Jesus promised his disciples to send the Holy Spirit. Two thousand years later, the Holy Spirit is still channelling grace into the hearts of believers.
Graham and Jenn were not doing very well. Despite his sincere regret and apology, when Jenn discovered Graham’s sexual indiscretion with a work colleague, she reacted with her own sexual liaison. Though they both deeply loved their two girls and wanted to protect them, their hurt was so raw and overwhelming that they recklessly and viciously attacked each other. Graham moved out and they were fast heading for a divorce when something truly miraculous happened; a priest spoke the right words, at the right time and instead of brushing them off, Graham took them to heart.
The following months drew him into a prayerful study of the scriptures and of the teachings of the church. In time, noticing the change in him, Jenn also softened and eventually they reconciled and recreated their marriage with the help of counsellors and a spiritual director. Looking back, they both can clearly see the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives giving them the strength they needed to rebuild their life together.
For many couples, such a catastrophic wound would be a certain death sentence for their marriage. Infidelity is often seen as ‘unforgiveable’. People frequently say to us that nothing would hurt more than their spouse’s unfaithfulness and that it would be an absolute deal-breaker for them.
Without doubt, infidelity is a betrayal that causes deep wounds; wounds so deep that humanly speaking, it seems inconceivable that one could forgive them. But it is not. With the grace of the Holy Spirit, nothing is impossible. Couples can and do forgive and recover their marriages. And not just from infidelity, but also addictions, abuse and more mundane wounds including chronic neglect, emotional withdrawal and habitual selfishness. In fact, we would argue, that lifetime marriage without the help of the Holy Spirit is virtually impossible these days; often we simply don’t recognise the Spirit at work in our lives.
So how does the Holy Spirit help? The Sacrament of Confirmation identifies seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and scripture mentions a further twelve fruits. We can collectively call all these graces, or spiritual strengths. These equip us to overcome our human limitations in order to live in imitation of Christ.
We’ve found it incredibly helpful in our marriage to pray very specifically for a particular grace when we are in need. For example, when we’ve been hurt with each other, we might ask for courage to be very honest with each other and compassion to empathise with each other. If forgiveness evades us, we focus our prayer on the grace to release our resentment so that forgiveness has space to occur. Mercy is a grace every one of us should seek to wield in our marriages.
We’ve had plenty of wounds in our 27 years of marriage and while they might seem ordinary they are never benign; over time, even the most minor hurts have the potential to accumulate and undo a marriage if left unchecked.
So don’t wait until you have a ‘serious’ issue before you get serious about inviting the Holy Spirit’s active presence into your marriage. God cares for our marriages as much as any other aspect of our lives and his Spirit longs to be present.