Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Even when love shrinks, God wants you happy.

Today, I saw "plugs" for two new books, both on the same channel (Fox News.)

Love Shrinks: A Memoir of a Marriage Counselor's DivorceThe first is called "Love Shrinks: A Memoir of a Marriage Counselor's Divorce" by Sharyn Wolf. The author is a New York State–licensed psychotherapist who has worked with couples for twenty years.  She has been a frequent media commentator on celebrity marriage and divorce most notably as an eight time guest on the Oprah show. While she talk about her nationally bestselling books that instructed millions on how to flirt, find mates, and "stay lovers for life," she was going home every night to a dark secret: a totally failed marriage of her own to a good man she just couldn't leave.


God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God's HelpThe second book is "God Wants You Happy: From Self-Help to God's Help" by former Legionary of Christ priest, Fr. Jonathan Morris. Morris argues that self-help can only take you so far; what we need is God-help. His new book offers a life-long spiritual program that teaches how to open oneself up to God's loving presence in order to become everything He created you to be—joyful, flourishing men and women. In other words, God wants you to be happy.  

Fr. Jonathan's book has nice endorsements from Fox celebrities Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York, Fr. James Martin S.J, (The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything), Keith Ablow M.D (The 7: Seven Wonders that Will Change Your Life ) and pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, also endorse the book.

Both books are written by people who, not too many years ago, did not fully understand their circumstances. Wolf explains how it is possible for two good people to make each other totally miserable and yet still be unable to leave. In fifteen years of marriage, she and her husband had sex three times.  She analyzes her relationship and a marriage that was on its last legs as she dispensed advice to others. Fr. Morris, meanwhile, recalls his time in the Legion of Christ, "I cannot tell this story without being overwhelmed by grief. Had I known as an idealistic young man of twenty-one that saying yes to God would mean to follow in the footsteps of a man [Marcial Maciel, disgraced founder of the Legionaries of Christ] some psychologists would later call a psychopath or sociopath.… I would instead have chosen suburbia and a white picket fence."

As I heard the "plug" for the Morris book, I thought of my own time serving as a Legionary. I recalled how I only learned how unhappy I had really been when I left the congregation. This sense of not knowing, at the time, how unhappy one truly is, seems to be a common theme in conversations with former Legionaries. Later, when I was employed at a large, regional outplacement firm, I often heard similar comments from executives who were "let go" from prestigious companies. Once they landed a new position, they couldn't believe how unhappy they had been with their prior employer.

The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary SocietyI suppose I see a parallel in both books because the authors have had to walk a mile on "the unhappy side", one in her marriage, the other in his formation and early priesthood. The fact that both are willing to mention their respective troubles lends credence to their positions. 

Suffering presents a challenge that reminds us of our own mortality, weakness, and powerlessness. That's how I think we those who have suffered in some way can give the rest of us strength. I've always loved Henri Nouwen's paradox of the "Wounded Healer," a book from which I drew much inspiration during my time as a Legionary in Rye, New York.

Father Morris's book is not about Maciel, nor the Legionaries of Christ. But I am glad that he does not gloss over his experience without mentioning his time in the Congregation. I trust that mature reflection on that experience will have helped him delve deeper into the notion of evangelical happiness which is rooted in the virtue of Hope.

Despite the fact that Sharyn Wolf was a national bestselling self-help author, her husband couldn't bring himself to read a single one of her books. Communication between them  failed utterly. Yet through it all, they stay together—even though neither on
e knows why. Sharyn and husband have more in common with some Legionaries of Christ than either of them suspect!

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