The other day, my husband and I went out for possibly the least romantic date ever. We went to Staples to see if Windows 8 is really as dumb as we've heard, and then we went to Walmart to pick up a toilet snake, and came out just in time to prevent some drunk lady from breaking into our car. (She would have been sorely disappointed, since the most valuable thing in the trunk is a half a bag of charcoal briquettes.) Then we got some kind of damp chicken wings. While we ate them, we had a cheery conversation including the following topics: a guy who developed a technique for profiling serial killers; the fallout of the Vietnam war, the sex abuse scandal, and teen pregnancy. Then, suddenly and for no particular reason, we got into an argument about something I was fairly sure we don't even actually disagree about, but boy were we mad. Then we went home.
Are you ready for some disgusting details? When we got home, I had so much chicken stuck in my teeth. Really, it was terrible. The more I tried to get it out, the worse it was. I tried brushing and flossing and picking, but all I got for my troubles were sore and swollen gums -- which, of course, made it even harder to get at the stuck chicken. So I gave up and went to bed.
When I woke up, my gums were back to normal, and the offending chicken had worked its way up to where I could get it out easily. Whew! Few delights in this life can compare with that glorious feeling of finally getting something out from between your teeth, am I right, eh?
Something about this dumb little experience rang a bell for me. A few weeks ago, I read this post by Elizabeth Esther, where she describes her efforts to convert her husband:
I was confessing a sin I’d confessed at least fifteen times before: angrily arguing with my husband about the Catholic Church. Suddenly, I stopped. From behind the Confessional screen, I could hear my priest chuckling softly. It was an affection chuckle–the kind I sometimes use with my own kids when they are being So Predictably Ridiculous.
“Father!” I exclaimed. “I’m serious! If I could just get my husband to read this one book about the Catholic Church, he’d understand everything!”
“Elizabeth,” he said, “you just need to stop.talking.about.the Catholic Church.”
“B-but! Talking is what I doooooo!” I wailed.
“You’re trying to do the Holy Spirit’s work,” he said. “This is not your job.”
She says that she argued and struggled, but finally
I had to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit works in different ways for different people. By trying to persuade my husband of the truths I’d discovered, I actuallygot in the way of the Holy Spirit.
I finally stopped talking about it.
That was two years ago. Since then, I’ve said not one word. I let it all go. I told God that even if it never happened in my lifetime, I was OK with that. I would continue to honor my vows, love my husband and love my children.
Oh, but how I prayed. I prayed and prayed and prayed.
Last week was our 15th wedding anniversary. The day before our anniversary, my husband said he had a gift for me. He said something had changed in his heart, something he never expected to happen. He said first it was appreciation for the Church, then he started reading the Catechism (just to see what those crazy Catholics believe) and then, one day, he felt his heart shift. He believes.
He said he was entering the Catholic Church at Easter Vigil.
My husband is becoming Catholic.
I fell on the floor. Like, literally fell. The children ran in and asked what was wrong. I couldn’t move. I wept. I thanked Jesus. I thanked Mary for her intercession. I thanked all the angels and saints. I thanked all my friends who have so faithfully held us in their prayers.
All right, so maybe there is a better feeling than getting something out from between your teeth! Sometimes, picking and picking and picking at something just makes it worse, and you just have to let your mouth rest a while. This is true if you're trying to dislodge a stubborn bit of chicken, or trying to get your husband to make a profound and life-changing shift in his way of looking at the world. Sometimes, after a certain point, your efforts are the problem, and you just need to step aside.
Getting out of the way of the Holy Spirit doesn't mean you're off the hook. It just means that you do what you can, and then you have the humility to acknowledge that what you can do is not doing the trick. So you let it go. And while your mouth is resting, you do the much harder work of praying with all your heart.
Or sometimes, just shutting up and throwing up a quick prayer for help, peace, and unity is good enough. That's what I did when we realized our date night was turning into an argument. And guess what? I'm not going to claim that the Holy Spirit was definitively on my side. But the next day, I did get an email from my husband, and it started with those three little words that every woman longs to hear: "You were right . . . "
God bless Elizabeth Esther and her husband, and all wives and husbands who are really, deep down, in matters big and little, on the same side . . . they just need to stop picking at it, and let the Holy Spirit work.