God often challenges us in the least expected ways. I choose to believe that he has a thriving sense of humor.
I once sat by a very large man on a flight back home from visiting Mike in Liberia. He was stuck in the center seat and although I’m a Christian, there was no way I was going to switch him; not very Christ-like huh? But back to the story…the man was large in terms of his height, not weight; he had to be at least 6’3 and his knees were practically up to his ears. His demeanor screamed: “MILITARY.”
He was very disciplined and precise in all of his actions. Without trying, I could hear his booming voice speaking to the man next to him and sure enough, they were discussing their time spent serving the United States.
I tried my best to stop listening, his voice seemed to permeate the cabin, and settled in for a long flight back home, in the opposite direction of Liberia and the person I love most in this world.
Shifting in my seat, I tried my best not to touch the man and stretched my legs out into the aisle. It was during this time that I could feel him staring at me. Awkward, to say the least. I ignored him and stared straight forward well aware that in my peripheral he was still looking at me. Pervert, I thought.
Out of nowhere, he asked, “Are you Catholic?” …. The hair on the back of my neck lifted as I slowly shifted my gaze towards him.
An alarm was going off in my head that alerted me: “proceed with caution!” I was automatically on high-alert as I thought about how to answer him. After all, we did have a VERY long flight ahead of us and we weren’t even in the air yet!
As a recent convert, and growing up in a “half-Catholic” family (Mom’s side) I was well aware that many people dislike the Catholic faith or at least want to voice their opinions about it: “You guys are ALL hypocrites!” ‘Aren’t all Christians?’ But, despite what potentially was going to be a very negative conversation, I simply said, “yes.”
With one simple affirmation; this stoic man instantaneously transformed. He was beaming and shifted his body, or attempted to with what little space was available to him, in my direction. “So am I!” Obviously this was a Holy Spirit inspired moment, I have no other way to describe it.
For the next several hours we discussed my budding new faith and his life-long dedication to the Catholic church. Eventually, the conversation shifted to “What are you doing on this flight?” I told him that I was visiting my fiancé, Mike, and that we were to be married in August and away we’d be going to Malawi for 3 years.
The look on his face was priceless (not that everyone’s wasn’t when I told them what Mike and I were doing) and he shifted the conversation to the topic of family. He spoke about his children, how his family had recently added a new baby, and finally, about his wife.
She sounded like a real go-getter and a deeply Catholic woman. While he was talking about them, his eyes lit up and I knew he cared deeply for them. It was while he was talking about his family that I noticed a shift in him. He was about to tell me something that was very important to him.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received about marriage was on this flight from this stranger. He told me that our goal in life is to get our spouse to Heaven. That all of our thoughts, words, and actions should be directed towards this ultimate goal.
I guess I’d never thought about it before. I knew I wanted Mike to go to Heaven of course, but I didn’t think he needed me to get there. What did I have to do with his personal relationship with Christ?
I thought more about this man’s “words of wisdom” all the way back home and have kept them in my heart ever since. The more I thought about what he told me, the more it made sense.
Why did God create the sacrament of marriage? Although you can argue there are several objectives of marriage: reproduction, family-units, etc. I think the most important role of a spouse is to lead you closer to God. To lift you up when you’re too weak; make the right decision when you can’t discern for yourself what that is. To pray for you and your salvation.
So do you? Pray for your spouse on a daily basis? Pray with a ferocious passion and intensity? Pray as though his or her salvation is contingent upon your prayers? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that your prayers alone can save your spouse; God has given us all free will. However, prayer goes a long way and is an infinite gift that you can give those around you. Once projected, a prayer reverberates throughout the rest of eternity, across generations, a prayer once uttered, knows no bounds.