“They must be crazy!”, available at: ForYourMarriage.org


Happily Even After

“They must be crazy!”


March 9, 2010

“They must be crazy!”

The priest repeated this refrain in his homily at our wedding on May 9, 1998, at the church on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. We were technically still college seniors, celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony the day after finals.

The priest recalled for all present that the novelty of the news of our wedding had spread across campus. When our fellow students heard that we were finishing finals on Friday afternoon, holding our rehearsal and dinner later that evening, and getting married at 1 p.m. on Saturday, they thought we were out of our minds.
 
We both will admit that our GPAs suffered that spring semester of senior year, but it was worth it. The wedding served as a fitting culmination of our relationship, which had grown entirely within our time at Notre Dame.
 
We met on the first day of classes when we shared a humanities seminar together and by spring of our junior year, we had asked our parents for their blessing and had a date to be married. We may have been crazy, but we weren’t stupid–all of our friends were on campus and finished with classes and ready for a party. Our Irish and Polish family and friends celebrated with the fullness of joy that only weddings can manifest.

Yet, sacraments are starting lines, not finish lines, and we’ve hit our stride as a married couple of 11 years and counting. We crossed the continent when we lived in Alaska for a year, serving as Jesuit Volunteers, and then moved to Florida for the birth of our first son, Oscar (9 years old). We returned to Notre Dame as the first married couple to work through the Masters of Divinity Program together.

After earning our degrees in 2005, we were graciously received by the University of Portland in Oregon to serve as campus ministers, sharing one job, and we’ve been here ever since. The university allows us to share one full-time position, so one of us can be at home with the kids during the day. We each take two or three days on campus during the week and have a very highly coordinated calendar.

Two more children arrived along the past five years here in Portland: Simon-Peter, who is pushing 4, and little Lucy, who is two and a half.

In some ways, our married life is atypical: we share a job and an income; we shared the formative parts of our lives together, including the turn to specialize in a career; and we both see our vocation as a married couple intimately tied to our vocation to serve the Church as lay ecclesial ministers.

In many, many other ways, though, our lives are very typical: we worry whether our kids get enough to eat when all that seems to go into their bodies, despite our best efforts, are fruit snacks; our solitary car needs a new transmission, probably, and the rear window wiper doesn’t work; and any given Friday evening has us renting a movie and turning in early.

Our goal in this blog is to simply share with you glimpses into our married life and what we do to sustain it. After being married nearly a dozen years, significant moments and insights continue to come to us throughout a typical week. Our hope is that, perhaps, sharing these will be useful. At a minimum we are most grateful for the opportunity for some intentional reflection.

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My Core Sin

My Core Sin

My main New Year’s resolution this year was to figure out and name my weaknesses.

I started with simply taking a good hard look at what I think I have heard most often as the challenging sides of my personality, whether in work performance reviews or personal relationships. Joshua, of course, was very useful in confirming or nuancing those insights (and adding a few of his own). Then I turned to those friends nearest and dearest to me.

I have had to proceed carefully to get some substantive feedback. The problem, of course, is that folks are generally far too kind and thus struggle to be completely honest in naming another person’s shortcomings.

Almost everything I have learned—almost every insight I have received—points back, more or less, to one core foible: control. The vast majority of my weaknesses, at least as those who know me best experience them, stem from some element of control.

In April, David Brooks wrote an article called “The Moral Bucket List” in the New York Times. He names the characteristics of those people he experiences as “radiating an inner light” or who are “deeply good.” He noticed that such people have been profoundly honest about their own weaknesses and can identify their “core sin.” He names a core sin as a consistent weakness that makes them feel ashamed. The act of naming this sin, according to Brooks, helps them achieve “a profound humility, which has best been defined as an intense self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness.”

I found the article affirming since, by the time of my reading it, I could confidently name my “core sin” as control. I also thought it put some helpful language on why it is a worthwhile endeavor to identify our central downfall.

First, from our Catholic point of view, we understand “sin” to be fundamentally a break from God. When we sin, we separate ourselves from the fullness of communion with God. When I attempt to impose disproportionate amounts of control on my environment—or worse, on the people around me—I am most often exerting my will over and against others. At worst this can be damaging. At best it is severely lacking in humility.

Second, using the next helpful element of Brooks’ article: when we are able to name and own our core sin, it frees us for a “profound humility.” We see and acknowledge our most broken parts, which, in turn, allows us to recognize how that brokenness impacts others.

I realized when I read Brooks’ statement about “self-awareness from a position of other-centeredness” that possibly our core sins may simply be the shadow side to some of our greatest natural strengths. I think that, left unchecked (or perhaps inappropriately oriented), our most unique God-given talents have the capacity to become our most glaring weaknesses.

That is to say, control is my core sin, but it is also the shadow side of my greatest gift at home and work: clear-sighted, comprehensive order. When I humbly put that gift at the service of our family and those I work with and train, it IS a gift. When I wield it unchecked by consultation and in single-minded isolation it separates me from others and from God by breaking down relationships instead of building them up.

Josh shared with me that his core sin is intemperance. There are obvious ways that intemperance can be destructive and unhelpful. But in its most helpful and healthy iteration, it leads Josh (and those lucky enough to be with him) to experience joy fully and unabashedly, to have an unreserved sense of curiosity and wonder, and an utter willingness to give new and unknown experiences a try.

In an interesting twist, you might notice that my core sin, control, and Josh’s core sin of intemperance are pretty much exact opposites. This is likely no shock to anyone who has ever met both of us or heard us give a presentation together. Although they seem utterly at odds, I think our very opposite dispositions allow us to call one another to very specific areas of growth. You could even go so far as to say where we are weakest the other is strongest. In that way, we get to incarnate grace for each other, to call each other to be the best version of ourselves.

After all, isn’t it part of our job as spouses to help one another shed light on our shadow sides? Without that light, how can we hope to grow?


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