by SETH EISENBERG
As a Jew, Lent is not one of the traditions my family and ancestors practiced. Yet reading Mike McManus’ post on the Coalition for Divorce Reform website today left me inspired by the sacred meaning and potential of the 46 days of reflection and sacrifice observed by Catholics and many Protestants that ends on Easter Sunday.
Mike McManus is a highly respected, longtime pioneer and passionate advocate for resilient marriages and successful families. He’s calling on his pastor and others to create Community Marriage Covenants as part of this year’s Lent observance. As I read his post, I wondered what it could mean if during these sacred days, love itself became the sacrifice.
The statistics he shares from his local community, with a divorce rate of 65%, compared with other areas of the country where he’s launched Community Marriage Covenants that have helped cut the rate of marital breakdown is a reminder of Jesus leaving his birthplace of Bethlehem to share his values and teachings in Nazareth.
Long before the time of Christ, the unique challenges of impacting communities closest to our hearts and homes, and, too often, within our own homes and families, has been painful to many; myself included. For evidence-based marriage and relationship education to gain the respect, acceptance and traction needed to impact larger numbers of couples and families throughout America, individually and collectively we have to overcome those especially difficult tests that are often revealed as a participant raises a hand in class to ask with all sincerity of those teaching relationship skills, “How’s your marriage?”
Two decades of experience teaching PAIRS classes to thousands of youngsters and adults at every stage of life and relationship, has shown answering that question without the discretion Jesus encouraged during the fasting of lent is the beginning of the authentic dialogue that can meaningfully engage our children, neighbors and loved ones as they consider the paradigm that will become the foundation for their marriages and families.
“When you fast,” Jesus taught, “do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting … when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:16-18)
Certainly there are many moments in life when the encouragement to “put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting …” makes good sense. Teaching relationship education classes that aim to inspire young people and adults to thoughtfully invest themselves in marriages that stand the test of time is not one of them.
Helping couples struggling to reconnect and revitalize unions that began with a solemn, sacred promise before unraveling into as many as two-thirds of marriages ending in divorce and many more remaining intact entirely bereft of the wishes, hopes and dreams people of honor and good intentions shared when they exchanged, “I do’s,” begins with a commitment to authenticity.
From that authenticity, we teach skills that have helped us navigate (for better or worse) the often difficult challenges of our own relationships with children, spouses, parents, siblings and other loved ones, beginning with the message that while almost every union and even the deepest of friendships begin with “falling in love,” few are sustained by the emotion of love itself.
What sustains relationships is commitment. It’s that commitment that allows us to grow, struggle, and develop into the best of each of us. By their very nature, those struggles include setbacks, failures, moments of uncertainty, fear, anger, disappointment and sometimes feelings of despair. But the glue of commitment is far more powerful than an emotion that naturally waxes and wanes. Love built atop a foundation of commitment is a very different experience than commitment that depends on feelings of love for its security and sustenance.
Time and again, I’ve witnessed the miracle of strained and often estranged couples who arrived at classes feeling no love for each other quickly discover depths of love beyond anything they’d ever felt or experienced.
It wasn’t love itself that inspired those transformations. It was commitment, acceptance and the courage to talk, listen and toil through the issues of today and many more that will surely arise in shared tomorrows.
In these days of reflection, sacrificing the yearning for feelings of love for the security of commitment as the foundation for love that can truly take root and flourish is likely the greatest gift we could ever give to the potential for love itself.
For many, it may also be a step forward towards more resilient families, marriages and the foundation of communities we cherish.