assisi advised: “Preach mostly with your life, but use words when necessary.”
Or, as Ebeth over at A Catholic Mom Climbing the Pillars, said when she wrote about her own mixed marriage: “After nearly 16 years of marriage to my husband, he just recently told me that he has changed and grown in his faith due to my devout love for the Catholic Church. By example is the only way we, as Catholics, lead the others to the table of plenty.”
When I do use words, I pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. If Dave asks me a tough question and I don’t know the answer, I admit my lack of knowledge and ask if I can get back to him. This is why “telling” is actually easier than “showing.” I can use the words of the Catechism or Scripture or briliiant theologians to reveal the faith. Living it, on the other hand, proves to be much more difficult.
There are many ways to “preach with our lives.” What I’ve most recently decided to do is to strive to use the fruits of the Holy Spirit to guage how well I’m “showing” God’s love. I have to constantly ask myself: Am I living a life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness?
Have you ever been drawn to someone and not known why? Maybe you described him or her as having a warm personality. Have you ever considered that their magnetism – whether it came in the form of their bright smile or unfailing optimism – had its source in the Holy Spirit?
For centuries, artists and other humans have been drawn to a beautiful piece of fruit – the shiny red globe of an apple, the deep pink flesh of a grapefruit. Similarly, I want Dave (and everyone) to be drawn to me. If the Holy Spirit is at work within me, then I will bear much fruit and perhaps others will want what I have. However, when I fail, which I do all of the time, I have to work on not beating myself up for it. I can’t start to wonder, how is Dave ever going to want to become Catholic when I’m such a mess? Instead, I have to pick up the pieces, stop acting like a black, mushy banana or worm-ridden apple, ask for forgiveness (from both Dave and God) and try, try again.