I’ve read a few marriage manuals in my life and thought someday I might even write my own, especially with all the firsthand wisdom I’ve acquired in this experience called holy matrimony.
And I’ve read a lot of parenting manuals by everyone from Dr. Spock to Britney Spears’s mom, but I can’t say they helped me that much raising four daughters. Despite all the modern discoveries such as "time out," I usually resorted to the age-old parenting tactic known as screaming your brains out, which I learned from my mother, even though it never seemed to work all that well for her and didn’t work at all for me.
Then, there’s the collection of dog obedience books I’ve read from cover to cover. The problem is our dog Bella hasn’t read them, which is probably why nothing seems to work. She does whatever she wants, or as my daughter Julie says, "That’s the most spoiled dog I’ve ever seen."
Is there another dog alive that drops the ball at your feet to play fetch and barks continuously until you throw it? And if you refuse to throw the ball, she’ll grab your pants leg with her teeth.
Wives, husbands, sons, daughters, dogs. It can be a war zone out there.
But I recently had an experience that taught me more than any manual could. It involved my wife Sandy and, I like to believe, the Holy Spirit.
We had a nasty argument, and like so many nasty arguments, after a few weeks passed, I couldn’t even remember what had provoked it. The kids? Finances? Overspending? Bad habits? Underwear under my bed? Insensitivity? Division of labor? Not pulling my weight with the household chores? My dislike of yardwork? Take your pick. There are a hundred possibilities, and I’m probably guilty of every one of them. To my thinking, my wife might be guilty of one or two, but I don’t want to start another battle that I’m predestined to lose.
It’s amazing how so many marital arguments revolve around the same themes year after year. You’d think that by now I’d learn my lesson and just agree rather than say things I regret later.
Sometimes I think, "This couldn’t possibly be a sacrament of holy matrimony." Show me the holy part, please. But it is and quite often it ain’t easy.
So there I was, licking my wounds and prepared to go into battle one more time over a stupid disagreement, when suddenly an old memory popped into my head, a memory of something my wife did years ago. It was a good memory, which makes me think the Holy Spirit put it there because during arguments, I usually only remember the bad stuff.
I remembered the time our family was in an uproar because my late father discovered a lump in his neck but refused to go to the doctor. "I’m OK, I’m OK," he assured us.
After weeks of resisting, he finally drove to the Veterans Hospital alone to confront the inevitable. He didn’t want my mother to go with him, and I was at work. However, when Sandy found out, she picked up our youngest daughter at nursery school and promptly drove to the hospital to find him. She went from parking lot to parking lot, trying to spot his old Ford van.
After 20 minutes of searching – my father didn’t have a cell phone – she saw it near the emergency room entrance. With our young daughter in tow, she raced inside and found my father sitting alone, anxious and forlorn, waiting for the doctor.
For the entire day, Sandy stayed with him as he went from test to test. She talked to the doctors, and she was by his side when the unmentionable possibility was mentioned – it was cancer. She stood by my father during one of the most harrowing ordeals of his life.
When I remembered that story, I felt humbled and guilty and thankful all at the same time because it reminded me of the person my wife really is, and my monumental anger melted away. Was this the Holy Spirit in action?
In the heat of battle, when the curses and accusations and threats are flying across the room, we usually forget what is best in our spouses. I’m thankful the Spirit was there to remind me.
I’ve come to believe that husbands and wives get help from heaven without even realizing it, especially if they pray for their marriage. That, I suppose, is one of the spiritual fringe benefits of the sacrament of holy matrimony.
J.F. Pisani is a writer who lives with his family in the New Haven area.