Roller coasters are a centerpiece of the amusement park, a common summer vacation destination for many families including ours. While there is some danger involved in riding them, roller coasters can be safe when properly designed and tested. Engineers understand what forces a body can comfortably withstand. Proper measures are taken to make sure the cars stay on the track and the passengers stay in the cars. Riders also play a role in ensuring a safe ride. They are instructed to, “Keep arms and legs inside the car at all times!” Lap bars are lowered and/or seatbelts fastened and checked.
In short, the laws of physics must be respected, because they govern the reality within which the roller coaster exists. What would happen if those things didn’t happen properly? What if the rider engaged in dangerous behaviors, contrary to the rules? What if the restraints didn’t fasten properly and went undetected?
At first the danger to the unsecured rider is minimal, but what happens when the ride picks up speed heading into that first loop. Let’s assume the worst doesn’t happen. Perhaps the rider saw the danger coming and figured out a way to stay in the car, despite all the forces against him. Exhausted and relieved, he’s safe … until the corkscrew. Will the same strategy work again? The forces are different, and now he’s tired. Will he come up with a new strategy in time? If he gets through the corkscrew, what about the next challenge?
Marriage is a lot like a roller coaster, fun and exhilarating, but also full of twists and turns, loops and corkscrews, many of which are unforeseen. So how does a marriage survive while routinely being thrown off track?
As we look back over our first ten years of marriage, the frequency of genuine life-changing events is almost staggering: two college graduations, buying our first house, four job changes, moving to a new city, two miscarriages, three childbirths, the unexpected loss of Lisa’s father, Lisa leaving her career to stay at home with our children, and four years of deacon formation. Whew! Clearly, the only constant in our marriage has been change, and any one of those changes could have knocked us off course.
The national divorce rate hovers around 50%, and many studies find that number is not significantly different for Catholics. Yet, we have the Sacrament of Marriage, which is a wellspring of grace, and teachings like the Theology of the Body, which grounds human sexuality in the essence of our very being. While contemporary culture may seek to redefine marriage, that doesn’t change the reality of sacramental marriage.
When husband and wife fail to respect Catholic teaching on marriage, which authentically represents reality, their marital relationship is left vulnerable to forces that seek to undo it. They may coast along fine for a while, but what happens when the first loop comes? What about the second, third, and fourth ones? That’s reality, too.
As we stroll through these days of summer, let’s be intentional about celebrating our individual marital sacraments. What’s one thing you can do to strengthen your marriage this summer, to lower the lap bar and fasten the seat belt so to speak?
A few ideas:
- Schedule a date night with each other at least once a month. Maybe even begin it by praying a holy hour together in an Adoration chapel.
- Enjoy a summer book club, just the two of you. Find a book on marriage specifically written for couples to read together and do just that.
- Set an hourly alarm on your cell phone during the daytime hours and when the alarm rings, make a hard stop and pray for your spouse.
- Schedule a marriage retreat at one of the many retreat centers or monasteries in the surrounding area.
The ideas are endless, and yours ideas are likely more creative than ours. Ultimately the goal is to better prepare us for the inevitable twists and turns of married life. This allows us to have genuine hope — hope that the challenges we face can not only be conquered but also will strengthen our marital relationship, deepen our love for our spouses, and bring abiding joy and peace to the marriage.
Enjoy your ride!
A version of this article originally appeared in The Catholic Mirror, the newspaper for the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa