Not always as it appears

Matt and Mindy Dalton

Marriages are usually not ruined overnight. One or the other usually does not wake up one morning and say, “I am miserable in this marriage and I want a divorce.”

It occurs little by little over time. Little by little, we can begin to avoid certain topics of conversation (since the last time that topic came up, it led to a fight). Little by little, we disagree on how to handle disciplining the children. Little by little, we argue over finances, whether to change jobs, sex, household chores, the kids, love, respect; the list goes on. Little by little, our hearts become hardened and our minds start wandering to thoughts of, “I don’t know why I married this person. I don’t deserve to live like this. I wonder what life would be like if things were different?”

What we think most couples do not realize is that we all struggle with many of the same topics, maybe to varying degrees. We look at the other couples in the pews and think, “They are so happy; what is wrong with us?”

Just because we are in fulltime Marriage Missionaries work doesn’t mean we have it all figured out and neither do most couples that we know. Our world tells us that we should have the perfect job, the perfect spouse, amazing children; and what happens is a little curve in the road comes upon us and it blows our perfect plan to pieces. Sharing our curves in the road with other couples who have been there; seeking their wisdom and guidance can help minimize the damage.

Our origin as man, male and female, is from a communion of persons; the blessed Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit. As husband and wife we are made for communion and our destiny is the communion of saints where we will be in joyous communion with God for eternity.

Consider looking around at your community and pray about having a group of couples come together on a regular basis, to share hospitality and the beauty of our faith. Sharing both struggles and joys, gaining confidence with each other so as to build each other up as married couples raising Godly children and grandchildren.

Somehow God works through the struggles. When our younger four children were 10, 9, 7 and a newborn, it was quite the task getting ourselves and the other three up and ready for 8:30 a.m. Mass, but especially the younger four.

We always woke them in what we felt was plenty of time to go to the bathroom, get dressed, brush their teeth, fix their hair, get shoes tied and loaded in the SUV. Five minutes before it was time to leave, Katie was missing a shoe, Julianna still had her PJs on and Joseph thought this would be the perfect time to work on his jump shot on the indoor plastic basketball hoop. Things escalated and the yelling started: “Hurry up, we are going to be late” or “Stop touching your brother,” “Leave her alone!”; “Do that one more time.”

Somehow we made it to Mass with a couple of minutes to spare; filed in the pew in the correct order (certain children can’t sit by certain children, if you know what I mean); we took a deep breath, tried to appear as though all was wonderful, knelt down to pray, when the usher walked up to us, leaned over and said, “You guys look like the perfect family to bring up the gifts.” “You have got to be kidding me” was the thought I had in my mind. But instead, we smiled and said, “Sure, we’d be glad to.”

COMING UP: Navigating major cultural challenges

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We’re navigating through a true rock and a hard place right now: moral relativism and the oversaturation of technology. In fact, they are related. Moral relativism leaves us without a compass to discern the proper use of technology. And technological oversaturation leads to a decreased ability to think clearly about what matters most and how to achieve it.

Fortunately, we have some Odysseus-like heroes to guide our navigation. Edward Sri’s book Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love (Augustine Institute, 2017) provides a practical guide for thinking through the moral life and how to communicate to others the truth in love. Christopher Blum and Joshua Hochschild take on the second challenge with their book A Mind at Peace: Reclaiming an Ordered Soul in the Age of Distraction (Sophia, 2017).

Sri’s book describes conversations that have become quite common. When discussing moral issues, we hear too often, “this is true for me,” “I feel this is right,” or “who am I to judge?” We are losing our ability both to think about and discuss moral problems in a coherent fashion. Morality has become an expression of individual and subjective feeling, rather than clear reasoning based on the truth. In fact, many, or even most, young people would say there is no clear truth when it comes to morality—the very definition of relativism.

Beyond this inability to reason clearly, Christians also face pressure to remain silent in the face of immoral action, shamed into a corner with the label of bigotry. In response to our moral crisis, Sri encourages us to learn more about our own great tradition of morality focused on virtue and happiness. He also provides excellent guidance on how to engage others in a loving conversation to help them consider that our actions relate not only to our own fulfillment, but to our relationships with others.

Sri points out that it’s hard to “win” an argument with relativists, because “relativistic tendencies are rooted in various assumptions they have absorbed from the culture an in habits of thinking and living they have formed over a lifetime” (13). Rather than “winning,” Sri advises us to accompany others through moral and spiritual growth with seven keys, described in the second half of the book. These keys help us to see others through the heart of Christ, with mercy, and to reframe discussions about morality, turning more toward love and addressing underlying wounds. Ultimately, he asks us, “will you be Jesus?” to those struggling with relativism. (155).

Blum and Hochschild’s book complements Sri’s by focusing on the virtues we need to address our cultural challenges. They point to another common concern we all face: a “crisis of attention” as our minds wander, preoccupied with social media (2). More positively, they encourage us to “be consoled” as “there are remedies” to help us “regain an ordered and peaceful mind, which thinks more clearly and attends more steadily” (ibid.). The path they point out can be found in a virtuous and ordered life guided by wisdom.

To achieve peace, we need virtues and other good habits, which create order within us. “With order, our attention is focused, directed, clear, trustworthy, and fruitful” (10). The book encourages us to rediscover fundamental realities of life, such as being attune to our senses and to aspire to higher and noble things. The authors, with the help of the saints, provide a guidebook to forming important dispositions to overcome the addiction and distraction that come with the omnipresence of media and technology.

The book’s chapters address topics such as self-awareness, steadfastness, resilience, watchfulness, creativity, purposefulness, and decisiveness.  These dispositions will create order in how we use our tools and within our inner faculties. They will help us to be more intentional in our action so that we do not succumb to passivity and distraction.  Overall, the book leads us to consider how we can rediscover simple and profound realities, such as a good conversation, periods of silence, and a rightly ordered imagination.

Both books help us to navigate our culture, equipping us to respond more intentionally to the interior and exterior challenges we face.