Yep, you find “the one” and everything is wonderful. She is so sweet, he is the perfect gentleman. You date awhile and he proposes with the perfect backdrop of sunflowers and bunnies hopping in the background. She plans the perfect wedding and he reserves the perfect honeymoon—private beach in the Caribbean! That first year of marriage—a breeze —nothing but work during the day and cuddles at night.
And then, it hits: loss of jobs, health issues, money stress, kids, new friends who may be just a little too attractive, old friends who drag us into old habits. There are so many things that can go wrong with a marriage, it is sometimes difficult to remember how wonderful it was before. Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV, seeks out to help us through these difficult times in Discernment of Spirits in Marriage: Ignatian Wisdom for Husbands and Wives. Let us explore the first seven rules (plus a bonus) to identify and fix issues in Marriage using the Ignatian way.
1. Good spirit stings and bites
When we are living in sin, we can get used to that sin enough that it doesn’t seem bad any more—in fact, it can seem very normal. But then in moments of clarity, we may start to question why we are sinning like we are, and we may see how we are hurting those we love by our sins. This is the spirit’s way of leading us away from sin, and turn towards God to find peace.
2. Evil spirit bites back, sometimes stronger
When we seek to move closer to God, so begins the spiritual warfare. The evil spirits will do everything in their power “to bite, sadden, and place obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, so that the person may not go forward.” We feel doubt that we can really turn away from sin, anguish when we fail, and struggle to avoid someone who may tempt us. Recognize that this is happening and pray, God will provide the strength to continue to turn away from sin.
3. A time of grace
After a period of time, we often will experience a time of great grace and peace. Again, things will be well, our marriages back on the right track. This time of spiritual consolation is refreshing after the the struggles to get past the mortal sins. We feel very close to God and our spouse during this time.
4. A time of spiritual desolation
Like all things human, after a time of feeling close to God, we may not feel that same closeness as often when going to Mass or at Adoration. The daily humdrum of work, eat, sleep, drags on just as summer warmth turns to winter cold. During this time, God doesn’t pull away from us, but we grow sleepy spiritually, it affects our marriage, and may even drag us back into old habits. This is the time to wake back up and persevere in our spiritual life, talk with our spouse instead of continuing the silence between both of you. Command the evil spirits to leave and cling to our Lord.
5. Don’t change anything, spiritually
During this time of spiritual desolation, don’t make big changes. Continue to go to Mass, pray more or do anything spiritually that you were doing in rule three, above. As the evil one tempts us back into our old ways and sins, it can be easy to feel like we are not worthy to continue to be close to God. Don’t fall into this trap.
6. Insist on prayer time
Closely based upon the previous rule, make extra time for prayer. We may feel like he is not listening anyway, so why pray? Don’t stop! Even do more! Pick up the Bible you haven’t read in awhile, call up a faithful friend (or your spouse: they may be struggling, too), or talk to the priest. Just don’t turn away from God.
7. Sinking lower into desolation
Maybe not continuing our good habits haven’t helped, maybe additional prayer hasn’t helped – or maybe we did change things and stopped going to Mass or prayer all together. This is when we feel even further away from God, and we may ask, “Why are aren’t you helping me through this trial?” It is this time when we must resist, because it actually grows our resistance to that sin. Just as an alcoholic who has been able to resist temptation for that first year, then is tempted to take that one drink, The longer the alcoholic is able to put off that “one drink,” the easier it is to keep putting it off. We can do it, resist!
Bonus. Defeat the enemy
Yes, a few rules have been skipped, but we must end with hope. This rule states that the enemy will always attack us at our weakest point. He doesn’t care, he just wants to pull us away from God and break apart our families, and will do so by any means he can. In order to defeat the enemy at his own game, we must know what is our weakest spot, and avoid it. If it is a person, this may mean cutting them out of our lives. If it is a temptation with technology, we may need to cut that out too, or place it somewhere where we are held accountable. We can do this – the proof is that the saints have done this. The place where evil will attack us the most is our relationship with God, through temptations to be spiritually lazy. Go back to rule 5, don’t change anything. We got this!
The Ignatian way isn’t an easy way, but it is a great way to identify the temptations and issues before they get so big they cause us to fall back into sin or grow apart from God and our spouse. In marriage, the most important thing is communication, and if you are struggling with a sin, or your spouse is feeling like a failure because they can’t tell say how they really feel, this book can lead you back to one another. Father Gallagher uses a couple, Mark and Anne, and identifies real situations and conversations that spouses can have, and guides them throughout the book with ways to overcome the Ignatian rule that is causing strife. Discernment of Spirits in Marriage: Ignatian Wisdom for Husbands and Wives by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, will help us grow closer to God and our spouse, builds the spiritual habits to avoid temptation and can strengthen the marriage.
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