Betty Duffy

Friday, August 27, 2010

A State of the Union

At the age of twenty-one, when I realized I was probably heading back to my Catholic faith, I talked about God a lot, in bars, on dates, at the dance club. It wasn’t so much that I was “on fire for the faith” (or I probably wouldn’t have been yukkin’ it up at dance club), but God was on my mind so God is what I talked about.

Speaking to men on the subject, I often received sort of cynical responses. I think my fiancé rightly considered God his rival in our relationship, and perpetually wondered what God would do to spoil his fun. When that relationship ended, new beaus, discovering my interest in God, almost always exhibited a chill in their interest—possibly intuiting their diminishing prospects for any carnal delights out of the relationship. Or maybe I was just weird.

No one thought it would last. One guy dropped off his copy of “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” at my flat with a note suggesting that Joyce’s novel would nullify two thousand years of Christian history and the mustard seed it had planted in my soul. Another guy told me to watch out for those nuns, who go around trying to convince people they’re happy when they’re really not. And several people, baffled, just said, “I can’t wait to see where you are in ten years”—implication being that I could not possibly still be so hot on the guy upstairs.

More than ten years have passed since then. My husband, before I married him, was looking for the kind of girl he could bring home to meet his parents, and one who was at ease talking about God was right up their alley. He’s the only guy I dated who asked me out knowing I had this proclivity, so the pressure was off from the beginning, but fortunately, there was no chill.

He was just coming off a doomed prior relationship, and we had no delusions about each other, being mutually fallen individuals, but we had every hope that “God was going to do great things with us.” The night we made that bold proclamation, sitting on the porch of his apartment long after midnight, possibly imagining future children and the infinite potentialities of the marriage of faith, stands out as one of the most naïve and precious moments of my life. Because when I said “great” in my early twenties, I meant “great” with all of it’s worldly connotations—success, beauty, health, influence and perfect children. The world could breathe a sigh of relief because a power marriage was being made.

It’s the darnedest thing about marriage, about faith, about parenthood, these inextricable lifelong commitments; any perception on my part that I’ve done God, my husband, or my kids some radical favor by consenting my life to them, has got to be expunged. People have done all this and more since the beginning of time, and are almost never met with greatness in return.

Still, honeymoons inevitably end. Fascinations fade. I could stare at a newborn child for hours, but a nine-year-old, even though their relative complexity grossly outshines that of a fresh baby, well, it’s exhausting to concentrate so long on that complexity. And as for me and my sacrifices—eventually, they simply must be taken for granted—it’s the only way to move forward.

And the longer I’m married, a Christian, and a parent the more those vocations seem to mirror one another. They say you treat God the same way you treat the people in your life, and sometimes I think that goes both ways. In that I could describe my relationship with God much the way I describe that with my husband.

Sometimes his workload is light, and he’s home with me, and we’re working on the nuts and bolts of things, getting stuff done, and just content. Some weeks have been heavy on travel at the workplace, and I know my husband still lives here, because I see the signs, the kitchen cabinets left open in the morning from his midnight searches for something to eat, the discarded clothes on the bathroom floor. I heard him slip into our bed last night after a late flight, and it consoled me that, no, I’m not doing this alone, though I can occasionally pull it off pretty well, and make myself believe I don’t need help. Other times, I’m not so successful with my loneliness, and I want to throw my responsibilities down and say, “You do it. I’m tired, and I suck a this.”

Then there’s consummation, which is a lovely parenthesis to all the other stuff—my Gosh, I am loved—and if I could cut him open and climb inside without harming him, and just live there, I’d do it. But there’s life and stuff to take care of—the fruits of consummation, these kids, whose life’s purpose seems to be preventing me and my beloved from spending too much time alone together; the way they crawl between us in bed in the morning and pull our tired faces to theirs, saying, “Don’t be so exclusive.”

And do I talk about God all the time, to anyone who will listen? About as much as I talk about my husband, which means, if you know me at all, you know how I feel about him, and we’re not a superstar mega-couple, with greatness oozing out of everything we touch and all that we own, but I do not want to be with anyone else. We are ten years into this, no less in love, and Sacramentally unified, which is often a very quiet state of the union.


Anne said...

What a sweet and lovely commentary on marriage and loving God and family.

My daughter, the youngest of five, often climbs in bed between my husband and I saying nearly the same thing about exclusivity-do you think our children wanting our attention is a symbol of our neighbor whom we are called to love and care for?

I am also one who talks about God all the time to anyone who will listen.

Love what you say about climbing inside your husband. I often think that way about the Sacred Heart of Jesus-I want nothing else but to live inside His love.

Thanks for sharing your eloquent and interesting thoughts! I so enjoy your blog!

Lana said...

It's your anniversary?

Jus said...

Are you ovulating?

I only ask because I wrote a similar letter to my husband a week ago and .......

Jus said...

Or it could just be an anniversary ;)

mrsdarwin said...

I could stare at a newborn child for hours, but a nine-year-old, even though their relative complexity grossly outshines that of a fresh baby

Their relative grossness is also far more complex than a newborn's.

Happy anniversary, I presume!

BettyDuffy said...

Thanks everyone, though it's not technically our anniversary--I guess we've been celebrating the ten year all year long. I was just thinking about that comment, "where will you be in ten years?" And I thought it was sort of funny how thoroughly entrenched I still am in my faith though it's taken on sort of a different (and better) shape than it had when I was single.

As for ovulation--I was grumpy last week, and this week I'm not...

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy your blog. You speak truth, or what is truth at my house at least. I was pondering this week how to live like there is no tomorrow without it paralysing me completely. It is hard to believe I am living out some great purpose when I mainly keep our home liveable and my precious ones fed and schooled. Who am I influencing for God? Apart from them I mean? You know the ones a teen me wanted to tell about God? Now, like you, my faith is ingrained and must be conveyed through my life. Anyway enough with the essay. Love your blog.

Anonymous said...

Very nice, but does your husband ever make you mad or drive you crazy and how do you keep those thoughts to your self without an underlying cancer destroying the union?

BettyDuffy said...

Anonymous, Yes, my husband makes me mad and drives me crazy, and I wish I did keep it to myself, but I don't. I have to work it out, because EVERYTHING is wrong when we're fighting. Fortunately, he's not much of a fighter--he likes to say that I fight and he waits for it to be over, which has probably spared us a lot of conflict. Not much changes after a fight, though.

As concerns the union, I think complete transparency with one another is one of the only ways to keep it. I can't hide anything from God either.

Tracy @Magnolia Cul-de-Sac said...

Good Lord-thank you for writing this Betty.

HappyOrganist said...

"had every hope that “God was going to do great things with us.”"
It looks like he has. And it's funny that you defined greatness differently at 20 (I imagine you define it more *correctly now). Looks great to me.

I'm here because a blogging friend of mine likes you (girlfriend) and I wanted to see what all the hype is about. But you look sweet (very fun). So hello =)
And though it's not your anniversary, happy 10th! (when it comes)
I'm celebrating my 12th this weekend ;DDD

- Jen

Dawn Farias said...