By Erin Giddens
I was asked recently, by a good friend, to offer a quote on what marriage is really like. I failed to give her any response even though I promised I would. I just couldn’t wrap the idea up into one cohesive thought.
What is marriage? Really?
There are so many prevalent ideas running rampant in our society, predominately that marriage is a simple bond. It can be a bond between a man and a woman, it can be a bond without faith, it can be a bond of the same gender. Marriage is, more often than not, a bond between divorcees. It can be a knot so easily untied.
It’s no wonder, then, why I am so confused about how to address the question: what is marriage really like? I know that my friend’s expected answer from me was intended to be more of an opinion of my own experience with marriage. Yet there’s this universal code that signifies something larger, something grander than just one couple’s experience of marriage.
Throughout the ten years of my marriage, my husband and I have battled wills against each other, against God, against society and even against our extended families. What is right, wrong? What is best for us? For me? At times, marriage has been more the war-zone version of happily ever after. And I can attest that it is not the white horses, castles and fairy-dream, Barbie-land tales we grow up wishing for!
The closest example that I have to a strong, Catholic, faithful marriage is between my parents. And while their example is much needed and appreciated, my marriage doesn’t mimic anything about theirs. My husband, while a man of faith, is not Catholic and has never been baptized. Even knowing what he knows about the Church and being willing to raise and support our children in the Catholic faith, he has withheld coming fully into the grace of God. One day I believe he will be called and will answer it by going to the altar of Our Lord, embracing Him faithfully. Until then, and because I await with anticipation at the altar – much like he did on our wedding day – for him to join my children and me, this has a huge impact on my marriage to him.
Because of my experience within my marriage, I believe marriage is a blessing when sanctified in the holy sacrament of matrimony. Between a baptized and unbaptized spouse, however, and lacking the sacramental aspect, marriage is a lot harder. I wouldn’t say that marriage is a curse or destined for failure when lacking the sacramental grace, but I would admit that marriage is much more difficult, much more tedious a decision that must be lived very carefully and patiently every day.
The devil constantly preys upon a weakened marriage and without the grace of the sacramental marriage, there is even more room for fallenness between the couple. I can say this because I live it. And the devil does not work on the unbaptized so cruelly – for the unbaptized who is learning, growing, seeking a faith is much stronger than the one who has had faith forever, yet allows doubt, despair, desperation, drama, fear, leniency into her life. It is by working through the baptized spouse that the devil attempts to control the unbaptized spouse, upset whatever faith foundation does exist, and weaken it, ultimately to destroy the marriage.
Does this mean my marriage is cursed? No, but what I do believe it means is that I have to pray harder, believe more strongly, accept my life with more dignity and patience, participate more fully in the sacraments and receive as many graces as I possibly can for the sole sake of my marriage. And honestly, that just feels like a lot of pressure because that is just for the sole intention of my marital vows.
So how in the world do I explain that in simpler terms? Based upon my only example of being married to one man for over 10 years, in addition to the Contemplative Prayer that I am immersed in at this point in my life, here is what marriage is: Surrendering. Not the “I give up” kind of surrendering, though. Rather, it’s the “I give it all to You, My Lord and My God” surrendering.
Although I believe we do have the full capacity to understand faith and fullness in the midst of our own selfishness and living daily life on earth, it’s very difficult with a self-centered mind focused on what feels right or what we think. If we live our life according to our own plan, we fail miserably. In a marriage this is ever more pertinent because there is more than one soul involved. A self-centered, faithless, closed bond, is neither of God, nor of a sacramental marriage.
In order to live a marriage and be truly married you have to surrender to what marriage really is – and the only way to conceivably know what marriage is, is to find it in the sacrament and by giving it all to God, Creator of you in the first place.
Here is what a marriage prayer in my life sounds like and it honestly does encompass all that I feel marriage – and life, too – is.
Take this from me, O Lord, because I don’t know what to do with it. I give my marriage, my husband, and our family to You, because You created us in Your image and You know what to do with us. Where we are weak, You strengthen us. Where we are tempted and torn, You are courageous and molded into perfection. May You strengthen our wills and mold our minds to Your perfection, that our marriage and our children may embrace the ultimate sacramental bond in Heaven, with You. Amen.
Read more in the Mom to Mom series.