In my last column (Catholic Herald Family, May 2013) I attempted to find balance in parenting. I offered an overview of all the things life throws at us and offered suggestions on how to find the simple S’more moments to breathe.

In this column, I want address one area of vital importance…. How can I nurture my marriage while raising children?

Unfortunately, many people in our society do not nurture their marriage, with or without children.
Having children simply makes it more challenging, but offers oh so many opportunities to witness God’s love. Children give us more insight into a forgiving God as an unconditionally loving parent.

With more than 50 percent of marriages ending in divorce, another significant number on the path to divorce, or some with spouses who stay in the relationships for the wrong reasons, our culture provides ample examples of “un-nurtured” relationships.

Loving relationships modeled by parents – whether single or married – are vital to our children’s healthy understanding of God’s love. A parent in a lovingly expressive relationship teaches the children under its embrace the who, what, why and how of love.

I would hope my children are learning from their father “who” you marry counts, and counts a whole heck of a lot.

My sons are learning that the qualities in my wife – their mother – are ones they should also seek.

I pray my daughter witnesses “what” a mutually giving relationship looks like. Nurturing is an act of giving, of stepping outside of your own needs and wants. If her father gives of himself to her mother, I want my daughter to see the joy in both of us when it is accepted.

When we decorate the Christmas tree together and then sit within its glow, I trust the “why” will be felt with the warmth of the family that the loving relationship created. The “why” is as mysterious as God’s unconditional love for us. The “how” is the most difficult because its work is a marathon.

My wife ran the Boston Marathon and one of the most difficult parts of this particular marathon is the positioning of the hills on the course. The most famous of these is “Heartbreak Hill,” 20.5 miles into the course.

When you finally tough it out, when you finally find your stride, this obstacle can break your heart and determination.

So goes the course of a relationship. I want my children to know that if the weather of the relationship grows cold – as the Boston Marathon usually does – and the hills deplete our energy, their parents can push through by modeling God’s committed love for each other.

Using the marathon for my analogy of marriage: it’s not enough to commit to the race. One must stay attentive to the process, nurturing and developing the different muscle groups.

There is a physical, emotional, mental and spiritual element to the journey. Different skills are required at different places on the journey. Some require self-determination, others require a loved one to run or cheer at your side, sometimes to prove that faith has a spare tank that cannot be exhausted.

My days are tested beginning with the first complaint filed to the parent complaint department from the kitchen: “I don’t want to eat this!” and “She drank from my cup!”

I finally have a job I love, which gives me purpose, and instead of the dreadful alarm clock I despised with unfulfilling jobs, my soul is now jostled by my children’s bickering. I cannot press, “Snooze.”

How can I welcome God and my spouse into my day with these alarms going off? Triage! Tend to the most pressing issues. Get everyone out the doors and breathe.

Maybe it will be better tonight. Alas, the evening brings homework negotiations, TV mediation, and snack diplomacy. Where is the space for my spouse and me?

Although it would be so wonderful to come home someday to two plane tickets to one sunny beach complete with a hammock, I need to remind myself what my wife and I share in common with so many other couples … the most popular Scripture passage ever used in weddings – 1 Cor 13: 4-7. This is my road map for my marathon.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

This is the way, the light and the truth to a successful path that nurtures both spouses. If I model this, I trust my children will witness a life ethic that is empowering, courageous, yet humble, and one in which God is at the center, because God is love.

Honey, I will still take the plane tickets and hammock though!

(Jeff and Jennifer Wenzler are running a zone defense with their three wonderfully active children. Jeff is the founder and executive director of Pivotal Directions, a servant-leadership program for youth. Jennifer works for a biotech company that provides Multiple Sclerosis therapies. They are members of Lumen Christi Parish, Mequon.)