Note from Steve Smith: This is part 2 of a series of three talks given by Carla Neupauer. Carla has most graciously offered these to Faith of the Fathers blogs for our readers.
Nobody Can Be God for Somebody Else
By Carla Neupauer
I am going to being discussing the Sacrament of Marriage and how we are to live out that sacrament according to God’s word. It may seem that I am unfairly directing most of my talk to the women and, I am, because as a woman I am very much aware of our sinful tendencies. However, the sacrificial life that I am proclaiming applies to you both- you are simply each called to die to one another in a different way.
Now, I want to begin tonight by first stating that our current culture is really hard on men. Ladies, I truly want you to realize as I speak tonight that men are not bad; they are just different. And that goes vice versa men. And, by the way, those differences that truly make you crazy are a gift; they are actually a gift from God. I know that may seem very hard to believe but right here and right now I’m going to attempt to explain how your annoying differences in marriage are actually meant to assist and help you in your our own salvation.
Unfortunately, over the years our culture has successfully stripped men of much of their God given authority in the family. Present day culture frequently portrays men as bumbling idiots. Women, on the other hand, are constantly portrayed as the heroines who know everything and can do & fix anything. This cultural attitude has resulted in much confusion, misery and unhappiness for women today. After being married for a while, the thought process for women typically goes something like this- “I can’t believe I married this idiot who has no idea how I feel or what I think…I’m not at all happy in this marriage and it’s all his fault”. “If he would just------ fill in the blank-----then I’d be happy.” I’m sure men go through a very similar process.
Additionally, our culture feeds both sexes the false message that if you just do it all right, you can have it ALL. You simply need the right career, the right neighborhood, the right friends, and the right soul mate and, Voila- complete fulfillment is achieved. This cultural notion results in nothing but a life of empty searching and continual disappointments.
With all that being said, I want to make the clear statement that nobody (not even your future husband or wife) can be God for somebody else. Therefore, tonight I am asking you to seek your Savior and your happiness in Jesus Christ and not your future spouse. I want to challenge each person here to become more introspective. I want to challenge each of you to stop focusing on what may need to change in your fiancé to make you happy- instead; I want you to redirect that focus to what needs to change in you to make you happy? Now, I’m not in anyway insinuating that your significant other does not need to change too. I’m simply stating that it is not your job to change them. One of the most detrimental false expectations in marriage is to believe that it is your spouse’s responsibility to make you happy. I know, because MY believing in this false notion caused both my husband and me much pain earlier in our marriage. Believe me, I can truly attest that this simple shift in your focus will have a phenomenal effect on your future marriage.
Now- before I move on I want to clearly address the issue that my talk does not in any way apply to an abusive relationship. If there is name calling, humiliation, isolation from family & friends, control issues, verbal threats, pushing, slapping or any other type of physical abuse, drug or alcohol abuse- this talk does not apply to your situation. Women and men should NEVER stay in an abusive relationship. If you are involved in an abusive relationship, you need to leave the relationship immediately and seek professional help.
Now, moving forward, a Dr. Paul R. Giblin points out in his article, “Stages of Growth in Marriage” that there are essentially four stages that we cycle and recycle through in marriage:
Stage One- Romance & Passion
Stage Two- Settling Down & Realization
Stage Three- Rebellion & Power Struggles
Stage Four- Discovery, Reconciliation and Beginning Again
We must see life as a movement. Life is a verb or action word. Life involves changing and adapting. Life involves marriage and marriage involves life. We need to understand and accept that our marriage will change for better or for worse from day to day, month to month and year to year. As we cycle and recycle through the various stages of marriage, our primary focus needs to be on Christ and our relationship with Him- not our spouse. So for a moment, let’s set our fiancé aside and focus for a moment on Jesus and on how he loves us. Realize:
It is Christ who loves us anyway….
Even though we disappoint Him, it is Christ, who loves us anyway,
Even though at times we ignore Him, it is Christ, who loves us anyway,
Even though we may ridicule Him and get angry with Him, it is Christ, who loves us anyway,
Even though we sin against Him daily, it is Christ who loves us anyway.
Christ’s love for us is completely independent of how we behave- we nailed Him to the Cross and it is Christ who loves us anyway. And Christ specifically tells us in John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Therefore, fulfillment and joy in marriage can only be achieved through Christ and the way of the cross. Only in death can new life be found. When we die to our selfish ways, Christ fills our empty tanks so we may properly and completely love our spouse the way Christ loves us…. Christ, He loves us anyway. At this point, I’d like to share a little of my own story with you.
For those of you who don’t already know, my husband’s name is Jim. Jim is the love of my life and father of my 3 beautiful children. Do I always Love Jim- Yes, I choose to. Do I always “feel” Love for Jim- No, sometimes I’m “feeling” anything but love but I choose to love him anyway, regardless of my “feelings” for him at that moment. Understand... true, mature love is a choice and not a feeling. Regardless of the challenges, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and disappointments that we deal with as a married couple….I choose to love Jim anyway…. and my prayer is that Jim continues to grace me with that same type of heavenly mercy and that he chooses to love me too.
Life became seriously challenging for me sometime after the birth of my third baby…my sweet, little girl, Dana. After her birth, I became clinically depressed- I was absolutely miserable and it was all Jim’s fault…not at all true but that was who I was blaming. Even today, I really don’t believe Jim can fully comprehend exactly how far gone I was. If he were honest, I believe he simply saw me as a miserable, overbearing, controlling, screaming “you know what” back then. And, it is true; I was not a gentle, loving wife or mother at the time. I needed help- help to see myself for who I truly was and help to become the person that I really wanted to be. I can only thank God and His good grace that I began to stop blaming Jim for my own unhappiness.
I remember the day I surrendered my life to Christ quite vividly….I was having quite the conversation with God while ironing that day. Truthfully, it really wasn’t a conversation; it was me really hauling off on God. See each day I had a plan and an agenda and God wasn’t fulfilling His end of the bargain by assisting me to get done all that I deemed important and necessary. God wasn’t helping me, my husband wasn’t helping me and my new baby, 2 ½ year old & my 4 year old sure weren’t helping me either. I felt so alone, empty and absolutely miserable. Did I mention we were newly relocated to the Bethlehem area and I was an at-home-mom with no girlfriends…I was truly hopeless. I don’t remember at what point in the “conversation” I submitted to God but I did. I actually said, “OK you win, at this point forward my life is yours. You are now completely in charge of me. I don’t want to be in charge anymore. I give it all to you.”…. And I fell to my knees beside that darn ironing board or what I fondly consider “my iron cross.” There were a lot of tears but there were no bells, singing angels or funny lights; however, I stood up with a renewed sense of self. I stood up with hope and I made a call for an appointment to discuss my depression with my doctor.
I died that day…I hung on my own personal cross that day and I died with Christ. And, Christ being my Lord and my Savior blessed me with new life from that day forward. I would never want to live my old life ever again. That is not to say that my new life in Christ is without struggle or hardship…I wish it was but that is not true. The difference is that Christ leads and I now follow not vice versa. Now when I enter a valley, even though His presence may not always be evident to me, I know Christ is with me and in time He will lead me out to safety. Following Christ affords a peace that this world cannot give.
Now…I found my true Savior in Christ and I was set free to love Jim for who he really was, my husband. Life began to dramatically improve not because Jim had changed (not saying he didn’t also need improvement at the time) but that fact is life became enjoyable and fun again because I had changed. I immediately began praying and petitioning the Blessed Virgin Mary to assist me in being a kind, patient, gentle, loving wife and mother. Mary, my sweet Mother, she is my inspiration and love who leads me to Christ.
Mary, in her great wisdom, gentleness, meekness and mildness never steals the show from Jesus. She never fought the crowd that she should die instead of her Son. Mary formed Jesus by directing the attention away from herself to her Son, so he could live out His destiny as our Lord and Savior. When Mary was advised that they were out of wine at the Feast of Cana, Mary did not handle the problem herself. Mary called for Jesus and she told the waiters to do whatever “He” tells you to do.
Click…the light went on for me as to what my role is as a wife and mother. In Eph. 5:21 we are told to, “Honor Christ by submitting to each other.” As a wife and mother, I am not called to headship of the family. I am not called to death for the love of my family. Eph. 5:25 states, “And you husbands, show the same kind of love to your wives as Christ showed to the church when he died for her…”- that’s my husband’s job and I’m not complaining. The wife is called to deeply respect her husband. Eph. 5:33 states, “So again I say, a man must love his wife as part of himself; and the wife must see to it that she deeply respects her husband- obeying, praising and honoring him.” God is sooo funny… Notice, He does not command the woman love her husband. Loving is easy for women. The command is obey and honor; here comes death again. This submissive role into which God is calling us as women involves a death to self, a death to our pride and a call to humility. And, humility is not that we think less of ourselves BUT that we think of ourselves less.
Ladies, we all have a little bit of Eve in us (me, I had a lot). I’m still working on getting her to fully vacate me. Eve is that modern day, take charge; I can do it all sort of woman. Eve is so powerful and overwhelming that when trouble pops up in the Garden, Adam is sure that she wants to handle it all and he happily steps aside and may even hide to protect himself from the chaos that is sure to ensue. See, by nature and because of our original sin- this is typically the unhealthy role we fall into as husband and wife. Christ and Mary, not Adam and Eve, are whom we need to emulate in order to have a good, healthy, strong and happy marriage- notice, I did not say easy.
As Mary formed Jesus, we need to form our husband. Form, not change. Mary formed Jesus by directing others to His authority. She never did for Jesus what she knew He had to do Himself for our salvation. Ladies, my point is in marriage please give your husbands their God given authority in the family. If you don’t humble yourself before your husband, like Adam (by nature), your husband will happily step back and allow you to do it all. Then, as a woman, our favorite mantra is “He never helps me”…believe me, I know!
O.K. so when you are married and the children misbehave, direct your husband to handle it and allow him set the punishment. No comments or interference, please. When problems arise in your household ask for your husband’s input, advice and counsel…and heed to it. You may not always agree with him but he has does have the ultimate responsibility for the welfare of the family. Give the authority to your husband as Mary gave the authority to Jesus. Believe me, this is easier said than done. Over 10 years of having come into relationship with Christ and I still struggle.
You may ask what do I do if my future husband refuses this headship? Maybe, in your relationship your fiancé has already gotten very comfortable with you handling it all and quite frankly he has no desires for the responsibility. Chances are your relationship did not start out this way. But, overtime, you took on more responsibility and your fiancé slowly relinquished his authority. It did not happen overnight and if you are interested in correcting the problem- that won’t happen overnight either. Remember, Mary never once interfered or tried to stop Christ’s suffering, she stood by Him and she suffered with Him- Mary did not physically assume any of the suffering for Christ. Ladies, in the future, if you fail to allow your husband to assume headship out of fear of the suffering that it may cause you or your children you are hindering God’s work in your family.
Mary is the “elicitor” of manhood. Mary called man forth- she drew Christ forward to be our Redeemer and Savior. Again, when Mary told Jesus at the Feast of Cana that they have no wine, Jesus replied, “Woman, how does this concern affect me?” Even in the face of this sharp retort, Mary continued to trust in the power of the word of Jesus; again, she said to the waiters, “Do whatever “He” tells you.” Mary patiently waited for Jesus to take over…and thank God she did.
I can assure you of this- I found hope, freedom and happiness through submitting to God and His will for me as a wife and mother. I changed by falling into a submissive relationship with Christ and when I did this I slowly began to be the wife and mother that God wants me to be. My marriage improved, my children weren’t so bad after all and I became filled with peace, joy and happiness. Jesus Christ became my Lord and Savior- Jim was off the hook for my happiness and I assumed that responsibility for myself.
My advice in marriage, please don’t have over-expectations, unrealistic or unjust expectations of what your future spouse should be doing for you. Only God can truly measure-up. Life is so much more enjoyable when we realize that pure, complete joy is neither possible nor attainable here on earth. Learn to enjoy life for what it is- imperfect. Stop placing false pressure on yourself and fiancé. Have a humble, grateful attitude- count your blessings daily rather than counting what you think you should have (but don’t) and what you believe you are entitled to from others. Live a life of humility, submission, obedience to God and you will discover freedom, joy, and happiness. And, in order to help us accept the limitations and imperfections of life, we need the Church, the sacraments, family and friends.
Remember, perfect joy is reserved for heaven in our true and complete union with God. Marriage & family is simply the boot camp for heaven. As husband and wife joined in the Sacrament of Marriage we cannot ever expect not to disappoint and upset one another. Our spouse is a Gift from God to draw us outside of ourselves into the deep needs of the other. Love is not with limits or restrictions. True love challenges us, true love involves total commitment, true love involves setting your own wants and desires aside to fulfill the needs of the other. Marriage involves continual dying and rising with Christ. Marriage involves dying to self and Christ is the provider of new life through His grace. There are two sides to every cross- the place of Death and the place of New Life. We must embrace the death in order to experience the new life. If we fight or refuse the cross, we will never have the opportunity to experience the new life it has to offer.
The resurrected life or the resurrected marriage only comes out of loss and a personal death. Self-pride and entitlements must die, self-centeredness and self-pitying must stop and you must relinquish control to God. Do not hold onto anger, bitter thoughts, or past resentments. These deadly sins in marriage hold us prisoners to misery. And, of course, to begin anew as many times as necessary you simply need to take a long honest look at yourself and do a good confession. John 8:32 states, “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When you are blatantly honest and truthful in the confessional, God’s infinite love and mercy fills you with new life. You begin to change and grow in ways you never imagined, so that you may love as God loves you; He loves you anyway. Praise God for His endless mercy and love.