Our wedding day was magical, filled with joy and tears, love and nerves, excitement and countless other emotions. This moment had been planned out for months, every detail meticulously reviewed and anticipated. With every last flower arranged to perfection, the tables precisely set, our guests welcomed, and pictures taken, this was the day. Hand in hand, we took our first steps as husband and wife. All of the hard work from the year of planning came to a climax as we celebrated the magnificence of our wedding feast! However, as we basked in the beauty of the celebration, we knew that the real work was just beginning.
During the feast of the Venerable and Life-Giving Cross on September 14, I am always reminded that the sorrow of the Cross and the joy of the Resurrection are inextricably tied and can never be separated; there cannot be one without the other. Similarly, in marriage the joyous fruits and labors of love walk hand in hand. Jesus once said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). When we are joined in matrimony, the Church places us side by side so that we may carry the cross of life together. But what does this journey look like as we face the day-to-day struggles of marital life?
A priest close to our hearts once talked about how my husband and I are mirrors for each other, which was a very eye-opening statement. I look in a mirror multiple times a day to make sure that my lipstick isn’t smudged, that I do not have food stuck in my teeth, etc. Even though mirrors show my flaws and imperfections, I am thankful, for without them I would never see the things I need to fix about my physical appearance. In the same way, our true inner selves are reflected in the “mirror” of our spouse. When you live so closely with another human being, you get a much fuller picture of what you truly look like, not physically but in your heart and soul. When my husband and I point out to each other something that was said or done that was hurtful or selfish, it can be painful to hear and hard to admit, but seeing our flaws reflected in each other is the best way for us to better ourselves. As uncomfortable as this process can be at times, I am realizing the value of this necessary step toward transformation and repentance.
As a “mirror” to my spouse, I must often remind myself that my role is not to point out my husband’s imperfections and flaws and simply say change them. Our Orthodox perspective of love never intrudes upon personal freedom. My job is to exude Christ’s love, confronting issues with tenderness and grace, to provide my husband the opportunity to be transformed through his experience of God’s love through me, and vice versa. I see this example throughout the New Testament in every story of Jesus, especially in the story of the sinful woman washing Jesus’s feet with her tears. Simply being in Jesus’s presence inspired this woman to change her entire life. What a motivation! If we as husband and wife, sinners ourselves, can show even a fraction of this kind of love toward each other, there is great hope for our marriage and for our ultimate salvation. My husband is not a series of problems to be fixed; rather, he is a person who has a need to be loved and heard in a Christ-like manner and, through this, transformed. Despite this difficulty of having to confront our flaws, mirroring each other is an important aspect in the growth of our marriage and our growth toward Christ.
Moving forward in our marriage, I know that we will have moments when we exhibit true Christian love to each other while also having just as many moments when we are not. I know we will have times of growth when we are reflecting well to each other what we need to work on, as well as many times when it feels like we are not growing at all. However, in the times of doubt and struggle, I hope to cling to these beautiful words from Archimandrite Aimilianos’s homily Marriage: the Great Sacrament as motivation, “When two people get married, it’s as if they’re saying: Together we will go forward, hand in hand, through good times and bad. We will have dark hours, hours of sorrow filled with burdens, monotonous hours. But in the depths of the night, we continue to believe in the sun and the light. Oh, my dear friends, who can say that his life has not been marked by difficult moments? But it is no small thing to know that, in your difficult moments, in your worries, in your temptations, you will be holding in your hand the hand of your beloved.” Taking hold of the hand of my beloved husband, I pray that we will continue to bear our cross together as we continue our journey toward the Lord.
Maria is the Media Coordinator for the Center for Family Care. She and her husband Brian reside in Wheaton, Illinois.