This personal reflection on marriage and family life is excerpted from Unforgettable: How Remembering God’s Presence in Our Past Brings Hope to Our Future, chapter 5, © 2022 by Gregory Floyd, published by Paraclete Press. Purchase from ParacletePress.com with the coupon code FLOYD to receive an extra 20% off.
Three weeks before our wedding in 1983, we had nowhere to live. All my searching had yielded nothing. There were too few apartments and too many renters. One night while working on seating charts for the reception, I said to Maureen: “It’s three weeks until our wedding and we have nowhere to live. How are you doing with that?” She looked at me and smiled. “I’m fine. Our relationship is my home.” These remain some of the most beautiful words I have ever heard.
It was like that – that same gift of faith and trust – when I asked her, a few years later, if she would be open to moving to Ireland for a year, to begin a program of spirituality for married couples in Cobh, a small town in Ireland on an island in the Cork harbor. At the time, she was nine months pregnant with our fifth child, and the oldest was five. I walked into the house while she was trying to get dinner on the table. She knew me well enough to know there was something on my mind. At one point she asked, “What do you want to talk to me about?” “How would you like to move to Ireland for a year?” I replied. Her response? “Look, I have to have this baby. Then we’ll talk about Ireland.”
After Christ himself, Maureen is my greatest gift. She loves me unconditionally. She forgives me generously. She speaks the truth to me. This is what it is like with love between a husband and a wife: taking responsibility for the growth of the other. When our children entered the picture, this sense of responsibility grew exponentially. Now we had people whose lives, literally, depended on us. Talk about adventure!
It is all there in raising a family: risk, reward, thrill, pride, disappointment, fear, joy, success, failure. In the ancient myths, heroes could sail away to another conquest. Not so with raising a family: you are eternally in the present scene! And the conquest is of yourself. Nothing makes a man or woman grow up like becoming a parent. For us, marriage was no adjustment at all compared to how much our lives changed when the first child arrived. Now we were no longer simply taking care of each other and our few things. Now we had responsibility for little people with big, immortal souls. We had given life to children who will live forever. That made us pause. It made us get on our knees and beg God for a wisdom bigger than our own, to lead our children to the One who would keep them safe for eternity.
Three months after our daughter Rose was born, we moved to Cobh. We lived in a convent that had been the motherhouse of the Sisters of Mercy. It had twenty-seven bedrooms and balconies that overlooked the Atlantic. It was beautiful. And freezing cold: we were wearing sweaters and lighting fires in July!
I have done nothing to warrant the generosity I have received from Maureen. I am accepted for who I am. My limitations are a given and not a surprise or a disappointment. I know my way around this relationship, like a home at night that you can navigate in the dark without bumping into things. I am free to be tired, to have nothing to say, to have no answer to a particular question. Our relationship is a place of solitude as well as a refuge for others. It is a place where love is unconditional, where forgiveness is frequently asked for and freely given. A place of healing and growth.
A great marriage takes time. It also takes the recognition that the couple is not alone:
“A threefold cord is not quickly broken.”Ecclesiastes 4:12
Together, Maureen and I learned that God did not intend us to live married life on our own. We did not learn marriage in a vacuum. We learned it in our families and in community with others. We have been surrounded, since we were single, not only by priests and sisters and celibate men and women, but by couples who put Christ first in their lives and tried to live holy married lives. It makes it much easier to be surrounded by such models. They create an environment, and environment evangelizes. In family and in community we learned that we are brothers and sisters in Christ before we are husbands and wives, and that he speaks a word in common to all of us. The call to conversion, to a personal relationship with God, to living the Gospel is for all. The call to be generous in love, in acceptance, in mutual forgiveness, in hospitality, in service, in speaking the truth in love is for all. No surprise, then, that the divine wisdom that holds the secrets to a happy life holds the secrets to a happy marriage. Having truth that we can both rely on is a bedrock. It takes a lot of pressure off the relationship because it is a source outside of ourselves that we have both agreed that we will turn to for wisdom and inspiration. But we need more than truth: we need grace. St. Paul tells us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). That is the grace: in Christ, we have access to an unending stream of love for each other and for the world around us.
In marriage, we bestow a heightened sense of masculinity and femininity on each other. We can do this when the relationship is secure. Christ makes the relationship secure. With him at the center, all things are possible. With him at the center, marriage becomes a great adventure, for there is always more to discover about Maureen, about myself, about our children. In fact, I discover who I am only in making a gift of myself. Only to the degree that I choose to forget myself do I come to know myself. Only to the degree that I give myself away does my identity become firm. This kind of unfolding of personality requires a relationship that is permanent and exclusive. If I am single or celibate, it is with God. If I am married, it is with God and my spouse. In either case, God must come first because if I am to love like this, I need love coming into me from somewhere else. I just don’t have that much love inside me.
Whatever the way we come to marriage, we are all warped and broken creatures to one degree or another. But in Christ we can become wounded healers, to use Fr. Henri Nouwen’s beautiful expression.7 It takes time to learn how to hold on to what is good and to let go of what is bad, to let go of the lies we’ve been telling ourselves about ourselves or about each other. A faithful, committed relationship helps us do that. It helps us sort through what is true and false in a way that nothing else can.
Having no home right before we got married, moving to Ireland with five young children, burying a beloved son – these examples could make it sound like our marriage is constant adventure and drama. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is made up of thousands of uneventful days, going to work, cooking and cleaning, loving one another, and raising a family. But our days are marked with the presence of God. This has nothing to do with being gifted or chosen in a particular way. It has everything to do with opening our lives, and our marriage, to Christ. Marriage is built on a million small gestures that let us know we are seen and heard. To live this kind of love means relying on a power beyond ourselves, especially when we are annoyed, or irritable, or sensitive, or tired of the never-ending everydayness of the everyday. Our very limitations are part of God’s plan for us to complete one another. To grow in love and to stay in love means relying on God for a grace that we don’t own or control. It means putting God first and having him at the center of our marriage.
It means believing that God left us a word, the Bible, that reveals both him and his plan. For us, putting God first means acknowledging that he is the Lord of our marriage. That he has a plan for it. That his word is truer than our words, and when we do not agree with what he says, it is we who must change, not he. It is a frank confession that we do not have, within us, the love that the other, the children, our friends, and the world, deserve. That is why it takes a sacrament. It means believing that he has wisdom and power beyond anything we could ask for or imagine, in the here and now, for all the circumstances of our lives. It means that we can turn to him for healing and help and forgiveness. It means that if God is first, Maureen and I are second, and there is a real freedom in that.
Putting God first means taking the time to cultivate a relationship with him. Even though we’re one, I can’t have Maureen’s relationship with God, and she can’t have mine. For each of us, that means having a life of prayer, a time alone with the Lord each day, to speak to him and listen to him. A time to read and to ponder his word, to receive him in the Eucharist. A time to worship him, for what he is about when we come to him is much more important that what we are about. Our love for him must be greater than our love for each other, because he is the fountainhead, the place from which that love continuously flows. Married love, like children, is a sign that God has not abandoned the world.
This reflection is excerpted from the book, Unforgettable: How Remembering God’s Presence in Our Past Brings Hope to Our Future, chapter 5, © 2022 by Gregory Floyd, published by Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts. USA. Used with permission.
Unforgettable is available wherever books are sold. Purchase from ParacletePress.com with the coupon code FLOYD to receive an extra 20% off.
“Hope, beauty, and the presence of God are made real and reachable through a life marked by pain and joy. Unforgettable is a rich experience of life in the Spirit.”Jean Barbara, President, The Sword of the Spirit
“Ever since the Lord knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139), he is there with us. Yet the constant ‘noise’ of the modern world so often drowns the voice of God who is continually and patiently beckoning us to himself. Floyd, in beautifully written prose and engaging stories, reminds us that the Lord is ‘with us always’ (Matthew 18:20) and we are never far from his love. I recommend this book to all who are seeking to discover more deeply this loving God who is ever present throughout our lives journey.”Gordon Demarais, Founder and Former President, St. Paul’s Outreach
“Gregory Floyd’s writing is like salve for the soul, full of love for others and a humility that comes with life’s experiences. I not only discovered many lessons for my own life, but I encountered the beauty of a God who forgets and wipes away all of my sins.”Jeff Smith, President, The Word Among Us
“Gregory Floyd has written a kind of modern-day Augustine’s Confessions, but without the continuous narrative of the latter, and with the theology, which Augustine kept for his later chapters, saturating the text from the start. Flashbacks of memory mesh with themes from Scripture, and the Catholic tradition at large. Grief and joy are here and much that lies in between. Unforgettable shows what the life of a Catholic layman, husband, father, can be in and for the Church.”Fr. Aidan Nichols, OP, author of Deep Mysteries: God, Christ and Ourselves
Top image credit: Photo of wedding rings with the shadow of the cross in the background is from Bigstock.com, © by Aaron007, stock photo ID: 61266239. Used with permission..
Gregory Floyd is Assistant Director for the Center for Diaconal Formation at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, USA. He is a coordinator of The People of Hope, a Catholic charismatic covenant community based in New Jersey, and a member community of the international Sword of the Spirit. Gregory and his wife Maureen are the parents of nine children. They live with their younger children in Warren, New Jersey.