by Roger Roger Carr-Jones, Marriage and Family Life Coordinator
In Ignatian spirituality we can learn to pray through art. However, learning to pray when painting our home with a pot of emulsion feels very different. Yet with every sweep of the brush, or glide of the roller, a new landscape appears before our eyes. Provided the surface is sound the paint adheres and a new sense of light and colour enters our home. Marriage and family life can be compared to looking after a home. Both need on-going maintenance, periodic re-fits and every so often a deeper form of loving restoration. The key difference is that one also requires being aware of emotions, hopes and needs.
For the past few weeks as a family we have been living in exile, whilst our home undergoes a major restoration. Whilst it is a comfortable form of exile, it is not our home. Instead we have moved into a liminal space that is neither being on holiday nor a break from routine.
Packing up our home required us to decide what was important to us moving forward, which possessions to keep and which to let go. As each box was packed it also meant sorting through memories. Each object or photo stirred up moments of joy, laughter and sometimes pain. This process brought unresolved and unhealed memories into our temporary home, offering us an opportunity to talk about them.
Being in our temporary home is not unlike being on retreat. It has provided a neutral space to reflect back on our shared journey and to determine the ways in which we will re-enter ‘our space’ in a new and dynamic way. The restoration of a home is not unlike the restoration of a marriage. All too often we see what is wrong, tired and worn without noticing that, perhaps, the foundations remain sound.
At the beginning of a New Year there is often an upsurge in divorce and separation as the sense of Christmas goodwill begins to evaporate and the demands of daily living reassert themselves. In married life we can all find ourselves in this place, when communication lines are frayed. This is part of learning to grow together, as we adapt and change to new circumstances and need to discover a new language.
Sometimes the distancing between us is just for a brief moment and unity is quickly restored, but at other times there is a downward spiral as the lines of communication stutter and then stop. The Marriage and Family Life ministry is one that is intended to be with a couple at all points of the journey, sharing in the joys and being an ear or signpost in times of difficulty and change.
As I surveyed our home after the builders had left, there was indeed a large amount of rubble in the skips, but also the realisation that most of the structure was sound and not the nightmare feared. Without their expertise and knowledge, it would have been easy to despair, sell up and seek a new nest. This would have been a mistake. It is our home.
When a marriage is struggling, we only see what is wrong. There are a number of Catholic organisations and others that seek to provide their insights and expertise to help restore marriages that on the surface seem fractured and broken. Each with their different charisms, these organisations provide the space for a couple to reevaluate the nature of their relationship, learn new ways to communicate and sometimes to discover the real roots of their disconnection.
If our home was in need of work we could either put up with things, or we could find the trades on the internet. Similarly, with marriage, we could investigate groups such as Retrouvaille UK with their weekend retreats, SmartLoving with their Breakthrough programme, and Marriage Care who provide qualified and trained marriage counsellors in emotionally-focused therapy.
Our budget did not extent to redecorating our house, so we are painting it together. It is an opportunity, as we do so, to sift through memories of the past, express our hopes for the future and also to say sorry for the times when our relationship entered choppy waters. If at those times we had not sought guidance, we would not have learnt new skills with which to move forward. As we settle back into our home, we remember that in both the joys and the sorrows, Christ is always with us.