It’s been some time since I’ve revisited this topic near and dear to my heart, but I did have two final “tips” I’ve been wanting to throw out there. You can view the other posts in my mixed marriage series here. The series is for couples who may not share a unity of faith and includes some tips that I would hope would be helpful for anyone wishing to “live the faith” and to bring others (strangers, friends, family members, work colleagues, etc.) closer to God.
Seek out support.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t fit in anywhere. There are all my Catholic homeschooling friends with their devout husbands (some of them converts, some of them cradle Catholics) whom I admittedly sometimes long to be more like – the Catholic couple who shares laughter, an episode of 24, and the Eucharist together. Then there are my non-Catholic friends who don’t understand what the big deal is. Why should it matter if my husband and I aren’t on the same page when it comes to faith?
Likewise, I don’t want to vent to my parents (or my friends) about my husband or our disparity in faith. I want to build him and our marriage up in every way I can; yet, sometimes I want someone who knows how hard it is to love someone with all of your heart but at the same time, to harbor an intense longing to share your faith with him.
What I’ve learned to do is to pick and choose a few close friends I can confide in, especially those who are also in mixed marriages. My nana is a devout Catholic who was married to a non-Catholic, and she’s been a wellspring of wisdom for me. We were lucky to have her with us during the holidays, and I mentioned that if having a non-Catholic spouse, who was still a loving, good man, was my cross to bear, then so be it, when she said something that really struck me: “It’s not your cross to bear at all. This is God’s business.” I needed to hear that at this point in my life. I can be a good wife. I can uphold my obligations to the faith. But it’s not up to me to convert him. As my wise nana said, that is ultimately God’s work.
In addition, I’ve recently met women through the blogosphere who share my similar struggles, and it’s been a real blessing to know I’m not alone. As Ebeth from A Catholic Mom Climbing the Pillars wrote, “We ‘mixed marrieds’ are kindred spirits that must continue to nurture each other as we continue to silently encourage our families.”
Priests can be a source of wisdom as well. I recently was really struggling with my mixed marriage and feeling hopeless, so I went to confession. I told the priest I was feeling like a defeatist, like there was nothing I could do to soothe this sadness in my heart or to bridge this division in my otherwise happy marriage. I briefly explained my husband and my situation. I hadn’t spoken to a priest about it since my pre-Cana program, and it was as if a burden had been lifted. The priest encouraged me to stop trying so hard and to not feel like I am responsible for answering all of my husband’s tough questions (and as a very, very rational man of science he has many) and that I should encourage my husband to speak to a priest.
So I did. The ball’s in his court now, but I don’t feel like everything is resting on me. I can say, “Let me get back to you,” when he asks me something I can’t explain right away. Or I can ask him to please seek the counsel of clergy because this is something I’m not qualified (or prepared) to answer.
And when I’m wrestling with my own doubts, I cannot start to think that there’s no hope for my children or my husband. I have to work through my spiritual dry spells. I have to pray. I have to spend time with the Blessed Sacrament. I have to embrace my spiritual challenges as a way of becoming stronger in my faith instead of looking at it as a precursor to non-belief.
Never underestimate the power of prayer.
Prayer – even if it never leads to conversion – is needed to nourish your own soul and faith life. I find that being in a mixed marriage demands that I pray regularly and fervently – not only for my husband and children but for my own strength and wisdom.
Recently, I’ve started kneeling beside my bed during my evening prayers often when my husband is around. I used to just pray in bed, but there’s something beautiful and humbling about getting down on my knees to pray. I’m not doing it to be showy, although my husband is surely more likely to notice me praying when I embrace a more overt prayerful posture. What it really does for me is to help me focus (something I need since, as I’ve mentioned before, I tend the have the attention span of a housefly).
When I do pray specifically for my husband and our mixed marriage, I often recite this prayer from Mothers’ Manual by A. Francis Coomes, S.J.:
For Unity of Faith
Lord God, according to your holy designs you have ordained that in matrimony man and wife shall be so closely united to become as “one flesh.” Grant now that my husband and I may be closely united in all things according to your holy law. Grant us your abundant graces that we may enjoy the blessing of being joined by a common faith.
You know what it would mean to me if we could share completely the same religious views and convictions. If we could be united closely in the same religious practices and observances. You know what it would mean if we could share the same belief in the sacraments and have the same understanding of them and the same love for them.
That this may be realized according to your holy ways, let me never falter in my own personal obligations and in my observances of all that is required by your law of love. Bestow, in your mercy, your bounteous graces now so that one day, as completely united as possible in this life, we may both approach your communion banquet and there receive together your blessing and your love.
So stay hopeful, keep up the good fight. Persevere with humility and patience as St. Monica did. Pray for your spouse, your children, and your own faith life. Lead a life of love. Practice virtue.
And keep close this wisdom from the Catechism:
“For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. It is a great joy for the Christian spouse and for the Church if this consecration should lead to the free conversion of the other spouse to the Christian faith. Sincere married love, the humble and patient practice of family virtues, and perseverance in prayer can prepare the non-believing spouse to accept the grace of conversion.” (CCC 1637)
If you’re in a mixed marriage as well, what tips do you have to share on how to deal with the faith differences of you and your spouse? What about your children? How do you help them cope with the dichotomy in your marriage? I’d love to hear your words of wisdom.