Ben and I barely spoke as we brushed arms, he to sleep on the couch and I to crash into our bed. I’d just given birth to our fifth child – 3 in 4 years – and we were beyond exhausted. We were on the verge of burnout. We’d chosen to take shifts at night so that both of us could at least have a few hours of sleep, the fuel by which we’d gauge our semi-productive days. But that meant we barely spoke, because we were subsisting on emotional and mental fumes.
For six months, we existed this way, like zombies with no life behind our eyes. We moved, we breathed, but the life-breath had all but been extinguished from our marriage. Everything centered around survival – food, water, and sleep – and there were few reserves for any meaningful conversation.
I didn’t know it at the time, but Ben would often cry during those long, lonely nights. I, too, felt a creeping separateness in our life together. But neither of us said a word to the other. We’d both resigned ourselves to a marriage bereft of true connection.
What kept us together? Fidelity to God, and fidelity to each other.
“Why does God, who is love, keep us waiting? Because he is love, and seeks love. Love that does not know how to wait is not love. To love is to give ourselves. Not only for a fraction of a lifetime, nor with a part of its strength: love is, and seeks, the total gift of self.”— Dom Augustin Guillerand, O. Cart.
The line love that does not know how to wait is not love comes to mind when I think of how anyone muddles through the desperation of loneliness in any marriage. We all have these dry spells, both in our relationship with God and with our spouses. Of course, marriage is a reflection of the Divine Union we are all meant to achieve with our Creator. How often are we tempted to give up on prayer when we feel God’s silence, His endless absence? Just the same, we tend to believe faithfulness to our marriage is fruitless when we come upon seasons of painful silence.
For all that is good, both marriage and heaven alike, we must wait. Waiting is painful, because we often can’t see where we’re headed. We only know where we’ve been. The unknown and uncertainty that plagues our minds becomes a breeding ground for the enemy to convince us that love is based solely on fleeting happiness. But nothing less than a total gift of self is required – a lifetime – in order for us to stumble upon our promised land.
“Without love animating our seeking, no effort of thought alone gets nearer to him…God can increase as we encounter his greater mystery…The incomprehension is often the greater grace, more than the knowledge we may have gained of God. It protects us from resting in an intellectual comfort as the fruit of prayer, and thereby halting our search for God.”– Fr. Donald Haggerty
It makes sense that fidelity to God through perseverance in prayer acts as a preparation for those of us called to the vocation of marriage. In the infancy of our spiritual journey, we often experience an abundance of consolations and signs of God’s presence. These are intended to woo us, to lure us closer to God and assure us that we are, in fact, on the right path.
Similarly, the beginning of marriage – the honeymoon phase – we feel an intense connection to our spouse, or what we might classify as chemistry. It seems to us as if this love will never end, and our commitment adheres us to each other.
But over time, we enter into a desert of sorts – the aridity is indicative (we falsely assume) of our lack, our failings. In the spiritual life, this looks like a long stretch of God’s absence, in which we no longer hear His voice clearly, feel His presence near, or receive any sort of indication that we are pleasing Him. In marriage, it can feel very much the same.
Like Ben and I experienced, marriage is hard. But so is faithfulness to God. The point is not so much focusing on what is missing or our perception of disappointment and disillusion, but instead to grasp the eternal wisdom that fidelity grows in proportion to other virtues – faith, hope, charity, fortitude.
Life is a series of both trials and triumphs. Difficulties in our human relationships may point us toward troubles in prayer. If we don’t rely upon our fickle feelings and instead endure through every hardship, we will enter another season of consolation.
The gift of life and the gift of faith is this: Every period of desolation ends with a season of consolation, and consolations strengthen us for times of dryness.