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Why Joseph matters: A response to pain and betrayal

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I recently read the FemCatholic article,"Why Women Sometimes Hate Men".  It took time for me to respond because it’s a difficult piece for me to read.


josephmaryIt's difficult because I, too, have thought about and experienced all that the author describes.  She questions where women can find hope in what feels like a hopeless moment, and I get that. When you endure so much of the bad, even unto finding it in your own home, it's easy to lose sight of any selflessness that might exist in the vast group called "men." The author concludes her reflection by encouraging us to appeal to Mary as a gradual way back to faith in men and faith in the Church through yet another round of soul-wrenching sexual scandals that predominantly incriminate men.

When I finished reading her piece, I asked myself which married men of the Bible gave me hope.

Jesus shows us strength and love, but He's the Son of God and the bridegroom of the Church.  Of course Jesus shows perfect strength and love because He's full man and full God.  What about the rest of us?  Are there any other examples in the Bible of a simple, holy husband who willingly sacrificed much for his wife and children?

The Old Testament gives us many examples of husbands that are neutral (at best) or demonstrate what not to do.  Adam, you probably shouldn't throw your wife under the bus before Almighty God.  Abraham, you probably shouldn't be so willing to pass your wife off as your sister and share her with whatever ruler wants another wife.  Jacob, maybe you shouldn't play favorites.  David?  Let's not get into it.

The New Testament is different. Within the first couple of chapters of the Gospels, we witness an often named, often overlooked, and amazing husband.  It's easy to forget about him because he doesn't draw attention to himself.  He is the epitome of St. Paul's imperative in Philippians 2:3 to "humbly regard others as more important than yourselves."

You guessed it — I'm talking about St. Joseph.

God chose St. Joseph to sacrifice and care for Mary as she carried the Messiah in her womb.  God chose St. Joseph to be Jesus' foster father as He grew into adulthood. St. Joseph isn't recorded as saying a single word, but his actions speak volumes about what it means to be the husband who, like Christ, "handed himself over for her."

St. Joseph isn't recorded as saying a single word, but his actions speak volumes about what it means to be the husband who, like Christ, "handed himself over for her."

In taking Mary as his wife, Joseph sacrificed whatever social status was in place for a man who married a virgin.  He chose to believe the voice of the angel, that the child she conceived was the Son of God.  This was an incredible sacrifice in a time when Levitical law required unwed pregnant women to be stoned (Deuteronomy 22:20-21) or at the very least, as Joseph thought before his dream, to be "put away."

Through bringing Mary and Jesus into Egypt, Joseph gave up whatever clientele as a carpenter he had in Nazareth and Bethlehem.

When he took Mary as his wife, Joseph gave up any sexual rights that accompanied a marriage contract.

In every aspect of Joseph's life and character, I see someone who selflessly gave up traditional forms of power, protected the most vulnerable, and poured himself out for his wife and Son in the ways that they needed him to in that moment. And he did it all without complaining or trying to manipulate his sacrifices into a position of power.

I know that there are other men like Joseph (or at least those striving to be like him) out there today. You don't hear much about them because, like Joseph, they quietly serve, quietly sacrifice, and quietly regard others as more important than themselves.  Although we may not hear about them, they are still there.  And maybe you even know of one.

My own husband gradually became like a St. Joseph.

It took time and we went through dark days.  In the thick of it, after what felt like the deepest betrayal, I thought I would never be able to love or be loved the way that I had hoped.  My husband, like the author's husband, told me "it was no big deal" after the first revelations.  The discovery felt like taking a baseball bat to my heart.  The ignorant downplay of it as "no big deal" was akin to setting my heart on fire — a raging fire.

"Fine," I thought, "then he won't mind a little lesson."

I set everything up minutes before my husband came home from work.  I had our daughter in her booster seat at the dinner table, turned directly away from an open laptop screen that I set up in the corner of the adjoining room.  You could see the laptop easily if you walked through the front door of our tiny apartment, but not if you were sitting at the table.  I had a short video on loop with the sound off.  My husband walked in, immediately saw the laptop, and became angry. "What's the big deal?" I asked him. "Our daughter didn't see it.  If it shouldn't be a big deal to me, you should be comfortable with having all of us in the same room.  You're okay having this in our house sometimes, right?" He admitted that it was a big deal and that he didn't like having it in our house at any time. 

I wish I could say it was all uphill from there, but it took two to three years to bring into the light all of the sexual lies my husband believed about himself, about me, and about the world around us. It took that long because getting to the truth was like emptying an old, dark, musty closet that my husband only ever opened to shove more lies into; nothing ever came out of that closet.  The stuff at the very back was even a shock to him.

After everything was out in the open and we began working towards reconciliation, I unsurprisingly developed a form of emotional PTSD, where bad thoughts of the past would attack my mind and heart as if it were happening again.  The bad dreams were the worst.

This is when I started to really believe that my husband loved me: when he was willing to hear about a past that involved him in a negative way. . ., all for the sake of my healing.

At that time, we couldn't find helpful Catholic books on the topic of reconciling with each other.  We did, however, find a helpful book by psychologist Gary Gottman entitled What Makes Love Last? Back then, Dr. Gottman seemed to be the only one who took all forms of betrayal seriously and outlined practical steps on how to help a couple through them.  One of his best (and hardest) tips was his encouragement to talk about the past for as long as the hurt partner needed to discuss it.

I didn't want to do this.  I hated that I would have flashbacks or get flooded with tears and anger.  I didn't want to talk about it anymore.  I wanted it to be behind us. Wasn't talking about it again brooding over injury, as 1 Corinthians 13 says not to do? I fought this advice at first.  The frustrating thing was that when I tried to be strong enough not to share, it would snowball into other bad things: wanting to drink too much to dull the thoughts, becoming even more angry at my husband for putting me in this situation to begin with (that was actual brooding), or getting unjustifiably angry with the kids over little things because I was trying to love them from an empty heart.  I knew that my husband was no longer doing those things that hurt me so deeply.  I knew he had grounded himself in Truth and had taken practical, prudent steps to avoid compromising situations.  I didn't see or notice any suspicious actions that suggested otherwise. Why did I need to keep reliving the past?

The reality was that I wasn't harping on the past, I was sharing myself in a vulnerable present. In telling my husband about these attacks from thoughts or dreams, I was giving him the opportunity to love me how I needed to be loved in that moment. This is when I started to really believe that my husband loved me: when he was willing to hear about a past that involved him in a negative way over and over and over again, all for the sake of my healing.  He answered my paranoid questions and held me when I cried (again).  Gradually, the attacks became less frequent and less powerful.

Nine years later, I can't believe where we are today. My husband amazed me at his growing perseverance to pursue the long process of healing and to build a strong foundation for our marriage that honestly had never been there before. He healed and I healed.  This doesn't mean that life is perfect for us.  We still have all of the challenges of marriage, children, and life stuff to figure out; but now I feel like I have a real partner in that. Today, I know that my husband strives to be like St. Joseph.

If I could speak to the author of the article I mentioned, I would tell her to take heart. Do not give up. If you keep fighting the despair, if you keep fighting the terrifying feeling that all men are a little bit awful, if you keep grounding yourself, you will go through what feels like a death, but there will also be a resurrection. You will come out on the other side as what my husband likes to call an "established woman."  Someone who knows the darkness, but who also knows that the light is stronger.

To the author: I will be praying for you, whoever you are, and asking St. Joseph to pray for your husband every day.

dividertop

Acknowledgement

Anonymous."Why Joseph matters: A response to pain and betrayal". FemCatholic (February 28, 2019).

Reprinted with permission of FemCatholic. 

This author would like to remain anonymous.

The Author

Anonymous

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