“‘Impossible Marriages Redeemed” in an impactful, inspiring book full of heroes

Reviewed by Father Luke Spannagel

“‘Impossible’ Marriages Redeemed” is one of the most impactful books I have read in some time.

As a priest, I am always thankful for the gift of being able to know so many wonderful married couples. While I always think about my own parents and their nearing 50 years of faithful marriage, I also think of the 100+ couples I have worked with in marriage preparation and the many wonderful couples I have met through the years in my different assignments.

From each of them I have picked up stories and tips — ways they have grown together and how they have navigated through challenging times. This great collection of wisdom is something that I am regularly sharing, especially with young couples preparing for marriage.

However, as I was reading this book, I kept thinking about how I have also journeyed with couples in the midst of terrible struggles and sorrows . . . and how important these victory stories are as well.

RAW HONESTY, TRUST IN GOD

Some months ago, I received “‘Impossible’ Marriages Redeemed” as a gift in the mail. Edited by Leila Miller, the first section of this book contains 50 stories of “redemption — the details of marriages that went through the ringer and survived. Some of those marriages turned blissful, some merely content, but all were redeemed.”

“The second, smaller section of the book contains 15 stories of ‘standers’ — those wives or husbands who have chosen to stand for their marriage vows despite complete abandonment by their spouses.”

The book was easy to get into as it is a collection of stories — those who know me know it is my preferred genre. Right away, I noticed the raw honesty in these stories.  Spouses were sharing significant struggles in detail — the sorrow of breakdowns and the effects of sin and selfishness.

However, in the midst of these lows were also incredible statements of trust in God and the fruitfulness of prayer and perseverance.  From the first story forward I was inspired by the witness of faithfulness and love, even in the midst of terrible circumstances.

“A BOOK FULL OF HEROES”

The introduction for the book details how our Church has always taught the indissolubility of marriage and even has provisions for couples in strife, all the while protecting the sacred bond. “In fact, the diligent and unending work to restore broken marriages — not end them! — is still the official teaching of the Catholic Church.”

Miller acknowledges that this “imperative” is often overlooked or set aside. Many of the stories shared how few people supported working to save marriages, including family and close friends, and even members of the clergy. In the forward by Philip Lawler, he asks, “Why is it that, in so many cases, the first time that a troubled couple talks seriously with the pastor is when they begin to discuss divorce? . . . When a marriage seems to have broken down, the options can seem like a binary, on/off choice: to end it or to slog on joylessly. Not so. There is a third and better option: to dig down, solve the problems, and renew the loving relationship on a deeper, stronger foundation.”

As Lawler mentions, “this is a book full of heroes.” In the midst of these stories, spouses have turned in faith to God, the sacraments, and prayer and have persevered through. Here is just a sampling of so many inspiring quotes from the spouses in these stories:

  • “Then, something amazing happened. It was a little thing, but it made a big difference. I changed my prayer request. Instead of telling God what changes I wanted in my marriage, I asked God what He wanted me to do. His reply was to love and serve my family.”
  • “When divorce isn’t an option, all other options become more realistic. When divorce isn’t sought after, healing is.”
  • “There are no exceptions listed when you state your vows before God and witnesses.”
  • “I knew that my children would suffer irreparably by being separated from their father, and I knew I had made a vow — before God’s altar! —to be faithful to him ‘in good times and in bad’ until death. So I held on. I clung by my fingernails. I threw myself on the mercy of God, begging Him and His Mother to help us, and to help me know and do His will in all things.”
  • “The reason I remain faithful to my spouse and the reason I stand for our marriage is because I said I would.”
  • “I believe in marriage and stand for my vow, because God has not changed!”

Throughout the stories, faithful spouses described a renewal in their life in the Church, including some amazing conversions. Over and over, they remind us how much solace is found in a committed life of prayer and how much healing/strengthening power is in the sacraments. For as many people who mentioned that falling away in their faith was part of the downfall of their marriage, it seems all attribute their ability to heal and recover to God and the fruits of faithful life in the Church.

PRAYERS FOR MARRIAGES IN CRISIS

Very fitting, the last section of the book indicates a call to prayer and includes some “Prayers for Marriages in Crisis,” including prayers for the spouses as well as for friends and family to pray.

For me as a priest, I am renewed in vigor to be actively supporting our couples, especially through prayer. These stories give witness to what is possible when even one spouse is committed to remaining faithful and turns to God for the strength needed to fulfill the promises made on their wedding day. The stories tell us that it isn’t too late to save a marriage, even after sin and brokenness is prevalent.

I invite you to join with me in praying the short version of one of the prayers:

Dear Lord, please hear this prayer for [Name of Family], whose marriage needs Your divine assistance. We beg You to remove the pain and hurt in their hearts. Intervene to remove any forces, temptations, or sinfulness that separate the spouses. Infuse peace, joy, patience, understanding, and sacrificial love into the soul and heart of each spouse so as to renew their relationship, both for them and their family. May they turn to You in their time of need, and may they never surrender to the challenges they encounter. May Your mercy and blessing help them spend the rest of their lives together. Let no one contribute to the disintegration of their union. Help both of them love one another anew, and please remove anything that has complicated their relationship. Knowing and trusting that You know what they need, may Your will be done for them and for all such marriages needing Your urgent assistance. Amen.

Father Spannagel

FATHER LUKE SPANNAGEL is pastor of St. Mary and Sacred Heart parishes, both in Rock Island.

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