For Better or Worse
Now we come to difficulties peculiar to some marriages. For example, there is a marriage in which the husband may be an alcoholic or the wife a spendthrift, or the husband unfaithful or the wife always nagging, or he is a “beast” or she is “impossible.”
What is going to be done in a case like that? Stick it out! Remain faithful! Why? Suppose the husband, instead of being an alcoholic, had pneumonia. Would the wife nurse him and care for him? If he is a sinner he has moral pneumonia and is spiritually sick; why abandon him? A mother has a child with polio; does she give up the child? St. Paul tells us that “The believing wife sanctifies the unbelieving husband; the believing husband sanctifies the unbelieving wife.” There can be a transfusion of power from one to the other. Sometimes the condition for making the other better is perseverance and love.
A young German girl, at the close of the last World War, who was very learned and had read Homer at seventeen, was courted by one of our American GIs in Berlin. She married him, and they came to this country, where she discovered he wanted only to read Western stories while frequenting saloons and refused to work. While supporting both of them she wrote to me, saying, “I was thinking of divorce, but I know that if I divorce him, I am contributing to the ruin of civilization. It does not mean very much if I pull my own individual finger out of that dam; just a little water will come through. But if every women in the world in a similar situation does the same, then the floodtides will sweep over he world. So I am going to stick it out; but I cannot do so without faith, and you must help me to get it.” We gave her instructions, and God gave her the gift of faith. The husband is now an officer in the Army, a different kind of man, and both are raising a fine family.
Certain things which we have in us, once they are given out, are never meant to be taken back. One is the air we breathe; if we take the air back upon ourselves, it poisons us. Love is another. When love is breathed out to another human heart, it is never meant to be taken back. If it is taken back, it suffocates and poisons us.
It may well be that the sacrificial devotion of a wife in such an hour of crisis is the condition of the husband’s recovery. Where fleshly love may not heal, sacrificial love may well work the miracle. All suffering endured with love of God profits our families and even the world. Where there is alcoholism, disgruntled tempers, the burdens of others become as impediments to one’s own happiness, but where there is true charity, they become as opportunities for service. When carnal love breaks down, then Christian love must step into the breach. The other person is then regarded not as the condition of one’s happiness but as the condition of one’s salvation.
Many a marriage may be a living martyrdom, but at least to the one who practices it can be sure that he is not robbing his own soul of honor and fidelity. Why should we expect our soldiers to be faithful to their country in the muck and mire, when the husbands and wives desert the cause at the first bursting of a shell? A soldier when drafted does not accept the sentence of death, but he is prepared to face death rather than lose honor. An unhappy marriage is not a condemnation to misery, it is a courageous bearing of the burdens of another rather than denying the vow to “Love until death do us part.”
It is not so much the trials and sufferings in certain marriages that make the marriage unbearable; it is how we react to the sufferings. If the trial is regarded as the canceling out the ego and its pleasures, it begets an inferno within; if it is regarded as permitted by God for a greater good, it can positively create an inner joy. When either husband or wife gives up because of the trial, there is just that much less love and heroism in the world. The refusal to love is hell. Though love is not returned, this is not reason for not loving. Rather it is reason for loving: “You love those who love you. What reward is there in this?” But to go on loving in the midst of hate, to sow seeds of kindness where there is no hope of harvest, to forgive when hands are being pierced with nails is not only to diminish the hate of others by localizing marital infections and thus preventing them from becoming epidemics; it is also to purchase the recovery of others through love, for some souls can be purchased only by sacrifice. The government does not abandon soldiers on the battlefields because they can no longer fight; fathers do not disown their sons because they have a period of foolish immaturity. In each case, there is respect for the other, because the other is a person having value in himself independently of whether he earns of fights, or does not earn. Let there be in the home a respect for the partner, not on the basis of whether the partner gives pleasure, but because the partner is a person, and a gift of God to be loved as one’s own flesh. Then there will be less cowardice and surrender, more courage and more faith and a better America. But to love another for God’s sake, we must really believe in God.
Unfortunately, too few listen to such wisdom, instead seeking the shallow and fading pleasures in marriage, and tossing it aside when it fails to meet expectations.
“When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”