OPINION Replace envy with attentiveness and effort in marriage
I once suspected my husband was having an affair. I'd found love letters to him from his assistant. They were 5 months old, so if something had happened, it was probably over. He and I had gone through an extremely difficult time a year before. But after counseling, prayer and hard work, our marriage was much stronger.
The possibility of infidelity still troubled me, but for nearly three months I said nothing, because it would have been hypocritical. I'd almost had an affair myself. I recalled Jesus' words, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
This was his answer when Jewish elders surrounded an adulteress and asked that he condemn her to death. After he spoke, they drifted away, ashamed. "Woman, where are those thine accusers? Hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more" (John 8:3-11).
I prayed about this on my walks around the ponds near where I worked. While strolling past the resident ducks and Canada geese, I asked God -- Love itself -- to show me the way. Prayer for me is listening and learning to reflect Love, the true nature of each of us.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote: "Know thyself, and God will supply the wisdom and the occasion for a victory over evil. Clad in the panoply of Love, human hatred cannot reach you" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," page 571).
Following a brief separation, our 5-year-old had innocently mentioned that she wished this woman were her stepmom, so I suspected this woman of inappropriate behavior and again feared the breakup of our family. Yet soon I realized that I had been this woman; I had behaved the same way. Her gushing letters were shameful. I, too, in my past infatuation for another man, had made an enormous fool of myself. If I could be forgiven, so could she. Not knowing whether she was still in love with my husband, I developed compassion for her.
I also became aware that I was jealous of all the time she spent with him at work. But I discovered that the word jealousy can also mean vigilance, so I decided to replace any envy I had with attentiveness to my husband and daughter. I doubled my efforts to guard our family's sanctity. Whenever I thought of this woman, I blessed her, trusting she would do the right thing.
In 10 years of marriage, my husband and I had triumphed over so much. I wasn't giving up now. I treasured this passage from the chapter "Marriage" in Science and Health: "The good in human affections must have ascendency over the evil and the spiritual over the animal, or happiness will never be won" (page 61). I persevered, awaiting further divine guidance.
Learning from nature
The next answer came -- from a goose. In early March while on a walk, a goose came flying toward my head. You can't imagine the imposing wingspan of this creature coming straight toward me. I ducked behind a tree, assuring him I would retreat. I saw his mate nesting nearby. He was only trying to protect his family.
Days passed, many geese were nesting, the males aggressively defending their posts. I eventually became fearless in the face of the frequent hissing and runs at my head. When I showed respect, they'd let me pass. The more I expressed honor and appreciation for the vigilance of the geese, the less fear and resentment I felt toward the woman.
On the first day of spring -- one year to the day after my husband and I had briefly separated, at the time seeing no way out but divorce -- we awoke at a campsite with our daughter. Sunshine streamed through the California redwoods, and the promise of a new beginning filled my heart with inexpressible joy. The night before, in front of a crackling campfire, we'd finally talked about the affairs that almost were. (In both, the males had remained steadfast to their mates.) We'd burned the letters and toasted marshmallows to our renewed love, and to our family united.
Back at work a few weeks later, I saw three new families of geese. The parents strutted as they led their children along the path. "Yes, I agree," I answered. "You should be very proud!" I knew just how they felt.
It's been another year. Our marriage has deepened even more -- our family is happier than ever. And, my husband's assistant got married. Love always cares for each of us.
XThis article appeared in the April 25 edition of The Christian Science Monitor. In accordance with a long-standing tradition, the Monitor often runs essays with no byline.