I recently started some long overdue counselling with a Christian (though not Catholic) counsellor. In many respects it’s been a little underwhelming, but my counsellor posed a question to me which led me to an interesting, and important, realisation.
She asked me to read Genesis 3, where we learn about the Fall. She asked me to pay attention to the ways in which the serpent deceived Eve, and twisted the truth that God had conveyed to her. She told me to reflect on the ways in which God’s message has gotten twisted in my mind, and how I might be making decisions that don’t really reflect what God wants for my life.
As I prayed, the first thing that came to my mind concerned marriage. In the Catholic circles I run in, I hear a lot about how marriage is meant to be hard, because it is meant to make us holy, and the secular notion that marriage is purely about happiness is wrong. Of course, this is broadly true. Secular ideas about marriage are often unhelpful and even harmful. The Church has a much deeper and more holistic view of what marriage is and what its purpose is.
However, upon reflection, I realised that I had so much internalised the idea that “marriage is meant to be hard” that I’d settled for a version of marriage that was not really making me or my husband happy. Instead of acknowledging that neither of us were feeling great about things and exploring the issues, I was telling myself, “This is what God wants for me to make me holy.” This, I realised, was a subtle trick of the Devil. Rather than doing something dramatic like making me fall in love with somebody else or having my husband walk out, the Devil was attacking our marriage by convincing me that God wants mediocrity; that He doesn’t desire my happiness and fulfillment and joy.
The Devil got to me with a half-truth. Yes, marriage is meant to be hard for most of us. Like all vocations, it is supposed to set us on a path of dying to self, of sacrifice, of redemptive suffering. But it’s also meant to reflect the love God has for each one of us and for His Church. It is meant to bear fruit, which does not simply mean children – it also means sowing the love that is born in our marriage back into the world. Ultimately, it is supposed to help us know and love Jesus more deeply. This knowledge and love certainly comes through hardship, but it also comes through the realisation that God desires joy for us.
The more I thought and prayed, the more I recognised this pattern in other areas of my life: in my motherhood, my career aspirations, my friendships, my self-perceptions, and on and on. In all these areas, the Devil is using things that can easily be disguised as truth to twist God’s voice and make me believe that God doesn’t desire good things for me, or that it would be greedy or prideful to seek better in those areas.
We tend to picture attacks by the Devil as involving temptation into mortal sin, or dramatic events that keep us from something God wants us to do. Certainly, the Devil does those things too. However, he is possibly even more dangerous when he hides in the shadows of our daily lives, distorting God’s voice and desires.