A Word in Season
On Faith, Grace, Sex, Kids, and Love, after Three Decades
Chastity is for married couples too. For my husband and myself, that translates into marital fidelity. We choose to be together first, always. But when circumstances separate us, and they will separate every couple periodically, both sexually and geographically, we stay faithfully attentive to one another. We talk every day and night even when we are apart. We stay away from the temptations to use porn, or flirt with other people, or drink alone.
There is no replacement or temporary fix for the occasional aches in the heart and body that we suffer when we cannot be together. Yet, here is where self-mastery again enters in. We offer it up as a sacrifice made on behalf of the other—as we keep each other's love in full view despite the distance or temporary separation—and it has served us well. This, too, is proof of the elastic grace of the Sacrament of Matrimony. Before marriage, the grace of the Eucharist sustained us—thank God there is such a remedy for our humble, fleeting, and fickle human strength. Now we have the holy bonds of Matrimony too.
Love is a great multiplier and so love begets more love. Sexual love finds its height in its fruitfulness, in the gift of a child.
The beauty of children in a marriage is a cure for any remaining selfishness I may have brought into marriage. The presence of children pulled my love for Bob out of shape, and that's a good thing. Children grew my love. If our marriage started out with our just wanting to lay our lives down for our spouse, such that we thought we could never be happier, well, children made us think again.
Becoming someone's mother or father is one of the greatest gifts of love. With children, we learned the "more" of marital love . . . what that great love we had for our spouse was really for. Having a family raised our couple-love to an order of magnitude beyond what we could dare or imagine. And we fell more in love with each other as we watched each other grow into fatherhood and motherhood.
Bob and I just came back last week from visiting our youngest son, the only one still in college. As we were driving together we were smiling: we still love being parents, no matter the ages of our children. Sure it is quite changed from the years of raising little ones. But to have come through years of the happy and sad occasions associated with each child, and to see them now launching out as adults capable of starting families of their own—well, that's a bitter sweetness we'd drink in any day of the week.
Some wise sage once said that when you have a child you learn what it is to watch your heart walk around outside in another person's body. That's a good analogy, but it still falls short of the Catholic view of family life. If we believe what we profess in the Creed, that the Lord is "the giver of life," then we must see our children's lives through a heavenly lens, for the very heart of God is tied to every human heart that beats. What parents get to see and experience is in some small measure is what God's Fatherhood is all about. God's heart is walking around on the earth in our children. This is why we are to love one another. God first loved us. It is why Pope Benedict XVI so wisely preached that, "each of us is the result of a thought of God" (Homily, April 24, 2005).
God will never let us go; we will always have a place in his heart. His love is always faithful. Our children remind us that love has an everlasting component that lives on, long after we have to let each other go, at least, in this earthly life.
Our marriage, in big and small ways, seeks to imitate this Godly, faithful love. We are still learning what that means, but we are so grateful to have had thirty years thus far to take it all in.
So, young people out there, you didn't ask for any advice, but humor a midlife woman on her 30th wedding anniversary. I have a few suggestions.
Trust God and prepare yourself for a future mate by learning to love Jesus first.
Trust the Sacraments and the graces of the Church.
Trust the ways of chastity and the enormity of delight that it will bring on the other side of your vows.
Remember to be not afraid: it has always been counter-cultural to live as a Christian. But once you dive deep into knowing and learning what love really is, you will learn that it is never counter-intuitive.
Love will cost you everything, and it will be a debt you will gladly pay.
So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor. 13:13).
Pat Gohn is a writer, speaker, and host of the Among Women podcast and blog. She holds a Masters in Theology, and a Bachelors in Communications. Her passion is working within the sphere adult faith formation both in parish life and in using media for evangelization and catechesis. Find more at www.patgohn.net.