The following story appeared in the April 8 Idaho Catholic Register.
Dan and Peggy Minnaert participate in the couples' marriage retreat at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish in Boise. The retreat was sponsored by the Marriage and Family Life Office of the Diocese of Boise. (ICR photo/Vero Gutiérrez)
By Jay Wonacott
Marriage for Life
Each year, the Diocese of Boise’s Marriage and Family Life Office hosts a marriage enrichment retreat.
On Saturday, March 19, which is the Feast of St. Joseph, couples from as far away as Idaho Falls, attended the annual retreat at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in East Boise. Our retreat leader this year was Texas-based Catholic therapist and ministry leader, Dana Nygaard. Dana is supported in the ministry by her husband, David, who works hard behind the scenes, leading the men’s session. Dana offered what she calls the “Cana Commandments” retreat.
The retreat is an adaptation of the traditional Ten Commandments with the twist of applying each of the commandments to marriage. For example, she begins the day with the Second Commandment: Thou shall speak well of your spouse.
She unpacks each of the commandments as participants spend time reflecting on their “saintly successes” and “purgation problems” for each. The focus of the retreat is for each spouse to do the really important self-reflection and personal change work that needs to be done in any marital relationship. There is no finger-pointing or blaming the other person for what is hurting the relationship. Dana clarifies the need to remain optimistic and positive about one’s spouse and to be honest about the work each one needs to do in the relationship.
At the beginning of the retreat, Dana used the analogy of mountain climbing being like the journey of married life. It is easier, she said, to work on one’s self and move up the mountain and then turn to help your spouse by pulling them up rather than trying get behind to push them up the mountain. This analogy resonated with the group as they realized that they can only change themselves and not the other person. However, if they are working as a team to move up the mountain together it is much easier and smarter to pull rather than push.
There was great emphasis on remembering the qualities and virtues that attracted each participant to his or her spouse. While processing the 10 Cana Commandments throughout the day, there was also some valuable couple interaction time as couples were able to engage in some exercises that I would describe as “Theology of the Body in action.”
Two powerful moments came during the day when Dana introduced the couples to the “Mary Hug” and the “Eye Gazing” exercises.
The “Mary Hug” exercise asked the couples to pray slowly the Hail Mary together while remaining in an extended embrace. The “Eye Gazing” exercise asked the couples to gaze silently into each other’s eyes for several minutes.
What Dana did next was key to unlocking the power of these experiences. After each of these exercises, Dana asked individuals to share their experiences with the larger group. Some noted that a definite emotional connection was being made. Others noted that feelings of the love they had for each other in the past returned. Others expressed a heartfelt appreciation for their spouse that they had not felt in some time. This mutual sharing in a large group was a very powerful part of the day.
As an observer of these activities and the overall content of the day, I could tell that the Holy Spirit was at work in the hearts of these couples. At times the Spirit and emotion in the room was palpable. As one not particularly prone to crying, there were several testimonials from couples that caused me to shed a few tears. As part of the retreat, couples attended Mass together and then enjoyed a delicious catered dinner and fellowship with one another.
As I told the group at the end of the retreat, I anticipated that the retreat would be good, but I didn’t expect that the retreat would have turned out to be such an amazing experience. I think the difference was that a lot of the content of the retreat was not simply dealing with our intellectual faith, but it immersed an anchor of hope deep into the hearts of the participants.
We often expect retreats to make us more thoughtful and open to new ideas, but this took it to the next level and opened couples up to healing in their hearts and souls.
Dana spent time talking about the importance of “dating” one’s spouse on a daily basis. All of the couples who attended the retreat received a copy of Dana’s book, “365 Dates to Renew Your Christian Marriage: Increasing Your Emotional Intimacy One Question at a Time.” This is a daily guide with three questions to discuss with spouses.
Here are a few of the comments we received from couples who attended:
“Thank you SO MUCH! We have needed this time of dedication to each other, for our own benefit and that of our family.”
“A new issue was brought to light for us to work on in our marriage. I am grateful that we had the opportunity to connect before the issue was revealed.”
“This may have saved our marriage. The focus on the individual is SO important!”
“I learned how to examine my own shortcomings in my relationship with my wife.”
“We need more Catholic support resources for marriage, so thank you!”
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