A funny thing happened on the way to the Real Learning Conference last summer. I asked three of my friends to speak at that conference. Kim, Rebecca, and Bridget all considered it, ever so briefly. And all three of them turned me down. Each explained that she needed to be home, with her family, and, in particular, with her husband. Each of them expressed to me that they knew that they were needed at home, by the men in their lives and that while I could find another speaker, their roles at home could not be filled by someone else. Time told us just how wise each of those decisions were in the lives of their families. I promise you none of them has regretted her decision. But...they had persuaded me to take my talk on relationships and expand it to include marriage. And since they weren't coming in person, but I knew that they had so much to offer on the topic I begged them to help me write the marriage section. What follows is what we brainstormed together. The whole talk can be found here. It's called "A Loving Lifestyle: It's all About Relationships."
…my husband and I have weathered our first teenaged storm, with two more well underway. What did we learn? How do we make a family-centered lifestyle of learning work over the long haul? How do we stay connected to ALL our children?
We begin before the child. We begin with our marriages. Does your husband know with all confidence that despite the fact that you are home all day with your children and you are undertaking their education yourself (a very fulltime job), you have enough of you to give him? Does he know that he comes first? Because he does. And he must. That’s God’s design. The health of your family and the success of home education really are contingent upon the health of your marriage.
The overriding principle of attachment parenting is that we don’t want control, we want relationship. That is, we need to shed our illusion that we can control another human being and focus instead on how we control ourselves and how we meet our own challenges and duties.
Briefly, I want to share with you the Beatitudes for Wives. Let’s talk about how to nurture the lifelong relationship, the one that is left when all your children are grown and gone. The one that nurtures you –and them—now. Living God's plan for marriage is the best way to achieve the goal of helping each other get to heaven. It's also the best foundation for our kids. When they have been raised in a genuinely loving environment, they are more likely to respect and honor their parents and embrace the faith as their own.
A wife's spirit should be simple, joyful and grateful. If you are despairing and you can’t see the joy just now, look harder! That’s it. Turn off the internal conversation that is negative and defeating. Just look harder. It’s there. Surely, God wanted this man for you—look at your children! Look at the real and tangible gifts the union brought forth. This is a blessed and beautiful life and he is a rare and beautiful gift—this man who is open to life and provides the opportunity for this lifestyle. God has a plan and this man most certainly is a part of it. Be Grateful. Always grateful.
We are meek when we submit. St. Paul clearly told wives to submit to their husbands. How we live this command is not contingent upon our husband’s behavior. Indeed, it is contingent upon our relationship with God himself. We are to be obedient and cheerful all the time because it is our duty, our cross, and our joy. When we take this command to heart, our will unites to our husband’s will. They are one will, just as we want nothing more than to want the Father’s will. Jesus didn’t say “Blessed are those who are meek in upholding their 50% in a perfect partnership.” Or “Blessed are the meek who are well-rested and have a cleaning lady come in weekly.” He said, Be Meek.
We need to go about our daily round with a cheerful heart and a joyful spirit and it should shine through for all to see. We want to be devoted to our duty and to good works in our homes. Our hearts’ desire is to love these men well and with our whole hearts. Faithful wives don’t look to the world for comfort and joy but seek instead the good, holy, and happy things from God. It’s a simple, happy, interior joy that is genuine, not fleeting and not dependent on what’s on sale at the mall this week.
A blessed wife will turn to God for guidance in all things. We look to the Blessed Mother for comfort and advice. Remember, there is a difference between justice and fairness. Justice is rooted in truth. It’s not contingent upon anything or anyone else. It’s pure. Fairness is relative. I remind my children of this all the time. My good behavior is not contingent upon someone else’s. I don’t care if Patrick made faces at you, you can’t stick your chewed-up gum on his back. It doesn’t matter if your husband forgot to kiss you goodbye this morning and failed to notice how well you pulled off a day with five small children, a challenge in Latin, a cranky baby, and a steak dinner. You still have to be genuinely kind and merciful and generous with time, attention, and love. It’s not always fair. But it is just.
A faithful wife shows mercy to her husband, quickly forgiving his offenses and seeking to accept him for who he is. Homeschooling moms tend to be introspective types. We work hard on self-improvement. We think -– a lot. We have to be very, very careful not to fall into the trap of expressing ourselves in terms of his change. I am not my husband’s Holy Spirit. God is quite capable. I leave the changemaking to Him. Seek first and always to understand. We want to be understood but we need to seek to understand. God will provide. He will.
A holy wife intends her words and actions for the good of her family-- not for praise, to prove she’s right or to win the holy competition. We offer it all to God—all of it. If you wouldn’t say it to Jesus, don’t say it.
Sometimes, it’s really better to say nothing. Sometimes, what I have to say isn’t worth the relationship, with husbands or children. This may mean letting a problem go altogether or waiting until a better time to bring it up. Good wives make it a practice not to complain about, belittle, or speak harshly to anyone in their homes. You may need to turn to one friend who is helping you to grow in holiness and be honest about your struggles with spouse or children, but never, ever run them down to anyone. In all things, charity, particularly when it comes to hearth and home.
This goes with verse 6 and it’s interesting to me, when considering the beatitudes in the context of marriage, that Christ seems to emphasize justice. Next time you think, “It’s not fair!” ask yourself, “is it just?” Christ will console you.
Living this vocation faithfully brings lasting "joy" for generations. And heaven. Our vocations as wives and mothers will bring us to heaven. All in all, as Kim Fry is fond of saying, it’s not a bad way to suffer.
Just as we are steadfast and gentle with the nursing baby up for the tenth time at night, just as we are sweet and present and consistent with a special needs child, a rebellious adolescent, a difficult child, we can be good to our husbands all the time. The Venerable Anne de Guigne said : "We have lots of joys here on earth, but they do not last; the only joy that lasts is to have made a sacrifice."
It sounds daunting; it’s completely countercultural, but you can do all things in Christ who strengthens you. I think when we break down the task of submission and joyful motherhood into daily increments, it is very doable. Can we wake up each morning and smile at our husbands and children, providing for their many needs, being cheerful (or at least silent) when things are difficult? Can we honor our husbands with our lips towards our children? Can we be compassionate and thankful for the hard work they do each day? Can we have meals prepared and our homes welcoming so that when they walk in the door, they feel loved and our children know that our hearts are invested in their daddies? Can we be tender and kindhearted at the end of the day? Can we offer ourselves completely? By the grace of God, we can. And the blessings that come with a holy marriage will spill over into family life in abundance. Together, you and your husband will embrace a lifestyle that is unparalleled in its goodness.