Marriage and the Cycle of Life-Death-Resurrection
“The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.”
From St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation
From the outside looking in, marriage can seem like a static relationship. Friends become lovers, commit to each other, and from there on that love is eternal, unmoving, unchanging. It’s what most of us vow, isn’t it? “In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer…” We promise to stay true, and that is an important promise.
But so often that promise of commitment translates in our minds as a promise to changelessness. Yet once we enter into marriage, we eventually realize that our partner may change. We realize that we may change. We realize that our love may change. These changes may be relatively small – “She used to love bread, now she won’t eat it.” “He used to exercise every day, now he has a gut!” “I used to find that quirk endearing, now I can’t stand it!” – but what happens when the change becomes more fundamental? “They used to love God, now they’re not sure if God exists.” “We used to passionately be on the same page at our church, now she is drawn to another religious tradition.”
In all of these changes (particularly the bigger changes that are most disconcerting to us), we are given the opportunity to participate in what the Christian tradition calls the “Paschal Mystery.” This is the Mystery that life always leads to some kind of death, but that death in turn always leads to some kind of life. Life and death are deeply intertwined; each feeds the other.
Change can be a kind of death, for in every experience of change something must be let go of in order to embrace something new. This mystery of change is what we celebrate in Lent and Easter and what we can more fully live as committed partners who experience each other over long periods of time; time that allows us to behold the deaths and changes of our beloved’s life.
Change can be celebrated as new life, but it can also be mourned as death. When this happens to our partner, it can be scary. Perhaps something that comforted us in the other person is suddenly gone.
What changes in your partner have you had to mourn? What has come of these changes in their lives? Are you in a place to celebrate these changes as new life? If you are still mourning these changes, or are awakening to the need to mourn, don’t rush the process. Don’t feel the need to quickly celebrate new life.
It is in living through grief that we take in all that the Paschal Mystery has to offer us. At Jesus’s passion, only his Mother, Mary Magdalene and the Beloved disciple John were able to remain present to grief. Something deeply comforting was being wrenched away from them but they did not run from the process of change. May we not run either. May we stay with our love and its deaths and resurrections as we stay with our beloved.
Questions for Individual Consideration:
Find a quiet place of prayer and ask yourself the following questions. Journaling answers is a helpful medium for many people.
- What is it about your partner that you used to value but is no longer there?
- What comforted you about this?
- Name specific feelings that came with this comfort.
- Let yourself feel this loss of comfort, knowing that your partner is different now.
- Ask yourself, “Why was I comforted in this way?” Try to name the need within you that was met by this specific comfort.
- Bring that need before God’s presence. Simply offer it. Place it in the hands of the One who is always gracious, always good, and an ever-present source of loving-kindness.
- Is there a response from God in word, picture, imagination or emotion? Do you feel the need to move your body, make art, go on a walk? Do these things. There could be a deeply moving response, or there could be nothing. Let the experience be as it is.
This exercise might need to be done more than once. It takes time to move through grief. Talk about these things with your partner if you feel comfortable, as well as a trusted spiritual director.
Reminder: The point is not to try to reach a particular resolve. The point is to let grief move through your body and let Divine Wisdom guide you from a proverbial death into new life in her time. It is important to not distract ourselves from the grief of loss and change, for only by facing it head-on can we come to resurrection in our lives and in our marriages.
If you are ready and able to share these feelings with your spouse, do so now. If neither of you are ready, lovingly connect in another way that is meaningful to both of you. If one partner feels ready to share and the other does not, make safe and affirming space for the one who wants to share without pressuring the one who does not feel ready. These things come in their own time, and the best hope for resurrection is to allow the cycle to take the time it needs.
About the Retreat Leaders
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Rewilding Motherhood,” “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World” and “Luminous: A 30-Day Journal for Accepting Your Body, Honoring Your Soul, and Finding Your Joy.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.
Eric Evans is a spiritual director who earned his certification from St. John’s School of Theology and Seminary in Collegeville, Minnesota. An alumnus of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School, he has served as a breakout session facilitator at the CAC’s international Conspire conference and has led retreats and centering prayer groups in local contexts. Prior to opening his spiritual direction practice, Eric served five years in parish ministry as director of music and campus minister at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and Student Center in Ames, IA. He has also lived and ministered in overseas contexts such as South Africa and Indonesia. Eric’s practice of spiritual accompaniment is rooted in both Ignatian and Benedictine values.