It’s Christmastime so my mind has been on one of my favorite movies, It’s A Wonderful Life.
What I love most about that movie is the moment when George Bailey realizes how precious life is and how great life is with him in it. I take a lot of pleasure in the simple things. I’m like George Bailey at the end of the movie, all I really want in this life are things like my family, a drafty house, and Zuzu’s petals.
With love, we’ve built this extravagant image from TV and movies that the road to love leads to and ends at the alter. Often people become disillusioned like our friend George Bailey thinking that marriage and love is filled with silver screen gestures of epic proportions. As a hopeful romantic with a fondness for old movies, I would gladly swoon after moon lassoing.
But marriage is so much more than a cake and a party. True love is a verb to be put into action.
Much of what fills married life is the “banalities of life”:doing the dishes, folding laundry, cleaning the bathroom. Love is often expressed simply without pomp and circumstance. Loving another person (all people) requires that we are willing to accept that they are in fact living, breathing,and flawed humans. In married life you see the same person everyday doing very unromantic things like flossing. But the love of Christ teaches us though Him, we can love unconditionally and with great fullness allowing us to see that other person in true beauty.
What I learned about marriage comes directly from the marriages existing within my own family. My dad is retired so he has entire days that are often dedicated for doing one task. For instance, Monday is laundry day. He spends most of his Monday washing, folding, and ironing everything in the house. I remember last year at Christmastime, I was visiting my mom and dad and I was helping my dad fold shirts. I got to my mom’s stuff and it was as if I hit something sacred. Don’t fold your mother’s top like that. Dad was careful to fold my mothers clothes exactly like she wants it. My dad exhibits his love for my mother in the simple things. Banalities of everyday life. It’s not so much the folded laundry, but rather knowing her so well that he knows even the smallest of details about her.
My sister and her husband have four kids pretty close in age. As my sister can attest there has been a lot of laundry, dishes, kitty litter box cleaning, diaper explosions, ER visits, and countless spills over the years. In their almost twenty years together, there has not been a lot of time or money for romantic getaways or extravagant romantic nights. In fact, I’m almost certain that most of their “dates” have comprised of merely taking long drives just the two of them. I still see that excitement in my sister’s eyes every time my brother in law comes home. In both my parents and my sister’s marriage I have seen simple expression of love.
One day I asked my sister what makes a happy marriage to which she replied,”loving each other.” Her reply was concise, but profound. I think that what my sister was implying that marriage is loving that person with whom you chose to take on this journey every single day. The journey of love is found in the precious beauty of the ordinary.
For us Catholics, marriage is a sacrament and vocation just like religious life. It is the unification of two souls as one holy union. Just as a priest does not just work only on Sunday, a man and woman are husband and wife every day. Vocation comes from the Latin verb vocare which means,’ to call.’ Marriage like Holy Orders is a calling. When we are called, we must respond in action.
I am drawn to the vocation of marriage because I want to respond to the needs of another person. This might seem like an oppressive notion brought about by an ancient patriarchal institution, but I don’t see it that way. I see marriage as serving God. Marriage is the daily death of self. Dying to self is the daily surrender of selfish desires and of the ego. Marriage is viewing your spouse with the eyes of Christ and loving them not despite of their flaws, but loving with full acceptance of how God made them. It means saying,” I do,” everyday to them with full knowledge that your life together is a sacred reflection of God and his unconditional love for us.
Why am I excited to fold my future husband’s shirts? Because I want my heart to be so full of that I see the beauty of God in all things – even simple things. It’s not to say that I don’t experience those things as a single woman. Oh, no, my life is very full and my heart is very full of love for God and his creation, but part of why people (like me) seek the sacrament of marriage is to share the abundance of God with another human. I want to give life, share life, and create life with another human being. After-all, where did Eve come from? Adam’s rib, no less! We are created to be joined together. I want the joy that comes from knowing and loving someone so profoundly that I can find pleasure in such things even as small as how they prefer to have their socks folded. Mother Theresa once said,” do small things with great love” and that is exactly how I want to love.