I am just reading a book entitled "Into the heart of faith", by Dennis Billy C.Ss.R., in which the author spells out ten steps on one's faith journey. (Liguori Publications 1989; St Pauls, Mumbai 1999) They are:
- Facing our fears;
- Befriending our doubts;
- Embracing the sufferings that come our way;
- Working through painful memories;
- Breaking up our cold, stony hearts;
- Fostering relationships with others;
- Forgiving and receiving forgiveness;
- Reaching out to others in love;
- Having a deep longing for God; and
- Living in hope.
Billy speaks of an individual's journey with Christ. I would like to explore these 10 steps in a couple's journey with Christ. In this article, we'll focus on Facing Our Fears.
Facing Our Fears
Marriage is a journey that starts on your wedding day and continues all your life together as bride and bridegroom to each other. In this journey it is sometimes a challenge to love and respect oneself and each other. Even though each one may want to change behaviour that is not acceptable to one's spouse, it may not be so easy to do so. Each of us has a history that in some way has formed us and we may need to be reformed by allowing Jesus to heal us in the power of His Spirit and set us free to love one another as Jesus loves us.
In this healing we invite Jesus and our Spouse to accompany us back to our childhood, adolescent and young adult years and to be Jesus' voice and arms to us as we face what disturbed us with faith and courage. We recall the painful incident and see ourselves and those who hurt us. We share our thoughts and feelings at the time, with our spouse who listens with a view to understanding and accepting us with love and tenderness. We may need to be affirmed, forgiven and healed, so that we are no longer disturbed by past memories that prevent us from loving one another.
All of us as human beings have certain strengths and weaknesses at times. We may usually be kind, understanding, patient, courageous, dependable, generous, unselfish, loving, appreciative, understanding, forgiving, humble and prayerful. Or, at times, we may have a bad temper, be stubborn, mistrustful, slow to forgive, quick to retaliate, ready to run away from problems, unwilling to admit mistakes, speak sarcastically, slow to express appreciation, want our own way and sulk when we do not get it, unable to express gratitude or use others for our own pleasure or satisfaction.
In our journey through life we may have had to face external challenges of unemployment, financial difficulties, inadequate housing, non acceptance from our spouse's family, sickness, major operations, lack of time for each other because of pressing obligations to do with our work or bringing up our children, opposing values, interfering family or friends who divide us, difficulty in adjusting to each other because we are set in our ways and cannot be flexible, inability to discipline ourselves and say No to temptations.
We need certain virtues and skills to face these stresses and to adjust to each other and be loving spouses and parents. With God nothing is impossible. We can do all things in Him who strengthens us. His grace is sufficient for you. He has called you to be a married couple, a sacramental sign in the world of his love for the Church. So He wants you to be one, which implies openness and transparency with each other
If Jesus is at the centre of your marriage and home, then nothing can separate you from loving each other as Jesus loves you. St Paul had to face scourging, ship-wrecks, stoning, storms at sea. But he was victorious in the power of the Spirit. In a marriage, the couple who are called by God to be channels of love and grace to each other and to their children, will also receive the courage and help they need to face their fears. They are called to Intimacy, which means sharing their innermost selves with each other. I am not suggesting that they share their sins with each other. But what are their real selves? Why run away from fears through alcoholism, addictions compulsive socialising, television or work
Worldwide Marriage Encounter speaks of some fears between spouses. They are:
- Fear of retaliation. If I tell you something that bothers me maybe you will retaliate instead of listening and understanding me.
- Fear of rejection. You may be upset if I share myself with you and tell me I am immature or selfish.
- Fear of being considered a failure as a spouse, parent or in my work, if I share a weakness or inadequacy in one of these areas.
- Fear of change. If I share a weakness, you may expect me to change immediately by my own efforts. But if I am set in my ways and am not flexible in adjusting, I may have fears of change. I will need your help and understanding.
- Fear of having to live up to your expectations if you are a perfectionist or a critical person.
- Fear of conflict if I tell you my real feelings and desires and share the truth with you. If I am a timid person or want peace at any price, I may not want to rock the boat.
- Fear of anger. I am afraid that either you or I will get angry, if we talk about a topic that disturbs us. So we do not bring it up at all but it is subtly preventing us from being one.
- Fear of taking responsibility if I open up a subject, where I feel inadequate or helpless;
- Fear of losing my independence. e.g. when budgeting, you may watch me or want me to be accountable
- Fear of losing control if we talk about money, the home, rearing children or our sexual relations where one of us is in control.
- Fear of losing your love if I tell you who I really am and stop playing games.
- Fear of being over protected if I share with you a failure or inadequacy.
- Fear of hurting you if I tell you the truth about my ideas, feelings, needs and desires. Together, if we pray to the Holy Spirit for help, He will help us to change, in His time.
Jesus says "Fear not. I am with you" He will help a couple to minister to each other and make allowances for each other, when they live honest, responsible lives. Neither is perfect or always right. Neither is called to be a pharisee, to judge, condemn or bear with the other like a martyr. So begin by sharing your real fears with each other.
Listen with patience, love and understanding to your Spouse, when he or she shares a fear with you. Be respectful and accept him/her as God does with kindness and concern. Sharing the fear, very often takes away the sting and gives relief that one can be oneself. Many fears go back to our past history and with the love and support of a loving spouse, one can grow in confidence and hope. Do not take away the fear. Just accept the other, as he or she is and accompany each other with love and trust. Do not take advantage of the other's trust or tell others about it. You are entrusting yourselves to your spouse when you reveal your fears.
Jesus was truly human and had to face fears in his life and especially in his passion and death. In the garden of Gethsemane, he was alone in facing the fear of rejection, abandonment, torture, humiliation, failure, loss and death itself. When we spend time in personal prayer, everyday, we open our hearts to God and invite Him to carry us in the hollow of his hand and provide for us in our brokeness, inadequacy and need. He also gives you a life companion in the person of your Spouse who will give you the courage and hope to face life's challenges together.
Your children may have many fears, not only when they are small but especially in adolescence and young adulthood. How blessed they are, if they can freely reveal their fears to their parents and receive support, understanding and encouragement. Dennis Billy speaks of the Courage to fear. He says: "Fear is a natural defence we have when we come face to face with imminent danger. It is an alarm system that tells us to be ready and on the alert" If we are always on the alert and can never relax, we will get sick. Some people are anxious and have imaginary fears that keep them always under stress. We should not allow fear to overwhelm us.
"With Jesus in my heart, what have I to fear. For he is the Son of God. In my heart he is near" These were the favourite words of an old lady who was bedridden. They are from the hymn: "God is dwelling in my heart" In Isaiah 43 we read: " But now, thus says Yahweh who created you, Jacob, who formed you Israel. Fear not for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name. You are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through fire, you will not be burned; neither will the flames consume you. For I am your Saviour. . You are precious in my sight and important - for I have loved you.. Fear not, for I am with you."
Irrational fears and phobias are often unconscious. They prevent us from living fully and loving. When spouses love and trust each other and believe in Jesus accompanying them on their journey, these may gradually surface. As you listen with love, respect, patience and understanding to each other, in the presence of Jesus, you will find that he uses you as his hands and voice to build each other in love. So be open to Jesus and to each other and you will experience growth , as persons and in your marriage as spouses and parents.