Ever had a big fight? You know, that enraged, mind-fracturing, the-neighbors-can-hear, you’ve-never-done-a-single-thing-right, a-chimpanzee-would-be-an-improvement-over-you, throw-your-shoes-and-other-light-projectiles kind of fight… ever had one? My wife and I haven’t experienced that level of rage, but sometime in 2017, we erupted like never before. And we rarely fight.
Over what? I don’t know.
What made it so intense? Probably something about adjusting to a toddler. Neither of us remembers.
What really set the both of you off? Sorry, can’t recall.
What built up to it? Again, probably adjusting to a toddler. But I don’t know anymore.
I remember standing in our living room, thinking something didn’t make any sense, feeling like something was someone’s fault, and then leaving out the door. I was so frustrated that I couldn’t handle it. I had had enough, but of what I can’t remember. After I left the house, Katie apparently yelled at me as I drove away but I was oblivious to it.
I know: that’s a terribly vague depiction of our biggest fight. Perhaps it wasn’t that big after all. But it was the worst one, no doubt, and the extreme rarity of fights between us should have made it memorable. But we can’t remember what made us so angry.
That’s kind of the point. We forgot.
The eastward drive
What I do remember is eventually driving to a Walmart about seven miles away.
I didn’t actually know where I was headed. I was simply driving down the usual stretch of poorly-lit streets outside our neighborhood. This escape from a volatile situation made a mobile hostage out of me: I wasn’t returning home even if my absence only served to escalate our emotional malevolence. Nowhere bound, I was intent on letting it simmer and keeping her in suspense. So I kept driving under starlit bleakness past empty cow pastures until I came to a dark thoroughfare. And then I went east. Throughout, my anger remained a stovetop burner emitting a red-orange heat not unlike the color of the skyglow imminent upon me as I crossed into the city.
But just as I was about to boil over, I was tickled by a thought: I may as well go to Walmart for a change of scene. While many a fella might drag his anger into a tavern to numb his spirit with stronger spirits, I thought I might dazzle myself with the illuminating excess of baubles and doodads at Everyday Low Prices! Straight into the den of consumerism I went. But it was more than just letting off steam under the bright lights of bargains and roll-backs. I thought, why not do something ridiculous in this already crazed night? I was going to give Katie exactly what she deserved.
And I scoured the store to obtain the objects I had in mind, picking two items that I thought would drive her over the edge:
- An insulated blue tumbler—with a matching straw—to keep her coffee warm throughout the day.
- The movie Moana, which she recently watched and loved.
I know: How vengeful, right? Apparently, there’s a storehouse of love in my soul that makes such a thing possible even amid rage. And from it, some almost-indiscriminately tiny drop of grace tickled me, saying, “Do you want to know what would be a really great response to this long-brewing frustration? Do you know what would really stress her anger-resentment feedback system into overload? Do something unexpected and blow the gaskets off with… love.”
That’s right, I was going to respond to all our frustration with a superabundance of love. How did that switch turn on? It was a long history of many things:
All those years meditating on the One Rule of Marriage, thinking about how the way I treated her was how I treated myself because we are one.
All those nights dreaming up how I would respond in a holy way if I ever let bitterness, anger, vindictiveness, and pride into our relationship.
All those days contemplating how divine love would forever ward off any notions of divorce and separation—and better still, how that love would never give me an image of her that strayed from that of deepest respect.
Those long-practiced habits didn’t produce within me a wave of remorse over the happenings of the night. They didn’t have to: they were gentler than that. They just tickled me—grace tickled me. It was a feather at my side, a pen-tip goad, a poke through my dark shroud of frustration. I was allowed to escape through a pinhole of goodness. And that was all that I needed. I discovered that years of meditation on the One Rule and divine love made available to me on that most desperate night a small oasis of peace that extinguished my inferno of frustration. I remained as intense as I was in anger, but I was freed to shift the intensity over to ardor—an exacting amount of surprise goodness.
Because why not? Why does the culmination of every personal insult, every perceived slight, every disappointment, every mistake, and every careless failure in a marriage have to end in endless rage? Why does uncontrollable, teeth-grinding, foot-stomping anger have to be the lasting response to the wounds that we inflict on each other over time?
Well, apparently it doesn’t have to. There’s another narrative we can use to build our love story. Front-loading a relationship with intensive and extensive spiritual exercises in love—contemplating the goodness of our spouse and of God repeatedly, deliberately, and receptively—back-loads all our later struggles with options, exits, alternatives, and redemption. That’s how the road to true catharsis, true release, was opened so quickly to me. So quickly, in fact, that I had no time to form memories over what frustrated me in the first place. Love quickly and sneakily covered a multitude of sins. And so we forgot.
And I drove back. I walked into my house and all was calm. My wife didn’t stand at the door, ready to berate me. She was in our bed and she spotted the Walmart bag in my hand. I presented her with my gift of a heart long-filled with grace but disguised as two small offerings. She accepted them. And so she accepted me.
Make no mistake: exercising one’s spirit prior to marriage and throughout it takes more time than I imagine people are eager to give. But few people have taught us how to find the full depth of goodness in it. I must say, however, that dwelling in prayerful, loving union—both marital and divine—is the best time of my life. I’ll get around to explaining how that works—and not just theoretically, but with a practical guide. There’s a way to pray in marriage that few people talk about. Well, it’s time to talk about it. Part 3 of The One Rule of Marriage will begin that conversation.