By Dr. Mark Krejci/Director of the Office of Marriage, Family and Life
You may have heard the phrase, “kill them with kindness.” It is a phrase used in popular culture and so you will hear this line used by any one from William Shakespeare to Selena Gomez. The song, “Kill em with Kindness” was written by Gomez to respond to the people who do not like her or her music (I guess she receives some rather nasty texts, tweets and other electronically-delivered comments). The lyrics reflect an attitude of love towards one’s enemy – and yes I really did listen to the song to prepare for this column!
Shakespeare uses the line set in the context of a marriage. In his play, the “Taming of the Shrew”, a man plots to teach his wife (who is a nagging, ill-tempered woman i.e. the “shrew”) how to obey him. One of his teaching techniques is to make her life miserable until she finally gives up and obeys him. As the husband says, “This is how to kill a wife with kindness.”
Now let me make one thing perfectly clear – THIS IS NOT WHAT IS MEANT TO BE KIND IN MARRIAGE. I put this line in all cap letters because I want to make sure you notice that this column will go in a completely different direction. While the husband in the “Taming of the Shrew” uses kindness in a manipulative and self-serving way, the role of kindness in marriage is to be something completely different. I will continue focusing on Pope Francis’ reflections on 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7. The Holy Father writes about love as “kind” in a way that he suggests the meaning behind the word kind, “… indicates that love benefits and helps others.” Thus, love in marriage is not meant to be used to manipulate others but should motivate us to serve others. “Love is at the service to others” is the title of the section where Pope Francis addresses “love is kind.”
In marriage, each spouse should see that they are called to serve the other. Pope Francis writes that Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, is attempting to show Christians that love is “more than a mere feeling.” It should be seen as reflective of the Hebrew verb “to love,” making love an act that we do versus an emotion that we experience. Just as God freely shares his love with us, so we are to freely share our love with our spouse. Thus, your experience of love in marriage should have more to do with you loving your spouse.
So how have you loved your spouse today? How have you served her/him without expecting anything in return? Did you experience happiness, or perhaps even real joy, in serving your spouse on this day or did you do so grudgingly? When your spouse interrupted your TV show with “Oh dear, can you help me?” did your heart leap with excitement that you have another opportunity to serve your beloved? When your spouse began to talk about something that was troubling or annoying him/her, were you filled with a desire to hear everything he/she wished to say?
While reading through the previous paragraph you may wonder why I phrased all of the points in a series of questions. I did so because I encourage us all to reflect on how well we do showing kindness in our marriage, a kindness that is meant to be lived by being a servant to our spouse. Being a servant without expecting anything in return is a tough thing to do because, I suppose, it goes against the part of our human nature that wants to “receive” love. Our society teaches us that love is only experienced when we receive affection from our spouse, but Pope Francis has us focus on marital love as something we give away. Of course both wife and husband must do this because the gift of love in marriage is meant to be a reciprocal gift – love given by each spouse to the other. Such couples will find that the more they love their spouse, the more they will receive. When a husband and wife each see love as being in service to the other, both will experience the love of God through their marriage.
Let me conclude this column by suggesting one way that every husband can serve his wife or how every wife can serve her husband every day. For those that regularly read this column you probably know what I am going to say: pray for your spouse. It can be as brief as the Lord’s Prayer or the Hail Mary, but say a prayer for your spouse every day as an act of loving service in your marriage.