As we begin, continue, or wrap up the crazy frenzy that is Christmas gift shopping, let’s not forget the people who should make it on our gift lists that we sometimes overlook.
Maybe it’s a special charity or organization that could really use your year-end donation to help keep their work going through the end of the year, when donations sometimes drop off while supporters are spending money on other things.
Maybe it’s a family, adult, or child unknown to you, whose needs are hanging on the tree in the narthex or listed on the adopt-a-family list at your parish.
Maybe it’s a neighbor or extended relative, who may be lonely, sick, elderly, or someone you aren’t typically friendly with, whose Christmas season could be brightened by your unexpected, thoughtful gift, even if small.
Who hasn’t made it on your Christmas giving list yet that you think could or should be remembered this Advent and Christmas season? How can you generously gift that person or group with a tangible present, a monetary donation, or the gift of your talent or time?
The famous prayer of St. Francis reminds us, “It is in giving that we receive.” In giving to those in need or those we sometimes forget during this season of generosity, we receive an immense amount of joy as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who gave us the ultimate gift—His Incarnate Self.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, “The fruit of love is service.” Serving our spouse requires us to give something of ourselves, usually in some sort of physical, emotional, or spiritual way, anticipating and responding to our spouse’s needs. Hopefully, we go beyond meeting basic needs in our service and exceed our spouse’s expectations in our love for him or her, by serving our spouse as we would desire to serve Christ in our midst. Most of us – at least this is the case for me – find that this is more difficult than it sounds, especially when you’re feeling tired, overworked, or spend time an inordinate amount of time mentally conjuring up different ways you’d like your spouse to be serving you.
Here are some simple ways you can serve your spouse:
Completing a task that would help them without being asked. Updating the budget, doing a home improvement chore, running an errand of his/hers – it’s not too difficult to get creative with this one.
Being there for him/her when you’re needed. Put aside something you’re doing and give them your time, especially when you know they could use your emotional attention and physical presence.
Offering your spiritual support. My friends Annie and John-Paul talk about their prayer for one another being a “spiritual sign of love” for each other. Serve your spouse spiritually by praying for them this week: say a Rosary for your spouse, offer up Mass for him or her, or start a novena for his/her intentions.
One last tip: See your seemingly monotonous duties this week (your regular work schedule, chores around the home, etc.) as real opportunities to serve your spouse by fulfilling your irreplaceable role within your marriage and family. Doing those little things with great love demonstrates to your spouse that it is a joy to serve your marriage and family in any small way.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta is quoted as saying, “Let anyone who comes to you go away feeling better and happier. Everyone should see goodness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile. Joy shows from the eyes. It appears when we speak and walk. It cannot be kept closed inside us. It reacts outside. Joy is very infectious.” How often do you exude this kind of joy in your own home? Would your spouse say this is the state in which he/she encounters you on a daily basis? This week, let’s take a cue from this holy woman, who wedded herself to Christ, and imitate her great joy in our own marriages.
Some simple ways to express joy in your marriage:
Showing affection. Joy is often beautifully expressed in simple physical gestures – holding hands, giving an unexpected big squeeze hug, leaving love notes in lunch boxes or on bathroom mirrors. Do more of that this week.
Sharing an activity or hobby together. What is something you both enjoy doing that you haven’t done together in a while? This week, plan a time to do an activity or a hobby you share – go for a bike ride, cook together, see a movie, explore a new place…
Laughing/having a sense of humor. Don’t take yourselves too seriously this week. Reminisce together about funny stories from your past. Watch a comedy sketch together (Jim Gaffigan is a Catholic and family-friendly option!). Don’t let stress play too big of a role in your relationship this week, and laugh at yourself when little things go awry.
Capitalizing on a few of your spouses “favorite things:” *Cue Julie Andrew’s voice in The Sound of Music*: “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens…” What are a few of your spouses favorite things? Watch their favorite movie, buy their favorite ice cream, make their favorite dinner, buy them a book they’ve been wanting…do, purchase, or make a “favorite thing” of theirs happen this week.
One last tip: Celebrate together this week! It doesn’t have to be a major occasion; celebrate something small: a little victory at work, an at-home project completed, the fact that you made it through a difficult day. Celebrating together => joy.
Leaders are made or broken in times of conflict. Often, when I think I am spiritually leading my family with my best foot forward, I have a conflict with my spouse that I handle in a terribly ungraceful way. Part of what drew my husband and I together was passion, and that same passion can just as easily tear us apart when we become impassioned with being right, proving a point…or being lousy at apologies and forgiveness. Focusing on better apologies and more forgiveness are powerful ways to strengthen your marriage.
Learn to become more graceful at apologizing and forgiving with these small steps and techniques:
Say the words “I’m sorry.” These word really do carry significant meaning, and often just hearing them lifts a heaviness from the conflict, becoming that first crucial step toward reconciliation.
Do not add qualification. I regularly fight the temptation to say, “I’m sorry, but….” This week, just avoid the buts.
Accept responsibility. Your spouse deserves more from you. It’s pretty important to acknowledge that. Take responsibility when you inflict harm on them, no matter how serious and avoid the temptation to justify your actions by somehow blaming them for the offense (“If you had a better sense of humor, you wouldn’t have been upset by my comment”).
Express genuine empathy. Nothing falls flatter and escalates a conflict more than an insincere apology. Take the time to understand why your spouse was hurt by what you did or said, and put yourself in their shoes, genuinely seeking to feel their hurt so you can better express regret for being the cause of their pain. Yes, look outside yourself…marriage gives us plenty of practice in this.
Make up for it. Offer some form of compensation for the hurt you inflicted. This doesn’t have to be an expensive bouquet of roses or something (though I’ve never refused that gesture…), but can be as simple as a hug – if it’s wanted, of course.
Forgive truly and repeatedly. How easily we forget what Scripture has to say about forgiveness: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” Could Jesus be any clearer? Be ready to forgive 70 x 7, knowing forgiveness brings a great deal of relief to both the offender and the offended, and forgive with your whole heart. Rather than saying, “It’s okay,” verbalize the actual words, “I forgive you”…and mean it.
One last thing: The ability to apologize and forgive well is largely dependent on your reliance on Christ’s love to help you grow in that marriage builder. Pope Francis told a group of married couples, “The love of Christ is able to sustain [the union of husband and wife] and to renew it when, humanly speaking, it becomes lost, wounded, or worn out.” Pray this week that you can better accept Christ’s love and pour that same love into your spouse’s life.
How often do you affirm your spouse verbally? Affirmation is one small gesture that goes a long way in improving marital satisfaction and making you a leader in having a strong marriage. Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” Sometimes the simplest compliment or encouraging word from my husband makes my day a thousand times better. I could always use a reminder to do more affirming, though. Life happens, and it can be too easy to forget to say intentionally kind things to my spouse multiple times per day. So here’s my reminder – and yours – to affirm our spouses more this week.
Affirm your spouse for:
Who they are (“You know what, honey? You are a very giving, self-sacrificial husband.” “Hey darling, I just wanted you to know that I think you are an incredibly patient mother to our children.)
What they do that you appreciate (“I noticed you finished the dishes for me earlier tonight. I can’t tell you how much that helped me.” “Thanks for encouraging me to have a night out with friends tonight; it was really fun.”)
Their strengths and positive habits (“I love how hardworking you are; your dedication to achievement at work is a great example to the kids and to me.” “I find your quickness to forgive really admirable, and it makes me want to grow in my ability to forgive more readily, too.”)
Their appearance (“You look handsome in that suit jacket!” “I love that pink sweater on you.”)
Their spirituality (“I love when you lead our family in prayer before bedtime.” “It inspires me to see you reading the Bible in your spare time.”)
One last tip: Speak well of your spouse to others – to your kids, your parents, your spouse’s parents, your friends, coworkers…whenever you have the chance to speak positively of your spouse to someone else this week, take it. Here are some reasons why speaking well of your spouse is so important.