I’ll admit — I hesitated when my husband told me he was considering Exodus 90. In fairness, our situation was abnormal. Our upstairs bathroom flooded through a series of unfortunate events, and we had to move into a hotel for four months while the house was gutted and renovated. Our family of seven was divided between two hotel rooms — the three oldest occupying one room and my husband and two youngest (3 and 4) in the other.
I was familiar with Exodus 90 — having heard that several of our parish staff members had completed it the year before. My husband and I had previously read Happy Are You Poor by Thomas Dubay, and the idea of asceticism was not foreign. His time in the military had already predisposed him to the disciplines of early rising and exercise; however, the idea of having to give up TV and alcohol (both of which seemed like a necessity in our situation) was the part that I thought would give us/him the most trouble.
Still, between the stress of the hotel, a cross-country road trip to Texas for Christmas gone awry — I was ready to throw in the towel. I was sick of his selfish attitude and the drinking to cope. I was dealing with my selfishness and dependence on social media to escape. Change needed to happen, and if he was willing to shoulder it with this program, I was all for it.
There was profound emptying within the first few weeks of Exodus 90. The submission to the cold showers, the fasting, and the absence of alcohol/music/internet browsing turned him into an empty vessel. The problems I previously addressed (selfishness/drinking to cope) disappeared. There was a curiosity about this transformation at first and a desire to be equally yoked and participate with him to make myself a better person, but through prayer, there was a firm “NO.” The Lord was working with him. I was to wait and watch.
The asceticism, combined with the prayer and the attention to the family, softened my heart. I loved my husband when I said, “I do.” That moment was tried and tested many times, and I was delighted to have pushed through the hard times, so I could see what happens when a husband completely loses himself to God and his family. I do believe the desire of every woman is to be loved with tenderness (and for those Type A women out there like me — at certain necessary times, with a gentle firmness). This began to happen as thirty days turned into sixty days. As he treated me with a tenderness I had never experienced, I desired to reciprocate.
With all this newfound tenderness and love going on, I wanted him to be able to participate in all the family activities, which included watching movies. It was hard to see him sitting in the dining room with a spiritual meditation or playing guitar while we were all in the living room with popcorn and soda and watching a new movie. It was irritating that “this program” (which was doing so many great things) was now cutting into this specific family time, which would include holding hands and couch cuddles. We ended up negotiating, and family movie nights would relax the discipline.
This was one of the neatest transformations. We have five children, so having one-on-one time with each of them is daunting, especially when you work all day. As it progressed from sixty days to ninety, I saw him become more intentional with his interactions. As a father who was beginning to know more about himself and more about God, he was able to notice the issues cropping up within the children and was able to walk with them through their struggles, especially the pre-teen boys. He devoted more “fun time” to games and puzzles with the younger three.
As a wife and mother, seeing your husband not only be authentically tender and engaged with you but also with the children quickly turns your marriage into a true romance that puts all Hallmark movies to shame.
Kelly Tallent is a wife, mother, and Coordinator for Youth and Family Formation for a parish cluster. She is the author of The Joyful Pessimist and a contributor to The Missio Dei Project.