On Saturday, I went back to the heart-reading priest for Confession again to confess that I’d been an idiot about the forum I left last week, that I’d given it too much importance. I probably didn’t have to, but I wanted to.

The last song on the radio as I went inside had the lyrics, “Sometimes love is found in the things we’ve given up more than in the things we have kept.”

The priest talked to me for a little while, saying that what I was expressing is something priests face too, because it feels spiritually good to help other people, but we mustn’t let that little spiritually good feeling overshadow the things God really wants us to be doing. It was just misplaced priorities. I think I’m on the right track now (or at least, I hope.)

What struck me most was what happened in line before I got to talk to the priest. (Yes, I said “in line.” This place has two hours of confessions, many times there are two priests, and there’s always a line.) When I arrived, there were three women, then a couple, then one single man, then me with a sleeping baby.

When the male half of the couple slid down the bench, he guided his wife, who let out a frightened cry. He spoke to her softly. Then he turned to the single man who was waiting before me, and he asked, “When I go in, can you make sure she doesn’t wander away?”

I cannot tell you how my heart broke, how I realized this man was shouldering the care of his wife who must have had dementia, who hadn’t found someone to care for her long enough so he could go to confession. The way this man was holding onto God with one hand and his disabled wife with the other.

I drove home. We had a guest, a man who recently lost his wife to cancer. It was plain that he missed her, taken from him and their children too soon.

The next day, my Patient Husband was on the phone with a relative who was concerned about another relative who had recently split up with her significant other. They had been living together, and now the relative was having to find a new place near her job, a car, a support network.

Three couples, three uncouplings. Two men, faithful to their marriages until the last moments. One marriage never given the chance to grow. The pain of all the endings.

Marriage should be, primarily, a way for those called to it to help one another into Heaven. That’s why it’s a vocation. And before my eyes, I saw a man helping his wife stand while the priest prayed over her, helping her into Heaven, helping himself toward Heaven by his care for a woman no longer the woman he married. And at my dinner table, a man who stayed by his wife while the cancer took more and more of her. The way God’s love sanctified these men’s sufferings, the glimpse of humanity at its most vulnerable as it loses the thing it thought it could never live without.

Sometimes love is found in the things we’ve given up more than in the things we have kept.


  1. Ken Rolph

    In my Anglican Book of Common Prayer, the marriage services include the statement:

    “And it was ordained for the mutual companionship, help and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

    It would be helpful if that were foregrounded in any discussions of marriage. Incidentally, I’m told this line is not in the Catholic service. I can’t check this because I don’t have access to a Catholic text. From the outside, Catholics seem to give to much priority to children and to leave couples floundering when they end up alone together.

    1. philangelus

      I’d have to go look it up in the marriage book, if we still have it. (Wait, I don’t have to–it’s online: http://www.marysadvocates.org/syllabus/RiteMarriage.html

      We had to memorize our vows, and I believe they went like this:
      “I, Jane, take you, Patient Husband, to be my lawful wedded husband. I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life. So there.”

      Children are seen as a part of marriage that can’t be excluded, but nowhere does the Catholic church say the marriage is somehow less if the couple cannot or doesn’t have children through no action of their own.

  2. cricketB

    My favourite vow is from the United Church of Canada:

    I take you to be my wife/husband: to laugh with you in joy, to grieve with you in sorrow, to grow with you in love, serving humankind in peace and hope, as long as we both, shall live.