A few months ago, my wife and I celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary, and we’ve “been together” for nearly twenty years. Inseparably together. We don’t do “apart” well, and I don’t do “by myself” well either. For us, alone is together, the two of us.
Maybe we’re not jealous, and we definitely do trust each other. But the best moments of my life have always been with her. That’s never going to change. If we aren’t together, I’m counting the minutes until we are.
In October 2010, we took our three boys and my wife’s mother on a pilgrimage to Italy for nearly three weeks. But every place that we went, in part because of the lack of time and also because of traveling with little ones, I felt like I was doing a lot of ushering and shepherding, a lot of looking and gandering, and not nearly enough falling on my knees and praying.
Before we even returned from that trip, I started planning another trip to Rome. I already had this list of places where I had encountered something really valuable about God and His Church, and I needed to get back to give myself the chance to reflect on the meaning of it all.
I suggested to my wife that she and I could make a short pilgrimage to Rome together during the Christmas 2012 holiday when family would be able to help us watch the boys.
But my wife also was pregnant last year, and as we approached the trip she was seven months along, she was already quite uncomfortable. There were a lot of pre-labor contractions, which wasn’t very unusual for her, but all the same it no longer looked very prudent for her to try to go.
Then my wife raised herself to sainthood by permitting me to go alone. I still really wanted to go, while simultaneously fretting over being alone there. I’d never traveled abroad completely by myself before. It wasn’t easy to explain to her what I was seeking and I think it was uncomfortable for both of us to think about the distance and anxiety of being apart. I felt like a rotten person to even ask her. She never accused, but would have been completely right to call me out as a blackguard for violating the primary unspoken rule of our life to date: together.
The resulting trip was both an unforgettable spiritual retreat and pilgrimage, while teaching manifold lessons in combatting some of my personal anxieties and struggles with humility. What happened for me would not have been possible, nor would I have received the many treasures arising from that journey, without my wife and her desire for my own good.
We all have our many wants, but Jesus telling us that we must deny ourselves and take up our cross can generate some confusion in discerning God’s plan for us: sometimes we desperately want the very thing that God also wants for us, which ends up feeling very remote from denying oneself. In fact, it sometimes feels downright indulgent, especially when we only see the costs (and not the rewards) for those who are most dear to us. In that case, what we fight to retain are the beliefs that we have about our limitations and our reluctance to embrace the freedom that God gives to follow where he leads.
Now that — especially after our most recent trip together to Rome — we can see how these things fit together, we are very blessed in it all, even for the attendant (although minor) struggles. And I am most grateful for my wife, who along with Jesus makes all of my journeys worthwhile.