The current season in the liturgical calendar is known as “Ordinary Time.” Our church’s Sunday bulletin explains that “rather than meaning common or mundane, the term ‘ordinary’ (derived from the Latin root ordo) denotes ordered or counted time.” Ordinary Time comprises two periods which together make up most of the year. The first follows Christ’s birth and baptism and ends with Lent. The second period follows His death and resurrection, and ends with Advent.
The liturgical calendar gives us a bird’s-eye view of life. There are short seasons of excitement and anticipation, or grief and retrospection, followed by long stretches of counted time: birthdays, anniversaries, routines. Ordinary Time is when many people stop going to church—despite our bulletin’s explanation, these seasons can feel rather mundane. In marriage and relationships, these are also the seasons when couples might check out, get bored. And in this, again, the church’s calendar provides wisdom:
“During this season,” continues the bulletin, “we focus on the growth of Christ’s church, which is symbolized by green linens on the altar.” Ordinary Time—these long stretches when nothing especially noteworthy is happening—is when the growth borne of intentionality occurs.
So what does does “ordered or counted time” look like in marriage? Unsure still of whether or when we’ll have children, David and I have settled into one of these seasons. It’s hard to see the slow growth that might be taking place during this day-by-day, but it becomes apparent in retrospect. A couple weeks ago, for instance, I was stressed and didn’t really feel like getting out of bed one morning. David noticed, got in my bed, and held me for a couple of minutes. I didn’t realize that’s what I needed, but he did, and that made all the difference.
That intuitive gesture reminded me that, if nothing else, I had someone to share my stress. I see this as growth because it signifies a deeper bond between us: a kind of growth that comes only from time spent together, from observing and letting yourself be observed.
Perhaps the biggest cliché couples hear in terms of advice is that communication is the single most important factor in a healthy relationship. If a couple is in trouble, or fighting, most well-meaning friends and counselors will tell them they just need to communicate better, talk more about their feelings, use “I statements” instead of “You statements” (for example, telling your spouse “I feel like you don’t listen to me,” rather than “You never listen!”)
There’s wisdom in that, and learning how to communicate certainly matters. But the truth is that talking doesn’t resolve every conflict. And talking ad-nauseum only makes things worse. Many conflicts and disagreements will never be resolved, and the health of the relationship is better served by simply learning how to live with them. We learn to live with them with time—by observing and letting yourself be observed. And this is the value of Ordinary Time. It’s the periods when we can just watch and continuously get to know the person we’ve promised to hold and cherish for the rest of our lives—that person who, no matter how close you become, will always be an other.
The biggest mistake a person of faith can make is to assume they’ve reached a point where they’ve got it all figured out—where they think they’ve learned the Bible inside out, and where they can confidently say they know God’s mind. That’s when faith becomes lazy. That’s when the scripture readings begin to sound repetitive, boring, and always the same. That’s when sermons become trite and easy to tune out. That’s when worship music leaves you flat.
For faith to remain vibrant we must accept that we’ll never figure it all out—that seeking God is a lifelong task. The quest is life-giving, like the color green that adorns the altars of Ordinary Time. It’s an everlasting process of discovery bringing us closer to our truer selves and closer to the Divine. From this vantage point we see the shorter seasons of Advent or Lent as the occasional moments in life that create our memories, good and bad: the pregnancy, the vacation, the terminal illness. It is the growth of Ordinary Time what gives these other seasons meaning, what makes them bearable.
The worst mistake a person in a relationship can make is to assume they know all there is to know about their spouse. I get to know myself better each passing year. How could David ever presume to have me all figured out? And no matter how much time God grants us together, he will always have a long head start on knowing himself—I hope I never fool myself into thinking I’ve seen all there is to see in him. So thank God for Ordinary Time, for these seasons in a marriage when you can just remember, analyze, pray, and study. I’m counting on these seasons to help David and me keep the course in sickness and in health, in times of plenty, and in times of want.
Photo by Carlo Scherer, used with permission through Flickr Creative Commons.
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