This post is one in a series of guest posts to appear Mondays until I finish writing the book. Enjoy!
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My wife and I married “late” (I was 33, she was 29). We were (and still are) best friends and also in love. Our married life has been a tremendous blessing. We love each other a million times more than on our wedding day. But we would also say that on that wedding day we had absolutely no idea of what the next 17+ years were going to be like. What has mattered most has not been “romance” or “being a perfect fit” (which never happens, although its a blessing to be a “good fit” in temperament and such). What has mattered is that we shared a commitment to Christ in the Church, that we trusted each other, and that we really felt “secure” with each other.
When people marry young they may have to build more of this trust and security as they mature together. I do think that older singles are more able to perceive that a relationship has a solid disposition and foundation for trust and security. These words may not sound very exciting, but they are the bedrock for fidelity. If you have this, and then it’s consecrated in Christ by the sacrament and its profound graces, you will discover that married love is deep and strong and difficult and enduring and forgiving.
My recommendation for singles young and older alike is to meditate on the marriage vows. “I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health…” Don’t try to imagine what this will mean for you, because you can’t. It’s impossible. But you can look at the other person with an awareness of the fidelity you are going to promise to him (or her if you’re a man — men should do this too). And you can ask yourself (simply, not with scrupulosity), “Do I trust that when this person makes this promise to me, he/she really means it and will be able to keep it?”
“Good times and bad” — let’s be clear here: there WILL be bad times. The surprising thing is that “bad times” more often doesn’t have to do with misunderstandings and arguments and inter-relational dynamics (these happen, but they can be worked through). “Bad times” comes from the fact that STUFF HAPPENS in life. The hardest things are the stuff that comes from “outside,” that you have to face together. Someone loses their job. That’s a tough one. Problems in “the family” — a parent gets old and needs love and attention (perhaps a lot). This is very hard. It changes the way you live together.
“Sickness and health….” Most healthy young people barely think about these words when they say them. This is not about chicken soup and colds. People can get really sick. Spouses have to be primary caregivers. If you’re a woman, you will have health issues that your husband won’t understand. If the husband becomes disabled and can’t work, he will be emotionally shattered in a way that he will have difficulty communicating to his wife, or even admitting to himself. Disability is something we’ve learned a lot about in our marriage. But everyone faces health problems. If nothing else, people get older and they change physically and emotionally. And they suffer. It’s important to marry someone who will suffer with you, and with whom you are willing to suffer. There’s nothing “romantic” about the daily, ordinary, often banal suffering that you will have to share. But it’s there that your love grows as trust, commitment, and fidelity. But this is not a cold thing. A real and deep affection is born within this love. You begin to see the other person more deeply.
The mind blowing fact is that marriage is not just about you and your spouse. In a few years, God willing, you will be changing and adapting your lives in ways you never imagined. There are gonna be these other little people. They will need you both and they will need you together; they will change you so fundamentally that they will give you new names that will last forever: “Mommy” and “Daddy”! (Which later change to “Mom” and “Dad”.)
God willing, you’ll have a nice bunch of kids. But “kids” is an abstraction. These are going to be particular human persons who are “your children.” They will stretch you beyond anything you thought was possible for yourself, and they will make you work so hard, but they are so worth it! Don’t be afraid, because marriage is a sacrament and the grace that shapes your family flows from it. We have five kids, and three are teenagers. It’s an ongoing, wild and wonderful adventure, this family, these people mysteriously entrusted to one another.
It turns out those wedding vows are a commitment to the radical possibility of welcoming other human persons into your lives… permanently. It is a way of giving yourselves to God, through each other and through the awesome mystery of His creative freedom and love.
Its worth “holding out,” for the sake of marrying someone you trust and who trusts you. Lots of things can be “worked out” in married life, but trust is basic. Marry a person worthy of your trust, and of course trust in God. It is Jesus who establishes and sustains the bond that unites you. If you are not yet married, He calls you to use discernment in who you choose to marry. He will also guide you. His Holy Spirit will lead you. Mary will be a Mother to your heart and bring you wisdom.
Going on 18 years ago, I married the love of my life. We trusted the Lord, and in Him we trusted each other. Through that trust, and five kids and so many unforeseen changes of circumstances and health, our love continues to grow.
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About the blogger: John Janaro is Associate Professor Emeritus of Theology at Christendom College. He is a Catholic theologian, and a writer, researcher, and lecturer on issues in religion and culture. His most recent book is NEVER GIVE UP: MY LIFE AND GOD’S MERCY. He is married to Eileen Janaro and has five children. Visit his blog at johnjanaro.com and follow him on Twitter.